Huldra Forsvant (Theodor Kittelsen)

Huldra Forsvant (Theodor Kittelsen)
Huldra Forsvant (Theodor Kittelsen)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Book Group II: Week Four

To forego self-conceit and to associate with the lowly means, in all soberness and without mincing the matter, to consider oneself the greatest of sinners. (p.96)

Because of my humanity, this is so hard to do. I have a knee-jerk reaction to this that makes me want to justify myself, and to weigh my sin on human scales to those around me. Am I really that bad? Yes.

It is important to grasp the blanket loathing that God has for sin. I assume that because of His huge capacity for forgiveness, that He doesn't mind those little sins that much. They aren't that big a deal. If He can forgive some murderer, then me doing this isn't that bad. But it really is, because God sees all sin as the same, not on a scale of 1 to 10. Even the tiniest sin is loathsome to Him, and intolerable.

In this way we condemn ourselves, because we try to gain acceptance based on our track record. God says that if we try this route, nobody will be found righteous. Nobody at all (Romans 3:20). You could stop here, and see God as an unreasonably harsh judge. But how great must His love be, that though we were turned away from Him, He would punish in our place, the One most dear to Him, the One who had never turned away from Him, the One who was in perfect relationship to Him.

And amazingly, by seeing myself with nothing to bring to the table, I am instantly raised into that same perfect relationship as His Son. With nothing to prove, I am proven perfect, through the redemptive act of Jesus dying in my place.

If my sinfulness appears to me to be in any way smaller or less detestable in comparison with the sins of others, I am still not recognizing my sinfulness at all...How can I possibly serve another person in unfeigned humility if I seriously regard his sinfulness as worse than my own? (p96-97)


Drew said...

Hey Ben,

I was intrigued by this section. I've been in a few discussions from time to time about how to read Paul's statement about being the worst of sinners, and this was a line I'd never come across before. It seemed pretty convincing to me, and this when most discussions usually erred on the side of simply attributing the statement to Paul's individual history.

The interesting thing about Bon's thinking is that it is consistent regardless of whether or not you connect it to Paul's actual statement.

I guess it's important to note that Bonhoeffer isn't curling up into a foetal ball of navel gazing here - what struck me about this chapter was about how engaged and practical in the service of others it all was - I like the way you finish your post with the point about serving others.

Ben McLaughlin said...

I think the way I have come to see it, is that I am simultaneously both the best of sinners, and the worst of sinners, in that there is no best or worst. A massive sin is not more condemned than a tiny one, hence it's a level playing field for all humanity.

Paul did not become the worst of sinners when he persecuted Christians and approved of Stephen's murder, he was already the worst of sinners at birth, because it was a curse he was born into.

And you're right, the great thing is that this does not have inward looking consequences, but is a means for us to love and serve our brothers.