Sin: Challenging God’s Authority

This is the third post in a series called, “Making Sense of Sin”.  You can view Part 1 here or Part 2 here.

In my previous post, we established that a good and loving God can also be rightfully angry.  God’s anger towards evil discourages its spread and promises its eventual destruction.

In this post, we turn directly to the “sin question”:  Does God have a right to be angry about sin?

In other words, is sin the type of thing that God ought to spend his time getting angry about?  Or are there other, more serious concerns he should be dealing with?   For instance, there are wars are breaking out all over the world.  Famine abounds.  The globe is warming.  Shouldn’t God be attending to those things?  Yet all the while, it appears that God is spending the best of his efforts monitoring minuscule human behaviors and categorizing them into a massive T-chart with “sin” on one side and “kindness” on the other.

God, it seems, needs to rethink his priorities.

If we think about sin as little more than random rule-breaking, then of course, it will sound harmless to us.  We won’t be compelled by statements like, “Jesus died on the cross to pay for your sin”, because that basically sounds like, “Jesus underwent horrific suffering because of your harmless mistakes and personal preferences”.

But this line of thought reveals that we are misinformed about the true and deepest meaning of sin.

In order to illustrate his perspective on sin, Jesus told the following story about a landowner:

There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.  The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third.  Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way.  Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said. But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’  So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants? He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time. (Matthew 21: 33-41)

In this story, what was the main error of the tenants?  It was not that they were bad farmers.  It also wasn’t that they drank the fruit of a few too many fermented grapes at harvest time.  And it wasn’t even their killing of the landowner’s servants or son.  Sure, these things are all wrong.  But the true error of the tenants is found in their motivations, not just in their actions.

And what was their motivation for all this violence?  The answer is found in their words, “Let’s kill [the son] and take his inheritance”.  Their ultimate error, in other words, was that the tenants wanted to own the vineyard.

The tenants didn’t like being tenants.  They wanted to be landowners.

When we translate the meaning of this metaphor to the real world, the result is startling.  Human beings don’t like being human beings.  Human beings want to be God.

Now, your immediate response to that statement might be defensive.  You might think that Jesus is suggesting that all humans are socio-paths with a God-complex.  From our experience, we know these sad individuals do exist, but, thankfully, they are few and far between.

But Jesus is suggesting something far more subtle than the actual pursuit of world conquest.  He is pointing out the human tendency to want control and authority, even if only in small and particular ways.

This innate desire for control can be seen in a thousand situations.  We want to decide what to do with our money.  We want to decide what to do with our bodies and sexualities.  We want to decide how to spend our time.  We want to decide who to befriend, and who to distance ourselves from.

If, at any point, someone tries to tell us how to spend our money, or that we need to change our spending habits, or that we should ditch our romantic interest, or to do anything else that we don’t want to do, we will get upset.  We probably won’t listen to them.  And they may become one of the people we decide to distance ourselves from.

Now here is where God, and the concept of sin, comes into the picture.

God is someone who wants to influence your spending habits.  He wants to give input regarding your romantic interests.  He wants his priorities to inform your schedule.  In fact, he doesn’t just want influence, he wants total surrender.   Of all of it.  To him.

And, Jesus is saying, it is wrong for you not to surrender control of your life to him.

Why is this wrong?

Because, he is the landowner, and you are a his tenant.  He is the Creator, and you are his creature.   He is God, and you are a human.  He made you, and he made everyone and everything in the world around you.  Therefore, he knows what is best for you, and knows what decisions will cause the world around you to function best.

For you to say otherwise is to challenge his position as God.  You are challenging his authority.  You are saying that you know better than he does.  And in saying so, you position yourself as Ruler of the Universe, rather than him.

This is not only wrong—its also nonsensical.  It is like a puddle claiming to have authority over the sky.  Or, to use a metaphor from the Bible, like a clay pot making demands of the potter.  It just doesn’t make sense.

Viewing sin this way also brings clarity to the real problem behind making “immoral” decisions, or “disobeying God”.  The problem is not just the breaking of rules, but the reason behind breaking rules in the first place.  Humans break rules because we are arrogant enough to write other rules in their place.  Rules written by us.  Rules that we like.  Rules we will never be tempted to break, because, well…we made them up.

What are some specific examples of this?

Our actions and attitudes surrounding sex are a classic case.  God intends for sex to occur within marriage only.  In other words, no sex outside of marriage; no sex before marriage; no pornography.  But as people with sexual appetites, we find God’s instructions less than appealing.  As a result, many couples have sex long before making a life-long, legally binding commitment.  Many individuals view pornography.

Here, the problem is not just that you had sex before marriage or looked at porn.  Its not just that you broke some random rule.  Rather, its that you think you have a better understanding of sex than the One who created sex in the first place.  You wrote your own rules about sex.  And you think your rules are superior…to God’s.

This is challenging Gods authority.  Its wanting to be a land-owner when you are just a tenant.  This is wrong, and its also nonsensical.  If God created sex, then the logical response is to discover its ideal conditions from him.

Let’s consider another example from the realm of daily work:

God intends your day-job to be a means to serve others, to love your neighbor, and to provide a living for yourself while you do so.  Nonetheless, you are an executive for a company that makes a profit selling junk.  And you don’t feel bad about it.

The problem here is not only that you are ripping people off, but that you are taking the God-given institution of work and hi-jacking it for your own personal gain.  In other words, you are challenging God’s authority.  After all, work was his idea.  But now you’re using his gift to take advantage of vulnerable people.  You are seeking to play the part of God, and you are doing a terrible job of it.   In response, God has every right to be angry with you.

These are just two examples of sin viewed through the lens of challenging God’s authority.  But if we were to go on, you would see that behind each and every action God labels as “sin”, there is a far more sinister dynamic taking place: human beings competing for a throne that only belongs to God.

As we conclude this section, we should also note the outward and global ramifications of challenging God’s authority.  This post began by asking, “with wars breaking out, famine, and global warming—why is God so concerned about sin?”  But here we must observe why at least two of these tragedies occur.

War is quite obvious.  While the following statement is extremely simplistic, it is also the core truth: humans go to war because they want to be landowners, in this case quite literally.  They claim “mine” over what they see before them.  Humans grasp for power, for people, for land, for resources—ultimately, for authority.  They are competing with God for what rightfully belongs to him.  This is sin—and it is what causes wars.

And how about global warming?  Or, at least, global pollution, whether from gas, plastics, or excessive fertilization that dirties drinking water and destroys natural landscapes?  Again, it is the desire to take what belongs to God.  Humans grab for profit with little regard for the environmental, and eventually human, consequences of their actions.  God made this world and the people in it.  He is concerned for them both.  When we fail to consider the good of the earth and our neighbor, it is because we are taking control into our own hands.  We are challenging God’s authority.  We are sinning.

In light of these examples, it should be clear that sin is precisely the kind of thing God ought to be concerned about.  Sin is no harmless personal preference.  Sin is putting yourself, a mere creature, in the place of God.

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