Keller warns us right from the start that this chapter is not for the faint of heart. And he is right. “It is hard to avoid the conclusion that there is something fundamentally wrong with the world,” Keller says. (p. 165)
Sin and Human Hope
Keller argues, “Many have the impression that the Christian doctrine of sin is bleak and pessimistic about human nature.” (p. 166) He says it is really the opposite; with the knowledge we are sinners comes hope because we are not “…simply the helpless victim of psychological drives or social systems.” (p. 166) Keller quotes Simone Weil as saying of sin, “All sins are attempts to fill voids.” He also quotes Barbara Brown Taylor’s agreement with Weil, “Because we cannot stand the God-shaped hole inside of us, we try stuffing it full of all sorts of things, but only God may fill [it].” (p. 166). Once we realize pride is the antithesis of hope, we also begin to realize we cannot save ourselves through our own efforts, Andrew Delbanco writes. (p. 167) Only by viewing our life through the prism of sin do we see our shortcomings in perspective, are willing to forgive others, while also “… Humbly seek[ing] and receive[ing] forgiveness from others.” (p. 168)
The Meaning of Sin
Kierkegaard, according to Keller, defined sin and faith like this: “Sin is: in despair not wanting to be oneself with God… Faith is: that the self in being itself and wanting to be itself is grounded transparency in God.” (p. 168) Keller references Kierkegaard’s assertion we are created for four things: to believe in God, to love God, to focus our life on God and to identify with God. “Anything other than this is sin,” per Keller (p. 168) The Bible defines sin as, “…not just the doing of bad things, but the making of good things into ultimate things.” (p. 168)
So, what is the defining force you rely on to give your life meaning? Keller says whatever you base your worth upon will be what you deify; and it will look, when viewed from the outside, as worship, passion and devotion — the essentials of religion. (p. 169) Keller again quotes Kierkegaard: “Every person must find some way to “justify their existence,” and stave off the universal fear that they’re a bum.” (p. 170)
The Personal Consequences of Sin
How can sin be destructive to us? Keller says, “Identity apart from God is inherently unstable. Without God, our sense of worth may seem solid on the surface, but it never is — it can desert you in a moment.”(pp. 170-71) He also says, “If anything threatens your identity you will not just be anxious but paralyzed with fear… Only if your identity is built on God and His love, says Kierkegaard, can you have a self that can venture anything, face anything.” (p. 171)
Keller says, “An identity not based on God also leads inevitably to deep forms of addiction.” (p. 172) He continues, “If we take our meaning in life from our family, our work, a cause, or some achievement other than God, they enslave us. We have to have them… As in all addiction, we are in denial about the degree to which we are controlled by our god-substitutes. And inordinate love creates inordinate, uncontrollable anguish if anything goes wrong with the object of our greatest hopes.” (p. 172)
Keller again quotes Simone Weil while describing what happens when we are struggling with idols. Weil says, “One only has a choice between God and idolatry. If one denies God… one is worshipping some things of this world in the belief that one sees them only as such, but in fact, though unknown to oneself imagining the attributes of Divinity in them.” (p. 17
“A life not centered on God leads to emptiness,” Keller continues, “Building our lives on something besides God not only hurts us if we don’t get the desires of our hearts, but also if we do.” (p. 173)
The Social Consequences of Sin
“… Jonathan Edwards lays out how sin destroys the social fabric. He argues that human society is deeply fragmented when anything but God is our highest love,” Keller says. Edwards also says that only if God is the epitome and center of our lives will we be drawn to others and the world. (p. 175) Worshipping anything other than God “…means we must despise and demonized the opposition,” Keller argues. (p. 175) Since we must necessarily put down and attack as evil the polar opposite of our worship, Keller says, “The real culture war is taking place inside our own disordered hearts, wracked by inordinate desires for things that control us, that lead us to feel superior and exclude those without them, and that fail to satisfy us even when we get them.” (pp. 175-76)
The Cosmic Consequences of Sin
“The Bible even more comprehensively (and more mysteriously) about the effects of sin…,” Keller says. He further argues that the Book of Genesis is unique because it relates a universe created in harmony with multiple life forms and an Earth perfectly suited for maintaining the synergy — shalom. This he contrasts with physical science and other ancient religions which employ the use of violence in creation. What changed the world from conformity, unity and tranquility into the one of violence, disunity and disillusionment we see now? “… as soon as we determined to serve ourselves instead of God–as soon as we abandoned living for and enjoying God as our highest good… the entire warp and woof of the world unraveled. Disease, genetic disorders, famine, natural disasters, aging, and death itself are as much the result of sin as are oppression, war, crime, and violence. We have lost God’s shalom,” Keller postulates. (p. 177)
Who Can Put It Right?
Keller says, “At some point in our lives, we are confronted with the fact that we are not the persons we know we should be.” (p. 177) So what must we do? Keller says we have two choices we can attempt to try harder or, as C.S. Lewis states, “The almost impossibly hard thing is to hand over your whole self to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is remain what we call “ourselves” — our personal happiness centered on money or pleasure of ambition — and hoping, despite this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly. And that is exactly what Christ warned us you cannot do. If I am a grass field — all the cutting will keep the grass less but won’t produce wheat. If I want wheat… I must be plowed up and re-sown.” (p. 178)
Keller asks, “Does that scare you? Does it sound stifling? Remember this — if you don’t live for Jesus you will live for something else.” (p. 179)
He continues, “Whatever you base your life on — you have to live up to that. Jesus is the one Lord you can live for who died for you — who breathed his last breath for you.” (p. 179)
Keller concludes, “Everybody has to live for something. Whatever that something becomes “Lord of your life,” whether you think of it that way or not. Jesus is the only Lord who, if you receive him, will fulfill you completely, and, if you fail him, will forgive you eternally.” (p. 179)
Question: Keller includes the following quote from Simone Weil in this chapter: “One has only the choice between God and idolatry.” Do you agree? Why or why not?
Based on John 1:3, I have to agree ~ Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
Because I was made by God and for God, to choose anything but God is idolatry.
It took nearly a third of my life to come to this realization. And believe me, it's a daily struggle within my heart, because although I surrendered all to Jesus as my Lord and Savior when I was 36, I still long for many things of the world.
Some of my deepest sin pitfalls are not even tangible ~ things like pride, selfishness and conformity.
All the trying-to-be-a-better person will come to a dead end until I am confronted and deal with my sin nature. There was a time when I chose the Jesus Smorgasbord: a little of this; a lot of that; none of that...and then I realized I wanted Jesus... but not all of Him. I didn't want Him to deal with my sin. At that moment He changed me from the inside out.
This statement in the chapter resonates with me: …not just the doing of bad things, but the making of good things into ultimate things.” I can easily turn 'serving' into my god. Or 'teaching'. Or 'fighting for a cause.' Those may all be great things, but they are not the Greatest. I have to constantly rein in my heart, striving to live only for my heavenly Father, keeping perspective and letting everything else take its rightful place.