Are all sins the same before God?

Ted Grimsrud—January 27, 2012

In the Introduction to Theology class yesterday, I asked students to share questions they have about God. Some common themes came up: Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? How could it be that a merciful God would send people to hell for eternal punishment? Are all sins the same before God?

For some reason, this third question got my attention. I have heard this kind of thing often, but some reason I was struck at that moment in class with the need to try to understand better why someone would think all sins might be the same.

So, we ended up with a pretty lively discussion. But I wasn’t really much more enlightened afterward than I had been before. It struck me as terribly counter-intuitive to imagine that “all sins are the same”—not to mention potentially pretty problematic in terms of human behavior and spirituality.

It turned out that several students spoke up indicating that they definitely believe this idea. The student who raised the question wasn’t sure she still believes it, but when I asked why she would ever have believed it, she kind of shrugged and said, “This is what I was taught.” Another student said that it was what she was taught, too, and that she still believed it—“It says something somewhere in the Bible that this is true.”

We talked about how in our lives we would tend to see some sins as different than others. We would all rather be lied to than murdered! So, I was puzzled what gives this idea of the equality of sins traction. Now, in this class most of the students are fairly new to college and new to theology as a subject for study. Just about all are Christians and churchgoers, but their beliefs tend to be mostly things they have inherited. I expect in a couple of years, they will be thinking with much more self-awareness about their Christian convictions. Continue reading “Are all sins the same before God?”

Was World War II an Unjust War?

Ted Grimsrud—January 10, 2012

In uncountable discussions I have had over the years about the ethics of war and peace, it seems that when pacifism comes up, so too does World War II. At least for Americans, this war stands not as the “war that ended other wars” nearly so much as the “war that justified other wars.” World War II shows, in the American “good war” mythology, that sometimes going to war is the best option when it comes to dealing with the “bad guys.”

Unfortunately, seeing war as sometimes the best option leads to empowering the societal structures that are needed to prepare for those war—and such empowerment has loosed on American society forces that have transformed what in the past seemingly was an attitude that you go to war as a last resort to our present attitude where so many conflicts throughout the world seem to require a militarized response. Hence, the extraordinary American military presence around the world, the extraordinary way the United States spends about as much on its military as the rest of the world combined, and the extraordinary situation facing American voters in the 2012 presidential election where their choice will surely be limited to two versions of militarism (note the remarkable dynamic in the Republican presidential race where the candidate getting attention for speaking overtly against this militarism, Ron Paul, has as his major source of contributions current military people).

Borrowing from social critic Naomi Klein’s analysis of recent American history, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, we could say that the “shock” of total war in the early 1940s led directly to the takeover of the United States by advocates of the American national security ideology. At that point of vulnerability, permanent structures such as the Pentagon, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the nuclear weapons program were established. As a consequence of the transformative influence of these entities, in the United States, “all politics is a politics of war” (Walter Wink). Continue reading “Was World War II an Unjust War?”

Christian salvation: Do the questions never end?

Ted Grimsrud—January 1, 2012

I keep thinking about salvation and related issues—aided considerably by various thoughtful questions and comments. My post this week will be kind of a grab bag of responses to various recent comments that relate to my three-part discussion of Jesus’ death and salvation (“Does Jesus’ death have meaning?” “Jesus’ death and my salvation,” and “Does Paul agree with Jesus about salvation?”).

Life after death

My old friend David Myers in Washington, DC, asked about (I think) salvation in relation to life after death. He wrote: I’m stuck on the word ‘saved’—its forthright, non-theological meaning, especially related to the resurrection. I get that loving God and neighbor saves us into a richer, more meaningful life than we would have if we worshiped the idols, etc. Yet that very life of salvation may well lead to getting killed. So, now we’re dead as a rock, which is a condition I’d like to be saved from. Why then doesn’t the resurrection save us, in the simple, non-theological meaning of the word?

I don’t think my points about the relationship between resurrection and salvation were meant to speak to the issue of life after death one way or another. I believe there is strong continuity between life and in the present and whatever happens after we die. By the nature of the case, we cannot say anything definitive about life after death. And the Bible as a whole is much more circumspect in speaking about that theme than much of later theology. Whatever salvation means, though, I think it should be seen to apply to both life in the here and now and life after we’re “dead as a rock.”

That is, if we enter the “life of salvation” in this life (which is clearly the concern of the vast majority of biblical talk about salvation) there is no reason not to expect continuity in the afterlife. Whatever it is that saves us in the former state surely will save us in the latter state. The problem with much Christian talk of the afterlife is that it seems to assume some kind of discontinuity—we are “saved” for the afterlife by a kind of belief that does not necessarily lead to a “life of salvation” in the present. When Jesus responds to the question about “eternal life” with his call to love God and neighbor, he clearly has in mind life in its fullness in the present—we know we are living in such love when we imitate the Good Samaritan in his risky and costly compassion. But there is no reason not to think this “eternal life” does not extent to after we “get killed” for practicing such compassion. Continue reading “Christian salvation: Do the questions never end?”