the vertical dimension of sin

Monday, January 31, 2011

In the comments to my post on my EQ article on the church fathers view of the atonement, Peter Gurry asked some challenging questions which I wanted to address in my next two blog posts. His first question was,
Derek, where's the vertical dimension of sin in your system? I can fully agree that we are broken and need healing but your solution only deals with the horizontal brokenness, not the vertical offensiveness. How does your system deal with profoundly horizontal human sins that are nevertheless against God and God alone (Psalm 51:4)?
Now the inscription of Psalm 51 reads "A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba." So the sins that David is confessing here are specifically adultery and murder. David sleeps with Bathsheba, gets her pregnant, and then has her husband killed, telling his men, "Put Uriah out in front where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die" (2 Sam 11:15). So when David says to God in Psalm 51 "against you, and you only have I sinned" (51:4) he says this referring to the very horizontal sins of adultery and murder. So how can these horizontal sins (sins against people) be spoken of in vertical terms (as sins against God) as David does?

If we look at Nathan's rebuke of David we read,
This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: "I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul... I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more." Why did you despise the word of the LORD by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. (2 Sa 12:7-9)
After all that God had done for David, he still did not trust in him. David "despises" all of that generosity of God in his hurtful actions. It's a matter here of David not trusting in God as his source for goodness, and taking matters into his own hands in a way that damages others. He has damaged his relationships both horizontally and vertically.

We see an even deeper insight into what is going on here in the words of Jesus "as you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me" (Mt 25:40). Here we see that when we hurt others, we wound God too. In the world of king David the one who was offended by the adultery was the husband. Having the husband killed removed the problem, and David simply took Bathsheba as his wife. That was king David's messed up thinking here. Nathan saying that David's actions were also an offense to God is a way of leveling out that messed up system of honor. It says that even if we hurt someone who is without honor, even if we neglect "the least" we are ultimately hurting the one with the most honor, God. It takes the whole system of rank and honor and levels it.

The point of course is not that we should care for God's honor as opposed to caring about people's honor. David in saying "against you, and you only" is not saying he did not sin against Uriah and Bathsheba. What he is saying is that every sin against people is ultimately a sin against God their maker. As Jesus says, God sees every sparrow that falls to the ground. To love God is to love others, and of we fail to love others, we fail to love God. John says, "whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar" (1 Jn 4:20). Vertical sin is tied to horizontal sin. In other words, all horizontal sin is ultimately vertical sin. When the Bible stresses this, there are two reasons:

One reason is that God wants us to love others, especially those we regard as the least. God is love and his priority is on our loving others as the biggest way that we show of love for him.

The other equally important reason is that we were created to be in a loving relationship of dependent trust with God. God needs to be our source. This is the point that Nathan is making above. We need to place our trust in God and see our relationship with him as primary, because all of our goodness flows out of our living in and through a right relationship with God, who works in us and shapes us into the image of his Son. The fundamental starting point of salvation is that restored relationship with God--restoring that vertical connection--so that we can live in, with, and through the indwelling Spirit of Christ. It's all about restoring that loving transformative relationship with God. As we are loved by God, that love changes us, and leads us to love others in the same way we were loved. We want to show the same grace to others that God first showed us. So the horizontal flows from the vertical.

Now the question that remains is: how does God mend the broken relationship between him and us in Jesus? For that we turn to Romans which I will deal with in my next post...


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Can you be gay and Christian?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

In a previous post I suggested that we should have a moratorium of arguing about the rightness/wrongness of homosexuality, and instead focus on communicating God's unconditional love to people. A big part of this has to do with getting past all the rhetoric that goes back and forth, and really listening to the personal stories and experiences people have -- hearing their stories, and actually seeing the people behind the issues. With that in mind I wanted to share this video made by employees at Pixar Animation Studios talking about what its is like growing up gay:




In it they share how they faced rejection and even verbal and physical violence. Others speak of struggling with self-loathing. One person shares how she nearly committed suicide. It's pretty heavy stuff, looking into their eyes as they tell these stories one after another. Really what just hits home is that behind all of this are real people--people who were really hurting, people who almost didn't make it. I hope that stops you in your tracks like it did me.

The whole video is made as a message to people who are struggling with their homosexuality to let them know they are not alone, that people care about them, and that it really does get better. I kept thinking as I watched it that this is what the church really needs to be speaking out and saying. When we "take a stand on morality" that is the kind of stand we should be taking. A stand that sees the people who are hurting and cast out and communicates God's unconditional love to them. A stand that rebukes people who are preaching condemnation. That's the kind of thing that Jesus stood up for all the time. We need to be communicating grace to people, communicating to them that they are loved. So I thought I'd just start by saying it here.

There are people who say that the Bible says homosexuality is a sin, and there are people who say the Bible does not say that. There really is not any clear answer, and a really big part of this has to do with the fact that sexuality is a profoundly complex thing that just cannot be reduced to simple categories of yes/no or good/bad. What is healthy and loving for any of us--gay or strait-- is just way too complex to be handled by a blanket one-size-fits-all statement, and it is simply a mistake to read the Bible like that as a source of general moral "rules" we can apply. What we need instead is to be open to the Spirit in our lives, to let the Spirit lovingly grow us into wholeness, working on areas we need to, mending the broken parts, loving us. In other words, we do not need a list of rules, we need a living and transformative relationship with God where the Spirit can show us personally what we need to grow and be whole in the same way a doctor prescribes the medicine a patient needs and does not give everyone the same pill. It's not about some list of do's and don'ts, it's about opening our hearts to that living relationship with God. That relationship begins with God's unconditional embrace of us. It begins with us having the courage to let God love all of who we are--scars and all.

If you are gay, you really should know that God loves you and there is nothing that you could possibly do to make God love you more, and nothing you can do to make God stop loving you. God does not want you to hide who you are because God loves who you are. Now there may be areas in your life that need healing (there certainly are in mine), but that's up to you and the Spirit to work out together in your relationship with God. It is up to the rest of us to be advocates for that amazing unconditional love of God.

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Wrestling with God

Saturday, January 08, 2011

"It seemed to me certain, and I still think so today, that one can never wrestle enough with God if one does so out of pure regard for the truth. Christ likes us to prefer truth to him because, before being Christ, he is truth. If one turns aside from him to go toward the truth, one will not go far before falling into his arms."
-Simone Weil, Waiting for God

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