Matthew 5:18 – “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the moral law until all is accomplished. But good news – I’ve already fulfilled all that tedious civil and ritual stuff, so you can ignore it.” – Jesus 🎉 (apparently)
The task of theology is always to point from where we are to where God stands. In what we say and do we seek to catch a glimpse of the reality of God so that our journey in faith might take us closer to the source of life. The problem is that the world beneath our feet is constantly shifting in ways that we cannot fully understand. Pointing to God is like aiming a golf ball off a boat that’s floating down river in and out of the fog – you may have just the right aim to start, but that aim can never be set in stone as long as the river flows. When the river moves fast, your shot can easily wind up in the bunker in just the amount of time it takes to complete your swing. When the fog is dense enough, you can’t even tell if the boat has moved at all.
It is deeply problematic to say that we shouldn’t care about shifts in culture and we should simply hold scripture to be our anchor in the midst of life. We are often pushed by culture in ways we cannot know and to an extent that we cannot define. As we are pushed, the way we talk about God has to shift or else our aim will be off without our awareness that we have in fact changed. Even the most faithful efforts to keep scripture as the sole foundation of our faith will fall short simply by the fact that we don’t know ourselves well enough to recognize if we’re still pointed in the right direction or if the boat beneath our feet has moved. We need God to constantly reveal Himself to us like a break in the fog that keeps us aimed not towards words of scripture but towards the Word revealed through scripture.
To believe Christ is to experience the love that embraces all our imperfections and will never let go. Propositional knowledge can articulate that experience or distract from it, but can never mean anything apart from the life and community that embodies the meaning of its claims.
Conservative Christianity expresses the gravity of sin without embodying the community sin breaks. Liberal Christianity expresses the power of love without revealing the community love creates.
A life of faith is truly lived when we refuse the glass bottom bridges and look right into the face of what terrifies us most – we are not in control of our lives and our world; we aren’t strong enough or smart enough or faithful enough to fix it all. But even when the storms of life are raging, God invites us to boldly step out and walk upon the water.
God invites to look over the edge, without a net, and learn to trust in the Lord. Look upon the cross of Christ, look right into that sign of all our fears and failures, and live! For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
Stories are a better way to express truth than analytical arguments. In a story, we take for granted that we have no idea how to define the world as it actually is and instead accept the rules as they come. Lessons learned from fanciful tales will surely be incorporated into the actual world differently than they would apply in the world of the story. But this is how truth is applied no matter what. It is often better to knowingly portray a different world in which a particular point is made than to keep up the illusion that we can possibly know precisely what we mean in the real world. When we attempt to draw lessons from real life, we always obfuscate, whether by choice or ignorance, what it is that we are taking for granted, which means the lesson is never precisely the same from anyone else’s vantage point.
The world of the Bible and the world in which we live are almost exactly inverted in at least one crucial way – in biblical times, the family/tribal unit was the locus of identity and assumed to be the most determinative factor in the shape a life would take. In our modern times, radical individualism is assumed to open every possible door for a person to define their life goals, values, careers, and outcomes in whatever way is desired. The difference is at least vital for any conception of sin and forgiveness.
Throughout scripture, sin is a means of breaking with the presumed order of life and relationship – missing the mark or failing to live up to the kind of life that is expected and/or laid out in front. Forgiveness is that action or process whereby order and relationship are restored. In a world that presumes a particular tribal and family identity, it is possible to proscribe both ways in which brokenness arises and means by which healing takes place. In other words, it makes a certain kind of logical sense that one can list things as sin and, on the flip side, certain actions as ways to be forgiven.
The presumption of a specific kind of life, identity, or relationship is precisely what we lack in the radically individualized modern world. Sin and brokenness are meaningless terms at this point because we no longer have the language or assumptions with which to describe the kind of life or relationships that could be broken by action called sin. Without knowing what is broken by sin, it is a further impossibility to define forgiveness as that which heals what is broken.
Somehow, we have arrived at a point where more conservative voices offer the traditional language of sin as though it meant anything in a world that does not have a presumption of identity or relationship. More liberal voices, often having experienced the devastation and harm of emphasizing sin without the safety of relationship, tend to abandon more traditional biblical language altogether to focus on the kind of identity and safety that make healing possible.
What we lack is an appreciation of the power held by the stories that write us and an ability to define the life revealed by those stories before we begin to talk about those things that might lead to brokenness. In other words, sin means nothing in a world that lacks the presumption of tribe and identity. The church cannot assume that traditional language of sin and forgiveness is meaningful or helpful without first defining and embodying the ‘life that really is life.’ Only after aspiring to create Godly community can we appreciate the power of sin that breaks community and then seek the hope of forgiveness to restore community again.