Category Archives: sin

More on “Can Your Body Make You Sin?”

I’ve written about this topic here and here before. In those posts I argue that there is a better question for counselors to consider than the one of culpability. Last night, we started the 2012 edition of Counseling & Physiology with the question of culpability and whether or bodies/brains can cause us to sin outside of our will. We also looked at our tendency to focus on judging whether a person is culpable for their sins (e.g., someone with Tourette’s who swears, someone with a TBI who is easily enraged, someone who is chronically anxious or still another who falls prey to addictive behavior). One of my main goals was to get students thinking about whether they under or overestimate the body’s role in counseling problems.

In the second post listed above I indicate the possibility of a better question than culpability. However, one of my students last night raised a question that went something like this,

Doesn’t the fact that you will choose how to respond to a client indicate that you have to judge the cause of the problem? If you encourage a client to consider psychoactive medications, aren’t you suggesting it is a body problem? If you focus on habits or heart issues, aren’t you assuming the problem is primarily a spiritual, will or behavioral control problem?

This was a great question and my answer was something like the following.

No and yes. Functionally, you will choose an area to work first. This does not mean you think that the type of intervention you choose indicates the main problem. It may only indicate that you think one intervention is an easier entry gate to counseling than another.

Here’s an example. Even if my client is severely depressed and I believe that the primary cause of this depression is their longstanding bitterness and anger towards God, I may encourage a psychiatric evaluation and the consideration of an antidepressant. It may be that once their mood improves, we can make better progress in investigating some spiritual matters in their life.

Human sins and weaknesses have multi-factored sources

Have you ever thought of the various sources of human sin? Here’s a visual of all of the things I think of that are a part of nearly every human sinful behavior. The sizes of the factors surely change depending on the situation. For some, will, high-handed rebellion, may be most of the pie. In other cases, bodily weakness may be the prime source. Also, some of these surely overlap and are not distinct. I may have started out in a rebellious state when I started doing drugs. Now, my body and psychological habits are equal players in why I maintain a drug habit.

What else would you add to this chart? Note that I place “will” in the smallest concentric circle. I imagine that we have far less conscious control over sin than we sometimes ascribe. Habits, unconscious motivations, and foolish (unthinking) choices probably dictate more of our behavior than our direct, willful, planned rebellion. Of course, none of this has ANY influence over culpability or morality as Scripture clearly indicates our guilt even when we are unaware of the Law’s commands. When Jesus says, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” it tells us that consciousness of sin has little to do with our need for forgiveness.


Filed under biblical counseling, christian counseling, christian psychology, counseling, sin

What is missing in Camping’s apology? The link between repentance and restorative justice

Ever had someone hurt you, apologize, but you still felt like something was missing? Did you think it was your problem because you couldn’t forgive? Is it possible that their apology didn’t go far enough? Have you had a chance to hear about Harold Camping’s recent apology for picking dates in 2011 for the rapture to take place? The good news is that he admits what he did was a sin and that he will no longer seek to discover the date when Jesus returns. Read his apology on the Family Radio website.

But there are a few problems with his apology. I mean…problems beyond his attempt to focus more on the good his sin did for the kingdom of God than on actually apologizing for the actual sin. His apology amounts to something akin to, “I’m sorry I was reckless and crashed your car but I got out unscathed and people heard me thank God for surviving it so it’s all good.”

What is missing? Acknowledgement of hurt, willingness to restore

Read his apology again. You will see he fails to repent directly to those he hurt most–the ones who gave sacrificially to fund his insanity. He never names the specific sins committed nor the hurts he caused. Further, and this is most telling, he makes no offer to restore victims of his offenses. If he acknowledges he misled people and in doing so received benefit from his sin, might he not desire to follow the path of Zaccheus? To give back what he took (that would be a start) and even give back more?

He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need. Eph 4:28

Repentance is then shown not just in stopping bad behavior but replacing it with behaviors that are righteous and good.

What is restorative justice?

This week I will be in Tennessee speaking on the relationship between repentance and restorative justice. Restorative justice (RJ) is the idea that victims, offenders, and community ought to be in dialogue together to (a) understand the impact of offenses, (b) determine together ways to restore both victim and offender, and (c) to allow the community to have a say in the matter. It doesn’t oppose the rule of law but believes that the judicial approach is not always the best approach and tends to focus on punishment to the exclusion of restoration. RJ does not work unless victims are interested in it and offenders are remorseful. But, in those cases where there may be interest and some remorse, it may allow offenders the opportunity to get the depth of the pain they caused and offer them opportunities to “restore what the locusts have eaten.” (Joel 2:25)

Restoring vs. penance?

If you are like me you may be tempted to swing between to polar opposites when you are confronted with your own offenses: defensiveness or penance. Sometimes we want our apology to be the last word. We want to be forgiven and our offense treated as if it never happened. Other times we want to grovel and do penance so that the offended party will think better of us. During this season of lent, let us be aware of our offenses and the necessary sacrifice to cleanse us. But let us also be willing to seek the betterment of those we harm “with joy.”


Filed under Forgiveness, news, Relationships, sin, Uncategorized

What is the proper response to Bin Laden’s death?

Last night as the news media began telling of Bin Laden’s demise I began contemplating this question: What is a proper response to his death or, for that matter, the death of any oppressor, abuser or grossly unjust person? What is the right response?

Celebration? I heard one person say they were not celebrating death but were celebrating the end of a mass murderer. Glee? Wishing him well in hell? Praising justice or vengeance? Confidence? (immediately, news outlets were noting futures for markets and the US dollar were on the rise and oil futures were on the decline)

Or, should we merely mark it with somber reflection on all those who died at his hand or in the attempt to bring him to justice over the past ten years?

Is there a best response? Here are some words that come to mind:

  • Relief. Something undone has been completed. At least one era has come to an end. One person seeking harm to another can do no more.
  • Joy. Now this is a complex emotion. You will see at the bottom I do not think we ought to gloat. But joy is a proper emotion when right is defended and wrong is put away. Now, this emotion needs tempering because in this world, we can easily defend righteousness with wrong actions and motives. You damage me so I, in turn, take out my wrath on your family. So, our joy must be tempered by the knowledge that “they” are not always evil and “we” are not always good.
  • Satisfaction. Any time justice is served, there is a level of satisfaction or vindication. Never fully experienced in this life, but in bits and pieces. (Of course there will be ongoing conversation about whether this was carried out in a just manner)
  • Remembrance. Of those who died as victims to a tyrant (and their families), of those who died trying to bring a tyrant to justice.
  • Reflection. Several kinds of reflections are quite appropriate. First, it is good and right to reflect on justice as a key character of God. Such reflection ought to cause us also to reflect on our own need for mercy in light of our own failings. We can reflect on how we want to handle future tyrants and how we speak about those who are quite different from us.
  • Pray. We can pray for peace. We can pray for protection of those who still serve in harm’s way. Pray for an end to the training of malleable children into practices of war, whether a child suicide bomber in the Middle East or a child soldier in the Congo.  We can pray that we will not turn a blind eye to injustices within our own communities. It is deadly to think that injustice is only in other countries. Remember, turning a blind eye to injustice in our midst is being complicit with the actual act of injustice.

While joy is a proper response to justice (Prov 21:15), I would think we ought not celebrate or gloat. Proverbs 24:17 tells us not to gloat when our enemy stumbles. But later in the same chapter it does tell us that there will be blessing for those who convict the guilty. Let God be the author of that and let us not attempt to bless ourselves.

If we rejoice, we ought to rejoice that God is in heaven and that our names are written in the book of life (Luke 10:20). Rejoice that all things here will pass away and one day there will be no more need for armies and warfare.


Filed under Abuse, Christianity, news, News and politics, sin

Did Paul struggle with past memories?

On Sunday Steve Light preached from Acts regarding the conversion of the Apostle Paul. Prior to his conversion he was known to be one seeking the death of Jewish followers of Jesus. He witnessed and may have provided support for the stoning of Stephen. Upon his conversion those Christians in his circles were wary of whether he was a changed man or merely using it as a ploy to disrupt new churches. These folks had visceral reactions to such a person because they had likely experienced great suffering and distress by Paul’s hand.

Today, Christians generally think positive thoughts about Paul. He is the human author of most of the NT. His words give instruction, comfort, rebuke. We know he was a former violent man but we don’t experience him that way.

SO, here’s my question. Do you think Paul suffered from unwanted or painful memories of past actions? How did it impact him? We know very little about this from Scripture. Yes, Paul admits his past. He thanks God for unmerited grace and favor. But, he doesn’t address the existence of memories.

My thought? I think it is very human to remember shameful acts we have done. In fact, let me be bold enough to say we must remember them if we are to be human. The bigger question is rather HOW we remember them? Volf’s The End of Memory (which I have blogged through here some time ago) is instructive in answering this question. 

How do you remember shameful images or memories of your past? Do they hold you back from relationships? Do they keep you paralyzed? Are you constantly trying to better yourself to make up for the past?


Filed under Biblical Reflection, christian counseling, Christianity, memory, Psychology, sin

Violating space

I’m not talking about space junk or the old star wars politics of the Reagan era. Rather, I’m thinking about how particular actions violate our sense of space and normalcy. One person’s actions may not actually harm our personhood and yet we feel harmed by it, changed by it. For example, a break-in at a neighbor’s house violates our sense of safety and protection. Crime happens here and not at some other location.

My 9 year old came home this week talking about the big news at his school. Some kids found used condoms on the playground. In discussing what was found and what it meant, it was clear they were bothered by the fact that someone had been having sex on their ball field. The very idea grossed them out.

We can hurt for the individuals who chose to have sex in a public setting. Likely it was not something that was wise or meaningful or right. But, sin has a way of impacting others and causing harm that wasn’t imagined by the perpetrators. Let us remember that as we are tempted to engage in secret self-indulgences (gossip, petty thefts, bitter words said in private, etc.)


Filed under sin

Can your body cause you to sin, part 3

As promised, I offer you a vignette to consider as we think about the matter of culpability and involuntary sins.

Consider a 2 year old that has missed his daily nap, is hungry, and tired of being out in public. He has a meltdown. He kicks, screams, cries, refuses his mother’s comfort because he wants some object he cannot have. The good parent recognizes the child’s distress, whispers in his ear to comfort him, says “no” firmly to his kicks, and finds something for him to eat and a place to take a nap. Has the child sinned? He surely has demanded something, acted aggressively, maybe even disobeyed by going after the object after his mother said to stop. Yes, he sinned. But was it really voluntary? Well, maybe partly. But don’t we consider the circumstances and the fact that his body is not helping matters. We forgive, we overlook, we understand, we help. We do so because we know his choices are not really voluntary.

Now, we may have another reaction altogether when we see our little boy (fully rested and fed) look us in the eye and try to bite his baby brother after we just told him to stop. We know he has great voluntary control here and is in a power struggle. And we respond with appropriate discipline.

We could easily have considered a vignette of a brain injured man or a panic disordered woman. We respond to individuals based not on whether something is sinful or not but on how much voluntary control we think they have and the circumstances in play (environment, biology, understanding, etc.).

So, our bodies can cause us to sin. In the classic sense, we are guilty whether it is voluntary or not. And yet we, and God himself, varies responses to such sins based on a variety of factors. We do not ascribe innocence to those less culpable but do try to determine levels of responsibility. Thankfully, all of it is covered by the cross.

Here’s one way this might matter. I find many afraid to seek biological aids for what they determine to be spiritual problems (addictions, depression, anxiety, etc.). If we see body and soul together, then both body and soul interventions are working toward the same goal.


Filed under biblical counseling, christian counseling, Doctrine/Theology, sin

Can your body make you sin, part 2

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.


Filed under Biblical Reflection, christian counseling, Christianity, Doctrine/Theology, sin, Uncategorized

Read any good books on evil?

Have a new writing assignment on the theology of evil in sexual abuse. I’m to think theologically about this particular kind of evil. So, I want to do some reading. Any books you might recommend that discuss evil (outside of the usual ones describing the damage done by sexual abuse)?

I’ll start with NT Wright’s “Evil and the Justice of God” book, but other recommendations might be helpful as well.


Filed under Abuse, Christianity, Doctrine/Theology, sin

Must read: “The Other Cup” by Ray Dillard

Folks, it is “Good Friday” and if you are wondering why it is called good, you ought to read this sermonby the late Ray Dillard. CCEF offers it up for free on their homepage. If someone knows how to get a recording of it, that would be the only better option. I was present when he preached this quite a number of years ago. It is, by far, the best “Good Friday” sermon I ever heard. The cup of wrath is well-known to Christians everywhere. But there is another cup…

Ray Dillard was professor of OT at Westminster during my tenure and one of my favorites.


Filed under Biblical Reflection, Christianity, Doctrine/Theology, sin

Final thoughts on roots of evil

Well not really. Just that I posted on Tuesday that I would add a few more thoughts on this topic. On Sunday, Terry Traylor preached on the last verse of Judges and the first part of Matthew 21. You can hear it here. In his sermon he gave a nice summary of the book of Judges and the cycle we find in it:

1. The people stop dealing with sin, begin to flirt with it
2. God gives them over to their desires. He lets them have what they demand.
3. The people slowly recognize the problem, take a long time to do something about it, but finally call to the Lord for help.
4. God raises up a protector/deliverer.
5. God provides a period or rest and safety

Unfortunately, the cycle repeats itself. Except for one small problem: the cycle is broken when the people fail to cry out to God for help but keep going on their way. We could call it the “butterfly effect.” When the people fail to get rid of the idols but accept forms of syncretism, then it allows temple workers (Levites) to make it okay to have a concubine in the first place. He doesn’t protect her when some rapists come his way. He shows her no concern after her rape. She dies and he doesn’t give her the decency of a burial but sends her body parts to the 12 tribes and tells only the part that makes others look bad. And ultimately this butterfly effect ends with thousands dead in a civil war and innocent women stolen and subjected to forced marriages. All because everyone did right in their own eyes.

It would seem that this is part of the problem in Rwanda. You have a rather religious/Christian population that flirts with hatred and jealousy of the other, turns a blind eye to neighbors doing violence to others and ends up with civil strife and genocide.

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Filed under Abuse, Biblical Reflection, conflicts, deception, self-deception, sin