Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference? By Phillip Yancey

Prayer_Does it Make Any Difference?

When asked why he writes about sensitive topics with irony and such honest skepticism, Phillip Yancey says, “I write books for myself, [since] I am a pilgrim, recovering from a bad church upbringing, searching for a faith that makes its followers larger and not smaller. I feel overwhelming gratitude that I can make a living writing about the questions that interest me. My books are a process of exploration and investigation of things I wonder about and worry about.”[1]

Yancey begins each day spending an hour reading God’s Word, praying, and meditating, which he claims helps align his will for the day with that of the Lord’s. While prayer is the intimate place where God and His children can meet, it also can also be an extremely frustrating and confusing place to be, unless the person praying has the right frame of reference and proper understanding of how prayer works. To address these issues, Yancey answers fundamental questions like: “Is God listening? Why should God care about me? If God knows everything, what is the point of prayer? How can I make prayer more satisfying? Why do so many prayers go unanswered? Do prayers for healing really matter? And does prayer change God?”[2] By studying all 650 prayers in the Bible, Yancey views prayer not so much as a way of getting God to do his will but as a way of being available to get in line with what God wants to accomplish on earth. This reading analysis will evaluate Yancey’s approach to the topic of prayer being a privilege and not a journey or duty and will define areas of personal application derived from the reading.

SUMMARY

Yancey breaks up Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference into five concise parts. In part one, Yancey demonstrates, “Every faith has some form of prayer… We pray because we want to thank someone or something for the beauties and glories of life, and also because we feel small and helpless and sometimes afraid. We pray for forgiveness, for strength, for contact with the One who is, and for assurance that we are not alone.”[3] Yancey approaches prayer from a universal perspective in its ability to “define who [and Whose] we are.”[4] For anyone searching to know God, prayer is the means, but as Yancey illustrates, “Everywhere, I encountered the gap between prayer in theory and prayer in practice.”[5] Time, skepticism, and prosperity are all reasons listed for why people believe there is power in prayer, but still choose not to engage in the practice. C. S. Lewis conveys, “The prayer preceding all prayers is, ‘May it be the real I who speaks. May it be the real Thou that I speak to.’” Many people associate prayer with confession of sins and guilt, but prayer is so much more than helpless cries to the Lord. God wants His children to come before Him as they are. Scriptures affirm, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16; Ephesians 3:13). This boldness and confidence when approaching the throne must also be done in humility because as Yancey explains, “It accurately reflects the truth… It means, that in the presence of God I gain a glimpse of my true state in the universe, which exposes my smallness, and at the same time it reveals God’s greatness.”[6] Being created in the image of God is one of the many reasons, as children of God; His followers should not be afraid or worry about being completely honest with Him. The Lord sees the heart of the matter and His heart also breaks when His children experience pain, rejection, loss, and every other emotion that attempts to make His children feel insignificant. While it is hard to approach prayer without some form of preconceived notions or preunderstanding, Yancey illuminates the most important thing is to make time for God because what one makes time for is most important to the person. Even if anger is what draws one to God, the main point is God is not being excluded from the individual’s life. Yancey demonstrates, “That God allows, even encourages, such gust of passion, which shows the strength of God’s alliance with us… From the Bible’s prayers, I learn that God wants us to keep it in the alliance, to come in person, even with our complaints.”[7]

After addressing how prayer gets the believer into a right perspective, part two addresses what the point of prayer is and establishes, “To discount prayer, to conclude that it does not matter, means to view Jesus as deluded.”[8] In this section, Yancey sets out to unravel the mystery of prayer by looking at unanswered prayers and explains, “For most of us prayer serves as a resource to help in a time of testing or conflict. For Jesus, it was the battle itself. Once the Gethsemane prayers had aligned Him with the Father’s will, what happened next was merely the means to fulfill it. Prayer mattered that much.”[9] After establishing there is power in prayer, Yancey addresses the difficult questions pertaining to unanswered prayers and whether or not prayers can move God to act. Yancey claims, “I cannot, nor can anyone else promise that prayer will solve all problems and eliminate all suffering. At the same time, I also know that Jesus commanded His followers to pray, certain that it makes a difference in a world full of opposition to God’s will… [However,] God often allows things to play out naturally.”[10] Yancey then compares and contrasts prayer being a wrestling match and prayer being a partnership with God, using the Patriarchs as primary examples.

Part three looks at the language of prayer, its hindrances, and various styles. Yancey says, “Even when prayer seems like a duty, like a homework assignment, we sustain the hope that it could grow into something more.”[11] Given the difficulty of prayer, Yancey attributes this to, “A media-saturated culture [that] conditions us to expect a quick fix to every problem.”[12] As Yancey tackles the language of prayers in the Bible, he demonstrates how the prayers being offered often elevated the needs of others above the one who was praying and demonstrated the Lord’s will being done. Next, he talks about the multiplicity of reasons why people do not pray: they feel unworthy, they are easily distracted, they are too concerned about doing it correctly, but as Yancey reminds the reader, “[Even when we do not know what to pray,] the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express”[13] (Romans 8:26-27).

Part four looks at prayer dilemmas and as Emily Dickinson wrote, “There comes an hour when begging stops, when the long interceding lips perceive their prayer is vain.” The first part of this section appears to be a continuation of the previous chapter on what to do when God is silent and it seems like one’s relationship with God is nothing more than two ships passing in the dark. While silence is definitely a dilemma, Yancey now looks specifically at unanswered prayers and whose fault it is. As Yancey demonstrates, “Unanswered prayer poses an especially serious threat to the faith of trusting children.”[14] When dealing with the inconsistency problem, Yancey provides multiple instances where God chose to act and answer the prayers of some, while not answering the prayers of others. The story of the couple from India who happened to be in separate towers in the World Trade Center on September 11th 2001 was a perfect illustration. They both prayed and somehow both made it down the stairwells before the towers collapsed, which so impressed them that they converted to Christianity and the husband became a full-time evangelist. Along with Yancey, this writer cannot help but think of the other three thousand people who died, many of whom were probably praying for the same safety and rescue.[15] This is just one more case that the Lord’s ways and thoughts are higher than mans. Another interesting point Yancey brings out is, “In answering prayers, God normally relies on human agents and in ministries and answered prayers, I learned that many began with a crisis of faith, and a crisis of prayer.”[16] Yancey then shows how sin and unforgiveness hinders prayers.

Part five investigates the practice of prayer and the necessity of making time to commune with God. Yancey clearly defines prayers ability to lift up one another’s burdens, provide peace, lighten one’s mood, and offer liberation from anxiety. Being faithful in prayer also leads to patience in God’s timing and His plan, which further results in perseverance. This section especially highlights how prayer is able to sustain the follower of Christ and deepen his or her relationship with God. One of the best quotes Yancey uses comes from F. B. Meyer who said, “The greatest tragedy in life is not unanswered prayer, but unoffered prayer.” God is love and He wants the best for His children, so when a Christian intercedes on the behalf of another Yancey believes, “In short, prayer allows me to see others as God sees them (and me): as uniquely flawed and uniquely gifted bearers of God’s image. I begin seeing them through Jesus’ eyes, as beloved children whom the Father longs to embrace.” This observation was quite profound.

CRITIQUE

 The story of young Megumi being abducted by North Koreans was heart wrenching, but Yancey brilliantly uses this story to parallel what happened to Joseph, Daniel, Esther, and Paul who were aliens swept into a new and strange culture. Prayer for each of them served as a channel of faith and here, Yancey teaches the importance that prayer, “Becomes a realignment of everything, restoring the truth to the universe, and gaining a glimpse of the world through God’s eyes.”[17] Trusting God to use us however He sees fit is the key principle to be mindful of.

The story of Dovid Din of Jerusalem in The Hasidic Tales was also a great demonstration of God’s willingness to be there even in one’s anger. When he said, “All my life I have been so afraid to express my anger to God that I have always directed my anger at people who are connected with God. But until this moment I did not understand this.”[18] This illustration was profound as Reb Dovid instructed Dovid Din to follow him to the Wailing Wall near the ruins of the Temple. At this holy site, Reb instructed Dovid to express his anger toward God and Dovid, for more than an hour struck the wall of the Kotel with his hands and screamed from his heart. Shortly after, those screams turned to cries, which later turned to sobs, but ultimately became prayers/praise to the Lord. God would much rather His children express anger than shut Him out.

Yancey concludes, “I used to worry about my deficiency of faith. In my prayers, I expect little and seem satisfied with less. Faith feels like a gift that a person either has or lacks, not something that can be developed by exercise, like a muscle. My attitude is changing though, as I begin to understand faith as a form of engagement with God.”[19] When looking at what difference prayer makes, especially when people are facing tragedies and persecution, Yancey states, “We pray because against such forces we have no more powerful way to bring together the two worlds, visible and invisible.”[20] When answering whether prayer has the ability to change God, Yancey contrasts Origen’s view that prayer is in vain because God is changeless, to Calvinistic thought, which places its emphasis on God’s sovereignty shifting the focus of prayer from its effect on God to its effect on the person praying.[21] Yancey then uses Charles Finney’s model to resolve God’s unchanging qualities by illustrating, “God changes course in response to the sinner’s change in course, and does so because of those eternal qualities.”[22] While this book is an invitation to communicate with God the Father who invites His children into an eternal partnership through prayer, it seems Yancey is not afraid to ask the tough questions, but some of his questions are a bit lacking, when it comes to the answers or responses provided. While he undoubtedly answers some of the key questions about prayer, it seems he often lands somewhere in the middle of the two opposing views, leaving the conclusion up to the readers. Some may enjoy this style, but this writer would rather have a clear answer provided with biblical proof.

PERSONAL APPLICATION

Yancey calls the book of Psalms a virtual practicum in prayer with 150 psalms, so that when he is feeling inarticulate before God, he turns to this ready-made prayer. This is a great idea, especially since Psalms covers virtually everything from Genesis to Revelation and has prayers for practically every emotion and situation imaginable. Traveling to Israel last year and visiting the Wailing Wall was a profound experience, but to imagine only praying specific prayers from the Torah seemed to put God in a box. I agree with Yancey on using the psalms as a place to go to engage in prayer, but this writer also believes in the importance of allowing the Holy Spirit to intercede through us, just as Christ intercedes on our behalf to the Father.

The story about Karl, the lieutenant colonel from the Air Force really hit home with me. I too had dreams of entering the service, but was in a very similar accident breaking multiple discs in my neck and lower back. It took five surgeries to put me back together again, but my dreams had been shattered; or so I thought. I never blamed God or the individual who hit me, but I could not see the future playing out how I had envisioned it. The accident happened on the very day I received my ministerial credentials, so it was almost as if the enemy was trying to take me out before I could start my ministry. I spent much time in prayer as I was confined to the bed and began to commit whatever my future held to serving the Lord. I am thrilled to say, God has healed me and opened some doors I never thought would be opened and by this time next year, I should be an Army Chaplain. Going through five surgeries and never-ending physical therapy could have easily crushed my spirits and left me in despair, but I used ever encounter I had to tell people all about the awesome things God was doing in my life. I was blessed to have amazing neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons, but even they are amazed at my recovery and see it as a miracle. It is common to pray for things people want, but in part five, Yancey tells the story of how, “C. S. Lewis prayed every night for the people he was most tempted to hate, with Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini heading the list. Lewis did this because he realized Christ died for them as much as for him and that he himself was not so different from those ghastly creatures.”[23] This is powerful and if we truly believe in the power of prayer, we must engage in it continuously, especially for our leaders and those who oppose Christianity and/or the nation of Israel.

CONCLUSION

Yancey’s approach to prayer clearly establishes even when one might think he or she is in control they are not. This realization may be frightening for some, but for anyone who embraces the intimacy of prayer with the Father will gladly surrender complete control to His perfect will and timing because they know His ways and thoughts are far above their own. This book would be well suited for anyone looking to have a deeper understanding of prayer and the impact it has on the believer’s life. As Henri Nouwen illustrates, “The paradox of prayer is that it asks for a serious effort while it can only be received as a gift. We cannot plan, organize, or manipulate God; but without a careful discipline, we cannot receive Him either.” In the end, when someone does not know what to do, they should pray, and even when they know what to do, they should still pray. Prayer is the believer’s lifeline to God and, “Prayer that is based on relationship and not transaction may be the most freedom-enhancing way of connecting to a God whose vantage point we can never achieve and can hardly imagine.”[24] Just as the Spirit intercedes through the believer, Jesus is seated at the right hand of God interceding on the believer’s behalf when prayers are being lifted up.

Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference? By Phillip Yancey, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 2006, 359 pp. $16.99 (Paperback).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Phillip Yancey Website, http://philipyancey.com/about (accessed June 27, 2017).

Yancey, Phillip. Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference? Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 2006.

[1] Phillip Yancey Website, http://philipyancey.com/about (accessed June 27, 2017).

[2] Phillip Yancey Website, http://philipyancey.com/books/prayer-does-it-make-any-difference (accessed June 27, 2017).

[3] Phillip Yancey, Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 2006), 13.

[4] Ibid., 13

[5] Ibid., 15.

[6] Ibid., 37.

[7] Ibid., 68.

[8] Ibid., 80.

[9] Ibid., 86.

[10] Ibid., 87.

[11] Yancey, Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference, 158.

[12] Ibid., 159.

[13] Ibid., 193.

[14] Ibid., 216.

[15] Yancey, Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference, 221.

[16] Ibid., 242 & 244.

[17] Yancey, Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference, 29.

[18] Ibid., 68.

[19] Ibid., 98.

[20] Yancey, Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference, 118.

[21] Ibid., 131.

[22] Ibid., 134.

[23] Yancey, Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference, 311.

[24] Yancey, Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference, 55.

Doctrine of Sin: Where Did it Come From & Why Does it Exist?

what-is-sin

Sin, in its very essence, is contradictory to the nature of God, creating separation in the intimacy between God and man; however, it is allowed and even used by God in the provision of man’s free will, but is ultimately conquered by God’s grace, in the ultimate redemptive plan, through Jesus Christ. However, several questions still remain: “Why did God allow sin to enter the world,” and “why does He continue to allow it, especially considering, ‘The wages of sin is death’” (Romans 6:23). The problem or doctrine of sin continues to be a highly debated topic amongst scholars, because to fully understand the grace of God; one must first comprehend the depth of despair rooted in sin and its origin. Furthermore, one must also comprehend the nature of God, in order to offer a proper apologetic response to theological questions like: “If God made everything in creation good, how did evil and sin enter the world? If God is good, why does He allow evil and sin to exist? Why, if humans are created in the image of God, is there an inherent propensity to sin? And what purpose could evil and sin serve in accomplishing the will of God?” Ultimately, the sovereignty of God is on trial when people question the mystery of how and why evil and sin entered the world, so one must know sin’s origin and purpose to defend the faith. The thesis of this paper will show God allows sin in order to establish the freedom of mankind to freely choose Him.

By examining the introduction of sin into the world, it will be established sin was first found in Satan because of his desire to seek something contrary to what God intended. While God is sovereign in and over all things, He did not create sin, so it will then be revealed how evil originated in the created and not the Creator. The rejection of God’s will leads to spiritual death and this was played out in the lives of Adam and Eve, leading to the fall of mankind and all future generations. Working from the Old Testament to the New Testament, it will be displayed, God was not surprised or caught off guard by anything that has happened or will happen. In Old Testament times, animal sacrifices were continually offered at the Temple. These sacrifices showed the Israelites the seriousness of sin because: “Blood had to be shed before sins could be pardoned” (Leviticus 17:11). But the blood of animals could not fully remove sins (Hebrews 10:4). The sacrifices could only point to Jesus’ future sacrifice, which paid the final penalty for all sins. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, asserts the law failed only because “It was weakened by the flesh.” Douglas Moo illustrates, “In light of this criticism of the law in Romans, and the focus on liberation from sin and death in, ‘what the law could not do’ is not to condemn sin, but to break sin’s power—or, to put it positively, to secure eschatological life. It is God Himself who has done what the Law could not do, and He has done it through the sending of His own Son.”[1] When sin corrupted the world, God first provided the law as a means for sinners to know just how sinful they were and how far they had deviated from God’s standards. Before the law was given, sin existed (Romans 5:13). However, after the law was given, sin could be quantified and each act and could then be identified as an offense of a specific commandment found within law.

In the New Testament, God then provides a way for mankind to restore communion with the Father, which came through Jesus Christ. Ultimately, sin stands in the way of God’s best, and modern-day culture has become numb to its very presence, leading many to just do what feels good. However, the ripple effect of “original sin” still carries immense consequences. Lastly, it will be shown how Satan uses sin to isolate and condemn people, while God uses it to redeem and make His children whole. Sin has corrupted the world; so only by understanding how to counter Satan’s strategy will followers of Christ be able to use what the enemy meant for harm, for ultimate good (Genesis 50:15-21).

ORIGIN OF SIN

When most people think of sin’s origin, Adam and Eve’s choice to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is often what is stated. However, while this was mankind’s first sin, it was actually Satan’s prideful fall from grace, which would set events in motion, ultimately leading to Adam and Even’s banishment from Eden and mankind’s separation from God. When the serpent in the garden tempted Eve, this created a death sentence for all future generations, because God had previously told both Adam and Eve, “For when you eat from it, you will certainly die” (Genesis 2:17). Millard Erickson explains, “One of sin’s obvious results is death and this death we have deserved has several different aspects: physical death, spiritual death, and eternal death.”[2] Paul, in Romans 5:12 says; “Yet while death entered the world through Adam’s sin, it spread to all humans because all sinned.” Here, Paul is alluding to physical death, while spiritual death relates to the separation created between God and man. Because sin is contrary to the very nature of God, it acts as a barrier and condemns man to face both condemnation and judgment. Erickson, then further illustrates the final component in death: “Eternal death is the extension and finalization of spiritual death. If one comes to physical death still spiritually dead, separated from God, that condition becomes permanent. As eternal life is both qualitatively different from our present life and unending, so eternal death is separation from God that is both qualitatively different from physical death and everlasting in context.”[3]

Pride was the root of Satan’s sin and he would be consumed by it, causing him to desire both God’s authority and dominion. Satan no longer wanted to serve and worship; he wanted to be worshipped like God. These same desires and schemes can be seen played out in Satan’s attempt to have Eve first question God’s command and then make her think by eating the fruit she would be like God. While the serpent deceived Eve, Adam made a choice, which led to mankind’s curse, estrangement from God, guilt, and shame (Genesis 3:1-7, 12-13). Because of the fall, John Frame explains sin is not only a disruption in the personal relationship with God, but that it is also disruptive in authority. “In God’s order, He is the ultimate authority. Adam is a subordinate authority, to whom Eve is to be submissive (Ephesians 5:22). Together, Adam and Eve are to have dominion over all the animals, but in the story of the fall, the woman submits to an animal, the man submits to his wife, and both claim to be judges of God’s behavior.”[4] Anything God stands for or has created, Satan attempts to pervert, counterfeit, or destroy. While the Bible does not fully explain the fall of Satan and his angels, both Isaiah 14:3-21 and Ezekiel 28:2-19 contrast the defeat and fall of the kings of Babylon and Tyre. The imagery used in both passages portrays the ramifications of pride. In Isaiah, John Oswalt illustrates how pride was:

Seen in the fact that it would prefer the world to be a desert in its own hands than a garden in the hands of someone else. In fact, the capacity to destroy and oppress becomes a source of pride. This is perversion at its plainest. But again the poet has turned the boast back upon the boaster. He who had exiled hundreds of thousands from their homes and would not let them return now is himself homeless, and in a much more profound sense. This man is a spiritual exile. His pride has driven him from the home, which the Father has given in trust to all his children. Because pride denies God it must deny us what God has given, ultimately life itself.[5]

The passage in Ezekiel similarly depicts the king proclaiming himself to be divine in nature, authority, and intelligence. As a result of these proclamations, Daniel Block shows:

The assault on the prince involves three actions, which, while directed at a human monarch, reflect the treatment that images of a deity in the temple would receive from an attacking army. If the king of Tyre would claim the status of a god, then let him put up with the treatment of a god at the hands of invaders. First, the nations will attack the source of the prince’s pride, the symbols of his wealth and glory. Second, the invaders will desecrate and profane the prince’s radiant splendor. Third, the strangers will send the prince down to the Pit and the prince will exchange his falsely secure position “in the heart of the seas” for the world of the dead. The one who dares to claim the status of deity and demands to live among the gods must join the dead in Sheol. For this man the way up led down.[6]

Some scholars have viewed this text as being related with the fall of humanity, while others have chosen to interpret the text strictly as being mythological, due to Mesopotamian influences in the text. Block maintains the imagery of these oracles point to Eden, the Garden of God and, “Like the king of Tyre, the first man (1) was created by God, (2) was divinely authorized to rule over the garden as king, (3) not being satisfied with the status sought or claimed divinity, and (4) was punished for this hubris by humiliation and death.”[7] William Harrison believes, while this passage may be addressed to the king of Tyre, it in no way describes any human king, or other man. Instead, Harrison asserts, “The great angel was originally the sum of wisdom and perfect in all his ways until he sinned. This sin resulted from the fact that his mind was set on his own beauty rather than on the glory of the Creator. The ensuing pride led him to determine to follow his own will rather than submit to God.”[8] Oliver Crisp further explains, “There is no single, agreed-upon definition of original sin in the Christian tradition – no hamartiological analogue to the person of Christ given in the canons of the Council of Chalcedon. Instead, there are various versions of doctrine that attend to a common set of theological themes, which differ about dogmatic shape of original sin.”[9]

NATURE OF SIN

Sin is caused by ignorance, error, inattention, and pride. It is then characterized by missing the mark, irreligion, transgression, rebellion, treachery, perversion, abomination, and lack of integrity.[10] These causes and characteristics of sin have detrimental results and consequences, which lead to guilt, wickedness, and evil. In Psalm 51, David becomes convicted of his sin with Bathsheba after his confrontation with the prophet Nathan making both this confession of sin and pleading for forgiveness a prime example of what all sinners should do. In v. 2, David laments, “Cleanse me from my sin.” David uses several different forms for the word sin and here חַטָּאת or ḥaṭṭāʾt is used, which literally means missing the mark deliberately and purposefully disobeying God’s Word. In v. 3, David calls upon the Lord to blot out his transgressions, wickedness and rebellion. Here, David uses ‏פֶּשַׁע or pešaʿ, which essentially means forgiveness for knowing what God’s Words says, but choosing to revolt or rebel against His commands. In v. 9, David asks God to, “Blot out all my iniquities.” In this verse, David chooses the word עָוֹן‎ or ʿāwon to signify the crooked thinking and living that results when one acts against God’s Word. In each of these examples, David assumes responsibility for his sins and he knew that only repentance and forgiveness would cleanse his perverted inner state.[11]

A similar model can be found in Paul’s letter to the Romans in chapter five. In v. 12, Paul is dealing with the topic of sin coming into the world through one man: Adam, but through the obedience and sacrifice of Christ, all believers might know the righteousness of God. Paul uses the word hamartia or ἁμαρτία, which is synonymous with the Old Testament חַטָּאת or ḥaṭṭāʾt, meaning a purposeful missing of the mark and of God’s standards, His holiness, and His Word. In v. 14, parabaseōs or παράβασις is used to describe sinning as going beyond or over and disregarding or overstepping God’s Word. As humans, it is part of one’s fallen nature to test limits and boundaries of what is acceptable and allowed, but here the sin is to put one’s foot over the line to test what the consequences are and this is exactly what Adam and Eve did. In v. 19, parakoēs or παρακοή is used to define disobedience or the willful choice not to hear. Selective listening never fares well, especially when people hear what he or she wants to hear. In vv. 15, 17, and 18 paraptōma or παράπτωμα is used to describe the offense or trespass. Another deviation of this word means falling sideways or false stepping, which means instead of doing what is necessary or right, one chooses to go around. In this particular passage, Paul is addressing not only the problem of sin, but also the issue of continuing to sin. Before Paul could teach about the new life believers had in Christ, his listeners had to know the definition of sin.[12]

L. Thomas then demonstrates, “The biblical understanding of sin is not only an act of wrongdoing, but a state of alienation from God. [While] the origin of sin is indeed a mystery and is tied in with the problem of evil; the sin is personal and social, individual and collective. The effects of sin are also moral and spiritual bondage, guilt, death, and hell.”[13] The Bible has multiple words relative to sin, all of which convey its causes, its nature, and its consequences. As Robert Eagan illustrates, “Sin – that is, alienation from self-transcendence due to failure to be attentive, intelligent, reasonable, and responsible – results in faulty apprehensions of value, and subsequent false judgments of value, and ultimately in poor decisions and wrong actions. This notion of sin takes into account the role of feelings in the apprehension and judgment of value.”[14] Crisp asserts, “Original sin is a real moral corruption or deformity of soul that affects all human beings with the exception of Christ.”[15] This view is rooted in the bedrock of Anglicanism, and Article 9, which states, “Original Sin is the fault and corruption of the Nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the Spirit and in every person born into this world, it deserveth God’s wrath and damnation.”[16]

PURPOSE OF SIN

Temptation exists when something or someone attempts to influence another person to sin. Jesus Himself was tempted, so the act of being tempted is not sin, but acting on those thoughts is. God does not tempt His children, (James 1:13-15) but Satan does. In an attempt to corrupt the world, Satan wants everyone to live in total depravity, but as Frame demonstrates, “The corruption of sin remains until death, but it grows weaker and weaker, through the continual strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ. Scripture promises victory in Jesus, so the final word about the believer is not corruption, but overcoming. Paul said, ‘For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace’” (Romans 6:14).[17]

The doctrine of sin reveals man’s fallen nature and often can be difficult to identify. Frame shows, “Many people are unable to grasp the concept of sin as a inner force, an inherent condition, a controlling power. People today think more in terms of sins as wrongful acts. Sins are something external and concrete, logically separable from the person. On this basis, one who has not done anything wrong [generally conceived of as an external act] is considered good.”[18] In today’s society, sins are often ranked by a variety of manmade circumstances. In the judicial system, there are felonies and misdemeanors and each crime will carry with it a sentence or judgment. In a like manner, Christians often do the same thing with sin, but in God’s eyes all sin is still sin. While there can be some argument that blasphemy of the Holy Spirit was considered an unpardonable sin, a proper understanding of the historical context and environment Jesus was speaking in reveals His authority came from the Spirit of the Father.

Joseph Haven provides two logically possible suppositions on the existence of sin in the world: “(1) That God cannot entirely prevent sin and (2) That for some reason, He does not choose to prevent it. Each of these propositions supposes what the other denies; and, as such, by the laws of contradiction, and of excluded middle, while they cannot both be true, one or the other must be true.”[19] It is the view of this writer that God chooses not to prevent sin based on four principles highlighted by Haven: (1) Because its existence is in itself desirable; (2) because, though not in itself desirable, it is still the necessary means of the greatest good; (3) because, thought not in itself tending to good, it may be overruled to that result; or (4) because, in general terms, its permission will involve less evil that its absolute prevention. The most valid response is the permission of sin serves the greater good and that God allow its presence, under specific restrictions. Haven then asserts, “It is not sin, but the purpose on the part of God not to do more than He is doing to prevent sin, that is for the best. [This view] puts the existence of sin, not in the light of a greater good, but only of a lesser evil.”[20] Harrison further demonstrates how, “The consequences of sin are so terrible that in permitting it the righteous and just God must see it as essential to the achievement of a purpose who benefits are of supreme importance to Himself.”[21] Upon this premise, Harrison claims sin entered the creation for three primary reasons: (1) God desired His creature to know Him and receive His blessings; (2) The freedom to choose exercised without any influence by God was the direct cause of sin; and (3) Sin and all of its consequences were necessary to show His love and holiness, and the inability of man and angel apart from God, not only to be redeemed, but so every creature would understand.[22]

EFFECTS OF SIN

Sin always leads to more sin, and ultimately suffering, but even in this state, God uses suffering, according to His good purposes to: transform and to save the sinner. Kenneth Himma, when dealing with the continuing-sin response, illustrates this premise claiming, “There is no wrong any person can do in this life that merits an infinite punishment and hence that punishment would be disproportionate to his or her worldly wrongdoing.”[23] [24] King David and his sin with Bathsheba is a prime example (Psalm 51 & 2 Samuel 11). To cover up the sin of adultery, David ultimately ends up committing murder by sending Uriah to the front lines to die at the hands of his enemies in battle. Himma then explains, “The most likely response by traditionalists is to deny that punishment in hell is disproportionate to the sum of one’s worldly sins and to embrace some form of the controversial thesis that sin against an infinite being is infinite.”[25] Mattias Gockel illustrates four claims which shows evil and suffering to be essentially two sides to the same coin: “(1) Evil is defined by events in which someone experiences ills, not by an act of the will or an evil intention; (2) One must distinguish carefully between suffering and various forms of evil; (3) Suffering is not always and in every case evil; and (4) From a Christian perspective, evil is something God has overcome through good.”[26] According to Friedrich Schleiermacher, “The existence of sin with and besides grace is ordered for us by God, since a consciousness of sin continues to exist besides a consciousness of grace.”[27] However, due to the consequences of sin and the effects of the fall, guilt, punishment, and corruption are the results. Erickson adds, “The impact of sin has several dimensions. There are effects on the sinner’s relationships with God and fellow humans, as well as oneself.”[28] Sins against God lead to guilt, punishment, and death; sins against oneself cause denial, strongholds, enslavement, and selfishness; and sins against community cause rejection, isolation, and inability to care about the needs of others. Octavio Esqueda demonstrates how, “Sin permeates our entire being and alienates us from ourselves, other people, our world, and most importantly from our Creator.”[29] The more people look to the world for answers; Esqueda explains the more culture continues to play a dominant role in determining what is right and wrong. Esqueda then explains sin’s primary role is to diminish God’s plan for His creation, leading to lives being corrupted, isolated, and prideful. These traits are detrimental because each is contrary to God’s nature. Esqueda explains because, “We are communal beings as our triune God is, our sinful pride makes us focus only on our self-interest and [this causes one to] neglect God and others. The more we pursue our own happiness by our own efforts and for our own benefits, the more lonely and isolated we become. This is the fallacy of sin!”[30]

Everyone is born into the world as sinners because of Adam’s sin. David Wilcox explains, “Adam’s sin is and was therefore indeed our sin – for Adam’s sin is embedded in those who make us human, and they can only make us after their image. Adam’s rebellion has come down to us generation after generation – culturally transmitted, and neurologically inevitable.”[31] Ian Boyd, when dealing with the issue of self-destroying sin, demonstrates how the problem of sin and evil is often contested when it affects the unwilling suffering of innocents. Boyd explains, “The problem of self-destroying sin can lead a Christian to doubt God’s power or God’s goodness toward the one who sins self-destructively. God appears to betray and be unable to save and redeem, which calls Christianity itself into question because of the central promise of redemption from sin.”[32] Despite this view, the justice and love of God work in conformity.

DEFEAT OF SIN

The law was ultimately incapable of providing life to those who adhered to it, as Dirk Venter explains, “All sin was collectively condemned by God in the flesh of Jesus Christ, and He bore that condemnation out in the destruction of His flesh. Those who partake of this reality through their participation or inclusion ‘in Christ’ by faith can boldly proclaim with Paul that ‘there is now no condemnation for me’” (Romans 8:1).[33] Thomas further explains the mission of Christ and how, “Christian faith teaches that sin cannot be overcome through human ingenuity or effort. The solution to the problem lies in what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. The penalty for sin is death, judgment, and hell, but the gospel is that God has chosen to pay this penalty Himself in the sacrificial life and death of His Son, Jesus Christ.”[34] The vicarious atonement Christ provided at Calvary made a way not only to restore fellowship with the Father, but also to provide payment in full for all past, present, and future sin. Only an infinite God could cover the multitude of sin found within mankind’s fallen nature.

In 1 Corinthians 15:55-56, Paul wrote, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” Here, Gordon Fee shows, “The law not only makes sin observable as sin, but also, and more significantly, shows that one’s actions are finally over against God, and thus leads to condemnation. The law, which is good, functions as the agent of sin because it either leads to pride of achievement, or reveals the depth of one’s depravity and rebellion against God, becoming either death-dealing or life-giving.”[35] Ultimately, Jesus conquered and defeated sin, through his death, burial, and resurrection. The fashion in which He did it bears mention. 1 Peter 2:24 declares, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed.” Peter Davids illustrates, “Because of its use in Deuteronomy 21:22, the idea that the one so hung was cursed by God cannot be far from the author’s mind, but without explicitly mentioning this he points out that this death was vicarious, for it was “our sins” that he bore.”[36] This curse is reminiscent of the curse that fell upon mankind as the result of “original sin” in the Garden of Eden. In 1 John 2:2, Jesus is referred to as, “The atoning sacrifice or the propitiation for our sins.” These two translations represent an atonement made for sin and a sacrifice made to God. Howard Marshall explains Jesus was acting as our advocate before God, and, “Jesus is pleading the case of guilty sinners before a judge who is being petitioned to pardon their acknowledged guilt. He is not being asked to declare them innocent, i.e. to say that there is no evidence that they have sinned, but rather to grant them pardon for their acknowledged sins.”[37]

CONCLUSION

The existence of sin and the mystery of why a good God would allow its presence in a creation in which He declared as being good is a direct result of mankind’s free will. While sin did not originate with man, its effects and curse are still felt throughout time. As a result of the fall, sin has plagued humanity, leaving many to question God’s motives. While the problem of evil is a moral problem,[38] the problem of sin is the process of death at work in the lives of God’s children. C. S. Lewis suggests, God in His omniscience “Saw that from a world of free creatures, even though they fell, He could work out… a deeper happiness and a fuller splendor than any world of automata would admit.”[39] Norman Geisler advances this theory by suggesting, “The ultimate goal of a perfect world with free creatures will have been achieved, but the way to get there requires that those who abuse their freedom be cast out.”[40] Lewis then adds, “The freedom of a creature must mean freedom to choose: and choice implies the existence of things to choose between.”[41] While free will makes it possible to choose wrong, Geisler emphasizes, “Forced love is rape; and God is not a divine rapist.”[42] God desires everyone to be saved, but He will never do anything to coerce one’s decision. Lewis put it best, “The door of hell is locked on the inside. [All who go there choose to] because there are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’”[43] When Christ died for all of humanity’s sins, Ravi Zacharias articulates how, “God’s justice demands that sin be punished, but His love compels Him to save sinners, [so] surely justice and mercy kissed on the cross at Calvary.”[44]

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Betenson, Toby. “Evaluative Claims within the Problem of Evil.” Religious Studies 51, no. 3 (09, 2015): 361-77, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/docview/1703895888?accountid=12085 (accessed May 10, 2017).

Boyd, Ian T. E. “The problem of self-destroying sin in John Milton’s Samson Agonistes.” Faith and Philosophy 13, no. 4 (October, 1996): 487-507. (accessed May 10, 2017).

Block, Daniel I. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Ezekiel Chapters 25-48. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976.

Crisp, Oliver D. “On Original Sin.” International Journal of Systematic Theology, 17, (June 2015): 252–266. doi: 10.1111/ijst.12107 (accessed May 10, 2017).

Davids, Peter H. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First Epistle of Peter (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990.

Durden, John. “The Doctrine of Sin.” Filmed [2015], Liberty University Website, THEO 525, Course Content, Week Seven Video Presentation. 12:48. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_351169_1&content_id=_16910176_1 (accessed May 11, 2017).

Egan, Robert. “Epistemological Foundations for A Theology of Sin.” The Heythrop Journal, 57, (May 2016): 553–567. doi: 10.1111/heyj.12318 (accessed May 10, 2017).

Elwell, Walter A. ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2001.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 3rd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2013.

Esqueda, Octavio Javier. “Sin and Christian Teaching.” Christian Education Journal 8, no. 1 (Spring 2011): 164-176. General OneFile http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/ps/i.do?p=ITOF&sw=w&u=vic_liberty&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA254754469&sid=summon&asid=7cd444ab8fa87f29079655e13d84de39 (accessed May 10, 2017).

Fee, Gordon D. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First Epistle to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987.

Frame, John M. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013.

Geisler, Norman L. The Problem of Evil, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing, 1999.

Geisler, Norman L. and Ronald M. Brooks. When Skeptics Ask. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 1995.

Gockel, Matthias. “‘Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good’: an orientational approach to suffering and evil.” Modern Theology 25, no. 1 (January 2009): 97-105. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 10, 2017).

Groothuis, Douglas. Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011.

Harrison, William K. (William Kelly). “Origin of Sin.” Bibliotheca Sacra 130, no. 517 (January 1973): 58-61. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 10, 2017).

Haven, Joseph. “Sin, As Related To Human Nature And To The Divine Purpose.” Bibliotheca Sacra 020, no. 79 (July 1863): 445-488. (accessed May 10, 2017).

Himma, Kenneth Einar. “Eternally Incorrigible: The Continuing-Sin Response to the Proportionality Problem of Hell.” Religious Studies 39, no. 1 (2003): 61-78. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20008447 (accessed May 10, 2017).

Lewis, C. S. The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics: The Problem of Pain. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers, 2002.

Marshall, I. Howard. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistles of John. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978.

Moo, Douglas J. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996.

Oswalt, John N. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976.

Schleiermacher, Friedrich. Der christliche Glaube, nach den Grundsätzen der Evangelischen Kirche im Zusammenhange dargestellt. Zweite Auflage 1830/31 (Kritische Gesamtausgabe 1/13), ed. Rolf Schäfer (Berlin, New York: de Gruyter, 2003), vol. 1     (§ 80).

The Church of England Website, “Article IX Of Original or Birth-sin.” https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-worship/worship/book-of-common-prayer/articles-of-religion.aspx#IX (accessed May 11, 2017).

Venter, Dirk J. “Romans 8:3-4 and God’s resolution of the threefold problems of sin, the incapability of the law and the weakness of the flesh.” In die Skriflig 48, no. 1 (2014). Academic OneFile http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=vic_liberty&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA406163579&asid=6a1e0a7a5321bc7b9c4c11a1a02b29d6 (accessed May 10, 2017).

Wilcox, David L. “A proposed model for the evolutionary creation of human beings: From the image of God to the origin of sin.” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 68, no. 1 (2016): 22-43. Academic OneFile http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=vic_liberty&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA486164679&sid=summon&asid=e80c6aa2b9a2eae051ab74327ee96e56 (accessed May 10, 2017).

Zacharias, Ravi and Norman Geisler. Who Made God? And Answers to Over 100 Other Questions of Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003.

[1] Douglas J. Moo, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 477-478.

[2] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2013), 557.

[3] Ibid., 560.

[4] John M. Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013), 852.

[5] John N. Oswalt, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39 (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 323.

[6] Daniel I. Block, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Ezekiel Chapters 25-48 (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 98.

[7] Block, TNICOT, The Book of Ezekiel, 117.

[8] William K. Harrison, “Origin of Sin,” Bibliotheca Sacra 130, no. 517 (January 1973): 60. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 10, 2017).

[9] Oliver D. Crisp, “On Original Sin,” International Journal of Systematic Theology, 17, (June 2015): 256. doi: 10.1111/ijst.12107 (accessed May 10, 2017).

[10] Erickson, Christian Theology, 517-529.

[11] John Durden, “The Doctrine of Sin,” Filmed [2015], Liberty University Website, THEO 525, Course Content, Week Seven Video Presentation, 12:48. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_351169_1&content_id=_16910176_1 (accessed May 11, 2017).

[12] Durden, “The Doctrine of Sin.”

[13] R. L. Thomas, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd Edition. ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2001), 1103-1104.

[14] Robert Egan, “Epistemological Foundations for A Theology of Sin,” The Heythrop Journal, 57, (May 2016): 553–567. doi: 10.1111/heyj.12318 (accessed May 10, 2017).

[15] Crisp, “On Original Sin,” 258.

[16] The Church of England Website, “Article IX Of Original or Birth-sin,” https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-worship/worship/book-of-common-prayer/articles-of-religion.aspx#IX (accessed May 11, 2017).

[17] Frame, Systematic Theology, 870.

[18] Erickson, Christian Theology, 516.

[19] Joseph Haven, “Sin, As Related To Human Nature And To The Divine Purpose,” Bibliotheca Sacra 020, no. 79 (July 1863): 472. (accessed May 10, 2017).

[20] Haven, “Sin, As Related To Human Nature And To The Divine Purpose,” 481 & 483.

[21] Harrison, “Origin of Sin,” 60.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Kenneth Einar Himma, “Eternally Incorrigible: The Continuing-Sin Response to the Proportionality Problem of Hell,” Religious Studies 39, no. 1 (2003): 69. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20008447 (accessed May 10, 2017).

[24] See also William Wainwright, “Original Sin,” in Thomas V. Morris (ed.) Philosophy and the Christian Faith (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988), 34-35.

[25] Himma, “Eternally Incorrigible,” 77.

[26] Mattias Gockel, “Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good: an orientational approach to suffering and evil.” Modern Theology 25, no. 1 (January 2009): 97. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 10, 2017)

[27] Friedrich Schleiermacher, Der christliche Glaube, nach den Grundsätzen der Evangelischen Kirche im Zusammenhange dargestellt. Zweite Auflage 1830/31 (Kritische Gesamtausgabe 1/13), ed. Rolf Schäfer (Berlin, New York: de Gruyter, 2003), vol. 1, p. 488 (§ 80).

[28] Erickson, Christian Theology, 548.

[29] Octavio Javier Esqueda, “Sin and Christian Teaching,” Christian Education Journal 8, no. 1 (Spring 2011): 164. General OneFile. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/ps/i.do?p=ITOF&sw=w&u=vic_liberty&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA254754469&sid=summon&asid=7cd444ab8fa87f29079655e13d84de39 (accessed May 10, 2017).

[30] Esqueda, “Sin and Christian Teaching,” 166.

[31] David L. Wilcox, “A proposed model for the evolutionary creation of human beings: From the image of God to the origin of sin.” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 68, no. 1 (2016): 22-43. Academic OneFile http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=vic_liberty&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA486164679&sid=summon&asid=e80c6aa2b9a2eae051ab74327ee96e56 (accessed May 10, 2017).

[32] Ian T. E. Boyd, “The problem of self-destroying sin in John Milton’s Samson Agonistes,” Faith and Philosophy 13, no. 4 (October, 1996): 489. (accessed May 10, 2017).

[33] Dirk J. Venter, “Romans 8:3-4 and God’s resolution of the threefold problems of sin, the incapability of the law and the weakness of the flesh,” In die Skriflig 48, no. 1 (2014). Academic OneFile http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=vic_liberty&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA406163579&asid=6a1e0a7a5321bc7b9c4c11a1a02b29d6 (accessed May 10, 2017).

[34] Thomas, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 1106.

[35] Gordon D. Fee, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987), 806.

[36] Peter H. Davids, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First Epistle of Peter (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 112.

[37] I. Howard Marshall, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistles of John (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978), 118.

[38] Toby Betenson, “Evaluative Claims within the Problem of Evil.” Religious Studies 51, no. 3 (09, 2015): 361. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/docview/1703895888?accountid=12085 (accessed May 10, 2017).

[39] C. S. Lewis, The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics: The Problem of Pain (New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers, 2002), 561.

[40] Norman L. Geisler and Ronald M. Brooks, When Skeptics Ask (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 1995), 73.

[41] Lewis, The Problem of Pain, 562.

[42] Geisler and Brooks, When Skeptics Ask, 73.

[43] Lewis, The Problem of Pain, 120.

[44] Ravi Zacharias and Norman Geisler, Who Made God? And Answers to Over 100 Other Questions of Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 31.

 

Reconciliation Through Confession, Forgiveness, & Restoration

forgiveness
Forgiveness is the key to freedom and Brian Wilson and Brad Hoffmann are of the opinion, “When we offend another, we should not solicit their forgiveness. What others do or refuse to do in light of our confession isn’t the point. Our part on the road to reconciliation is simply to confess and repent.” This is a profound and for many people a troubling statement, due to the deep pain that occurs during an offense. This discussion board will offer why one should agree or disagree with this statement, while also demonstrating what most churches practice, and what most church members believe, as a result of this teaching. In addition, this assignment will also demonstrate what this writer believes should be taught, based on Wilson and Hoffmann’s concept.

Position on Reconciliation

To some degree, I believe in their assertion, but it took reading over it a few times in context and ultimately comprehending the rest of their plan regarding reconciliation and restitution, as they both bring about a proper understanding of their position. From the ministry perspective, I have seen people in such bondage on the issue of forgiveness and un-forgiveness. The very people who will not forgive others are essentially prisoners to the ones that have wronged them, whether the offense is real, valid, or not. In a like manner, those who do not seek forgiveness are either blind to their own sin, or they have rationalized their actions, and feel a sense of entitlement. It is amazing what lies and justification can be spun in one’s mind when sin is no longer regarded as sin.

What Most Church Members Believe

Most churches teach several biblical principles regarding forgiveness and reconciliation. The first is, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” The second occurs when Peter asked the Lord how many times he should forgive someone who sinned against him. This was not uncommon during that time frame where some rabbis instructed people to forgive anywhere from three to seven times based on Amos 1:3 and 2:1.

However, John Butler demonstrates, “This attitude of forgiveness seems more concerned about forgiving too much [rather] than about forgiving enough. It is of the same sick spirit, which prompts people to seek the minimum requirement to satisfy God in regards to their duty.” Wilson and Hoffman also demonstrate, “Genuine repentance and reconciliation will result in an ongoing pattern of restitution, making a habit out of such healthy actions.”

Lastly, Jesus instructs Christians, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so the evidence of two or three witnesses may establish every charge.”

Practice of Most Church Members

Doing as I say and not as I do has become the norm in today’s culture. People remember what they should forget and they forget what they should remember. God instructed His disciples it would be by their love that the world would know they were His followers. This is not the case today in America and around the world. People know more about what the church is against than what it is for. Wilson and Hoffman illustrate, “To fully reconcile our horizontal relationships, some form of restitution may be needed [and] a desire for restitution is a natural byproduct of genuine repentance.”

Despite having these wonderful instructions available to the church, many Christians do not follow its commands and Jesus made it very clear, “If you love Me, you will obey my commands.” It falls on the leadership of the church to help educate the body in the understanding and enacting of this model for forgiveness and also to help facilitate the various steps. In some cases, someone in leadership within the church has committed the wrong and this presents a huge problem when not addressed properly and in a timely matter. This is a process that cannot be rushed and also one that cannot be ignored when an offense does occur. The longer an offense goes unaddressed, the more chance the schism will only grow into a larger issue, sometimes to the point where the original offense is forgotten and now in its place is nothing but contempt for the individual and often times against anyone on their side.

What Principles Should be Taught, Using the Author’s Concept?

As Wilson and Hoffmann suggest, “Restoration isn’t simply a matter of agreeing with God about your situation. We must also repent, changing our future course.” This point is fundamental when teaching people about the restoration process because, “Genuine repentance and reconciliation will also result in an ongoing pattern of restitution, making a habit out of such healthy actions.” The problem arises when someone confesses their sin and feels powerless and helpless until the other person forgives them. This is extremely problematic because it places that individual in bondage to the person harboring un-forgiveness in their heart. The authors are correct in proposing one should not solely focus on receiving forgiveness, but this writer feels that should be the motivation behind the act of seeking reconciliation.

There are also inherent dangers in seeking premature forgiveness or seeking it for the wrong reasons. Genuine confession and repentance is what God requires to restore fellowship with Him and this writer believes the same is true with interpersonal relationships. While forgiveness does not mean you are forgetting an offense, it does mean you are not going to allow Satan to turn it into a stronghold and that you are also not going to allow it to become a stumbling block in the restoration process.

In addition to Wilson and Hoffman’s restoration model, this writer also believes in the importance of renewing one’s mind. There is an inherent danger, when an area sin is vacated because if it is not filled with God, the latter condition of the individual will be worse than before. As the authors suggest, “Renewing the mind to better match God’s viewpoint is a helpful part of any attempt at changing behavior [and] practicing the process of restoration in our daily life will significantly contribute to our long-term health in ministry by taking care of things the moment we recognize something needs attention.”

Personal Experience

During the course of my ministry, I have seen the danger of both extremes pertaining to forgiveness. In my experience, I would attempt to facilitate a balanced and biblical perspective by teaching the fundamental reason of seeking forgiveness stems from wanting to restore communion with God and not just to be free of guilt and shame. Part of sowing and reaping means there are consequences to actions. Each party involved in the forgiveness and reconciliation process must make up in their own mind if God is big enough to help them move through it. The practice of forgiveness and reconciliation is an ongoing one, just as it is with our walk with Christ. What people must understand is that if we want God to forgive our sins, we must be willing to forgive the trespasses against us. That doesn’t mean you pick up right where you left off, but it does mean you are willing to move past it and not hold their past in the way of their future.

Bibliography

Butler, John G. Bible Biography Series – Peter: The Illustrious Disciple. Clinton, IA: LBC Publications, 1993.

Wilson, Michael Todd and Brad Hoffmann, Preventing Ministry Failure: A Shepherd Care Guide for Pastors, Ministers, and Other Caregivers. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007.