The Deceptiveness of Sin

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In light of the recent conversations about Erwin McManus’ book “Soul Cravings” and its lack of a clear Gospel presented, I think it would be timely and appropriate to quote Hans Madueme on “The Deceptiveness of Sin“. (If you don’t know him, Hans Madueme, M.D., is Research Analyst at The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity and a student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois.)Hans paints a very clear picture of the theological and biological implications of the noetic effects of sin:

Something is rotten in the state of the world. We do not need as witnesses the Wall Street Journal or BBC News. Just look around. We live in a dark, painful, and unjust world. Ethnic minorities are victimized. Women are second-class citizens. Children are pawns in evil chess games, now sex slaves, now victims of million-dollar advertising shenanigans. We feel the pain of brokenness in our homes and in our neighborhoods; bitter anguish permeates our world. We try to placate our cries with Zoloft or the comforts of a cigarette and one more strong drink. Our world is morbidly obese, stuffed up with the calories of injustice and unrighteousness: need we mention Auschwitz, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur? The poor remain oppressed, the foreigner denied justice. Once upon a time, people may have enjoyed happiness, peace, and justice, but for many today, misery is an intimate companion.The situation is grim, but these are symptoms of a deeper malady, what the Christian tradition calls sin. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is more real than anything else; God is creator and all else is creation. In him we live, move, and have our being (Acts 17:28). God is also holy, morally pure and impeccable. He is light; in him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). The prophet Isaiah glimpses the high and lofty one, dwelling in a high and holy place (Isa 57:15). There is no sin in God. To behold his glory is to be utterly ruined: ???For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty??? (Isa 6:5). Yet mysteriously we are unclean, sick, desperately ill, and ridden with moral disease. We fall short of the holiness of God, like bent arrows missing the target. We are perverted, wicked, and unholy. We are morally crooked, defective, twisted. Committing high crimes against God, we are fools, disobeying God???s law and demeaning his character. In religious vernacular, we are sinners.But like letter writing, this self-understanding has fallen on hard times, a myth from a pre-scientific age. Functional MRIs have taught us that ???my brain made me do it.??? If there is anything ???unholy??? here, it is the waxing and waning levels of serotonin and norepinephrine (the usual neurotransmitter suspects). Behavior is a complex interplay of countless pathways in our neural systems. The quaint notion of moral culpability, presupposed by the language of sin, has no currency here. Perhaps your grandmother believed in sin, but we have reached adulthood, so we put away childish things. In short, damaged brains cause bad behavior. Or so the claim goes. Since the pastor is on a long paid leave, we can now consult the friendly neuropharmacologist???neuroethics replaces soulcare. To go deeper: we know that genes determine all that we are and do (since the genome encodes the brain). The real culprit, then, is my DNA double helix. Ergo, I need gene therapy! Maybe you find all this too reductionistic, and you prefer a more psychosocial paradigm. Here, too, there is often no conceptual room for the language of sin. Human beings are socially and historically located; we are victims of situations beyond our control???an abusive father, a poor neighborhood, low socio-economic status, childhood mental and psychological abuse, and so on. Sin is not the problem: ???My poor upbringing made me do it.???We have simply restated the ancient nature-nurture debate. Scripture and Christian tradition recognize, of course, that both nature and nurture are part of our identity. They shape us in important ways, though we cannot be reduced to either biology or sociology. These categories do not exhaust the moral significance of being human. Our moral lives transcend both nature and nurture; they are therefore not determined, though they are influenced, by them. We are moral agents made in the image of God. To make either nature or nurture tell our whole moral story is itself evidence of the noetic (intellectual) effects of sin. Intellectual self-justification and moral slipperiness reflect diminished ability to reason and think well; our noetic life is impaired. Thus we forfeit moral clarity as we think about the world in which we live, our fellow human beings, and even ourselves. We become like the man who looks at his face in the mirror and sees a remarkably fine specimen of humanity. Alas he does not realize the mirror speaks lies. In reality, his head is flattened, his stomach grossly inflated, and his arms helter-skelter. Call this the reverse ???circus mirror??? syndrome. Such are the distorting noetic effects of sin: irresistibly, the tree looks good for food and pleasing to the eye.

Continue reading the article at The Gospel Coalition.

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