Saturday, April 25, 2009

Try out the sliding-sin scale today!

I see in a lot of places the idea that God doesn't really measure "levels" of sin. All sin is equal in the eyes of God, whether it be stealing a candy bar or wiping out an entire country. Both crimes get the maximum sentence, which is death/hell/a combination of the two/something else not all that pleasant. There isn't really a sense of a punishment that is proportionate to the crime. Rather, all crimes are equally bad.

Very often, the idea that all crimes equal the same maximum punishment is seen as okay, and a just thing, and who are we to question God?

I touched on this in the comments of my last post, but if that principle -- all crimes are equal -- are applied to actual people, would we really enjoy being around those types of people?

Then let's try applying that to a society. Say we lived in a country where capital punishment was given to those who stole candy bars. Capital punishment was given to those who committed adultery. And capital punishment was given to serial killers.

And that's just with actions we all agree are crimes (though the second one falls under a moral crime). What about someone who says something unkind to another person, and capital punishment is also applied there. Or someone who hates another, and thus must also be put to death. Or one of the favorite scenarios I see Kirk Cameron using -- if you've ever told a lie, you've broken one of the Ten Commandments, and thus deserve to go to hell.

Would anyone find that type of society just? Or compassionate? Or merciful? Instead, wouldn't we find that society to be on the tyrannical side? A society that gives no leeway for the imperfections of human nature?

Under no circumstances would anyone call that society good. We would say that living in that manner would be perhaps tantamount to torture, because everyone would be so worried about being imperfect that they'd never just be allowed to live.

The workarounds I see for this are that I can't judge God by man's reasoning, I must use God's reasoning. The problem is that as soon as God is described as good, or just, we need some way of defining those words. Otherwise, any description of God becomes meaningless.

Another workaround for this could be that we have to make allowances for the sinful nature of man. Since we know that no one is going to behave perfectly, we must have a society that operates in that fashion, so that people are constantly getting killed through capital punishment. If that were the case, then we wouldn't have a society left.

But isn't the fact that we're making allowances for the imperfection of man admitting that a law structure demanding perfection isn't just? That it's almost borderline cruel? If we're applying a standard of justice to this, then a society should organize its laws to require perfection regardless of how sinful said subjects of the society are.


Andrew said...

I always heard that "equality" of sin thing growing up, but I don't find a strong argument for it in scripture. Jesus seemed to think there were gnats and camels.

God doesn't seem to bent out of shape about some circumstances of lying. When Samuel was concerned about going to anoint David and about Saul's probable violent reaction; God said - Tell him you have come to offer sacrifice.

This plays toward my suspicion that God is Holy.... but not anal.

Anonymous said...

I have to think about your post before I can give my real answer. My feeling right now, though, is that both heaven and hell are the same thing. Murderers and rapists will be at both places, so if the temperature is the only difference, I would much rather be in hell where most people are supposed to end up.

OneSmallStep said...


**This plays toward my suspicion that God is Holy.... but not anal.**

lol. Do you remember those signs a while back where it was something God said? I can see this as one of the signs.

"I'm Holy, people, not Anal."
-- God.

OneSmallStep said...


Think away. :)

I would say another difference is that one group of murderers/rapists is covered in blood, and the other is not ...

Hmm. I was originally going with the idea that the blood-covered ones were in Heaven, and the blood belonged to Jesus. But depending on how hell works out, maybe those in hell are also covered in blood, only the blood of victims.

Pastor Bob said...

Leaving contemporary societies alone you don't have to go too far back in history to see hungry children being hung for stealing bread. It was the law in England at least through the early 19th century.

As to adultery I suspect that those with political power always got away with it and those who didn't paid the price.

My point is that our sensibilities in modern western cultures are different from those which have prevailed in other times and in other cultures.

I'm not suggesting that your attempt to make a distinction between big and little sins is wrong, rather that different cultures consider different behaviors to be big or little sins.

Pastor Bob

Mystical Seeker said...

It's true that different cultures have different concepts of justice, which further compounds the difficulty of using the human concept of justice to describe God's actions.

That being said, I think we can't just reduce all concepts to cultural relativism and say that it is just a Western concept that, for example, executing children for stealing is a bad thing. I don't subscribe to the idea that all concepts of justice are equally valid, and the decision by Western societies to stop doing that to children really does represent an improvement in justice as far as I'm concerned. If we accept that not all concepts of justice are equally valid, that some concepts represent something closer to the divine concept of justice, then we have to ask ourselves what makes something just. Which gets back to the problem of applying a human concept of justice to God--it is a bit of a moving target. But maybe that's the point.

I am influenced by process theology in how I view such things. To me, this moving target represents a creative influence on human societies, which allows societies to recognize that certain former practices were injust--sexual inequality, for example, or capital punishment. If these changes in human understanding of justice represent improvements, as I think they do, then they also represent a human response to a divine influence.

OneSmallStep said...

Pastor Bob,

**Leaving contemporary societies alone you don't have to go too far back in history to see hungry children being hung for stealing bread. It was the law in England at least through the early 19th century.**

I think this supports my point, though -- when we look back on that time, I think most of us are horrified that a society existed where starving children were hung for stealing bread. We find that problematic for a few reasons -- that theft of that nature is treated so harshly, and that society was structured such that children had no recourse but to steal in order to survive.

Yet, based on a near fundamentalist/conservative viewpoint, this is exactly how God behaves. The tiniest infraction earns you the worst penalty -- the same penalty one would receive if one committed the worst infraction.

If a society operated that way, no one would find it to be a good, just society. Yet if God is presented as operated that way, He is still considered both good and just.

OneSmallStep said...


**which further compounds the difficulty of using the human concept of justice to describe God's actions.**

And I think we really see this when studying how all the atonement theories were created -- many of them were influenced by the very culture that they were created in. It's like someone saying that they know Jesus took our punishment because that's exactly how it was presented in the Bible.. Yet the Eastern Orthodox follow a different theory, and they would argue that theirs is the one clearly presented in the Bible.

Anonymous said...

Loved the blog!

I have a problem with the 'sliding scale' idea and each sin being equal - since no on actually behaves like this in reality. If no one is like this in reality (unless they are psychopathic) then this idea has no basis in a 'working theology' making it useless more or less.

Is a lie always a sin? No. It may a deviation from the acceptable standard - but sometimes it can be justified. In the case of the kids stealing bread - for their family - we can also see this concept at work (justifiable use of theft). Not everything is 'black n whie' - main reason countries erect justice systems (to interpret the law).

Problem in Christianity is they refuse to see how all there teachings are actually law by another name - gospel. The gospel is directly related to the Torah and Prophets and teachings derived from there - which in essence - is a religious system that required judges/lawyers.

So the dis-connect going on is one of knowing how to look at law - and sin. Once you go there - not everything is equal - they may all be deviations (in that sense equal) but not all deserve punishment.

OneSmallStep said...


**I have a problem with the 'sliding scale' idea and each sin being equal - since no on actually behaves like this in reality.**

Not only is no one like this in reality in terms of behavior, I think most people actually praise people for perhaps thinking about stealing, but then deciding to be better than that thought. DagoodS made a comment in the last post about moral growth and the ability to rise above our first impulses. We do recognize the distinction between one and the other, and we see that as a good thing. A child wanting to hit another child, but then knowing that is wrong, decides to be better than that. Yet under Christianity, the two are equal.