Tuesday, September 02, 2008

How would you explain sin to someone who had no idea what it means?

Suppose you were explaining all of this to someone who didn't know what sin is. You had to explain sin to them because they just didn't know what you were talking about when you used the word. How would you explain it to them?

It's a little like this when we are having religions of the world explained to us, religions of which we are not a part. In the Buddhist religion they have a conception of dukkha. It's translated "suffering" into English, but Buddhists tell me that that simple transliteration doesn't capture the meaning completely.

I suspect Buddhists react the same way when Christian talk about sin. How would you make the idea clear to them?


Steven Carr said...

I have always been baffled by the idea that babies are born in sin.

Psalm 51
Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.

Surely this takes a bit of explaining to non-Jews?

unkleE said...

I wonder whether we could say that God is the king of the universe. If we want to live in harmony with the universe, we need to live in harmony with him. Sin is being out of harmony with him. We can get back into harmony by receiving forgiveness, and then living harmoniously, by living according to the maker's instructions. (???)

Anonymous said...

Westminster Larger Catechism

Question 24: What is sin?

Answer: Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, any law of God, given as a rule to the reasonable creature.

normajean said...

don't know, but the explanation probably includes a conversation about conscience and objective moral values.

Mike Darus said...

The affect of sin on an unborn child is a worthy concept to be baffled by. There is both a translation and interpretation challenge in Psalm 51. The version you quoted implies Original Sin and all the theological implications of Calvinism. In the KJV, it sounds like David is blaming his parents. John 9:1-2 indicates this issue continued to baffle Jews in the firest century: 1As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus solved the mystery in the case of one person but I am not sure he answered the bigger question.

It is hard to explain something you don't understand. Sin is one of those concepts we think we understand but the more we think about it, the harder it gets.

Christopher said...

Doesn't it simply mean transgressing a standard? From the Greek. In this case, a standard given by God. I think that's pretty easy to understand and explain.

normajean said...

How about Augustine or Aquinas' privation of the good language?

normajean said...

Steven, suppose materialism is partially correct. Couldn't a damaged faculty (brain) easily transmit from parent to offspring? in such a case, the sins of the father deeply affect the offspring. What say you?

Steven Carr said...

Couldn't a damaged faculty (brain) easily transmit from parent to offspring?

I'm not sure I understand you.

Brain damage is not hereditary, nor infectious.

Puzzled by what you mean...

Anonymous said...

I think he means damaged in the sense of a state of being. Something innate to that person, which would be inline with Christian doctrine.
If it is innate to that person then it would not be a later accident that would befall that person.

Robert said...

Hello Victor,

I am wondering what is behind your question here. How do we explain concepts to people that do not know or understand a new concept that we are trying to get across? Every teacher (and that presumably includes you as well, :-) ) knows the principle that you explain the unknown in terms of the known. How do you explain things to a child? You "talk their language", you talk from within their frame of reference, right? Take the example of: Buddhists may not have the term "sin" but they certainly have terms and concepts concerning what is not desired or not to be desired. So you would talk about **their** concepts of right, wrong, desire, not desire, and then connect the point you want to make with concepts they are already familiar with.

Now what were you really wondering? :-)


Innovative Defense said...

I have come to see that non-believers or non-Christians are very confused by the topic of "sin."

One way CRU (Campus Crusade from Christ) on campus at NIU has dealt with this is by not using "Christian words" since they become confusing.

For example: The word "sin" we describe as "rebellion against God." If people don't realize that sin is not only bad for ourselves, but means that we are rebelling or disobeying God, the meaning sticks with them.

There is a good site to check out: www.twowaystolive.com

They use the "non-Christian" lingo to not confuse non-believers while presenting the gospel. We use those gospel tracts here at my University.

Also "sin" can be described as a disease we al inherited through Adam. We are controlled by it until we are saved by God's grace after choosing to accept Christ as our savior. Like it says is Romans , we become "dead to sin, and alive to God."



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Victor Reppert said...

ID; I taught at NIU for one year in the late 80s. That's the point I am trying to get across; it seems like Christian terminology makes sense to people accustomed to it, but seems like gibberish to people outside. And I think you can get a better understanding of what you mean yourself if you try to "translate" it outside the idiom of one's group.

Merlijn de Smit said...

My answer, as imprecise as it is, would be there's two "meanings" to the word sin: first, sin as a condition, original sin, with which we are born and we cannot escape. An essential human frailty, which means that as much as we are trying to do the right thing and be good we'll end up hurting ourselves and others around us. And thinking that we can be perfect is particularly dangerous, as well as are ideologies which believe human nature can be "repaired". I'd closely connect this concept to a kind of alienation, from the rest of creation and from other people, which is an especially fertile ground for entering manipulative relationships (with nature, with others).

I think that sin in this sense is perfectly understandable and well-known to non-Christians as well. The difference being of course that Christians would ground the notion in a contrast with an ideal (Man before the Fall; mankind as it should be; Christ) which we can not (by our own devices) hope to attain.

The second meaning is, I would say, a "turning away" from God's love in favour of other things that seem so much more important. Wealth, power, material desire, etc. I don't like the notion of "_a_ sin" very much as I don't think any particular activity is a sin by virtue of that activity: it's the intention, it's what's in the heart that counts.

I think some of the lyrics of NIN's "Hurt" (covered by Johnny Cash) cover the subject remarkably well, intentional or not.

IlĂ­on said...

VR: "How would you explain sin to someone who had no idea what it means?"

I would say that someone who "has no idea what it is" (regardless of his native "faith-tradition") is a sociopath/psychopath.

*ALL* normal human beings know what sin is. An individual may not know the specific term 'sin,' he may not know the Christian elaborations of doctrine concerning sin (and salvation from sin), but we *all* know ourselves to be alienated from God. We *all* know that the world-as-a-whole, and we-ourselves, are broken: "damaged goods," as it were.

Wanda S. Gould said...

Augustine believed in natural headship which says that everyone was with Adam from the beginning, because we were seed in Adam @ the time. Adam's will was the will of all. We must remember that Augustine was once the leader of two different pagan groups, before Christianity also. I lean more toward the federal headship that teaches about God making a covenant with Adam and Adam failed in the obedience test;therefore his fate would be death and he would,in turn, impute his guilt to all of his descendants. Both emphasis appear to be in the passage in Romans 5:12.

Unknown said...

Psalms 51:5 " Behold I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me". The writer was merely stating that when he was conceived his mother committed a sin. Babies are incapable of sinning.