The Extent of Punishment and Belief, Part II: Against Whom do we Sin?
In Part I: "What is Sin?", I briefly examined the Biblical idea of sin by examining Genesis 2 and 3. From these chapters that describe the original sin of Adam and Eve, we learn a couple of things about sin. First, sin is a missing of the mark or wandering from the path that God seeks us to follow. Second, sin is brought about, at least in part, by a desire to be our own gods. In other words, we choose not to follow the path that God sets before us because we have an innate desire to follow our own path and make our own decisions.
Some may object that there is nothing wrong with wanting to find your own way. In fact, I mostly agree. As we are being raised by our parents, they are trying to teach us to think for ourselves and make our own way in the world, hoping that we will choose to do good rather than evil. This is both good and right. But God has also raised us to be think for ourselves and make our own way in the world hoping that we will choose to do good rather than evil. The difference between God and our parents, however, is that God is perfect and knows fully and completely which what is good and what is evil. If you follow His way, you will never choose evil and will always choose good. When we choose to follow a different path than the path God has set forth for us, we will necessarily choose evil and we also necessarily choose to believe that we are greater (or know better) than God.
Thus, when we sin we are necessarily choosing against God. We choose not to follow His teachings or we choose to disregard Him.
When we commit a crime, I agree that there are multiple levels of harm. For example, suppose I rob the neighboring 7-Eleven. In doing so, I harm several people. I harm the owners of the store by stealing from them. I harm the clerks in the store who I am threatening with great bodily harm if they do not turn over the cash. I harm any other customers in the store by scaring the living daylights out of them. I harm the neighborhood both by adding to the fear that the neighborhood is unsafe and adding to the cost of goods sold at the stores who have to increase profit margin to make up for the theft losses. There are layers upon layers of harm that occur, and not all are as obvious as the direct theft.
One of the layers of harm is the harm to God from the theft. That harm is (at a minimum) the dishonoring of God through disobedience and/or disregard. It is placing your own concept of right and wrong above God’s definition of right and wrong making yourself bigger than God (in violation of the 1st Commandment). So, when the questioner says “God is not connected to the event except it is his law being broken,” and ‘[t]hat means he should act as judge in the matter, not get personally offended,” I do not agree. God is personally offended.
The Bible says the same thing in Psalm 51. Psalm 51 is a Psalm of David which is almost certainly written as a call by David of repentance following his sin with Bathsheba. As most readers know, David sinned when he saw the beautiful Bathsheba bathing on a roof and he desired her sexually. He got Bathsheba pregnant, and since she was already married to Uriah the Hittite, he arranged to have Uriah, a soldier in his army, put on the front lines so that he would be killed in order that he may marry her. Effectively, he committed adultery with Bathsheba than murdered her husband to cover up his crime.
Psalm 51 illustrates true repentance, in which are comprised conviction, confession, sorrow, and a prayer for mercy. But what is most interesting is the way he confesses his act to God and says that it is God who was aggrieved.
Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness;
According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity
And cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
And my sin is ever before me.
Against You, You only, I have sinned
And done what is evil in Your sight,
So that You are justified when You speak
And blameless when You judge.
Keep in mind that David, when he wrote this Psalm, had committed adultery with Bathsheba, deceived and then caused the death of her husband to cover his own sin. It seems to me that one could argue that there have been several people who were harmed by David: Bathsheba, Uriah, Uriah ‘s family, society, etc. But even with all of these people, David says “against You, You only, I have sinned. . . .” Why?
The answer, it seems to me, lies in the fact that all sin is ultimately against God. And ultimately, it is the sin against God that is most important – more important than the harm to any person here on earth. Perhaps that is why Jesus said “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matt. 10:28) A murderer can kill the body of another resulting in massive harm to those close to both the murderer and his victim, but the murderer can only kill the body. He must still face God whom he has greatly offended by choosing to do evil and placing his wants and needs above the truths taught by God.
So far, we have seen that when we do wrong we sin by missing the path. This sin offends God, and God does take offense at sin. So, consequently, I don’t agree with the idea that human courts can judge the extent of the harm done by the crime and consider the criminal to have paid for the crime in God’s eyes. God Himself is offended by the crime, and God Himself is “blameless when [he] judge[s]” us for the sins that we commit that offend Him.
Part III will discuss the extent and effect of sin.
Other parts: Part I: What is Sin?