Sin is Violence

This Moltmann Monday I’m continuing the section I quoted in part last week in The Way of Jesus Christ when Moltmann is discussing whether there is a Christian ethic or not. He says there is, of course, which we can see clearly in the Sermon on the Mount. And the first ethic he mentions as a sub-category is the messianic peace. Here’s a bit from that section:

Public discussions show that as far as public action is concerned, the center of the Sermon on the Mount is the liberation from violence; enmity is to be surmounted through the creation of peace. The presupposition here is that humanity’s real sin is the violence that leads to death; and that consequently humanity’s salvation is to be found in the peace that serves our common life. Compared with Christian theology’s traditional doctrine of sin and grace, this is an unusual position; and we are therefore stressing it particularly.

The primeval history told in the Priestly Writing knows nothing of the story about the Garden of Eden and the Fall, which we find in Genesis 3. This story has dominated the doctrine of sin in the Western church ever since Augustine, although the terms ‘sin’ and ‘guilt’ do not in fact occur in the story at all. According to the Priestly Writing, the sin is the rampant growth of violence on earth, to which God responds with the annihilating Flood. Jewish exegesis does not interpret the story about the Garden of Eden through a doctrine of original sin, either. Jewish interpreters see sin as beginning only with Cain’s murder of his brother Abel. According to Genesis 6:13, the earth was ‘full of wickedness.’ What does this wickedness consist of? Apparently the spread of violence and rape.

This is a long section, and I’ll likely post another part of it next week, too. But I wanted to stop here because I think there is already in these sentences a big shift for most Christians to consider. American Christianity teaches that individual, personal sin is the primary lens through which we see the work of Jesus. He saves us (individually) from our sins. And those sins, if I were to ask Christians on the street to list them, would be personal things, like envy or pride or lack of trust. I don’t want to debate whether those things are worthy of our personal reflection (they are), but I DO want to bring up the fact that Scripture does not tell us a story primarily of personal sin, but of something that is simultaneously personal and collective: violence. Also, lest we not stress this enough, let’s restate Moltmann’s assertion that humanity’s real sin is the violence that leads to death.┬áThat is the top of the sin chain.

And if we take that to be true, that our primary sin is violence, and we set that as the standard by which we judge ourselves both personally and collectively as American Christians, how do you think we are doing?

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