Yesterday I posted an introduction to this topic. Today, I want to give my answer to the first question:
Is it possible that my body (against or apart from my will) might cause me to sin?
- What is gained and/or lost if we say yes? If we say no?
My answer: Yes.
I suppose you might like some defense of this position. Okay, here’s my best shot in five minutes:
1. Nothing is done by a person apart from their cells. We mediate all worship, desire, etc. through our cells. When we do good or evil, all of us are involved.
2. Sin is not merely an act, but a disposition. All of me is tainted and not functioning as it was originally intended, including my physical body (and don’t I feel the effects of being over 40!). The dualist position is more in danger of treating sin as only what we consciously choose.
3. I don’t have to know that I broke the law (biblical or federal) to be guilty of violating the law. I didn’t know I was speeding but I still got a ticket. In the OT, lack of intention or knowledge violating the law did not protect against impurity or guilt (e.g., Lev. 4:22; 5:3).
4. If the body is broken and under sin’s curse it stands to reason that our bodies function in ways that are out of accord with our will. If they can move without our control (e.g., Parkinsonian tremors) can they not also move in such a way that violates God’s design for us. We have scientific evidence of this. Stimulate a certain part of the brain, and you will have rageful feelings. Stimulate another part and you may have sexual thoughts. Consider, as a commenter suggested yesterday, a person with Tourettes. There is some evidence of temporary volitional control (a surgeon is able to stop a tick during an operation) but other evidence that the ticks, and in some cases, curses burst out against the conscious effort of the person.
Saying yes to this question violates our Western sensibilities:
If we accept that our bodies can act against or without the will, what do we gain or lose? I think the primary concern by many would be that somehow we will either be held culpable for sins we didn’t want to commit or claim innocence for sins we didn’t willfully commit. And this gets to our thinking patterns here in the West. We want to be only held accountable for things we did do and not held accountable for things we either didn’t do or didn’t have any control over.
It strikes us as evil to be held accountable for that which we didn’t know was wrong. I once got a ticket for making a u-turn on a Chicago city street at 11 pm when no one (but the cop!) was around. There were no signs. I wasn’t familiar with Chicago rules, was lost in an unsavory neighborhood. And yet I still got the ticket. It didn’t seem right. But I did violate the law.
Our American judicial system isn’t the only system that holds us accountable for involuntary acts. Romans teaches us that because of Adam’s sin, all are sinners. I bear the culpability for his sin (and I make plenty of my own as well). I bear the impact of his choices in my entire being. Further we see OT prophets confessing the sins of the community as if they were their own.
So, in short, I think we can answer yes to the question about whether our bodies can make us sin. They can because we (body and soul) are tainted by the Fall. It doesn’t make us more or less out of sorts with God whether our sin is chosen or involuntary. Happily, God doesn’t just forgive willful sin, he forgives sin period and makes it possible to not sin by imputing his righteousness to us.
For those still thinking about culpability, I’ll give a little vignette tomorrow to chew on.
2 responses to “Can your body make you sin, part 2”
“It strikes us as evil to be held accountable for that which we didn’t know was wrong.” Hmmm…I tend to think of it as unfair, but understandable in your example: the police officer has no way to verify what you do or do not know, cannot reliably tell if you are lying to him or not, nor has the authority to make such exceptions even if deserved. Which is why A. the punishment is light; and B. you get the opportunity to present your case before a judge to decide if there are extenuating circumstances for you breaking the law.
To make the comparison to Christianity, the police officer, Jesus, has the power to know exactly what your intent and circumstances are, immediately. Which is why: A. the punishment would be life imprisonment, without parole, with waterboarding all day, every day; B. you get the opportunity to immediately confess your agreement that you deserve such punishment, but are sufficiently devoted to the society that an exception should be made for you, as long as you do your best in the future to not make an illegal U-turn, or any other moving violation.
The problem with this analogy is that, as long as you do B (acceptance, faith, works, good intentions), then A never happens; i.e. Christians don’t go to Hell, by definition. So whether sin is voluntary or involuntary is irrelevant. As long as you are a Christian, the only question should be how to sin less, and help others sin less.
The concept of original sin turns culpability on its head: EVERYONE is guilty; ALL are culpable. So in effect, it is a moot point, spiritually. The only point left is what do we do about it physically, in the here and now, in order to help people live with more virtue and happiness over the span of the lifetime that we have here.
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