Friday, 18 July 2014

MH17: The Ecology of Sin

A plane load of innocent people is shot out of the sky by a ground to air missile. Hundreds of lives are lost. 

The cause? Two factions in the Ukraine are arguing about the better form of political organization for their country. That there is an argument is surely no surprise, and no sin. That the argument is being conducted with guns and missiles surely is. Human beings made in the divine image, each one "a world" (Talmud Bavli), are destroyed without purpose or reason as a mere side effect.

This side effect is not unconnected to its cause however. The perpetrators of violence in the Ukraine are not innocent of their blood, though they intended to shed the blood of other, different, and in their eyes deserving targets of their violence.

Their violence is sin, and the length and breadth and depth of it cannot be predicted nor controlled by human beings. 

We do not, generally, understand the true gravity of sin. Sin harms us, yes, and harms others too. But where is the limit? Where is the boundary where the effects of our sin stop? How long is the half life of sin?

The discipline of ecology teaches us of the intricate interdependence of things. It teaches us of the cascade of events that follow any change, whether it be the fluttering of a butterfly's wings, words let slip past loose lips, the clearcutting of a watershed, or the pulling of a trigger.

That is why the simple confession of sin, Biblically, was never enough to set things right. God gave Israel a means to recover from sin which demonstrated the nature of sin as an object lesson. Sin introduces a force of pollution and harm with real and uncontrollable consequences. Sin and it's consequences together form a "thing", an entity which sits malevolently on the web of causality like a giant spider. In order to cleanse from sin someone or something must pay the price, must absorb the pollution and violence. 

In Israel's Temple sacrificial system a means was provided: an animal was killed and consumed on the altar. The necessity of atonement, of paying a price, was brought home by the sacrifice and the evil of the sin absorbed and spent.

Only through understanding this do we understand the logic and meaning of Yeshua's death on the cross. In Yeshua God Himself took all of our sin and made atonement for it by absorbing it himself. 

Israel, and humanity in general, was rebellious and sinful. The Temple system was both corrupt and incapable of offering sufficient and meaningful atonement for Israel in the face of their failure to carry out Gods saving mission in the world. So God did the amazing and unthinkable, proving Himself yet again the God of surprises. He came Himself. 

God lived the life of a perfect and true Israelite, carrying out the mission of modelling and illuminating that His people had not been able to do. He then  offered Himself as the final sacrifice, in one incredible gesture condemning sin, forgiving and purifying all who would accept the sacrifice, and demonstrating His true nature and disposition towards humanity: self-emptying love.

It is difficult to understand why all of this is necesary, particularly the cross, unless we understand the full seriousness of sin. God could not absolve humanity, could not offer forgiveness and cleansing, without atonement. And the scope of the atonement would have to be massive, not necessarily because through sin we have offended the infinite honour of an infinite Lord (as Anselm argued) but because the echoes of our sin in the spiritual ecology (which is to say the planetary, zoological, and human ecologies and whatever others there may be) are literally infinite in scope. 

This is also, of course, the reason why we need to take sin seriously. Gods redemption of us- his opening up a space of freedom and reconciliation within the web of violent sin- is gracious beyond measure. We should rush to accept his offer and take hold of the new life He wants to give us through His son.

The extreme measures that our relentless Lover above had to take, however, also show us why we should not be apathetic or blind to our own sin but should seek to add to our freedom and forgiveness the Spirits rebuke and it's gracious healing. 

May the victims of the crash of the MH17 find peace, and equally may their killers find peace and put down their guns under the healing shelter of the wings of the Holy Spirit.

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