Fire and Brimstone; A sermon on the problem of sin

guilt-better0.jpg                                                                   What is “sin” or “evil”? Let’s start with the bible to see what it says. Genesis 2.16 ‘And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:17But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”

What is this tree of knowledge of good and evil, whose fruit was forbidden by god? I have heard many scholarly comments on this, suggesting that it is not important what the fruit was, the point is that god made a rule that must not be broken, and it was the fact of breaking the rule that constituted original sin. I tend to think that this attitude does not have much faith in the bible to mean what it says. It seems quite clear to me, that notions of good and evil were in themselves the embodiment of sin. Genesis 3.5 is quite specific “For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” quoting Satan in his attempt to tempt Eve to eat of the fruit.

And what were the consequences of sin, what happened to Adam and Eve when they did eat of the fruit? They felt guilt – shame for their nakedness. Genesis 3.7 “And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.”

So, to paraphrase Genesis, sin is the knowledge of good and evil. When Adam and Eve sinned, when they partook in the knowledge of good and evil, they felt ashamed about their nakedness which, prior to that moment, was the perfect and happy state in which god created them.

The essence of the Genesis story of sin is the same as the essence of John 8.7, the story of the woman at the well who had been public ally accused of sin. “When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” In this story Jesus clearly locates sin in the camp of the accuser every bit as much as the accused. The women at the well is not told to suffer for her sin (or to have her suffering born by Jesus). He simply says in John 8.10 “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11″No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”. In Jesus’ handling of this event he simply transcends the knowledge of good and evil that the women’s accusers were wallowing in.

Let us now consider the history of “Christianity” since the term was co-opted by the Roman Empower Constantine. It seems to me that the church has done little else than preach the knowledge of good and evil. It has spoken out against all sorts of immorality and instituted a moral framework which it has preached to the world. The church has relied heavily on notions of guilt and shame in what it has preached. In Australia the first thing that Christian missionaries did when they arrived here was to shame the Aboriginal population into wearing clothes – to make them ashamed of their nakedness, which prior to that moment, was the perfect and happy state in which god created them just like Adam and Eve.

Just as the serpent was the vessel by which Satan lead Adam and Eve into the knowledge of Good and Evil and shame for their nakedness, the Christian church has been the vessel of Satan to do exactly the same thing to indigenous people around the globe.

When I was a young man I had the privilege of being a student and friend of the Late Reverend Dr. William Augustus Jones Jr. Dr. Jones was an associate of Martin Luther King and was a central figure in the U.S. Christian civil rights movement. Through the pulpit of his church he coordinated boycotts and pickets demanding Jobs of African American workers in the suburbs that they lived.
One of the common themes of Dr. Jones’ talks was what he referred to as “racistic religion”. Dr. Jones claimed that the God that the descendants of slaves worship in their American churches is the same god that their ancestors in Africa. There is only one God, Dr. Jones emphasised, so the God that sustained the Africans in their country for thousands of years, must be the same god. Dr.Jones was equally emphatic that this god of the Africans must be a different God to that which was worshiped by slave owners and their still segregated descendants. As there was only one God, that which is worshiped by the slave owners must be something else. He figured they must be worshiping demons to be able to harbor such racism, hatred and violence within their exclusively white “Christian” congregations.

I would like to make one more observation about “good and evil” – the apparent obsession of the post-Constantinian church.

Is an earthquake evil if it kills thousands of people? Is a crocodile evil if it eats someone? Why does God allow suffering?

Satan, in the form of the serpent was in the garden of Eden. How did he get there? Genesis 1.31 says “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.” In other words the presence of Satan is part of Gods perfect creation. Consider the story of poor old Job who lost everything and suffered greatly. Why did god not just allow this to happen but actively made it happen?

Job 1.6 One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them. 7 The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the LORD, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.” The first observation here is that Satan appears to be a welcome visitor to both gods creation – Earth as well as in the presence of God.


Job 1.9 “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. 10 “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” are spread throughout the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” 12 The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.”

As the story goes, Job was thrust immediately into a life of suffering. Why? Because of a casual wager between God and Satan just to see what would happen. Satan’s pitch to God for this challenge bears a similar style to his temptation of Eve. Could it be that God was tempted into sin as Eve was? Or can we simply assume that this dastardly attack on poor old Job, who had been nothing but faithful to God, was simply that the nature of God – transcendence from notions of good and evil.

If,as I suggest, God’s nature has nothing to do with good and evil, then Genesis 1.27 tells us that to be truly human as God created us the we too must discard notions of good and evil. ‘So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.’

Gospel of Thomas 37. His disciples said, “When will you appear to us, and when will we see you?”    Jesus said, “When you strip without being ashamed, and you take your clothes and put them under your feet like little children and trample then, then [you] will see the son of the living one and you will not be afraid.”

The Gospel of Thomas                          


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One response to “Fire and Brimstone; A sermon on the problem of sin

  1. Pingback: Jesus is an Aborigine! « PARADIGM OZ

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