Saturday, March 14, 2009

Two hands can hold a lot of information.

I've been reading a lot of different blogs recently, and two things jumped out at me. Or maybe it's one thing, with two sides.

On the one hand, I've seen a lot of comments that essentially say the more one devotes to Christianity/Jesus/God, the more one is aware of one's need for a Savior. Your awareness of your sinful state is constantly re-enforced and revealed to you, and shows you more and more just how far aware you'll ever be from being like Jesus on your own.

On the other hand, there's the idea that the more one follows the path of Christianity, lets Jesus mold you/shape you/change you, the more Christ-like you become.

I've been trying to figure out if both ideas can be true at the same time, and I don't think they can be. If one is becoming more Christ-like -- the second option -- then wouldn't there be less of an awareness of one's sinful state, since there'd be less sin inhabiting a person, compared to the pre-Christian years? And, vice versa, if the journey with Jesus leads one more and more aware of one's sinful state, then one is in fact not becoming more Christ-like?

14 comments:

Lorena said...

Thank you for pointing out yet another Christian contradiction.

The way I see it, according to the gospels, Jesus was a self-confident, assertive individual who told silly people where to get off and didn't let anyone deter him from doing what he thought was right.

Never once he is portrayed as being sorry for his sins or apologetic.

So, I agree with you, you can't be this submissive, contrite individual and be like Jesus. You just can't.

The fundamentalist Christians I am familiar with get around that one by painting a meekly picture of Jesus that the NT doesn't support. This "sweet Jesus" idea that kids are fed in Sunday school is non-existent. Most of the personality traits of the Biblical Jesus are, in fact, considered in Christian circles, as sins of pride.

Yes, he did say to give the other cheek and stuff, but he wasn't that kind of person. When challenged, he retorted wittily, leaving his questioners psychologically naked and exposed.

"He died like a lamb," They said. "He offered Himself up." Perhaps, but according to the writings, he did it with a purpose. Must of the bullshit a Christian is pressed to put up with fulfills the objective of feeding someone's ego and of encouraging oppression by the powers that be.

jennypo said...

"When I left him, I reasoned thus with myself: I am wiser than this man, for neither of us appears to know anything great and good; but he fancies he knows something, although he knows nothing; whereas I, as I do not know anything, so I do not fancy I do. In this trifling particular, then, I appear to be wiser than he, because I do not fancy I know what I do not know." (Socrates)

Plato offers us a similar paradox to the awareness of sin experienced by a Christian being transformed. When I began to learn, I thought I knew a great deal. The more I learn, the more I become aware of my ignorance. In the same way, when my experience and understanding of Jesus Christ was small, I hardly knew what it was that held me back, and my dreams of anything beyond were few. As I come to know who He is, so increases my awareness of His holiness and the sin that separates us. He is changing me, but as I become changed, I am more disturbed by sin than I ever was before. I imagine my transformation as something like what the experience of a pig might be if it became a human. In the beginning, muck might seem like a thing hardly to be considered. As it became human, would it not be likely to be more and more disturbed by filth, although it became cleaner?

DagoodS said...

This one puzzled me as a Christian. I got the idea, as we became more “mature” in Christ, we would find other areas of sin—other areas holding us back from Christ. Perhaps we could give up more T.V. Or all of it. Or more money. Or more time.

The thing that bothered me is that we never sinned less. Never. We struggled with the same sin when we were 15, or 25 or 35 or 85. Not that we discovered “new” sins to root out. Rather we never got rid of the old ones.

It is why guys struggle with porn (or the more p.c. term—“lust”) over and over and over and over. You didn’t want to watch porn. You prayed about it; begged God to take away the desire. You tried the 3-step, the 8-step and the 12-step program. You did everything you could possibly think of to avoid it.

And then you watched porn, felt guilty. Rinse, repeat.

People who gossiped—always gossiped. Thieves stole. Wife beaters abused. Alcoholics drank. If you took the number of sins a person committed in a week, they would be the same in January as they were in December.

It is not as if you looked at a person who was saved 2 years and said, “Yep. They have 150 sins.” At 10 years, worked down to 90. At 25 years, down to 50 and so on. We did not get more sinless. We merely improved on our rationalization.

OneSmallStep said...

Lorena,

**So, I agree with you, you can't be this submissive, contrite individual and be like Jesus. You just can't.**

I've been having this same reaction right now based on the book I'm reading, the Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels. A lot of the explanations I'm reading seem to go into the idea of Jesus insulting someone asking a question, or something. Of course, the person asking the question was insulting/demanding something in the first place, and Jesus turned the tables on them.

The odd thing is, what makes me pause isn't the original insult -- that's how the Pharisees/Religious Elite are set up in the Gospels. Legalistic, missing the point, hard-hearted, not compassionate, not liking how Jesus is convicting them. So why would an insulting original question be surprising? They're the bad guys.

But I am surprised to see Jesus insulting back, and perhaps that's because of what you described -- the meek Jesus often presented in certain Christian circles. The idea that Jesus is perfect, and can do no wrong. That he's consistently good. That's what's clashing with the interpretation in the Social-Science Commentary.

Maybe if Jesus were allowed to be as human as the rest of us in Christian circles, if he weren't perfect, then I wouldn't blink at such behavior.

OneSmallStep said...

Jenny,

I would expect, though, someone who becomes more like Jesus/more perfect/less sinful, to gain an increasing sense of being disturbed by sin. Maybe even be more repelled by the remaining sin, even though the amount is smaller.

And that's not how I see people presenting the concept. They're almost treating it as though the sin residing in a person is "bigger" than it was before, that they're less and less like Jesus even as he's supposed to be transforming them into the "new man." It's never, "I realize that I'm much closer to being like Jesus today than I was 20 years ago." It's "I realize I'm much further from ever being like Jesus than I was 20 years ago."

The other thing is, I would see a difference between learning something, and becoming something. In learning, one could get a deeper idea of what sin is, and how it separates one from God, but it's almost in an abstract sense. In becoming, you move to a certain point. For example, say someone wants to become a doctor. When s/he starts out, s/he is 0% doctor, and 100% non-doctor. Five years later, s/he is 50% doctor, 50% non-doctor. Five years after that, the person is 100% doctor, 0% non-doctor.

But under the "more sinful than ever" category, the percentages would actually come across as the person never moves from 0% non-doctor.

OneSmallStep said...

DagoodS,

Essentially, you were expecting to see some sort of refinement over the years.

I'm curious, though. Those who never sinned less: was there an growing awareness over the years of that sin, and how much it separated them from God?

I'm wondering if maybe it's also a difference between growing up in the religion, and having a sudden conversion moment. I've read a few stories on the web where a non-Christian was suddenly convicted, and thus become a Christian. They found, after that moment, that they were less judgmental, less likely to get angry, more calm and peaceful about matters. And, as they continued to believe in God and pray to Him, they became even less and less judgmental, and so forth. That was more of a liberal-ish variety, though.

And in this one book I read, it was saying that one of the reasons why the fundamentalist idea was having a harder time delivering to the second generation is because that second generation didn't have those big conversion moments. They weren't originally huge fornicators/drunks/drug addicts/gluttons/other big sins, and then suddenly healed by God and becoming a Christian.

Rather, these second generation Christians had been raised as Christians, and so didn't drink, attempted to avoid premarital sex, and all the other "big" sins. So these second-generation Christians didn't have the same conviction experience, and the same encounter with God, because they were already raised in the right behavior.

So maybe there's less opportunity for that refinement, depending on how one was raised in relation to Christianity.

jennypo said...

Dagoods,

If what you just said were true, and that were all that Jesus Christ has to offer ("rinse, repeat", and no freedom from the power of sin)- then you and I could both pack it up and go home. You wouldn't need another argument, because that one would finish them all. Such a religion proves itself impotent and useless in the worst way.

Look, I can't talk about glamourous lifestyle changes. I became a Christian when I was nine years old. Sin in my life has not been the scandalous kind, but the kind that keeps me from being who I am and long to be deep inside; the kind that destroys what I love best and obscures my vision of the real and leaves me fearful and ashamed instead of confident and free.

I am not becoming a better and better person. We are each created "very good" in God's eyes. Sin doesn't make us "bad", so much as it makes us trapped. I am as good as I was the day I was born, but I am becoming more and more free from selfishness, a paralyzing laziness, and a driving need for vengeance. The security of being loved both because of and in spite of who I am allows me to give love in a way that I haven't been able to before - even when that love isn't returned. There are sins I used to struggle with often that I don't struggle with anymore. I can't say that I will never go back and choose them again, but I have a choice now - I don't feel sucked in and helpless as I used to.

I know - saying that I am coming to know what it is to love and not need love in return doesn't have the impact that it would if I said that God turned me from a drug addict bank robber into a charity director, but it has flung wide the doors for me as a person. I struggle with sins, but they are not the same sins I struggled with 10 years ago, thank God!

There are only two kinds of sin that Jesus Christ cannot overcome in me: the kind I don't want to let go of, and the kind I don't know about yet - and the second kind he continues to drag into the light as I able to face it. You can be sure that God will never let the one who has chosen him go on subject to sin. God will disturb his thoughts and his plans continually, and never cease until the sin is given over and he is free.

I am far from perfect, and far from the loveliness of the Christ, but I am daily becoming what God has meant me to be. Though I have far to go, I can look back along the path I have come, and that is far, too.

The "God" who says he has power to forgive, but who has no power to change is no God at all. Jesus Christ offers forgiveness, but his forgiveness, once accepted, comes hand in hand with the power to put to death all that is self-centred in me. It's not the instant flip of a switch, but a painstaking disentangling of the wrong motive and the right action and the right motive and the wrong action. God is not interested in destroying the unique individuals that we are and replacing us with sinless robots. Instead, he works away in us, patiently separating what is Good from the destructive weed that grows around and chokes it.

Sarge said...

I've noticed that people "convicted of sin" seem to have little drawers of behavior and "belief" where they keep a lot of the behaviors.

In this drawer, causing a death is "sin". In that one, the same activity and its result is a laudable thing.

Just another way to fool onesself.

Bruce said...

In my own life, leaving Jesus out of the equation (but remembering my upbringing) the older I get the more realize that the real sins of my life are not the external things I do or don't do. The battle is in my mind. That deep place where where envy, greed, and malice lives.

Religion focuses, most often, on the periphery. Don't smoke, drink, cuss, or chew, and don't run around with women that do :)

It can become a dog and pony show, all about how I am perceived, how I look.

Most of it is so meaningless. Whatever we believe about God, one thing is clear, my love for God is evidenced by how I love my fellow man and on this one point most of religion fails miserably.

One of the most liberating times in my life came when I got to the place where I could love my neighbor just for being my neighbor. I didn't have to see him/her as a "prospective convert." or a sinner who would be so much better if they found Jesus. Each one of my neighbors, who are all older than me, give much to me every time I am in contact with them. It is a wonderful place to come where you can love people just for the sake that they are people.

Bruce

OneSmallStep said...

Sarge,

**Just another way to fool onesself.**

You're not hinting that they're engaging in moral relativism, are you?????? ;)

OneSmallStep said...

Bruce,



Religion focuses, most often, on the periphery. Don't smoke, drink, cuss, or chew, and don't run around with women that do :)

**my love for God is evidenced by how I love my fellow man and on this one point most of religion fails miserably.**

My personal theory is that it's because loving your fellow man is a lot harder than refusing to smoke, drink or cuss. Those are sins one is able to control in a better fashion than having loving thoughts to the person who just insulted you.

That same reasoning is also why I sometimes think the Religious Right focuses on abortion/homosexuality so much -- both are circumstances that the Religious Right are (in theory)never going to be faced with. It's easy to judge someone else by something that you never have to deal with.

**It is a wonderful place to come where you can love people just for the sake that they are people.**

It is, it really is. And I'm not sure that's something conservative evangelical Christianity can offer someone who is unsaved.

Sarge said...

OSS: lemme see...YUP! ;)

DagoodS said...

One Small Step: Those who never sinned less: was there an growing awareness over the years of that sin, and how much it separated them from God?

Hmmm…there was a growing awareness of new opportunities to commit new sins, or new opportunities to commit the old ones. Hard to become greedy with money until you get old enough to have a career and a savings account. Porn (when I was growing up) was extremely hard to access as a 16-year-old, hard to access as an 18-year-old and easy as pie to get once the Internet took root.

Remember, sin never “separates” you from God. Not the big one—the fiery pits of hell. It disappoints God and harms your relationship. Like saying I forget my wife’s birthday doesn’t mean our marriage is over—but it ain’t a good thing, either! We could always sin for a bit, and get back with God. The neatest part of the whole deal is (unlike my wife) God was silent about the whole thing, so while you were sinning you would face twinges of guilt, but a quick pray and firm resolution to never repeat it, and the whole relationship was right as rain. Convenient, eh?

Yes, there are those wonderful testimonies from the drug-infused, biker, raping, murdering, village-pillaging ganger who “turned to Jesus” and became a better citizen. Always interesting to follow-up with them a few years later. Many fall back to the same ways. A few do not.

It’s like having a heart attack. Immediately after, the person vows to get in shape, and diet right. Then they go out with the family, who orders deep-fried chicken from their favorite restaurant. Or the exercise routine gets too hard. There are two types of people post-heart attack. Those who really straighten around and those who go back to the same things as before.

It is a human thing; not a God thing.

Sarge said...

Sunday I had occasion to dine with two preachers, one the sitting and the other a past one where my mother goes to church in Virginia. There was an anniversary and my mother asked me to play for one part of it.

We went out to dinner, got one of those monster corner boothes, and these two and their wives asked to join us.

Had a very nice dinner, and actually good conversation, but it was quite evident that they and I had very different world views.

My parents frog marched me there for six of the first seven years that the place existed, my parents were delegates to the southern baptist convention, and my father was a deacon.

We were talking about the church history, and I said that like the menu in front of us, there were pretty pictures, but I knew what happened to the eggs that made the lovely omelet and what got ground up tp make the sausage.

The first preacher at that church had a bad year. He had a heart attack, recovered, and then a few months later had a tumor removed from his brain. A group of the "inner church" took it upon themselves to visit him the day after surgery and inform him that he was fired. This without consulting anyone and in defiance of the stated by-laws. They just did it, and everyone could like it or lump it.

I mentioned this to my companions, and they looked appropriately grave, considered (they knew about it) and said that they felt that their deity had 'moved' this group to act, that the future of that ministry and the 'good' it would do wouldn't be impeded by (poor man) a 'weak reed'. It was an opprotunity that 'the lordeh' revealed.

I mentioned that even an atheist like me viewed this as an opprotunity to, perhaps, practice compassion, assistance, concern, simple humanity? Hey! How 'bout those 'beatitudes'??!!

They found that idea, well, interesting. Absurd, but... interesting.

Power and position always trump humanity no matter what the venue, I've seen.

The congregation of that church is mostly military, CIA, FBI, state department employees.

If those people seriously bought into 1.2% of what they claim, they'd never be able to ever pass through the gate to work.