What Is Sin?

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This post, in addition to being poorly written, reflects an “atonement theory” of Christianity that I now reject. I’ve kept it to show where I come from.


What kind of a god sends sinners to Hell and forces them to be there forever? How could anyone believe in such a deity? Everyone has their problems, how could anyone be so harsh? Any god that would operate on such a level as this one clearly is one big megalomaniac with a temper. And such a god was clearly made up centuries ago in order to instill fear in masses so they would not rebel against kingdoms.

These objections to God make sense if you operate under the assumption that God actually has choice. We read uncritically passages in the Bible like, “With man, this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” and it unfortunately leads to some absurd and freakish results. Can God learn anything? Can God die? Can God lie? Can God create a rock that is too big for him to lift?

Actually, the Bible is full of things that God can’t do. And among those things include making a meaningful choice as to who gets into Heaven.

To understand why this is, we must understand what sin is. Most people would define sin as an act of doing wrong—a list of things we shouldn’t do in order to remain in check and appease God. However, I think it’s more accurate to think of sin as an unceasing source of destruction. Sin and God (or anything) cannot coexist. That is why Satan was kicked out of Heaven and sent to Earth and why the Earth and universe will be finite—there is sin in them. Had Satan remained in Heaven, Heaven would inevitably be destroyed. Now, I don’t understand WHY this is, but it is an essential fabric of the whole Biblical narrative.

Before Adam and Eve sinned, they lived with God in the Garden of Eden. God told them that if they sinned, they would die. They sinned, they were separated from God, and they died. Habakkuk 1:13 says that God cannot look upon sin. You can think of sin as anti-God.

Despite this, God still allows people who have sinned to come into Heaven. The only condition is that their sins be erased. This is why Jesus resurrection from the dead is so important: Jesus conquered death. When you look at it this way, that God would come to Earth in the form of a man and die on a cross in order to make it possible that sinners like you and me can escape Hell, a much different picture of God emerges—from a barbaric tyrant to a merciful hero.

Unfortunately, most people miss this picture of God, even people who call themselves Christians. God hates sin, but he has to. It’s out to destroy everything.


8 thoughts on “What Is Sin?

  1. “When you look at it this way … a much different picture of God emerges—from a barbaric tyrant to a merciful hero.”

    Just for a different perspective, you seem to just be lowering the bar for God. Granting your argument that God has no choice but to reject sin, you still acknowledge that he has a choice about the “conditions” under which sins are erased, which brings you back to the problem this post sought to resolve.

    God *could* relax the conditions for sin erasure. No matter what your interpretation is of the minimum requirements for salvation are, they could always be lower (unless you believe that literally nobody can be destined for Hell, in which case, you have resolved the issue of unjust punishment). And shouldn’t they be lower if God is truly loving?

    This is why I would describe your approach as lowering the bar for God. You seem to lower it to the point where God would be justified in letting all people burn forever, and it is only his ~mercy~ that brings him to save some who meet his standards. So your argument is that because he has no affirmative duty to save people who have stained themselves with sin, he cannot be bad for refusing to erase the sins of some of them.

    Under the traditional ethics of duty, which you seem to be invoking, a person does not owe an affirmative duty of assistance to a second who is in jeopardy unless the first person did something to put the second in jeopardy or unless some other reliance relationship exists between them (for instance, parent-child). That means that I am not *wrong* if I fail to donate the $20 in my pocket right now to international charity. It’s not my fault that people starve in Africa, and I don’t owe any particular duty to them to offer my assistance. And it means that I am not *wrong* to steer my boat around a group of helpless children drowning in the middle of the ocean.

    That’s why I think this approach to ethics is silly. Who would NOT condemn the jerk who steers his boat around the children and leaves them to drown? He could easily save all of them because there is room on the boat. Ah, but this is closer to what you describe. What if he only saved some of the children based on arbitrary characteristics like where they happened to be born–those from Western Christian countries climb aboard, the rest can die–or based on how much praise they lavished on the boat driver between gasps? He would be a monster. We would not praise the mercy he showed when he arrived back on shore with only a fraction of the children. We would call him a maniac and a monster.

    If all of this were true: if I were God; if I incarnated myself as a human and sacrificed myself for human sin; then I would certainly make the effect of that sacrifice condition-free. Nobody would need to do anything to accept it. No baptism or specific profession would be needed. No particular rituals or regular religious attendance would be required. I would not even require a minimum level of *goodness.* Even the worst humans who have ever lived, literal infinite punishment is just a grotesque thought.

    • Really well thought out response, David. At this point, I have to confess the limitations of my understanding of what happens outside of this world. And what I’m about to say has a built-in bias in that I believe God exists in the first place.

      That aside, something about the fact that God would come to die suggests to me that there is a lot in this that is beyond his control. Otherwise, why not just pronounce all the stuff without having to go through with that?

      That said, does God really have control over all the conditions? First of all, I’m not convinced there are as many specific conditions as a lot of people think. But I think it is reasonable to deduce from the crucifixion alone that God didn’t really have control over many of the conditions either. Something about being released from sin and then rushing right back into it seems incompatible.

      I’m also not sure that the command to love God isn’t more than just a mindset that is in line with the fact that God is the Supreme Being of the universe and that anything different would just be out of sync with that.

      As said, you have definitely identified the part where I have far fewer answers and I think your argument is a good one.

    • I do appreciate your reply, Chris. It certainly seems honest.

      I want to propose something to you and suggest that you try it on, even just for a moment, even just to humor me. Set aside your preconception that God exists. If you come to this ancient dilemma without your mind already made up, I think it becomes something much different. Instead of a problem to explain by serving as a spinner for God, it becomes a possible reason for fundamental doubt about the whole Christian narrative.

      If you start out with the assumption that God exists, then your response is perfectly logical. God exists > God came to die; millions are doomed to eternal suffering > something was beyond his control (or some other spin/explanation).

      But that initial assumption taints your view of the dilemma, because the point of the dilemma as I see it is not to seek a convoluted explanation that connects the preconceived conclusion with the seemingly contradictory facts. The point is to illustrate that the Christian narrative is deeply flawed.

      My reasoning might look like this: God may exist or he may not > the story is that God came to die and that many will still suffer infinite punishment > the brutal sacrifice seems fitting for a brutal iron age culture, but does not really make sense; the millions who are evidently destined for eternal punishment cannot be reconciled with the image of an all-powerful and all-loving God > something is deeply wrong with the Christian narrative: perhaps the biblical story is not trustworthy, perhaps there is no God, who knows? But something is wrong.

      Undoubtedly, you will dispute the way I phrase the steps in my reasoning, but I would like for you to meet me on those grounds. Your conclusion may very well be the same in the end, but your approach could be improved. To summarize, you seem to be following this formula:

      conclusion > facts > explanation

      And I encourage you to try this one in responding to the dilemma:

      facts > analysis > conclusion

      • AmyJ says:

        “facts > analysis > conclusion”

        For someone encouraging Chris to set aside a belief system that literally rules his life during his thought process about hell, it seems pretty hypocritical to assert that “facts” = God doesn’t exist.

        Either change your wording, or be honest and say “try thinking about it from an agnostic/atheist point of view”.

      • AmjJ, I think you misunderstood me. If I was unclear, I apologize for that, but I am not asking Chris to set aside his presupposition that “God exists,” and adopt instead a presupposition that “God does not exist.” I think I was pretty clear that good critical thinking requires setting both aside and looking at the facts and evidence themselves to see where they lead.

        Please note that in my example, I said, “My reasoning might look like this: God may exist or he may not > …”

        If you approach every dilemma with the “conclusion > facts > explanation” mindset, then you are not thinking critically at all, you are acting like an unquestioning spin doctor. You and anyone else are free to do that, but I encourage all to employ more contingent thinking so that you can appreciate facts, evidence, and reason for their own merit.

      • AmyJ, if I can ask you a question, is your Christian faith contingent at all? This is a highly important question, and it could be asked in a number of other ways. Is your Christian faith based on what you consider to be good reasoning and evidence? Is your Christian faith subject to disproof if compelling counter-evidence emerges? If you were shown that your good reasoning was faulty and your good evidence was false, would your faith give way to doubt? Or is your faith simply an assumption, a presupposition that exists apart from and is impervious to reasoning or evidence? I like the original formulation about contingency because it is simpler.

        It is important because if you already employ contingent thinking, then you recognize the value of reasoning and evidence. You recognize that it is vital to have it on your side and seriously address it when those on the other side appear to have it. If, however, you do not use contingent thinking, what amount of reasoning or evidence could convince you to value reasoning and evidence? It’s a rhetorical question of course.

  2. Interesting ideas. I follow your logic and see where you are going, but I’m not sure that I agree with the idea that there are things God “can not” do versus things that He just “will not” or chooses not to do.

    I enjoy your commentaries. Always thought provoking!

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