Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
In coming to grips with the diverse theological views of many Quakers, and in part by the fascinating discussion on salvation, I have to ask what does the concept of sin look like from non-evangelical Friends? or does the concept apply to what you are taught, or experience with the Light?
Thank you so much for your thoughtful response below. This issue has come up in discussion recently about whether anyone can actually sin against themselves. Paul said that we could sin against ourselves in 1 Corinthians. He wrote it in the context of sexual immorality and the view that God dwells within us. I agree that sinning spiritually makes no sense, because what offence is there but a thought in one's mind? However, sinning against another, for me, is not granting them the dignity of being God's creature; whole and entire.
Rambling here, but thank you for the reply.
Mac Lemann said:
As I'm sure you know, the origin of the Hebrew term comes from archery, literally: missing the target. In English the the etymology has to do with doing the wrong thing. It is founded on the idea that there is an expectation laid down by God and sinful behavior is that which violates God's law.
In the Christian tradition there are two meanings of "sin." One is behavior that breaks up the right relationship with God and other humans. The other is the state of sinfulness; the idea that the human soul is infused with a spiritual essence of sin passed on between humans because of the first breaking of God's law in Eden. I reject the idea of purely spiritual sin because the concept of humanity as a dualistic being made up of body infused with a separate spirit originates with the infusion of Greek philosophy from the Roman empire into early Christianity. For Jesus, a Hebrew, there is no dualism between body and spirit. When John was baptizing people to remove their sins, he was literally just washing them. The sins that kept people out of the temple in Jerusalem were literally diseases/afflictions like leprosy or blindness. I take a practical view of sin.
I believe that in general people act out of fear rather than love and that this has led us to the destructive culture(s) that exist today. I believe that the power of Friends' practice can bring all of us, like George Fox, up through the flaming sword and back into an Edenic state wherein we behave with love in our hearts because of the revealed Truth of God. For me this Truth is that Love is greater than Fear; that we are all loved and called to love.
I enjoy justifying my beliefs using the story of Eden in Genesis. I reject the interpretation that claims that because humans violated God's law we were cast out of Paradise and sentenced to a life of toil and pain that is brought on by the state of our souls, immersed in a purely spiritual sin that is overcome through the rituals of baptism, communion, and confession/repentance.
In the story when the people eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil their eyes are opened. What changes then? Does the world suddenly become a fallen place of evil and suffering? No. But our perception of the world is changed with our imperfect, finite ability to judge good and evil. The original sin comes when the people realize they are naked and judge this to be evil so they hide themselves. The judgement against humanity comes from the humans themselves as individuals, "ah! I'm evil!" The second judgement comes with each human judging the other as evil. The general behavior in humans to judge and justify themselves through their imperfect view of good and evil leads to the "fallen" state of humanity where we incarcerate one another, hoard resources, wage wars, etc. Through the Quaker practice of worship and communion our eyes can be closed and our hearts opened. We stop judging ourselves and others. We love ourselves and others and see the very good world that God created.