Thinking Out Loud

June 11, 2019

The Peculiarities of the Definition of Sin

How many times have you sat in church and been told by the pastor that the word for sin is taken from the word hamartia, which means missing the mark? You’re then told that the meaning of the word is based on an archery term and perhaps you were given a teaching slide which showed such an image.

In the examples above, there is only one arrow and it lands appropriately in what we could call the center of God’s will or even, as applied in our generation, the center of God’s design. Of course, anything that missing that mark, in God`s economy simply doesn`t count. The following diagram makes that more clear…

…And yet we`re faced with an analogy that offers — and certainly does in the sport itself on which the analogy is based — an opportunity to come close and receive a lower score.  I`ve always pictured this more like the image below…

…and have even gone so far to say that in reference to contemporary issues of co-habitation, divorce, and even gay marriage, that some of those things borrow from the ideal, and yet still miss; the idea of a graduated response.

I wish I could articulate this better, but here goes…

I wonder sometimes if instead of looking at human behavior as being either right or wrong in God’s eyes, we should look at our various responses to His intentions as falling into categories like

  • good
  • better
  • best

In other words, a person who has lived 24 years in a committed gay relationship obviously sees some value to that; especially when one considers the hurt and rejection they have had to face [the price they’ve had to pay] from others over the course of those years. But in God’s eyes there may have been a ‘better’ or even a ‘best’ that they missed out on. Taking that to the next logical step, we can see how anything that falls short of God’s ideal standard could by some measure be considered sin because that’s how the word sin was originally defined. But it would appear to some that it was still ‘good.’* So the question is can there be activities that appear ‘good’ (either to some or to all) but also appear to be ‘sin’ (to those who have studied God’s intention or ideal plan)?

*Clarification: I went on to say that those relationships, while they are not best, might be seen by some (including the parties involved) as good or better to the extent that they borrow from the best. Perhaps it’s a Christian couple that attends church, gives, and supports a child through Compassion. Perhaps they are committed to monogamy. Perhaps they demonstrated all of the Fruit of the Spirit.

But transgression in civil law doesn`t work like that does it?

If the speed limit is 60 and you’re doing 65, it’s less than 10% over, but you’re still speeding. If the girl is due to have a birthday in two weeks, 14 days seems pretty trivial, but she’s still underage.

So why did God give us an image which appears to be graduated in its meaning? Why not choose something more binary; something more black & white?

In that benchmark source for all things theological that is Wikipedia (!) we read:

Hamartia is also used in Christian theology because of its use in the Septuagint and New Testament. The Hebrew (chatá) and its Greek equivalent (àµaρtίa/hamartia) both mean “missing the mark” or “off the mark”.

There are four basic usages for hamartia:

  1. Hamartia is sometimes used to mean acts of sin “by omission or commission in thought and feeling or in speech and actions” as in Romans 5:12, “all have sinned”
  2. Hamartia is sometimes applied to the fall of man from original righteousness that resulted in humanity’s innate propensity for sin, that is original sin For example, as in Romans 3:9, everyone is “under the power of sin”
  3. A third application concerns the “weakness of the flesh” and the free will to resist sinful acts. “The original inclination to sin in mankind comes from the weakness of the flesh.”
  4. Hamartia is sometimes “personified”. For example, Romans 6:20 speaks of being enslaved to hamartia (sin).

Perhaps we’ve overstated the archery image. (Preaching in different eras does go through periods of emphasis and de-emphasis of certain principles) Clearly, to God, sin is sin. You hit that target center or you don’t. You (as in Rom. 3.23) fall short of his glory. Other than The Message and J. B. Phillips, all of the English translations speak of God’s glory in that verse. (The other two looking more toward justification as key.)

It’s easy to say, “I missed the bullseye, but at least I landed on the target.” Or simply, “I’m trying.”

But knowing God’s ideal; knowing that the goal of the game is to hit the center; knowing that God’s desire is we aim for a perfect score… this has to commit us to aiming to do nothing less.

So again I ask, why did God give us an image which appears to be graduated in its meaning? Why not choose something more binary; something more black & white?  Or did he give us something more like Wikipedia states and we’ve simply overemphasized an alternative use of the word in antiquity?

What visual image would you choose?

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February 5, 2019

Don Richardson Wrote the Playbook on Finding Creative Analogies

Filed under: Christianity, evangelism, missions — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:59 am

For anyone studying to prepare for a vocational ministry career in third world missions, Peace Child by Don Richardson (Bethany House) is required reading.

As the publisher explains: “In 1962, Don and Carol Richardson risked their lives to share the gospel with the Sawi people of New Guinea. Peace Child tells their unforgettable story of living among these headhunters and cannibals, who valued treachery through fattening victims with friendship before the slaughter. God gave Don and Carol the key to the Sawi hearts via a redemptive analogy from their own mythology…”

I thought it was interesting that, depending on who you are, you can get into a lot of trouble for introducing analogies that include stories from the lore of other tribes and even other religions; but in missions, sometimes it can almost be a necessity.

His Wikipedia page contains this remembrance by Ruth Tucker:

As he learned the language and lived with the people, he became more aware of the gulf that separated his Christian worldview from the worldview of the Sawi: “In their eyes, Judas, not Jesus, was the hero of the Gospels, Jesus was just the dupe to be laughed at.” Eventually Richardson discovered what he referred to as a Redemptive Analogy that pointed to the Incarnate Christ far more clearly than any biblical passage alone could have done. What he discovered was the Sawi concept of the Peace Child.

In November of 1979, I was in the same room as Don Richardson; a showing of the movie version of Peace Child at the Valley Vineyard Church in Southern California. I was basically just a kid, and had no idea in whose presence I was. I wish I had at least shaken his hand…

…We learned last week that Don had passed away in December. His book Peace Child, originally written in 1975 and revised in 2007, is still in print, as are several others including Eternity in their Hearts, Lords of the Earth, Secrets of the Koran and Heaven Wins

…Some of Don Richardson’s pioneering efforts continue today in a rather different form through Mustard Seed International and coincidentally, one of the directors of that organization moved to our area a couple of years ago, and we got a bit of a refresher about Don and the work of another missionary states-person, Lillian Dickson.

Almost a year ago, I wrote a profile about the organization which you can read at this link.

Also, if you’re interested, Moira Brown of 100 Huntley Street interviews Don Richardson in 2012 at this link. (21 minutes.)

January 14, 2017

As Metaphorical as a Simile

analogy comparison metaphor simile

Maybe it’s because of the pending release of a certain movie which will go unmentioned which is based on a certain book which was so very controversial in 2007 when it released; but I keep thinking that some of us Christians are very narrow when it comes to embracing different art or literary forms…

Just because you heard the phrase, “Life is like a box of chocolates…” in the movie Forrest Gump, you shouldn’t extrapolate the individual comparison in a single scene in the film to be a general guiding principle for life. In most respects, life is not at all like a box of chocolates. Nor, as Google might lead you to believe, is like an arrow, a bicycle, a camera, a deck of cards, an elevator, a football, a grapefruit, a hurricane, or… I’ll let you work your way through the rest of alphabet. In my wife’s opinion, life is more like a sushi bar, or the bag containing the Scrabble letters, or herding cats, but I’m willing to bet this month’s rent that those don’t work for you either.

Comparing things can be helpful to our understanding however. In Jesus’ teaching ministry, he took examples from the world as his hearers knew it — mostly agricultural comparisons — and either made direct connections or taught the principles as parables because they were parallel to things his audience could relate to. In my world, I often will use computer jargon and terminology to create an analogy which teaches a Biblical principle.

Our language generally offers us two options: Metaphor and simile. (You’d have to be as dumb as an ox not to know the difference. Just kidding! That’s an example of simile. And sarcasm.) A popular technique in the broad category of metaphor would be allegory, with the most recognizable examples in Christian literature being Pilgrim’s Progress, or the Chronicles of Narnia books; along with a number of contemporary writers in the Christian fantasy fiction genre.

But there is another writing technique I would like to offer here as simply springboard. Skye Jethani does this in The Divine Commodity where he uses the art of Vincent van Gogh to get the discussion rolling, or in Futureville where the springboard is the vision of the future as offered by the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Mark Batterson does this with The Circle Maker, beginning with the legend of Honi.

You could also argue that almost all Christian fiction — while some of it allegorical — is mostly springboard for further discussion; consisting either of internal deliberation, or discourse with friends in your book group, church library or at the Christian bookstore.

This technique does not sit well with all readers. The purists who prefer expository preaching to topical preaching would, with horror, rate the springboard type of writing even further down the spectrum. It’s just all too easy to criticize; to get lost in the metaphor or allegory and miss the point. Some recent popular preachers shun illustrations entirely to the point where, several years in, their advisors corner them to say, “We don’t really know anything about you.”

So here are some reminders:

  1. Most metaphors are limited to single aspects of the thing being compared. Any similarity life has to a box of chocolates is overshadowed by other aspects of the box, the wrapper, the plastic inset, etc., and life generally does not come with a complete guide printed on the lid. This is because…
  2. …All metaphors eventually break down at some point. There are a few ‘perfect’ metaphors, but more imperfect ones. This can lead to a situation where…
  3. …Metaphors and allegories are easily misunderstood. Not everybody grasps the comparison first time around, especially if the chosen metaphor is something somewhat foreign.
  4. Borrowing a theme or idea from another world — whether it’s a legend from another religion or a principle of motorcycle repair — does not necessarily imply endorsement.
  5. The placement of a metaphor or discussion springboard in mainstream Christian literature may result in it being seized upon by people on the fringes of mainstream Christianity who want to use the metaphor to say things the author never intended.

However — and this is so important — the use of parables and similar teaching forms by Jesus should be an encouragement to us to find similar redemptive analogies in our modern world. If you’re a writer, avoid the pressure to be boringly precise and instead, introduce edge into your writing by finding the connection everyone else has missed heretofore.

Communication is only achieved when the hearer fully gets it, and that will involve drawing parallels between ‘A’ and ‘B’ rather than repeating the words of a definition over and over to someone who is missing the point.

January 13, 2014

Life is Not Like a Box of Chocolates

analogy comparison metaphor simile

Just because you heard the phrase, “Life is like a box of chocolates…” in the movie Forrest Gump, you shouldn’t extrapolate the individual comparison in a single scene in the film to be a general guiding principle for life. In most respects, life is not at all like a box of chocolates. Nor, as Google might lead you to believe, is like an arrow, a bicycle, a camera, a deck of cards, an elevator, a football, a grapefruit, a hurricane, or… I’ll let you work your way through the rest of alphabet.

Comparing things can be helpful to our understanding however. In Jesus’ teaching ministry, he took examples from the world as his hearers knew it — mostly agricultural comparisons — and either made direct connections or taught the principles as parables because they were parallel to things his audience could relate to. In my world, I often will use computer jargon and terminology to create an analogy which teaches a Biblical principle.

Our language generally offers us two options: Metaphor and simile.  (You’d have to be as dumb as an ox not to know the difference. Just kidding! That’s an example of simile. And sarcasm.)  A popular technique in the broad category of metaphor would be allegory, with the most recognizable examples in Christian literature being Pilgrim’s Progress, or the Chronicles of Narnia books; along with a number of contemporary writers in the Christian fantasy fiction genre.

But there is another writing technique I would like to offer here as simply springboard. Skye Jethani does this in The Divine Commodity where he uses the art of Vincent van Gogh to get the discussion rolling, or in the forthcoming Futureville where the springboard is the vision of the future as offered by the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Mark Batterson does this with The Circle Maker, beginning with the legend of Honi.

You could also argue that almost all Christian fiction — while some of it allegorical — is mostly springboard for further discussion; consisting either of internal deliberation, or discourse with friends in your book group, church library or at the Christian bookstore.

This technique does not sit well with all readers.  The purists who prefer expository preaching to topical preaching would, with horror, rate the springboard type of writing even further down the spectrum. It’s just all too easy to criticize; to get lost in the metaphor or allegory and miss the point.

So here are some reminders:

  1. Most metaphors are limited to single aspects of the thing being compared. Any similarity life has to a box of chocolates is overshadowed by other aspects of the box, the wrapper, the plastic inset, etc., and life generally does not come with a complete guide printed on the lid. This is because…
  2. …All metaphors eventually break down at some point. There are a few ‘perfect’ metaphors, but more imperfect ones. This can lead to a situation where…
  3. …Metaphors and allegories are easily misunderstood. Not everybody grasps the comparison first time around, especially if the chosen metaphor is something somewhat foreign.
  4. Borrowing a theme or idea from another world — whether it’s a legend from another religion or a principle of motorcycle repair — does not necessarily imply endorsement.
  5. The placement of a metaphor or discussion springboard in mainstream Christian literature may result in it being seized upon by people on the fringes of mainstream Christianity who want to use the metaphor to say things the author never intended.

However — and this is so important — the use of parables and similar teaching forms by Jesus should be an encouragement to us to find similar redemptive analogies in our modern world.  If you’re a writer, avoid the pressure to be boringly precise and instead, introduce edge into your writing by finding the connection everyone else has missed heretofore.

Communication is only achieved when the hearer fully gets it, and that will involve drawing parallels between ‘A’ and ‘B’ rather than repeating the words of a definition over and over to someone who is missing the point.

September 21, 2010

What Practicing Spiritual Disciplines Has in Common With Practicing the Piano

An excellent post today from Chaplain Mike over at the Internet Monk blog:

Let’s say I’m in a room with three adults, all seated at pianos. I want to find out their ability to play the instrument. I ask them all to play “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” The first has trouble. The keyboard is unfamiliar. She stumbles around and finally finds a few notes that resemble the simple tune. The second and third pick out the notes right away.

Then I ask them to play a four-part hymn from a hymnal. I hand each the same book. Once again, the first struggles, stopping with each chord and passing note to look at her hands, then back up at the music. She finally gives up. The second plays the notes as written. The third also plays the tune, but enhances the hymn with additional chords and rhythmic patterns.

Finally, I turn to these three friends and say, “OK, for your final challenge, I would like to hear you play Bach’s “Goldberg Variations.” The first laughs. She barely knows who Bach is, and has never heard of this particular piece. The second has heard of it, but has no idea how to play it. The third pauses, sets her hands on the keyboard, and begins playing the opening aria.

All three of these friends have a relationship with the piano. One is an obvious beginner, still trying to grasp the basics. The second is a competent pianist. She can read music and play from a book. The third is much farther advanced. There is no hesitation about picking out simple tunes. Not only can she read and play from a score, she has the ability to improvise and explore a song’s possibilities. And she has obviously studied and mastered classic pieces of the repertoire. In fact, she can play complex works on the spot, upon request! They all “know” the piano. Only one has the capacity to make music at any given moment, solely from the resources that lie within her.

The goal of spiritual formation is to be a person that would do what Jesus would do, say what Jesus would say, think and feel what Jesus would think and feel, at the moment when it is required—the moment of crisis or need or opportunity. As Dallas Willard so helpfully reminds us, the question “What would Jesus do?” is not enough. Instead, we must be driven beyond that query to ask, “Why would Jesus do what he would do?” and, “How can I live and walk in relationship with God as Jesus did, so that I too might do as he would?”“

…you’re a third of the way through the article…don’t stop now…keep reading…

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