Who's Responsible for Sin?

In my most recent discussions on Christianity with skeptics, I have come across a number of people who acknowledge that while moral crimes, i.e. sin, ought to be punished, God, as our maker, has no right to punish us for the sins that he has left us capable of committing. Let me backtrack.

One of the tactics I use when discussing Christianity with people is one that I learned through Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason. In our of his lectures, he talks about speaking to a Jewish prosecutor about the reason that we need to believe in Jesus to be saved. Greg asked (paraphrasing): "Do you believe that people who commit moral crimes ought to be punished?" The prosecutor replied "Since I am a prosecutor, yes." Greg responded, "So do I." He then asked, "Have you committed any moral crimes?" The prosecutor then admitted to having done so and Greg again replied, "So have I. Do you know what I call that? Bad news. We have both just agreed that moral crimes ought to be punished and that we both have committed moral crimes. Do you want to hear about mercy?"

I have personally found this line of discussion to be fruitful in my experience. Most people, when asked, will admit that people who commit crimes ought to be punished. Usually the problem is in getting them to admit that they have committed moral crimes. (Given that they deny the existence of God, they don't see the actions that they have taken in violation of God's law as either inherently wrong or they don't see them as "bad enough" to require punishment.) That usually requires discussions of the Ten Commandments and pointing out how many of them they have probably broken today.

But here is the new counter-tactic I have been discovering (and I am wondering which atheist thought this one up for all of the "freethinkers" to parrot): They acknowledge that moral crimes ought to be punished, but they do not believe that God has the right to punish them for doing so. Why not? Because God made them susceptible to committing the moral crime in the first place. They reason that if God had only made them better, they wouldn't have committed the moral crime (i.e., the sin) and therefore it is God who is responsible for their failure. To use an analogy, they view people as if they are no more than a rock which God set on a hill which will ultimately be pulled down by physical forces. How can you blame the rock for doing what it does as the result of the natural forces acting on it when it was placed on the hill by God. It is God's fault for placing the rock on the hillside in such a way that it is bound to fall down. Similarly, if God made us in such a way that we cannot help but sin, then that is God's fault for having made us that way in the first place.

I don't find this view terribly convincing. My reason is plain and simple: if God made people incapable of going through life without sin, then how could Jesus (who was fully man) be sinless? Jesus went through a fully human life from birth to death without once committing any moral crimes. If he could do it, then it is possible that we could do it as well.

However, let me clarify one point: while it is possible that we can live a sinless life, I have serious doubts that anyone other than Jesus has ever done so. Why? Well, the Bible points out that all men have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. In other words, while we have been created with the capacity to live a sinless life, very, very, very few of us (if anyone other than Jesus) have actually achieved it. And part of the problem is that we don't see exactly how dirty we are. St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest of all Christian theologians, after having a profound religious experience stopped writing because he saw that in comparison to the actual glory of God, all of his works (great though they are by human standards) are "like straw." We fall far short of His glory, and it is only when we see this that we can truly begin to live a sinless life.

I think that most people know that we are more than rocks. We do have the ability to act independently. We do have the ability to choose between good and evil. We are not rocks balancing on the hillside which move depending upon physical forces. We are independent beings who have a part in whether we roll down the hillside. But here's the trick: we can't stay on the hillside by ourselves. God needs to hold us there. We only need to ask.


Anonymous said…
Interestingly, reading this has made me realise that I think punishment is an archaic concept, one that I reject entirely. Henceforth, I recognise that legal systems require consequences in order to operate, but will endeavour to remove the word and concept "punish" from my vocabulary.

- (atheist, whose opinion on the matter is therefore of questionable validity)
Anonymous said…
The anonymous, ignorant atheist who posted that comment does not realise that Christianity is based on the idea that people should be forgiven , and not punished.

Where did he dredge up the idea that God will punish us for our sins?

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