Much Ado About Sin

Much Ado About Sin May 15, 2019

Doug Wilson frequently posts excerpts for his books on his blog. Recently, he posted this:

“Sin must be against someone. It is not primarily a matter of being against a rule—for a rule does not exist without a rule-giver, or the specified persons that the rule concerns . . . whenever the law is broken, that means that someone has been wronged, grieved, or hurt.”

I’ve thought a lot about sin in the last few years. Namely, I’ve thought about how little sense the concept makes. Certainly, people can be unkind. People can do bad things. But sin denotes something different. Sin is transgression of God’s law—divine law. Sin is disobeying God. 

Most people today tend to think that an action is wrong if it hurts someone. Wilson, on first read, seems to affirm that understanding—sin must be against someone, he writes. When a person commits a sin, Wilson says, someone is “wronged, grieved, or hurt.” But wait. How does this make sense?

There are many, many sins that don’t harm anyone. Besides, that’s not the standard—sin is disobeying God. The Old Testament genocides definitely harmed people, but according to individuals like Wilson, they’re not sin, because they were commanded by God. Sin isn’t defined nearly as narrowly—or widely—as anything that wrong, grieve, or hurt someone. What, then, does Wilson mean by suggesting as much?

Without having access to his full book—which I don’t—I suspect Wilson is including in his equation the harm done to God when people sin. Sin, I was taught, grieves God. 

 

Sin harms God. So whether sin harms humans, if you think about it, is irrelevant.

Now, certainly, there are likely those who would argue that all sin does harm humans, on the grounds that God’s commands were based on what is actually best for humans—or not good for them. So, then, even if a sin doesn’t seem like it’s harming anyone—say, reading erotica—it is. 

I’m curious, though. If that is the case, why does God’s involvement really matter? If sin really is what harms humans, can’t we just say that humans shouldn’t do things that harm humans? Why insert God at all?

Can you see why I find this fascinating?

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