“The person who fails to find God loses the source of their own life, acts against the ‘commandment unto life’, and so instead of finding life, finds death instead. Anyone who turns away from the living God and relies on created things, deifies these things and himself, and in so doing destroys both himself and them. We might pursue this interpretation further and say that sin is trust in God that has become deranged, and a love of God that has miscarried. Trust is placed in what is non-divine instead of in God, and this turns what is not-God into an idol. Love is directed towards things that are not divine, overtaxing them and destroying their finite and transitory beauty. And in the process the lover destroys themselves.”
~Jurgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life
This is a great perspective on life with God and sin because it does not emphasize merely a list of crimes or misdemeanors. Sin is an orientation, and as such it may include the list of usual vices but also includes anything that becomes, for us, a distracting source of our identity. Indeed, I think that it is often more dangerous to be caught up in the socially acceptable distractions. Being approved by the world means we are not constantly reminded of our need for grace, for redemption, for renewal. We strive and strive, doing ‘good’ works, but miss the mark because we are not finding our life in God.
People fail to find God by looking in all kinds of places. So many fail to find God in churches–doing ministry that is not Spirit led, pursuing theology that emphasizes increasingly narrowed lists of exacting minutiae, content with their religious guilt that reminds them they do have a spiritual side even if they don’t want to do anything about it. So many fail to find God in all kinds of worthwhile activities. But because they use these activities as a distraction, they never find the peace, or the hope, or the rest that only a return to God brings.
Holiness is an orientation. It is an embrace of the source of life who brings us new life, and brings us to the place we truly are most alive. In turning to God, in orienting ourselves to God and letting everything else fall into place around this orientation, we do not lose the created things or the joy or the hope or the freedom. We are able to embrace the good things in life, the activities that nurture and restore our being, with an open embrace. We do not demand those activities, or other people, or personal success, provide any deep meaning. By not having to find our identity in these other things, we can enjoy them for what they do bring. We can be free in our friendships, open in our activities, giving in our whole lives.
If we hold onto these other things, looking for identity in them, we break down and we lose the ability to relate to anyone other than ourselves.
“The soul that is on the search for God divinizes the finite beauty of transitory things, and through its immoderacy overtaxes and destroys them. If the seeking soul thinks that what is transitory is God, then it begins to be afraid that these transitory things will not live up to what it expects of them, and this fear in turn evokes hate of the things and hate of the self–that is to say aggression.”
~Jurgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life
How many relationships, how many marriages, break up precisely because of this distorted perspective? If I look to something else, someone else, to help define me, or to be my bridge to God, or to be my ultimate priority, then I lose both God and this other thing, other person, other goal. It is death of self, even if the goal seems good and distracting. It brings no hope, except in and through God.
oh!: Mark Daniels links to this post and adds some very helpful thoughts of his own.