"laestadian, apostolic, gay, lgbtq, ex-oalc, ex-llc, llc, oalc, bunner" LEARNING TO LIVE FREE: What is sin?

Monday, June 22, 2009

What is sin?

What is sin, and why does it matter? Growing up Laestadian, how we saw sin affected how we saw God, and each other. This short video outlines some of the ways sin has been defined in the past, and presents a different way of conceptualizing sin based on Kathryn Tanner's 2001 work, Jesus, Humanity, and the Trinity: A Systematic Theology.

Sin as breaking the rules/laws. Drawback: encourages us to see God primarily as a judge or lawgiver; prone to abuse when hijacked by power-hungry authority figures. See also Luke 12:14, where Jesus seems to reject being set up as a judge.

Sin as separation from God. Drawback: if we believe that God truly is everywhere, how can we ever be truly separated from God?

Sin as pride. While a longstanding Christian view of sin (400-1950 A.D.), how can this apply to people who are downtrodden, depressed, or in unhealthy co-dependent relationships?

Sin as "blockage." This is Tanner's view. It conceptualizes sin as analogous to the blockage in an artery. As such a blockage stops the flow of lifegiving blood to the body, so sin "is the blocking of the abundant flow of God's gifts, to ourselves and to others."

What do you think? I think that the Laestadian tradition focused on sin in an often counterproductive way, focusing too much on sin as rule-breaking and pride, throwing up unnecessary stumbling blocks for some, while giving a pass to some very destructive behaviors if they were "repented" of for others.


  1. I think there are two parts to the issue of sin.. one is original sin, which seperates us from God. This is where you see this 'chasm' which divides us, and Jesus is the bridge over that chasm. The other sins are those in daily life. I'm thinking I agree with Tanner's concept as a blockage.. and if sin isn't reversed in some way (repented of? confessed?) then it evolves into more and more sin, not only blocking but hardening the arteries.

    The part that is confusing about this question of 'what is sin', is 'what exactly IS sin'?? -! Is it a sin to wear earrings, or is it a sin to take nude pictures of yourself and send them to your boyfriend? Is that a sin? What does it say about the road you are on, and where is it going to lead?

    I don't know why, but those two examples are what came to mind as I thought about this question! lol

  2. My understanding of sin is that it is whatever keeps you from having a full relationship with God. Now I understand that this might be a rocky road to go down, because that could mean that what keeps one person from having that comfortable relationship with God does not have the same effect on another person.

    Hmmm...I can hear the knives being sharpened by the crowd that will go down the road to "So, you think sin is whatever you want it to be -- or not want it to be." Well....sort of, but not exactly. We find in the Bible various references to "if it offends you, cast it out", which to me can be interpreted that it might offend one person but not another -- but if it bothers you, fix it!

    Without getting into a huge myrsky and go all mullin mallin (for the amusement of the Finns)about this, I think we all know in our hearts where right and wrong are, and know intuitively when we cross a line we shouldn't cross. The important question then is do we ignore it -- because with the passage of time, many times our perceived severity will dim and we can pretend it wasn't so bad through our own justification -- or do we act in good conscience and "set the matter right" -- whether through asking forgiveness from an offended party, or confessing it to a priest, or speaking with God in the stillness of our hearts.

    Wow. That last sentence was positively Faulknerian, or would be if I had left out the capital letters and punctuation...

  3. The definations and explanations Ive read all seem fine and I cant find anything to disagree with.

    Lately Ive been wondering myself, what is sin? It seems so many people do create thier own ideas, which Im not against unless they also try to make thier creation true for me... I also firmly believe the Holy Spirit will guide those willing to listen, and that sin really is different for different people. We each have our weaknesses, and what draws me into sin will be different that for you.

    The bible has some clear instructions as to what is sin, but there are still people picking and chosing what to still follow, what is still culturally relevant, what context the verse was written in vs how we live and what we know today, what Christ fullfilled vs abolished and on and on.

    I guess thats another reason I wanted to start reading the OT. When Christ said he did not come to abolish the law, but to fullfill it; I dont know what that means because I dont know the law.

    Which parts of the law are we still under, which parts are we not? Which laws are still important and which ones are we freed from by Grace?

    Everyone I know or have talked to, has a different answer, and I like hearing how people have reached thier conclusions, but I guess its time to see what I discover on my own too :p

  4. hp3, in the Episcopal Church, our catechism has the following interesting line, which to me suggests that Christians don't have to worry about all the rules in Leviticus:

    Q. Where in the Old Testament is God's will for us shown most clearly?
    A. God's will for us is shown most clearly in the Ten Commandments.

    Back on the topic of sin, here's an interesting definition of sin from that same catechism (and one not listed in my original post):

    Q. What is sin?
    A. Sin is the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation.

    Q. How does sin have power over us?
    A. Sin has power over us because we lose our liberty when our relationship with God is distorted.

  5. Norah, before I heard about the "blockage" concept, I was most apt to define sin as whatever separates us from God. However I also believe that God is everywhere and we can't ever be truly separated from God.

    Then I read Thomas Keating, who drew the distinction of feeling separated or alienated from God. I found it helpful and comforting, as well as confirmed in experience, since who hasn't felt separated from God at least at some point in their life? As Keating would say, it's part of the human condition.

    Here are some quotes by Keating regarding original sin and personal sin:

    Original sin is a way of describing the human condition, which is the universal experience of coming to full reflective self consciousness without the certitude of personal union with God. This gives rise to our intimate sense of incompletion, dividedness, isolation, and guilt.

    Personal sin is the refusal to respond to Christ's self-communication (grace). It is the deliberate neglect of our own genuine needs and those of others.

    I find all these differing (yet trying to grab at the same concept) ideas about sin fascinating.

  6. I'm finding this thread helpful for myself. The definition of "sin" is something I've pondered since leaving the LLC. It's been hard (and I'm still not there) trying to figure out what is sin, whats not sin. I try trust my instinct, and if something feels like sin, then I don't do it.

  7. Perhaps you would like to publish the following film about laestadianism like you did with Mathews film?


  8. "Sin is the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God" Boy that sure resonates as truth! I would like to believe that if our hearts are truly seeking God, then He will guide us, show us His will, and our mistakes along the way will be forgiven.

    Yet how does that apply to those who hurt in the name of God? And believe in thier heart of hearts they are doing God's will? Im so glad Im not the ultimate judge of anyone, whew!

  9. hp3, good point. While I think the "seeking own will" definition is valid, another issue I have with it is that it might lead someone to believe that God's will is always opposed to our own.

    I knew people growing up who seemed to feel that in order to follow God's will they needed to be doing something that they thought was unpleasant, or hard. Say for instance that someone was a brilliant artist, yet they felt that in order to "follow God's will" they needed to give that up and become a pastor, even though they couldn't stand the thought of pastoring.

    I think in that case, they very well could have been called by God to be an artist, yet because Laestadianism had such a narrow view of what God's will could be they end up having a miserable life in the name of doing what they think God's will is.

  10. I've also heard sin defined as "missing the mark." This is based on the word in the Greek, hamartia which is usually translated as "sin" in the New Testament.

    The big drawback I see to this approach is that it could easily encourage perfectionism, something I also saw a lot of growing up.

  11. LLLreader reflects: I see two topics here that certainly can be linked--sin and helping families. Honoring parents and taking care of them in their old age is a requirement, at least in my mind. Not doing what I know to be right would be a sin for me. The hitch is knowing where to draw the line. I have been guilty of doing things for others when I shouldn't. Maybe it's been because of my own need to be appreciated, maybe from guilt, maybe from wanting to be in charge-- I need to make that judgment and I am certainly looking at that closely. I know that mostly I help for the right reasons, but have edged over into that unhealthy area at times. I quit second guessing myself over bawling out those that don't help--they have it coming. We are being called the sandwich generation--aging parents who need help--and children who need help. With the rocky economy my generation is sure being slammed. When I was growing up in the OALC I heard life insurance called "blood money". Is that still the prevailing attitude? I have used financial planners , accountants and that kind of thing for the last twenty years. Would Apostolics do that? I don't know. I made a trip the last two days to see my accountant (got bad news), the person I am supporting (wonderful appreciative person), and a friend my age who is dieing. Came home last night and listened to the tape of the Finnish preacher who's voice brought me right back to those hard benches of the OALC. I think I'm going to turn it all over to God and just go work in the garden before my head explodes!!!! I sure hope Many Trials is back!

  12. Two funny things in your post, LLLreader! First, when I listened to the clip with the preaching going on in the background, it took me right back to those old days -- the rapid fire translation going on -- in this case I think Finnish-Swedish -- and the impassioned tone of the preacher. You know, it actaully was a good memory. It brought back memories of that old breed of preacher we used to have, who preached vigorously (for lack of a better word, but I hope you get my drift), as opposed to the new breed, who seem to be so caught up in wringing their hands and preaching in those mournful, woe is us, tones. Does anyone else relate to that? Those old preachers from my youth were loud and forceful and enthusiastic and sometimes even those "hard benches" were forgotten for a little while. The thing was, it wasn't always mournful. Warning and watching and most importantly, doctrinal in nature, but not mournful. Hmmm...

    The other funny thing is even though Many Trails can be a "trial" sometimes (especially to us cons), I hope that wasn't a Freudian slip...! :-)

  13. LLLreader, you're right, we all have to look closely within ourselves and be honest about our motivations. No one else can do that for us, and judge us on ther assumptions -though they sure try! And none of us is perfect with our motivations or actions, but all we can do is make corrections and continue to steer towards the goal of doing as Christ would have us do.

    I also feel obligated to help out those in need, and I think deciding to help when my parent is in a nursing home is because at that point they really are unable to help themselves. For now, they still can and I believe they should have the consequences of thier actions, but later it seems silly and mean to give them consequences they cant do anything about, and cant change.

    And its really, really hard for me to draw the line and not help... its easy to type here, but not so easy to do without guilt in real life. I want to help, I dont want those I know and love, or anyone, to be hurting and do without... it only gets easier when Im mistreated no matter what I do or dont give. But does that mean I need "rewarded" or gratitude in order to help? I wonder, but really it seems like I only have so much to give before I run out, not that I mind running out, but I want to give to those who will use the gift to replenish and continue to give to others -not use it up and whine for more... so I want to use my gifts wisely.

    I dont know about the term Blood Money, but in my experience the OALC thought was that it is silly to participate in financial planning and investing because we're not supposed to try to be a part of this world, we dont want to stay in this world and God promised that He would take care of us. My thought is that He does take care of us by providing the initial investment... its up to us what we do with it; He wont do things for us He made us capable of doing and gave us the tools to do ourselves. Of course there is always a balance in not loving the money so much that we are suicidal when the stock market crashes...

    (and Ive avoided listening to the videos because I really dont want to be transported back in time to that place... it give me the "heebity jeebities" just thinking about it.) I dont have memories of non mournful, hand wringing sermans, Ive only heard about them or heard them later.

  14. LLLreader to cvow: TRAILS I say--TRAILS!!!!! geeezzzz! I agree the preaching on the video was like the old days. Until you pointed it out, I didn't realize how much it has changed. I was drawn to the urgency in the voice and the fast translation. As a kid I was scared and fascinated at the same time. There isn't anything in the new brand of preaching that draws me in. On my quick trip to Brush Prairie this week I ran into a second cousin. I didn't know him, but realized he looked like my family. When I asked, he introduced himself and was so friendly. I recognize a loss--I can't be a part of his life in a meaningful way. I can't go back to his world, and he can't come to mine--what a shame. Sometimes I get lonesome for my big extended family. Missing them has nothing to do with the religion. I don't miss that. I miss the people who look like me and sound like me.

  15. LLL reader: I think I'd better go work in my garden too, before I create any more "trials." Seriously, I thought that slip was hilarious. I have a couple of ex-husbands who no doubt think of me as "Many Trials", an opinion that has been shared on occasion by my mother and my kids. That's what comes of being stubborn and opinionated (my mother's assessment).
    Glad to be back. More later.
    PS cvow, can I be considered half a "con" if I voted for all the Republican initiatives?
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