30 August 2017John 16:8-11
“And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement…” (v. 1)
Psalm: Psalm 69:30-36
In some recent public discussion about 'British values', the notion of tolerance has often been held up as key. It's not always clear exactly what is (and isn't) meant by that word. But in a culture that claims tolerance as a core value, it might be quite difficult to speak publicly, faithfully and helpfully, about "sin and righteousness and judgement'.
All three of these core Christian ideas can easily be understood negatively. 'Sin' can evoke ideas of shame and guilt; 'righteousness' can easily be heard prefaced by 'self-'; and 'judgement' can quickly morph into 'judgemental' - which is never a positive way to describe someone!
It's probably also true to say that some of the narrow and irresponsible ways the language of sin and judgement have been used historically in Christian preaching and pastoral care have contributed to this negative perception.
To focus on just one of these key concepts and convictions (perhaps the relative toxicity of the language of 'sin') means that Christian believers and church leaders steer away from addressing it - with the danger that the residue of negative associations and narrow understandings will continue to shape how it's thought about when does occurs (such as in today's Bible passage).
In classical Christian thought, sin is primarily understood corporately - as a shared fracture in our human nature: there's something in humanity as a whole that's 'broken', which has to do with our relationship to our maker and takes shape in particular ways in individual lives, relationships and communities.
In a culture that can seem to prefer an 'I'm ok, you're ok' understanding of human nature, we can find ourselves bereft of tools for understanding and dealing with all that's not 'ok' - the senseless violence, casual cruelties and moral indifference that shape many of the ways we relate to one another, from the global to the most intimate. 'I'm ok, you're ok' risks simply leaving us where, and as, we are.
To speak of a God who deals in and with sin and judgement might not be to proclaim a despotic and accusing deity, but to announce good news: that God, as God, cannot and will not simply leave me, and us, and all this as they are.
- Do you think Christian accounts of sin still have purchase? Is there a difference inside the Church and outside it? If so, what do you think this is?
- What new ways might be needed to express what Christian faith means by 'sin', which avoid the potentially alienating language and associations?