Does Our Sin Affect God? [Questions That Haunt]

Does Our Sin Affect God? [Questions That Haunt] May 28, 2013

This question comes from Ben — you can submit your questions here — and it deals with three thing:1) the nature of God, 2) the nature of human interaction with God, and 3) the nature of sin:

Does my sin have an effect on God? Specifically, if I do something that doesn’t harm anybody (but maybe myself) does it matter to God? I understand there is general sin (or corporate sin) that is simply the brokenness of our world. I’m talking about specific individual sins.

You respond in the comments. I’ll respond on Friday. See all of the past questions and answers here.

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  • The_B_C

    I was raised in the church, and remember picturing Jesus crying when I would sin. I have also heard preachers many times say that my sin killed Jesus on the cross. I also know that God is omniscient, and there is nothing I’ve done that is secret from God. And God loves me anyway, offering forgiveness and showing mercy.

    My thought is this: I most likely regularly commit sins that are behaviors which are culturally/socially acceptable, and are not illegal to the law of the land, but are disobedient to the teaching of Scripture (and the current mainline & evangelical church of which I am a part). Those behaviors may have very little consequences for me because they are culturally/socially acceptable (though I do feel guilt, shame, a need to confess and behave differently).

    I think this discussion somewhat hinges on Biblical interpretation: what rules/regulations, laws, instructions still apply, and which ones don’t (because they are bound to a different cultural era)? But, am I changing Scripture to fit me, or allowing Scripture to change me? I can try to interpret scripture as defining behaviors that are or are not sins. So I can just decide, well the Bible (or church) says that’s a sin, but I interpret that it’s not, thereby no guilt, shame, or need for forgiveness. Really a different way of thinking makes more sense: It seems like the bottom line is a “right” relationship with God. Am I willing to submit to God’s authority? Or live by my own?

    Maybe a better way to ask this question is not “what are the effects of sin,” but “what is holiness/righteousness, and is it important and what motivation do I have to live a holy life?”

    • “what is holiness/righteousness,” According to Jesus, and the teacher after him – LOVE
      Romans 13:8,10, Galatians 5:14, Matthew 22:36-40, 1 John 4:7, John 13:34, John 15:12, 1 Peter 4:8, 1 John 3:11, Matthew 5:44, James 2:8

      “Is it important” extremely
      1 Corinthians 13:13

      “what motivation do I have to live a holy life?” LOVE
      1 John 4:19, 1 John 4:10, 1 John 4:16, 2 John 1:6, Ephesians 5:2

      Love is the goal and the reason. The motivator and the transformer. I don’t think fear is a good motivator. Or repetitive guilt a healthy aspect of loving relationships.

      We don’t pick and choose – we wrestle with each action to gauge whether is it the deeply loving thing to do. Not hollywood love, but Jesus-like sacrificial, other oriented love.

      • The_B_C

        What you say makes total sense, and I agree. It sounds like “because I love God, I’ll be obedient to God.” What defines that obedience? Is it scripture? “Traditional Christian Values”?

        I guess you would define it as “the deeply loving thing to do…Jesus-like, sacrificial, other-oriented love.” Which is relative to every situation faced.

        So, Sin becomes a lack/absence of love. How does that effect God?

        • I’m going to copy and paste what I wrote up a little bit higher in this thread

          “A healthy, loving (perfect) parent is not offended, or vengeful when their child does something ‘wrong’ – but they want the very best for their child. They care about their child’s wellbeing. It’s not an abstract thing where every mistake must have an equal punishment because the parent’s honor is damaged or the child owes them a debt. The child messing up doesn’t lessen love or make the parent not want to be there for them, but it makes them sad for their child precisely because they love them so much, they share the pain. They wait like the father of the prodigal son for them to realize their error, maybe do things to show them their error, object lessons, but only because of love.

          That’s how I understand God..”

          That’s how our actions that fall outside of love affect God as far as I can see it.

          If God IS love then it does make sense to me that sin is anything that isn’t love. Sin is anything that is not God. Not love. And being that God made us to be his children, in his likeness, it would grieve love to have your children turn away from what they are meant to be. Fully human.

          Of course this involves viewing love as a primary characteristic of God which I know all people don’t believe. It’s central to my faith though, so I guess that’s why I come back to that with everything.

          http://afkimel.wordpress.com/2013/03/24/finding-the-god-who-is-love/ is interesting on this although I find they present God as more detached than I would think a God of love to be.

  • I believe that nothing we do or can do reduces the love the Father feels for us. He will never punish us for anything we do, no matter what it is; nothing we do alienates us from his side of the relationship, though we may feel alienated on our side. He understands how messed-up we are. So, in this sense it does not ‘matter’.
    On the other hand, I believe that the Father wishes us to be free of fear and alienation. He wants us to have peace, and he wants us to love ourselves and others, which means that we desire what is best for us and them, so if we do something that harms us, then it matters to him a great deal, because he does not want that for us.

    • This.

      A healthy, loving (perfect) parent is not offended, or vengeful when their child does something ‘wrong’ – but they want the very best for their child. They care about their child’s wellbeing. It’s not an abstract thing where every mistake must have an equal punishment because the parent’s honor is damaged or the child owes them a debt. The child messing up doesn’t lessen love or make the parent not want to be there for them, but it makes them sad for their child precisely because they love them so much, they share the pain. They wait like the father of the prodigal son for them to realize their error, maybe do things to show them their error, object lessons, but only because of love.

      That’s how I understand God..

  • Ric Shewell

    I still struggle with Psalm 51. This great confessing hymn has this weird line — Against You and You alone have I sinned!
    What? I kinda think David sinned against Uriah, Bathsheba, his own family, and his country. What does that mean?

    • Kings could do what they wanted with other people’s lives. He wasn’t accountable to them. Other people’s lives didn’t cause guilt. Not one of the people involved could lay a claim against the king.
      Such was the way of kings. But he was clearly wrong. David admits he’s wrong. According to what standard does guilt come in? Before God. The whole world at that time justified David’s actions as his right as king. God had a different standard. David, confronted between two standards of his rights and desires, acknowledges his sin before the God. It wasn’t a crime in his society, it was a sin before God. It was a new way of life being shown that said the King was not the only subject who mattered.

      • Ric Shewell

        Even so, wasn’t it a transgression against Uriah, Bathsheba, and the men who died with Uriah? I’m not entirely ready to attribute the Hobbesian King/People relationship to ancient Israel. Deuteronomy 17 lays out some pretty clear instructions for the King (I think obviously added into the text sometime later in Israel’s history), and the story of Saul’s relationship to Samuel seems to indicate an extremely messy process as Israel attempts to understand what a king can and cannot do. Anyway, I think its messy, we don’t know if all of Israel justified David’s actions. If that were the case, why did David see it fit to hide his affair with Bathsheba?

        All in all, I don’t know about that line in Psalm 51, sometimes I wish it wasn’t there.

  • Jesse

    Hi Ben,

    I wonder, is there such a thing as personal sin, or sin that does not affect anyone else? I’m not so sure.

    My honest observation of reality is that everything is connected on some fundamental level. Me getting addicted to heroin and overdosing affects other people whether I like it or not.

    Panentheistically speaking, we are in God and God is in us, yet God is beyond us. So, to make it very simple, what we do to ourselves, to others, to the Earth, we also do to God. This is probably what Jesus was getting at with all that golden rule and “what you do for the least of these you do unto me” talk.

    • The_B_C

      I like the “panentheistic” perspective. Reminds me we are each made in the image of God.

      • Jesse

        Exactally. Which reminds me of something I heard one time (off topic of this post): If you’re looking at someone whom you can’t stand, and there is seemingly nothing in them that is good, keep looking until you find it. The Image of God is in there somewhere.

  • Well, there’s Ephesians 4:30…

  • matybigfro

    Personally when I still believe in Sin it is only as that which harms the self, or others.

  • JoeyS

    I’ve become more convinced that there is no sin outside of relationship. If it doesn’t harm somebody, including oneself, then it isn’t a sin.

    That’s why so many of our active sins are rooted in pride and selfishness.

    It’s also why Jesus stripped down hundreds of laws into two commands: Love God and love other people. Any time we make rules beyond that we delve into legalism, and though there are times when legalism protects, more often it oppresses.

    • Yes!

    • To me sin is best understood as a breech or distortion of love.

    • Adriene Buffington

      Maybe some of those ‘sins’ that we think of as only having an effect on ourselves actually DO negatively impact our relationship with God.

      Because if a person is self-indulgent they don’t develop patience, gratitude, an ability to accept that we aren’t in control. . . it seems like developing those qualities deepens ones relationship with God, their capacity to love as a whole, mature person.

      I think the basis of our relationship with God is TRUST (=faith: pistis). That’s how we know we love God, and trusting will lead to ‘living in the light’, ‘walking in obedience’ whatever you call it. Sinning is like saying to God, ‘No, I’m going to do what I want, not what I know You want. It isn’t worth it to me to wait or deny myself or do good that nobody notices.’ Which is essentially saying ‘I don’t trust You enough to do it Your way.’ And of course, that’s going to have relational consequences.

  • Simon

    I cannot think of a way to read the Bible, give it any weight and not conclude that what people do affects God; sin or no sin. This would seem to be the case however we define sin, and however we define God. I cannot turn a page in my Bible without reading about how a human decision has caused God to react, change his mind, cry, smote, pursue, etc.

    I was reading the Flood narrative this morning. The way God is swayed by human actions seems to boarder on caprice. In the New Testament, Jesus (assuming he is God incarnate) certainly seemed moved (both to tears and anger) by individual actions and beliefs.

    If this is a question that will haunt Christianity, in particular, it seems to me, if the Bible has any authority, and is at all descriptive of God, the simple answer is yes, sin, along with other human activity has an effect on God.

    My own personal question that haunts is why and how our actions seem to provoke such strong emotions and responses from the God of the Bible. God’s reactions certainly do not seem consistent throughout the Bible, so how do I use the Biblical text to understand God.

    For example, this morning I read Genesis 8:20 where Noah had just slaughtered some very endangered species to the person who has just made them so-endangered. It reads, “when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma the Lord said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth…'”

    Without passing judgment on the Lord’s insight about humans, I am struck by how the writer presents a rather vulnerable God (ironic given the precedent display of raw power via the Flood).

    When Noah responds to the near destruction of world by slaughtering (presumably) some of the last living things on Earth for the benefit of the Lord, the Lord appears to gain new insight into his creation (i.e. “They are born this way, so maybe I should not curse the ground again.”)

    This human action of animal sacrifice prompts God to observe something about the human condition he didn’t seem to recognize prior to the Flood and subsequent sacrifice.

    My question that haunts is, how should a text like this inform a Christian understanding of God?

  • Dean

    I think it’s these types of questions that make the fundamentalists
    squirm and reveal the logical contradictions in their theology. So the
    Young Restless and Reformed in particular place God’s sovereignty above
    all else, and yet, the Calvinist God can only best be described as
    psychotic. He is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, transcendent,
    immutable, has determined everything that has and will occur, and yet
    when we sin, he gets upset because it is an offense to his holiness?
    Well if that’s the case, why did he create us in the first place? And
    now that he has created us, why wouldn’t his absolute sovereignty result
    in a universe where he would ever be displeased about anything?

    The
    Calvinist response is that in order to show his mercy, God needs to
    reveal his wrath, otherwise the former has no meaning. For God to
    display his full glory, it requires him to create some for punishment,
    because his righteous anger is also a characteristic that needs to be
    expressed for us to understand how awesome he is. Seems like these are
    solutions to problems that don’t exist in the first place. Anyone have a
    good argument to how a transcendent, omnipotent, immutable God could
    ever get upset about anything? The only viable answer I can come up
    with is that he allows it, that the act of creation must be an act that
    required some form of risk taking on the part of the creator, otherwise,
    none of the “emotions” attributed to God in the Bible have any meaning
    whatsoever, and when I say have no meaning, I mean, have no relevance.
    If those stories aren’t there to express some characteristic of God,
    anthropomorphic or otherwise, then what are they there for?

  • The_B_C

    I think part of this discussion should be about The Cross. There is a tension between saying that the reason Jesus died on the cross is for our sins, and that God had always intended Jesus’ death on the cross as God’s plan from the beginning. The tension is there because in the beginning, there was no sin, right? On the one hand, it seems like God responds to our sin and takes care of it with Jesus on The Cross. On the other hand. On the other hand, there’s the notion that Jesus and The Cross is God’s continuing intent of “God with us” from the very beginning (Imago Dei). To me, the latter makes sense. So the nature of God is “with us.” Which to me, also implies interaction with us, as well as solidarity in suffering. What does this mean about Sin? Is suffering the result of Sin? (I have more thoughts on this that I need to think more on…)

  • Ben

    A major element in my conversion was thinking about the crucifixion. I imagined Jesus literally feeling the psychological pain of every sin ever committed (murder, heartbreak, loneliness, rage, etc.) across all of human experience. Thus, when I did something I recognized as wrong, whether in private or not, I imagined the psychological consequence “transferred” onto Jesus at the moment of atonement. I don’t hold to this conception as a literal dogma nowadays, but it’s an idea that still strikes me. There is probably a theological label for this conception of the atonement that I am too lazy to look up at the moment.

    To return to the original question, framing the effects of sin in this way would imagine our sin (personal and otherwise) as affecting God, by creating more pain for Jesus at Golgotha.

  • ♕✰KingOfUncool✰♕

    You’re assuming sin can ultimately be personal. It can’t. Sin will always involve God because it is a deviation of what he set in place. If it was ultimately personal and didn’t involve him then it would just be another action void of any moral implication. Something along the lines of scratching your nose.

  • Rev1211

    God is completely outside of us, our righteousness does not effect Him, nor does our unrightousness. God is not willing that any should perish, and He does not delight in the death of the wicked. God is merciful because He knows what waits outside of Him for the sinner

  • onetimeuser

    Job 35:6-8. Whatever we do doesn’t add on or reduce God’s glory. He is infinitely magnificent.