The Reason for God – Problem

Writing is difficult work.  If nothing else, reading this blog should prove that it is very difficult to write well, and that more often than not, people (including myself) write poorly.  Writing theologically is even more difficult.  The need for clarity, the need to write precisely about things that are in some ways very imprecise, and the need to write accessibly are each cherry bombs that must be adequately juggled constantly so that one does not have one’s hands blown off.  

So I try to bring this appreciation to my critiques of others’ writing.  Or at least, I want to.  That being said, there are times when a theological concept has been treated, and that treatment is not Biblically accurate, and so this needs to be pointed out because of the ramifications on talking about these things with people who do not already believe them.  
I’m closing in on the end of Timothy Keller’s The Reason for God.  Overall, it’s been a good basic primer on addressing the objections most commonly raised by non-believers about Christianity.  His treatment is not exhaustive, but it’s a good starting point.  The second half of the book attempts to lay out the argument for Christianity – why is it reasonable to believe in Christianity?  I think his premises here are a little weaker, but I try to remember that he’s writing this section as well for the non-believer, and so it’s necessary to use language and metaphors and explanations that are accessible to the non-believer.
But in his chapter on Sin, Keller really misses the point in an important way, I think.  He sets out to define sin, which will lead into a discussion of the solution to sin.  And Keller, since he’s writing apologetically, tries to explain sin in terms that will make sense to a non-theist.  As such, he defines sin as essentially a psychological problem.  Yes, there’s a God, and sin is our inability to be ourselves with God.  To embrace our creatureliness, our created nature.  This results in compensating behavior.  People attempt to fill their lives with other things, even other people – and none of these things or people can support us, can sustain us, and can allow us to be the creatures we are in the way we were designed to express ourselves.  
This basis of sin – this inability to be creatures – leads to all sorts of other psychological and social issues.  Nothing works right.  Everything we do is a struggle for self-validation that constantly eludes us.  We are truly pitiable creatures.  Truly sad people.  We are hurt and broken and woefully unhappy.  And yes, all of these things are true.  Except when Keller trots out the solution to sin, the solution to our angst and sorrow and unhappiness and lack of fulfillment, he falls flat.  
And the issue is this – the way Keller describes sin, it’s a psychological, existential issue just within ourselves.  It’s harmful to us, it’s damaging to us.  But if one does not feel this angst, if one does not feel the pain or see the damage, if one’s life seems full and good and abounding in wonderfulness, there is no perceived need for the solution to sin found in Jesus Christ.  If sin is simply feeling bad, and the solution to sin is feeling better, then only those people who truly and honestly know that they feel bad will find this compelling.  Keller has nothing more to offer to the self-satisfied, successful person than the fact that Jesus died for them, and how could they possibly reject someone who died for them?
The answer is, easily.  What need do they have for someone who died 2000 years ago for them, if they’re healthy and well-fed and prosperous and successful?  If their children are well behaved and successful?  If they love their jobs?  If they have a caring and supportive spouse?  Or if they simply have a long string of very pleasant one-night stands that fulfills their needs?  
Sin does have effects on who we are and how we feel, and I do believe that many people can search themselves and find the adverse effects of sin at play in their lives and emotions and thoughts.  But sin is an issue even for the successful and prosperous and beautiful.  Because sin is not simply a fully encapsulated and self-encompassed issue.
Sin is rebellion.  We can’t be our created selves with God because we hate the idea that we are creatures, and not God.  We rail against the fact that there is a God and that He gets to set the standards and rules of engagement for life, rather than ourselves.  We despise the fact that we are made to live according to His rules, His dictates – no matter how wise and good and healthy those rules and dictates might be.  We are not just full of psychological angst and seeking affirmation.  We are guilty of mutiny.  We are guilty of treachery most foul, of rebellion most heinous against the one true rightful ruler.  We attempt to usurp the king’s throne, and our continued desire for self-determination, to be master rather than servant, has led us in our sinfulness even to attempt to kill the king’s son.  
Sin is not demonstrated by our emotional turmoil.  Sin is a fact – the fact that we do not, can not, and will not live the way God has created us to live.  We will not acknowledge our creatureliness.  Will not recognize the love and honor and fealty due to God.  Will not accept the grace of God on God’s terms, because that would mean we would have to acknowledge our guilt and our wrong – objective, real, true moral guilt before a righteous and holy God.
This is sin.  If you feel happy and satisfied with your life, your sin is not removed.  If everything you touch turns to gold, your guilt is not assuaged.  We cannot make sense of the personal and psychological and emotional effects of sin, until we recognize that sin exists as a rejection of someone else – God.  Sin is not a private, personal struggle of suffering and pain.  Sin is an illegal and brazen defiance of God.  
And if there is a God, if it can be said that it is reasonable to explore this premise that there is a God, then surely the most important thing to understand is that if there is a God as the Bible describes Him, we stand in mortal danger because of our rebellion.  We stand under sentence of death for our refusal to accept His sovereignty, that we are doing violence not only to ourselves but to every person and every thing in this world by our rebellion.  And once this is recognized, we can see immediately the beauty and glory that is the atonement of Jesus Christ.  We can grasp for the life preserver that has been thrown to us by the Captain of the ship we are attempting to commandeer.  We can see that our need for God, and for forgiveness and grace and amnesty has nothing to do with whether we like our lives or not, or whether we’re lonely or sad or hurt or unfulfilled or anything else.  Our rebellion defines all of these other things – not the other way around.  And only in discovering our rebellion, and rejoicing in the amnesty we are offered, can we become aware of these other issues.
So, I continue to see this book as a good thing overall.  It’s just unfortunate that Keller opted to define sin so subjectively and personally.  Not that sin does not have subjective and personal aspects and effects.  But the Gospel won’t be heard where the law has not convicted, and the law does not convict us if we don’t understand the nature of our violation of the law.  We are not guilty for feeling bad.  We are guilty for rebellion, and this rebellion causes us to feel bad in a myriad of ways we often can’t even fully articulate.

One Response to “The Reason for God – Problem”

  1. my-rhyme Says:

    I am the most beautiful and glamorous!

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