Foundational Doctrines: Sin, Part 1
I’m beginning an examination of foundational doctrines today, in what will be a weekly series (on Thursdays). We might think of it as catechesis, but it is might hope that we go beyond where most catechisms and creeds go and really explore the meaning of these ideas. As a jumping off point, I’m going to take Hebrews 6 and the six things listed there. The first one is “repentance from acts that lead to death.” Already we’ve got a lot to unpack. Clearly the focus is on repentance, but within repentance there are a lot of things tied up. Before we can talk about repentance, we need to talk about these “acts that lead to death.” In other words, we need to arrive at an understanding of what sin is (yay, fun times!). I’m not even going to be able to unpack sin, I don’t think, unless we go back to the beginning of the story of the world, before sin even entered the picture. In other words, in order to talk about repentance, we need to talk about sin, but before we can really understand what sin is, we need to understand what creation is really about. So let’s go back to Genesis 1
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
6 And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” 7 So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. 8 God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.
9 And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.
11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.
14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.
20 And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” 23 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.
24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.
31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.
2 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.
2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
There are a few things we can notice right away from this account of creation. First, the creation is fundamentally good. We should never talk about the created world as if it is merely to be used for our pleasure only (that’s not stewardship as God lays it out). We are to take care of the earth because it is good. God is not only the creator of everything, but he is the caretaker as well, the divine gardener. As his image and likeness, then, we are to take care of this creation in the manner that God would.
Rather than a laborious task, however, this is meant to be a wonderful occurrence. This is gardening as relaxation and worship, not heavy labor. This can be seen from the conclusion to the first creation account, given at the start of chapter 2, the Sabbath rest. Creation, at least the first account of creation, is not only about God being the origin of the world (and thus creation is good), but is about this Sabbath rest. There is a poetic nature to God’s acts as Genesis 1 gives them.
day and night – Day 1
sea and sky – Day 2
land – Day 3
sun and moon (to fill Day and Night)– Day 4
fish and birds (to fill Sea and Sky) – Day 5
land animals and people (to fill the land)– Day 6
This poetic parallel set up by God’s own actions conveys a message in itself: the creation is ordered. It also draws focus to the day that interrupts the parallel: the Sabbath. The Sabbath breaks into this action, movement, work and brings rest, community, and enjoyment. The focus on creation is at least as much upon the Sabbath as it is upon the work of creation (I would argue moreso). There is no indication that the Sabbath was meant to be a single day either. It seems, rather, that the Sabbath was established as the original order of things. The Sabbath is how the world is supposed to be. This is why the author of Hebrews is obsessed with the idea of the Sabbath rest that “still remains” for those in the covenant with God. Incidentally, Sabbath is also what sin interrupts. After the two creation accounts, the very next episode is the fall of humanity. Sin enters the world. The Sabbath is interrupted not by the next day, but by sin. Martin Luther suggests the first man and woman only made it a few hours before they sinned. I think it’s possible Luther gives humanity too much credit.
I’ll get to the specifics of the fall of humanity next week. Today I’d just like to focus on this specific aspect of sin. Sin is the interruption of Sabbath. Sin is opposed to creation, to God’s goodness. Sin brings restlessness to rest and labor to relaxation. Sin breaks community, destroys enjoyment, and seeks goodness outside of God.
Question: What does thinking about sin in the context of Sabbath mean for you?