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THEOLOGY > Sin > The Character of Sin > Erroneous Interpretation  


Regardless of the worldview, secular or religious, there remains the problem of sin, or whatever concept is utilized to speak of the inequities in society and the disruptions in nature. It is obvious that there is something wrong, even evil, on the individual and corporate level, for this is not a perfect nor a wholesome world. That which is not right in the world must be explained, for foolish and irrational would be the claim that there is nothing amiss with the world. Suffering must be explicated. Various erroneous interpretations will be considered:

Sin is unreal

Sin does not exist. It is not real; it is an illusion, the result of improper thinking. Such a view is related to the spiritual nature of God and the spiritual nature of reality.

According to Christian Science sin is a delusion. God is spirit and what He made is spiritual, and the spiritual is good. Man, therefore, having been made by God is spiritual and good because God makes all things like Himself, which means that all things are spiritual and good. In fact, all of reality is good, with the understanding that all of reality is spiritual. So, the material world is not the real; it is unreal, for the real world is the spiritual world, not the world of matter.

To fail to grasp the good and spiritual nature of reality is to accept the erroneous teaching that the world is characterized by evil. “Every mortal must learn that there is neither power nor reality in evil” (Eddy, Science and Health, 186), which means that evil is not part of God nor of His creation. Regarding evil the mind is self-deceived and ignorant when evil is thought to be real. Thinking that evil is real is a mistaken concept, for it fails to comprehend the spiritual nature of reality.

Thus, the real need is for the perspective of the individual to change, from thinking that evil is true of reality to thinking that the surrounding reality is spiritual and good, with evil being merely an illusion.

In their teaching Jesus is the supreme example of one who overcame the limitations of wrong or erroneous thinking and triumphed over death, manifesting the supremacy of the spiritual and showing the way for His followers.

Against such thinking, a single question must be pressed: Was the Holocaust an illusion?


Dualism is prominent in the East, and according to this thinking spirit and matter are both eternal and both are in eternal conflict, with spirit being good and matter being evil. Sin, or evil, becomes the result of the union of the spirit with matter, a soul inhabiting a body, the interaction of good and evil. Thus there is the need of the soul being delivered from the evil influence of the body, which is accomplished through various means such as abstinence, afflictions of the body, meditations, utilization of special knowledge, combinations of these practices, and other means by which the body is mortified in the hope of removing or at least lessening its influence on the spirit.

Sin, therefore, is something material, associated with the body which is composed of matter. In this scenario salvation becomes the deliverance of spirit from body; freedom is the result of the spirit being released from the limitations of the body that restrict the spirit and inhibit the spirit. The soul must be set free. Eliminated is the moral character of evil. Choice and will are not as important as existence and the improper union of body and spirit. Accountability to the personal God who is moral is not a consideration.

Such thinking is contrary to the Christian worldview, which is predicated on Theism and Revelation, and the responsibility of man for his disposition and deeds. Instead of sin being eternal, Christianity affirms that it is not eternal but came into existence after God’s work of creation.

Sin is learned by example and practiced by imitation

There is no inherited sinful nature, so each person is born with a good nature or with at least an innocent nature. It is improper to speak of an infant being evil by birth, for sin is learned by the child through observation of those around the child; the sin becomes personal sin when the individual begins to practice the sin that he has observed in others.

Such was the view of Pelagius. Potentially, therefore, each person could remain apart from sin and live contrary to the example seen in others; each person could live a good life, without imbibing from sin.

Thus sin is something from without the person; it is conduct that is learned and then practiced. It is not that which is within the person, i.e., a sinful nature.

The essential unity of the race in terms of sin is rejected. There is no sinful state that is automatically or inherently true of every person; there is no sin-nature that is passed down from father to son, either by representation or seminal relationship (see: The Principle of Identification).

Sin is the necessary limitation of the creature by virtue of his creation

Only God can be absolutely holy; therefore, that which is created must be limited in some sense, and this limitation is sin. According to this thinking sin is necessary or unavoidable. The origin of sin is in the limitation that must be characteristic of that which is created; if there is creation then of necessity there must be sin. Thus God is absolved of being directly responsible for the existence of sin. Such concepts are usually associated with Leibniz, a Theist, and Spinoza, a Pantheist.

This thinking is contrary to the Christian teaching in that sin is interpreted in terms of man as created creature rather than in terms of man as a responsible creature. Something of the horror of sin evaporates, for man becomes a victim of his created condition. And something of man’s accountability is removed, along with the guilt associated with wrong actions. This thinking is also contrary to God’s declaration that what He had made was “very good.”

Sin is the absence of God-consciousness

Sin is the lack of dependence on the Absolute, a view associated with Friedrich Schleiermacher, who is referred to at times as the “Father of Modern Theology.” Religion is really a sensation, a feeling, an intuition, an identification with God or the universe. He wrote:

Religion is the outcome neither of the fear of death, nor of the fear of God. It answers a deep need in man. It is neither a metaphysic, nor a morality, but above all and essentially an intuition and a feeling . . . Dogmas are not, properly speaking, part of religion: rather it is that they are derived from it. Religion is the miracle of direct relationship with the infinite; and dogmas are the reflection of this miracle. Similarly belief in God, and in personal immortality, are not necessarily a part of religion; one can conceive of a religion without God, and it would be pure contemplation of the universe (Addresses on Religion).

For Schleiermacher, true religion is neither belief nor behavior but a “direct relationship with the infinite”; the personal God is not even needed. Religion can be “pure contemplation of the universe.”

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