Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Are All Sins Equal?

Most Christians instinctively believe that all sins are equal in God's eyes. This, no doubt, stems from our understanding of sin as something that separates us from God. We are taught that any sin, no matter how small, separates us from God. In salvation terms, that is sound Christian doctrine, but still, the belief that all sins are equal in God’s eyes makes little sense to me. If they were, that would make us humans more just, if not more intelligent than God. After all, our legal system differentiates between petty theft, speeding, and murder. We even have gradations of murder – 1st and 2nd degree murders. We don’t believe that all crime is equal in the eyes of the law. So, do Catholics who believe it is a sin to use birth control believe that God considers birth control as wrong as murder? (Actually, I’ve heard some morally confused Catholics argue just that, but I consider that helping to make my point.) Do Jews who believe it is a sin to eat non-kosher food equate doing so with committing rape? Do evangelicals who believe it is a sin to gamble (I don’t believe it is), believe that God views a night at the blackjack table as sinful as abusing a child? It is sad when religious people depict God in a way that renders Him less intelligent than his creations. Sure, we humans think that murdering a family is worse than taking a stapler home from the office, but God doesn't!

The Bible seems to be clear when it comes to the hierarchy of sin. God detests the deliberate infliction of unjust suffering on fellow human beings. There are some legal differences between the Old and New Testaments, but they agree that God hates evil and loves goodness. “Love your neighbor” is the great rule in Judaism, and, along with love of God, is the central rule of Christianity. God did not destroy Noah's generation because they ate forbidden foods or took home cheap objects from the workplace. He did so because it was violently evil. So to discern what the greatest sin is, we begin with it having to do with evil actions towards other people. There is one category that I believe is worse than any other - evil committed in God's name. In John 19:11 Jesus told Pilate that those who had delivered him up (the Jewish religious leaders) were “guilty of the greater sin.” Doesn’t that imply lesser sins, and by correlation, lesser punishments?


Holly said...

Is it the sin that we should argue about, or what is on a person's heart? I agree that there are lesser sins, just as you have posed; but what I think makes a small sin equal to a horrible atrocity is the person's heart. A person can continually steal petty items and never be repentant for it, even feel justified in their theft as a murder feels justified in taking his victim's life.

1 Cor. 1:31 says, "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." I know Paul is speaking about eating unclean foods, but I believe he has a broader context. Everything we do should be for the glory of God. God sees no glory in a heart that is selfish and reeks of self-justification.

Make sense?

Charles North said...

Yep. I should repost my article on "Moral Bank Accounts." It would make a nice part 2 to this discussion.

Tommy Riggs said...

Matthew 23:23 comes to mind.

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected THE MORE IMPORTANT MATTERS OF THE LAW—justice, mercy and faithfulness.....

Jesus seems to indicate that some matters of the law are more important than others.

Also Matthew 11:20-22

20Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. 21"Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22But I tell you, IT WILL BE MORE BEARABLE for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you.

This comment seems to indicate that there may be degrees of punishment. I don't know that it is so much tied to the sins committed, but the lack of response to God's work in our lives. Of course when we think about the general idea of sin as "missing the mark," missing what God does for us is certainly part of our weakness as humans.

What about Matthew 12:31?

31And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.

Seems that there is a type of blasphemy worse than others.

Charles--what's your take on the sin that will not be forgiven? I would like to think Jesus was using an exageration rather than providing a literal warning--but he obviously indicates a differentation.

I can't help but go back to a previous post, that we certainly don't have to rehash. I still believe that running a red light at 2 or 3 in the morning is a sin, but its not as bad as running one during a busier time. :)

Charles North said...

Tommy. There are lots of theories as to what Jesus meant by the "sin against the Holy Spirit" aka the unforgivable sin. I think it fits the same context as his "greater sin" comment to Pilate. The Jewish leaders who should have known better, and even witnessed his signs, rejected him. I think Jesus was specifically addressing their hard hearts.

David said...

You are definately right about not all sins, being equal. Even in the OT, there was different punishments alloted for different sins. Some sins required a simple sacrifice whereas others required being stoned to death. Even in the NT as has already been mentioned, Christ says there are weightier matter. Also, on the flip side, Paul says that the greatest three virtues (spiritual gifts) are faith, hope, and love and out of all of those, love is the greatest, so I would think that the reverse could reply as well. Also, even in Catholic theology they have or had at least in the Middle Ages the 7 mortal sins whih was taken partly from the list of 7 things that God hates in Proverbs 6. As for the unforgivable sin, it comes up when the Pharisees have just accussed Jesus of performing his miracles by the power of the devil instead of the power of the spirit of God, so I have always thought it in that context it is when your heart is so twisted that you attribute things of God to the devil and the things of the devil to God.

Anonymous said...

When you combine Holly's comments on the person's heart with the "weightier things" passage that Tommy quoted, you could say that God is more concerned with our treatment of each other than with proceedural rules.

If I forgot to "follow a rule" for worship (I'll use that VERY loosly), there is no lasting harm. We know that we are not perfect. Thank God for His grace!

But if I sin against another person, lasting damage is done.

Sins against other people have repercussions throughout generations. If we go back to the Africa discussion, it is the greed sin of the leaders that has caused so much damage to those countries and caused so much suffering. Even if the right ruler could be put in place, it would take decades to reverse the acts of a single generation of leaders.