Suffering and Sin

From la wik:

Propitiation, also called expiation, is the act of appeasing or making well-disposed a deity, thus incurring divine favor or avoiding divine retribution.

(Yes, I know, starting with a definition, how uncouth.)

When put that bluntly it almost sounds crass. “You think you can bargain with God? You think you can earn your salvation?” But this is exactly what Christ did for us on his cross. In fact, this propitiation through sacrifice is the central act of the Old Testament religion, which Christ did not “come to destroy… but to fulfill.” The idea that we can bargain with God; that if we do certain things he will respond in a certain way, runs throughout the whole of scripture. Abraham bargains God down from 50 to 10 righteous men needed.  The people of Israel marked their doorposts with blood to avoid being struck down by God. The priests made bloody sacrifices of lambs and doves on the regular. Jesus tells us to “knock, and the door will be opened,” and to be like the persistent widow. James tells us that “The prayer of a righteous man has great power to prevail,” apparently in contrast to the prayer of an unrighteous man. The fundamental Christian claim is that Jesus died to save us from our sins. What do we mean by this? Apparently we mean that Jesus suffered, and that suffering mitigated the wrath that our sins have earned from God. Suffering negates sin.

There is an intrinsic connection between sin and suffering. “The wages of sin is death,” is it not? Thus it seems that sin necessarily creates suffering, the only negotiable part seems to be on who that suffering falls. This seems true “on multiple levels of analysis.” Sin creates suffering on the immediate, personal level in that it harms others, and our relationships with others. Sin also creates suffering on the spiritual level in that it deserves God’s wrath, which separates us from God.

But the relationship between suffering and sin is not one-directional. Going through suffering can actually negate future sin. This is essentially what Jesus did for us on the spiritual level, but it works even on our own personal level as well. When we suffer the worldly consequences of our sin, we occasionally learn from that suffering and avoid that sin in the future. In this way it is “exactly right” to say that suffering negates sin.

This leaves us with a weird cycle where sin creates suffering, which suffering then negates sin. I think that if we fully understood the nature and mechanics of this cycle, then the problem of evil wouldn’t be a problem. Why does God allow evil and suffering in the world? Because he’s trying to get rid of sin, I would guess, but here we’re at “the limit of my ability to articulate” reality.

What I do know is that “God works all things together for the good of those who love Him,” so our suffering serves a purpose, just as the suffering of Christ on the cross served the greatest purpose–the conquering of sin.

If you’re wondering why I kept linking to on seemingly random phrases, it’s because those are particular quirks of his speech patterns that he says over and over in his lectures, and as I was writing this they sprang unbidden to my mind.


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