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Whatever Became of Sin?

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The inhumanity of Planned Parenthood’s marketing and selling of baby brains, livers, and limbs, the psychopathic murder of two reporters in Roanoke, VA by a man so disturbed that he chronicled the entire tragedy via his own cell phone camera, and the unprecedented celebration of gender confusion and sexual reassignment all beg the question, “Whatever became of sin?”  The famed psychiatrist, Karl Menninger, posed this inquiry forty-two years ago as he witnessed the disappearance of the word “sin” from social conversations.  He wrote:

“The word ‘sin,’ which seems to have disappeared, was a proud word.  It was once a strong word, an ominous and serious word.  It described a central point in every civilized human being’s life plan and life style.  But the word went away.  It has almost disappeared—the word, along with the notion.  Why?  Doesn’t anyone sin anymore?  Doesn’t anyone believe in sin?”[1]       

Menninger, a medical professional, warned that should this concept, sin, become eliminated from open cultural discourse any hope or thought of a moral society would inevitably vanish.  While I do not agree with all of the assertions or remedies offered by Menninger, his observation was prophetic.

Even more sadly, Menninger’s concerns did not stop as a trend within secular culture.  It also became popular among mainstream evangelicalism.  Whether it is the prosperity preacher teaching promises that do not exist in the Bible, the pastor preaching feel good sermons intended to boost self-esteem or the “Christian” therapist attributing anger, anxiety, or adultery to unresolved psychological issues or mental illness, a serious consideration of sin, in many circles of the Church has become unthinkable.  It is hard to admit, but sin, even in evangelicalism, has become an archaic construct.

Psychology has been a major player in these unfortunate developments.  As a discipline it has successfully established the dogma that the purpose of human existence is no longer to glorify God, but to glorify self.  Self, just as was the case in the Garden of Eden, has again taken center stage in the narrative of human consciousness.  As this pattern always does, it is destroying the very world in which we live.

Recently I watched psychotherapist, Karen Ruskin, and psychiatrist, Ken Ablow, of Fox News debate the assertion on Bill O’Reilly’s, The Factor, that nihilism is to blame for all the violence we are witnessing in the world.  Neither professional was equipped to offer a robust answer to this problem, but instead referenced empty buzzwords like “spirituality” and “empathy” as important to mental and societal health.  Their attempts were anything but adequate.  While O’Reilly is certainly on to something, even to cite nihilism or the falling away from a vague, undefined term like spirituality does not capture the problems we are facing.  Nihilism and falling away from spiritual truth are not the core problems of our day.  Rather, these are symptoms of the real issue—the issue cited by Karl Menninger in 1973—sin.  Here is the actual interview with Ruskin and Ablow:

 

 

Biblical counseling, anchored in the epistemological base of sacred Scripture, exposes the root responsible for causing such degradation in our society and our world. When we read Paul’s account in Romans 1 wherein he outlines the devastating consequences that flow from the sin of rejecting God, he is describing the very subjects being covered in our current news cycles today:

“Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves…” (Rom. 1:24)

“They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice.

They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness.  They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless” (Rom. 1:29-31).

James also outlines this spiral towards death and decay when he illustrates what transpires when we entertain desires that are not centered in God’s glory:

“But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.  Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (Jas. 1:14-15).

Our culture of death is rooted in sin.  Sin is real, and sin is catastrophic.  Sin is personal in that it is opposition against a personal God.  Remaining silent on sin is also catastrophic in that to remain silent on sin promotes being silent on Jesus.  Remaining silent on Jesus prevents us from any possibility of overcoming this enslaving enemy.

Discussing sin, on the other hand, brings substance to the conversation.  Even more, acknowledging sin promotes humble awareness of our need for redemption.  It removes us from center stage as we bow to the only One deserving of that rightful place.  Accepting the reality of sin’s power over our lives brings us to the end of ourselves.  It forces us into a place of deep gratitude as we recognize that our only hope is in Jesus who “bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Pet. 2:24).  When God’s grace propels us towards faith in Christ, we are miraculously delivered from the domain of darkness where sin reigns and transferred to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son where we are forever freed from sin’s bondage.[2]  It is the only place where sin will not have dominion over our hearts.[3]  Nowhere else are we safe from this enemy, and there is no other door through which we may enter this kingdom than Jesus Christ.[4]   There are no other cures that will effectively heal this spiritual ill.  Therapy is powerless.  Laws are powerless.  Politics are powerless.  Morality is powerless.  Medicine is powerless.  There is only One able to save us from this desperate body of death—“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 7:25)!

Stopping short of discussing sin stops short of addressing humanity’s greatest woe.  Failure to acknowledge this relentless, overpowering enemy removes the need to call on an all-sufficient hero.  Removing the need for this conquering hero makes Jesus irrelevant to the devastation we are witnessing in our world and our lives.  While nihilism is certainly concerning, we fall far short of adequately addressing the atrocities around us unless we echo again and again the admonition of John who wrote:

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.  If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:5-10).      

May God’s grace open the eyes and ears of people around the world to see, hear, and receive this blessing of blessings—the salvation of our God!

[1] Karl Menninger, Whatever Became of Sin? (New York, Hawthorn Books, 1973) 14

[2] Colossians 1:13

[3] Romans 6:14

[4] John 14:6


Posted on September 2, 2015