Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Dividing Line...

I was asked in the comments of another post to give the "magic dividing line" between what actions not mentioned directly in scripture that I think we can condemn (the example given was masturbation by the commenter, accurately assuming I would condemn it) and those that I don't think we can give a blanket condemnation of (such as contraception).

What follows is my response - with additional commentary to follow:

Here is the dividing line. The question isn't just a matter of action - what action is allowable or not allowable, and if it is allowable then I can do it. The question is "why" something is done.

Is sex permitted? Depends upon why it is done. If it is in the context of marriage and for the benefit of the spouse, it is a good and God pleasing thing. If it is outside of marriage, it is sin.

Is killing permitted? Depends on why the killing is done. Is it in the context of just war, or self defense, or defense of the neighbor... then it may be done. Is it done out of anger, or a desire for revenge for some slight? Then it is a sin.

Is preaching permitted? It depends on the context of the preaching. If one is called and ordained to preach, then it is good. If one usurps the office, it is sin.

What you are falling to see is this - actions do not take place in the abstract. They are not fundamentally good or bad - they are neutral. They are permissible, but not necessarily profitable. The profitablity depends entirely upon the context.

Your approach is trying to define certain actions as intrinsically good or intrinsically bad. No.

"Well, when is idolatry good?" Idolatry is just worship that is in the wrong context to the wrong place. Worship is a good thing if God is worshiped according to His command. Worship is a bad thing if it is to something other than God -- and we call this idolatry.

Thus, I will say even with Contraception, it in and of itself is neither fundamentally good or bad. Tell me the context, tell me the why. Is there an honest concern for ones spouse - so be it. Care for your spouse, as God commands. Does it derive from a desire for greed or selfishness? Then no, that is not good.

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Now the additional comments.

One of the things we do as humans is try to justify certain actions - to set up a fence and say, "ah, these things I can do, and if I do them I know that they are good." This is a false, misleading dream. Because of the wickedness of man, anything, every good blessing which God gives can be turned into sin.

There is no magic line that makes some actions fundamentally good and free from wickedness - actions that are safe and I know that if I just do them, then I am doing good. You are a sinful, fallen being, and you can turn and twist anything, anything into sin.

Thus - the question must always be this - why is something being done. That should be the grounds upon which it is judged.

And you want to know the really, really harsh truth - the one that no one likes? Everything, every act you do is sin.


Tomorrow - when I preach a sermon and conduct worship service - I will be sinning. Why? Because even though I am called, and it is proper and licit for me to be there, I am a sinful being, and part of me will have sinful, ulterior motives. I will want people to respect and praise me for my good job... and that is sin. That's why I pray before the sermon that it be not to my praise... but part of me will want it.

Everything I do is sin, because every single moment I am in this flesh, I am a sinner. Through and through.

This is why Luther said, "Sin boldly." It's not that one does not care about what is right or wrong... no, strive to do the good, strive to act with good and God pleasing motivation... but know that whatever you do, it is sin. And sometimes, the old adam with its false motivations take the fore... so be it. Strive to beat it down and live... sin boldly... with boldness strive against your self, knowing that what you do will still be none the less sinful and worthy of nothing but damnation.

Sin boldly, live your life which will always be nothing but tainted with sin in a bold struggle against sin, but believe more boldly still. Put not your trust in your actions, but trust in Christ Jesus and His redemption.

And pray as you always need to pray - I believe, help my unbelief.


Phillip said...

Fr. Brown,

You paint your brush much too broadly. Idolatry is objectively bad, the Bible says so. Worship is objectively good, again the Bible says so. Worshiping Baal or Malech or Asherah or whoever can make worship subjectively bad. This makes the entirety of the worship a sin, but worship is still objectively good. It is only subjectively corrupted by turning it toward a demon.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

And Phillip, when God created everything, what was it. Good. Everything was good... it is only when it is turned and twisted that it becomes bad.

That's what sin is, it is the constant twist of things away from God with the result that no one, not one is righteous. "Idolatry" is just a description of false worship... apart from the fall there can be no idolatry.

But as you bring up "objective"... don't mistake what I am saying as some sort of subjectivism or relativism. There is right and wrong... but even with things that are intrinsically good, our sin corrupts them.

Phillip said...

I don't accuse you of moral relativism. I mean subjective in the technical sense of it's only wrong based on the facts of the case. Objective is wrong no matter what the facts are.

Idolatry is objectively wrong. It doesn't matter what demon you worship. It's wrong if it's Allah, Malech, Baal, Jupiter, Vishnu, Buddha, Reason, or any other false God. It's wrong whether or not you sing, chant, burn incense, genuflect, flagellate, sacrifice, whatever. The facts of the case do not matter, it is wrong.

Killing in a just war is licit. It can only be subjectively wrong based on the facts. Killing in a just war is right unless you do so in anger (I don't mean to exclude other ways it could be wrong). It is only wrong based on the specific facts applied to the case.

Driving on either side of the road in morally neutral. It's not wrong for Brits to drive on the left side of the road. It's not wrong for Americans to drive on the right side of the road. God does not care. It is a sin to violate human law and drive on the right in Britain or the left in America. This is because it defies the God given authority and also potentially endangers other people.

I agree of course that no one is righteous and sin only came with the fall. I'm not sure what I said that seems to contradict that. Whatever it was that's not what I meant.

Also, I agree we're all always sinning.

Phillip said...

technical being the legal/ ethical/ moral theology technical sense. I don't know if it's used as a technical term elsewhere to mean something different.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

This comes from my Hebrew lessons - context determines everything. Of course Idolatry is always wrong... because Idolatry is defined as "wrong worship." Likewise, murder is always wrong, because murder is "wrongfully killing". When you look at something like "idolatry" or "murder" you have already taken the subjective reality of the act into account.

If I might coin a term off the top of my head - they are not "simple actions", but actions which have included in their meaning their subjective reality. They are "complex" - the act and it's subjective context are combined already in the term itself.

But for the specific acts - worship (be it idolatrous or otherwise) or killing (be it just or murder) - it can be done either right or wrong. Worship is not always just - worshiping God as He has commanded is. Killing is not always just - and often it is wrong.

Thus we get to "contraception". This is just a simple action - it describes the act being done, but without context for *why* it is done. Let me know the why, and then I will judge the act.