“God is holy, and because He is holy, He is actively hostile toward sin. He must be. God can only burn on and burn on and burn on against sin forever. Never let any spiritual experience or any interpretation of scripture lessen your hatred for sin. It was sin that brought the ruin of the race; it was sin that brought the Savior to die on the cross; it is sin that has filled every jail and hospital. It is sin that has made every murder and every divorce and every crime that has been committed since the world began. In the presence of this awful, holy God, sin can never be anything but a devious deformity." A.W.Tozer
In 1886 something happened in Charleston, South Carolina that was felt all the way in Cuba, Chicago, and Boston. Many people died. Buildings as far away as Ohio and Alabama were damaged and hundreds in the Charleston area were destroyed. Devastation on a smaller scale was also felt: 14,000 chimneys fell, fires broke out, water lines ruptured, and railroad tracks were bent. Today we would spend 112 million dollars repairing the damage. But the damage didn't stop there. For nearly four decades after the Charleston earthquake of 1886, 300 smaller earthquakes, or "aftershocks," were felt.1,2
Sometimes I think we reduce sin to only what we immediately see in front of us and forget that its infectious nature often entails catastrophic consequences disseminating beyond what our eyes can see. Sin renders everything in its path broken or destroyed. The aftermath is felt for years to come. We overlook the tremendous cost that must be paid for reparation not to mention the irreparable damage. We forget the effects can be felt miles, states, and even countries away. We downplay the smaller structural damage - the "chimneys," the "water lines," and the "fires" - because although costly and inconvenient at minimum, they are fixable and easily extinguished in front of us. There lies the flaw of our short-sighted minds. Like a mighty earthquake, the aftershocks of sin are felt for decades. We may not always see and feel those aftershocks personally, but someone, somewhere does.
The Sin Cycle Story
In Genesis 34 lies a story among people that brings to life this illustration of the disastrous effects of sin. The story starts when a man named Shechem rapes a beautiful girl named Dinah.
Now this wasn't as violent and offensive from Shechem's perspective as Dinah's. Sin rarely is as offensive to the offender as the victim. Shechem's feelings are grasping at romantic justification as he says his "soul was drawn to her" and he "loved the young woman and spoke tenderly toward her." Like we often erroneously believe, I'm sure he selfishly thought he was justified in his actions because of his feelings.
Dinah's brothers are "indignant and very angry" after they learn from their father Jacob what happened. Yet, Shechem’s father still attempts to make amends through conveying his son’s wish to marry Dinah, offering to trade daughters for wives, opening his land to their family, and giving them whatever else they want in exchange for Dinah.
In response to the offer, Dinah’s brothers deceitfully tell Shechem he and all the men of his family must be circumcised. And while the men were still sore from the circumcision, two of Dinah's brothers took their swords against the defenseless city and killed all the males including Shechem's father and son. Then the brothers "came upon the slain and plundered the city," stole their animals, wealth, and took everything else including the innocent women and children.
Jacob wasn't happy with his sons. He knew the continued cycle of sin would wreak havoc on his family. The brothers responded to their father not with apology but with indignation: "Should he treat our sister like a prostitute?"
Everyone thought they were justified for their anger and revenge. Everyone took justice into their own hands and sinned. Rape led to anger. Anger to deceit. Deceit to pain. Pain to robbery, murder, and abduction even of the most innocent.
Problem and Solution
Throughout the history of the world we have been looking for the answer, trying different methods, approaching suffering and death and destruction in different ways, but none have solved the problem. Imagine a solution to this story that would have stopped the loss of life, the plundering, the deceit, and even the innocent from being punished. We all want the solution to stop human strife, conflict, and suffering whether a small problem or large. Whether a relationship hiccup or a marriage divorce. Whether betrayal by a friend or mass genocide by a group. There are degrees formed around looking for the answer, groups that meet in the name of creating an answer, jobs established for the enacting of an answer, yet we are still destroying ourselves and each other. Large or small, the problems we face every day have one commonality and one solution: sin and a savior.
As Cameron McAllister put it, "Here we are all this time later with all these technological advances, all this wonderful thinking, scientific advances, and there are still wars, we are still killing each other, there is still poverty and famine and all these deeply human problems. We still cant get along with each other. We cant be good. This is where sin makes the most sense. Sin makes sense of the state of the world and the human condition and our helplessness. We are helpless. We are in trouble and we need help. We cannot save ourselves, we have to be saved. As far as we have come, we have never changed human nature." We cannot save ourselves, we have to be saved. Sin is the problem. The gospel is the answer.
Sin answered with sin brings suffering, destruction, and death, but sin answered with gospel brings hope, redemption, and life. Without the original sin or returned vengeful sin, destruction and death would not have occurred in this story and many stories throughout human history. Seeking vengeance on our own assumes we are a better judge than God which reveals a root of pride and lack of trust. And it ends in the same human story that has been repeating since the beginning of time. One sin will lead to another until someone breaks the cycle.
Paul reminds us in Romans 12:19-21, "Never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written,' Vengeance is mine, I will repay,' says the Lord. To the contrary, 'if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by doing so you heap burning coals on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
Paul’s words ARE instruction of how to enter the gospel into the sin cycle. The gospel entry at any point in this story could have stopped the latter damage. Forgiveness, love, grace, and mercy could have prevented the murder, the kidnapping, the deceitfulness, the abduction, and the destruction. This is applicable to every area of our own lives where sin is a choice. When we choose gifting our spouse with forgiveness they don’t deserve, we put a dent in the cycle. When we choose to love our unlovable family members who are constantly critical, we put a dent in the cycle. When we decide to offer mercy when someone deserves punishment, we weaken sin’s power. Gifting an undeserving person what Jesus gifted an undeserving us can cripple the dissemination of sin and weaken its destructive force.
Ultimately, we cannot save ourselves, we have to be saved. The problem is sin and without the power of a Savior, human nature has no hope for change or redemption. Without Jesus Christ, we will continue to destroy ourselves and destroy each other. God didn't send his son to die on the cross to save us from the penalty of sin for us to not see it as enough. This was the single most destructive act ever to take place in the history of the universe - but for the right reasons: to defeat sin once and for all. With Jesus already paying the price, we cant continue to make ourselves and others pay the price for sin. We cant keep choosing sin over Jesus. We must choose the gospel. When we realize that the antidote is the gospel and take that solution seriously by applying it to every facet of our lives, we will make progress. When we realize the gospel is the answer and not some carefully constructed social plan, we will get somewhere, and when we realize both sides, both the victim and the perpetrator, must demonstrate gospel, we will REALLY make progress.
Questions for reflection:
1) What sins today are we excusing or even justifying in the name of so called love as Shechem did?
2) It wasn't just Shechem who felt the effects of sin through the murder of his son, his father, and his people, it was the completely innocent children of his people. What sins of yours or of the world today may be having the same effect of harming completely removed, innocent people guilty only by association?
3) Are there any sins you have become numb or desensitized to either because of your own sin cycle with it or because of the world's acceptance of it?
4) In what areas of your life can you choose forgiveness, mercy, grace, and love instead of seeking revenge and obtaining justice on your own? Are there any relationships or people with which you can give someone what they don't deserve as Jesus gave to us? What sin do you desperately want to pursue but realize you need to trust the justice to God?
*Stay tuned for Part II (coming soon) to see how the gospel applied by Joseph, one of the brothers, resulted in hope, protection, redemption, and life