A Sin by Any Other Name
“What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” – William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
For the purposes of this article, allow me to appropriate this quote by Shakespeare in my own words; “A sin by any other name would be deserving of death”. Sin is that which is opposed to the order in which God intended. Let me restate that for emphasis and clarity. Sin is anything or anyone against the rules God has established. Before your thoughts determine that this makes God to be a power hungry dictator set on forcing us to follow his rules, consider a few other rules; gravity, motion, energy, attraction, chemistry, and matter to name a few. We see in the world around us laws at work that create a stable order in which we can exist and flourish. Whether you believe these laws exist by God or not, almost no one denies that these laws do in fact exist and almost no one sees their order as horrible and obligatory. If God really is the God of all creation, then we must understand it truly is his world and we are just lucky to live in it. Do we really see this order any different in our own parenting? Do we not have rules of our household and expect our children to follow them in keeping harmony? Laws and rules are a part of nature and when things seem random and chaotic there is always a hierarchy of order over it all. As a programmer I often create randomness within ordered code. Yet, I am the programmer and I can order the code as I see fit for the best intentions of my program.
Jesus taught of this order and the allowance God made for man’s rebellion when he was questioned about divorce by the Pharisees (Matthew 19:3–9). In this passage, Jesus makes the clear statement, “but from the beginning it was not so”. We see this immediately in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve decided to set God’s intended order aside and do what they wanted. They were told they would die if they disobeyed but they didn’t die, or did they (Genesis 2:16–17, 3:1–7)? This is our first understanding in scripture that there is more to death than just the physical body. Spiritual death is separation from God and we are all born into it (Romans 5:12–14). The law was established and expanded because of the hardness of man’s heart. Because of our desire to please ourselves, we are not able to do what is right to both God and fellow man and so in just the same way, Israel needed detailed instructions on how to love God and to love each other. This is exactly why Jesus taught the entirety of the law could be summed up with two commandments; love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37–40, Mark 12:29–31, Luke 10:26–28).
Why must there be so much death?
A proper understanding of sin reveals a greater understanding of God’s justice and mercy. There can be no balance of God’s justice without his mercy, and there can be no balance of God’s mercy without his justice. This balance is found throughout the entire Bible, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament. This balance is exactly why God never changes; “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts” (Malachi 3:6–7, ESV). The Bible is littered with many passages of God destroying men, women, children, animals, nations and in every single one of these passages God is bringing judgment on sin. These nations were deemed so severely corrupt that God choose to pass his judgment on them. But that is not the whole story. If we are to be objective and critically examine both sides of God’s nature then we also have to consider these same passages that show God’s mercy. In almost all situations when God brings his justice we also read about God providing mercy. God is regularly providing a way out from his judgment; Adam and Eve are provided clothing by God with the seriousness of bloodshed (Genesis 3:9–21), Israel along with a multitude of people from other nations who believed God are rescued together from Egypt’s judgment (Exodus 12:37–38), Rahab the female prostitute of Canaan and her family are spared by Joshua’s soldiers because of her faith (Joshua 6:25), there are too many instances to list them all of God bringing judgment and providing mercy within his judgment for those who believed in him. God is never about excluding people, if he were we would all perish. God is about including as many people into his family as are willing to come (Luke 13:1–5, John 3:16–21, Romans 2:12–16, 2 Peter 3:9).
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”
We are all familiar with this quote of Jesus. The entire passage reads as such, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:1–5, NIV84). Exactly! How can I condemn another person without realizing that I am also condemned? If we constantly interpret God’s word by the letter of the law and only consider his justice then this is how we will be judged. If we see the mercy in God’s word available for everyone in every circumstance then this is how we will be judged. If God is only viewed for his judgment against sin then we only see half of the picture and I therefore completely understand why so many people are turned off by this representation of God. In this viewpoint God is all about killing people for not doing things his way and he is out to get mankind. God sounds like a vicious hall monitor or even worse, he makes ruthless villains like Hitler look tame. God has made mercy available to all if they will only accept it. The beauty of this passage is that Jesus lets us know that the manner in which we judge, we ourselves will be judged.
Speaking for myself, I choose mercy. I do not want to judge people by the letter of the law, whether that is considered in ancient terms or modern terms. I choose to love all mankind and treat all people as I would hope to be treated myself. I choose to not kill people for breaking the rules. I choose to appeal to the mercy of God asking forgiveness for myself in breaking those same rules. Although my own actions outside of the order God intended (sin) deserve death, I choose to accept Jesus as my mediator and representative in the covenant between God and man. It is no longer a burden I need to bear but one that Christ has taken for me and I will love him and submit my future decisions and actions to his order knowing that he is capable of handling my past and future disobedience. Both options are open for our choosing. Do you want the justice of God or the mercy of God? Will you extend the justice of God or the mercy of God to others? Careful how you choose to see God and how you choose to judge mankind, the same decision you make is the same decision made against you.