Here’s what I’m reading now by Jonathan Merritt in The Week. Devour and think about it: Merritt’s article is as usual timely and erudite. What I found interesting is that Hobby Lobby is praised for opposing against Obamacare but eludes criticism for its business practices for the same reason some pastors will boil down righteousness to watching G-rated films and being honest on their tax forms: we Evangelicals have an inadequate definition of sin and righteousness.
Rather than state what sin is not, let me share what I believe sin is. Genesis 4:7 always has arrested my interest; God, speaking to Cain as he burns with anger toward Abel, speaks to him: “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” More is packed into this verse than I can unpack here, but in this first appearance of the word “sin” in the Bible I find it incredible that sin is personified. Is sin, then, more than an immoral action or affront to God? Can God truly be saying that sin is an entity with desires, thoughts and agency? This verse more than any other altered my thinking on sin and righteousness. Let me elaborate…If sin is an conscious, malevolent entity, then sin plans, designs and acts in our world. Consider Romans 7 again; Paul discuss how sin works, describing how it “seizes opportunity” through the law. Law is structural — it orders our way of life and thinking consciously and unconsciously. Sin is also structural, it seeks to order how we move, think and act in the world through external force.
Sin, like cancer, is also metastatic – it fills in, corrupts and takes over all things, altering it’s fundamental character so the host becomes sin itself. Sin wants to make us as individuals into sin. Sin wants to make our workplace into sin. Sin want to make our government into sin. Sin wants to make all things into sin.
Now, the kingdom of God is also metastatic. Jesus says as much in the Parable of the Leaven: “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened.” Just as sin crouches at our door to overtake us, Jesus knocks at our door to redeem us. Jesus wants to make all things righteous.
Righteousness is thus not “not sinning”. To be righteous is to be like Jesus and he did more than refuse to be immoral or offend God. Jesus undid the works of the devil, and he, as Paul said, “reconcile[d] to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” All things — not just all people — all things. True Christianity — true righteousness — is to undo the bonds of injustice and seek liberation.
This leads us back to Merritt’s article and Hobby Lobby. I think they erred, in part, by defining the Christianity of their business according to a narrow definition of sin and righteousness. And they rightfully got called out for it. If you investigate my life, you’d make the same charge just as forcefully. Merritt exposes via Hobby Lobby the hypocrisy of us all.
The next logical step is to challenge ourselves to extend our righteousness to complete non-participation with structural sin. This means I refuse to purchase Chinese made products just as I repudiate Hobby Lobby for doing business with them. This means complete disentanglement and extrication from the sinful structures in which we find ourselves, lest they not only overpower us, but we unwittingly support them.
This is hard, but I think we should ask ourselves how far we’re willing to go to be truly Christian.