Posts Tagged ‘Sin’

Why is the whole family punished for one man’s sin?

April 15, 2010

Reference: Joshua 7:19-26

Question:
Throughout the readings in the Old Testament we could see that God not only punished the one who failed, he punished the whole family (e.g. Achan’s family). Is this principle still working if someone doesn’t repent his sin and asks for forgiveness?

Answer:
In the incident of Achan sin we are reminded that sin is not simply something that inflicts the individual, but the family and the community.  Western society is very much a culture of individualism.  It is a culture where the success of the individual is almost always valued above the success of the community; each individual is allowed there own idea of what ‘truth’ is; and when it comes to consequences, we always focus on the punishment of the individual rather then that of the community.  But I recall a very different approach when I was in elementary school.  Often times if only one or a few people were misbehaving in class the whole class would receive a punishment, e.g. no recess, extra homework, etc.  “That’s not fair!” we would protest.  But it didn’t matter, the teacher was the boss, and at the end of the day, the class was better for it… the trouble makers learned their lesson, and our little community (the class) slowly learned to hold each other accountable instead of looking out for number 1.

In this passage, it wasn’t just Achan’s family that was punished but the Nation of Israel of Israel as well.  Earlier in the chapter we see that Israel was “soundly defeated” in battle with the town of Ai.  Thus, the sin of one man affected not just him, not just his family, but the entire community.  Later on Joshua systematically discovered who the culprit was, the man named Achan.  But again, it was not only Achan, but his whole family that suffered the harshest of punishments.  God made an example of one family for the sake of the whole nation.  We don’t know if Achan’s family had taken part in the theft of the some of the ‘dedicated things’, the text doesn’t say.  But even if they had not, this stands as a reminder that we do not stand alone, but in family and community.  When one suffers, we all suffer.

Is this principle still working if someone doesn’t repent his sin and asks for forgiveness? The second part of this question is much easier to answer… “no and yes“.  First of all the ‘no’.  We need to remember that the punishment for sin, death, has already been dealt out when Jesus received the punishment on the cross.  Furthermore, that punishment was rendered powerless, without “sting” as Paul says (1 Corinthians 15:55), because Jesus rose from the dead, effectively conquering death forever.

But that doesn’t mean that God isn’t still holy and just.  Jesus death on the cross didn’t change God.  It simply allowed us to approach him as righteous people.  But look at the incident in Acts 5 where Ananias and his wife Sapphira died instantly when they lied about withholding money from the church.  Both husband and wife were culpable for the crime, so we cannot draw the conclusion that God still operates in the same way as he did with Achan and his family.  Each of us is responsible for our own denial of or submission to God’s will.  But who of us in any family could say that our lives are completely aligned with God’s will, or that we have never strayed from his ways.  Thus, in the Old Testament when a whole family suffered because of one person’s sin, that doesn’t mean that the ‘innocent’ by-standards were not guilty.  Each of us is guilty, but through the cross of Jesus we are made righteous and uncondemnable (Romans 8:1).

What does the strange story about Judah and Tamar reveal to us about God? Why is it in the bible?

January 23, 2010

Reference: Genesis 38

This is one of the stranger texts in Genesis, but it is nevertheless a very important story in broader scope of scripture.    This story has much to do with the broader redemptive history of Israel, and the world.  “How so” you ask?  Because the Savior, Jesus was a direct descendant of Tamar’s son Perez who was born out of this prostitution and deception (see Matthew 1:3).   The story of Judah and Tamar once again shows us that God uses broken people to bring about his perfect will.

Judah unwittingly solicits sex from his daughter-in-law Tamar who was pretending to be a prostitute.

In case you were wondering why Judah says that Tamar was more “righteous than I“. He does not mean that Tamar was righteous, in the sense of holy and perfect.  He means that she was more within her rights to act the way she did, than Judah was in acting the way he did.  In other words, he is acknowledging his guilt of not giving his 3rd son Shelah to her as a husband, which he had promised to do.  It was right of Judah to make that promise because he was trying to take care of her as a widow after his son had died, and because it would allow her to produce an heir.  But Judah did not make good on that promise, and Tamar knew he did not intend to, so she acted shrewdly to protect herself, even though it meant committing what we would call ‘sexual sin’ today.

Remember, this was an ancient culture with different laws and customs concerning marriage and inheritance.   It would not be appropriate for us to view this situation through the lense of our own cultural understanding.  But that should not keep us from seeing the way God moves, and the way that his redemption is ultimately brought about.

God was present in this situation because he protected Tamar in a world where widows are often left uncared for, and in doing so he allowed her to produce an heir that would ultimately lead to Jesus Christ.  This text also is a rarity in ancient literature because it exemplifies the woman, while looking poorly upon three men in the story. Judah and his two ‘wicked’ sons Er and Onan are portrayed very badly in the text.  Yet Tamar is actually mentioned in Matthew’s Genealogy (see Matthew 1:3).  Mentioning a woman in a genealogy is almost unheard of in first century genealogies.

Furthermore, dispite Judah’s sin, God still moved.  Isn’t it interesting that it is through Judah’s line that the savior would come, and not through his brother Joseph.  Joseph was a great handsome hero of Egypt, whose parallel narrative is far more captivating than Judah’s.  Yet God’s son came from Judah’s line not Joseph’s.  We should all remember this whenever we think we don’t measure up, when we think we have made too many mistakes to make a difference, or when we think others outshine us.  Judah was seemingly not special at all, yet it was Judah who convinced his brothers to spare Joseph’s life (Genesis 37:26-27), which in turn would allow Joseph to save the whole family of Israel from drought many years later (Genesis 45:4-8).  God always knows what he’s doing, and he can use anyone to accomplish his will.

Present suffering in the midst of Jesus’ promises.

January 15, 2010

Question:

Jesus says that God knows what we need and will give us what we need. Why do then so many children, christians suffer from hunger… ?

Answer:

Yikes!!!

I wish there was an easy answer to this one.  Even theologians spend years on trying to figure out the complexities of suffering, especially suffering of the innocent.  There is an answer, but unfortunately it would take volumes to do it justice, so what I’m about to do would probably make my theology professors cringe, but I’ll give it a shot anyways…

Haiti Broken: If God promises provision, than why do so many experience poverty, tragedy, and lack?

The issue of suffering coupled with the (seemingly) contradictory promises of provision that we see throughout scripture have to do with two (for the sake of time) very weighty Theological topics, namely, Sin and eschatology.  I’ll start with the first word since we hear that a lot more often…

Sin:  Sin is missing the mark, a fall from perfection, or more pointedly, a separation from God.  It is something much bigger than the ‘bad things’ we do from day to day.  What we often fail to realize when considering Sin and the Fall of humans in Genesis 3 is that the consequences of that Fall weren’t just personal (having to do with individual lives) they were cosmic (having to do with everything in the universe).  Not only did Sin, deceit, and evil become a part of human nature, but sin crept into nature itself.  As God said in Genesis 3, because of what Adam and Eve did the ground was curses as well.  Nature, creation, the entire cosmos were infected with a brokenness that we all still experience today.  Take for example what we saw this past week in Haiti, the brokenness of our planet, the poverty of our brothers and sisters, the chaos of disaster.  These are not the results of some 200 year-old Haitian deal with the devil as Pat Robertson would suggest.  However, they are the result of the brokenness that exists in this world, a brokenness that is the direct result and consequence of our original separation from God.  The ramifications of sin are Cosmic.  Hence, innocent children are the poorest of the poor; nature seems to turn against us, rather than being a gift to us; and yes, bad things happen to people who do good things.

Eschatology: Enter Jesus, onto the scene of a broken world cosmically torn apart by Sin.  Eschatology is the theological study of the end times.  Bad theology over the years has painted a doomsday picture of the end times, and for some, it is true that the return of Christ, and the end of this age will not be a good day.  But at its core, the return of Jesus, and the end of this age is actually our greatest hope.  Jesus taught us to pray, “your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”  That is an eschatological prayer.  A prayer that looks to the coming of God’s reign and rule when all that is wrong will be set right, all that is broken will be fixed, all that is tainted by Sin will be redeemed.  It is the time when the cosmos (and our individual lives) will be set right, and we will be made whole again.

So why do I mention this in light of Jesus’ promises in Matthew 6 that he knows what we need and will provide for us?  Here’s why…  Jesus was an eschatological preacher.  He came with a message that said the time of renewal is coming, and I am the one who will usher it in.  Matthew’s gospel is a perfect example of this teaching from Jesus.  Note all the times that Jesus talks about the “Kingdom of God” or the “Kingdom of heaven” he is referring to the ultimate reign and rule of God that will set all things right.  So you ask, “if Jesus came, than why do things still suck so bad?”  Good question.  The reason is as follows…

Already (but not yet):  The Kingdom of God has ALREADY COME, but it is NOT YET HERE in its fullness.  This element of eschatology is often referred to as “The Already but Not Yet”.  As my seminary professor used to say, we live in the overlap of the ages.  In other words, Jesus has ALREADY ushered in powerful change in the world by his coming, but that change has NOT YET reached its fulfillment.  Jesus has ALREADY freed us from our sin, but NOT YET do we live in a world without sin.  Perhaps most significantly, Jesus has ALREADY conquered death through his resurrection, but NOT YET have we experienced the same freedom from death (though we will).

All that to say, when Jesus says something like he does in Matthew 6:28-34 (below) about God’s care for us and his provision for us, we must understand this within a framework of eschatology.  Even in that passage he urges that even before we think about our physical needs we should “seek first the kingdom”.  In other words, that is where our real hope is.  God will care for us, but for some of us that care may not come until Christ comes again, think of all the children and good christian people who lost their lives this week in Haiti.  Are we to call God a liar because he did not provide for them?  Of course not, for in the last days God’s perfect justice, perfect love, and perfect restoration will set all things right.

That said though, as followers of Jesus, we must avoid at all cost the attitude that everything will be taken care of in the end, so I don’t have to care about the world now.  Wrong!  Before Jesus left he commissioned his Church and sent his Holy Spirit to empower the church to go into the world and start doing the work of the Kingdom right now.  After all, Jesus has ALREADY ushered in the kingdom, so the church has a responsibility to do the business of the kingdom, and that business is restoration.

Haiti is so poor that most Americans who were there were missionaries who felt a call to serve them.

I am amazed as I watch footage of the earthquake victims in Haiti that almost all of the Americans who were there were Christian missionaries.  These are people who know the business of the Kingdom.  They bring Jesus into the homes of the poor and the powerless, and in doing so they bring with them a kind of realized eschatology, or glimpse of end time restoration right now.  That is what we are supposed to be about.  Christians and children will continue to suffer from hunger, so Jesus says to the Church, “go take care of them, be my hands and feet, be the Kingdom come, right now and I’ll do the rest.”  We the church and the Holy Spirit, need to be the ALREADY and Christ will return with a big bang, but NOT quite YET.  That’s why he says in Matt 6:34, “don’t worry about tomorrow” (below) because he’s got it taken care of.

28“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Why was Cain’s offering not accepted?

January 5, 2010

Scholars have speculated for years the reason why God did not accept Cain’s offering.  It is important for us to remember that speculation is a BAD method of interpretation.  The text doesn’t say that Cain’s offering was deficient in some way, but Abel’s offering is described as being the best of what he had (first born cattle, fattest portions), Cain’s offering was not described in this way.   This of course could be a commentary on the kind of worship and sacrifice that God wants from his people, he wants the very best of what we have, however, it may still be difficult to draw this conclusion because it does not say for sure why God does not “look with favor” on Cain’s offering.  If we’re going to assume anything we should assume that that information was not important for what the author was trying to communicate to his readers.

What was the significance of the Cain and Able narrative?

This begs the question, what was the important idea communicated by this narrative?  I think that the clearest explanation is that this is a narrative about the destructive nature of Sin.  This narrative sets the stage for a long history of violence within the world.  There is pride there is jealousy, and there is murder.  Cain did what he wanted to do, not what God asked him to do (Genesis 7).  Sin is a potent enemy and just as with Cain, sin crouches at our doors as well, but we must to our best to master our desires to do our own will.