February 7, 2013

Whence came sin?

"Sin exists, but it will never be able to justify its existence. It is unlawful and irrational." - Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics

Following his discussion of why God would allow sin in his creation, Bavinck acknowledges that even this does not ultimately solve the mystery as to the origin of sin. How is it that a being created in the image of God, in righteousness and holiness turn away from him? He suggests keeping these things in mind:

  1. The possibility of sinning is from God. It must have first been conceived by him for it to exist. He writes: "God eternally conceived sin as his absolute polar opposite and thus, in that sense, included it in his decree, or else it would have been able to arise and exist in reality. It was not Satan, nor Adam and Eve, who first conceived the idea of sin: God himself as it were made it visible to their eyes. By means of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the probationary command, he clearly showed human beings the two roads they could take. And before the fall he even permitted an evil power from without to insinuate itself into Paradise, using the snake as its medium, and to discuss with Eve the meaning of the probationary command." (66)
  2. God so created angels and humans that they could sin and fall. "Human beings, though they walked on the right road, could stray onto a side road. They were good, but changeable so. God alone is fully existent in all his attributes and therefore immutable. Creatures, however, become and can therefore also degenerate. All that has been created can change...Moral freedom, however vigorous, is inherently distinct from logical necessity and physical force. A creature naturally incapable of sin, therefore, is a contradiction." (67)
  3. There is some relationship between the origin of sin and the faculty of imagination. "Thomas à Kempis describes it: "At first it is a mere thought confronting the mind; then imagination paints it in stronger colors; only after that do we take pleasure in it, and the will makes a false move, and we give our assent." The mind entertains the idea of sin, the imagination beautifies and converts it into a fascinating ideal, desire reaches out to it, and the will goes ahead and does it. Thus in the case of both angels and humans, the imagination was the faculty that made the violation of the commandment appear as the road to equality with God." (67)
  4. The cases of humans are angels are different. Unlike humans, who are made of dust then breathed with life, who were tempted and had sin aroused in them from without through the lust of the eyes, the craving of the flesh, and the pride of life, "temptation did not come to [angels] from without. They fell by their own agency. Jesus says that the devil speaks "according to his own nature" when he lies. He became discontented with his status and power on his own, that is, by his own thinking; he produced the lie from within himself and projected it as a realm, a system, over against the truth of God...The origin and essence of sin has a very different character in the case of humanity that in that of the angels." (68)

Even with these considerations, all that is settled is a possibility of sin, with the answer as to why the possibility was realized still shrouded in mystery. Ultimately, the explanation escapes us because it is an irrational absurdity.

"Here we enter the mysterious area of moral freedom and face a phenomenon that in the nature of the case, as it concerns its origin, escapes explanation. A moral act, after all, is never equivalent to a conclusion from a premises nor to a physical or chemical result. It essentially differs from both and has a character of its own. The moral life is utterly unique; it is always a life of freedom and that, in the nature of the case, is a riddle...Sin cannot be physically or logically deduced from antecedent circumstances, reasonings, or considerations. Above all, it cannot be inferred from a holy nature created ion God's image. One who understood and explained sin, that is, could demonstrate that it necessarily followed from antecedent factors, would fail to do justice to its nature, erase the boundaries between good and evil, and trace something evil to something good. The sinful act is caused by the sinful will, but who will indicate to us the cause of this sinful will?...Sin started with lying (John 8:44); it is based on illusion, an untrue picture, an imagined good that was not good. In its origin, therefore, it was a folly and an absurdity." (69)

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