Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Reading Athanasius: Talking About Sin

It is also helpful to differentiate the brokenness and rebellion that spring from the corruption Athanasius describes. Our previous enmity with God emerged because of rebellion, not brokenness. He does not despise the weak. Not all sin is symptomatic of rebellion, but rather a manifestation of deep brokenness – some part of the personality still in need of Christ’s redemption. Perhaps we can differentiate between sin (as a condition of rebellion) and sins (as symptoms of brokenness or rebellion). This speaks to the insistence of some Christians that their sins yet separate them from God.

They do not.

Rebellion needs to be forgiven, but weakness requires an infusing of grace and strength. Sins (understood as symptoms) cannot separate the individual Christian from God, because in baptism one is sealed with Christ. The righteousness of the Messiah is imputed to the Messiah’s people, after all. As Athanasius illustrates, our restoration and healing are a matter of God’s honor: he has redeemed us, and there is a big sign at the trading post that says “no refunds.” (Groan) But it’s true.

If the God who knows to expect so much more failure of us than we do ourselves has already accepted us in Christ Jesus and sealed us in him through baptism, we don’t require more forgiveness just because we are more aware of our brokenness. I do all kinds of sinful things I don’t know to be sinful (just ask my friends!), but they don’t separate me from God, or my community. We confess to be known as sinners, and to appropriate healing and restoration in the dark and lonely places of our souls.

Jesus does not despise the weak. He does not find us lacking and so cast us away. He knows what we lack, and so has stood for us, and does stand, on those parts of our lives where we are unable.

1 comment:

The Archer of the Forest said...

I am glad you are getting to sink your teeth into someone like Athanasius, or as he was somewhat derogatorily referred to as "Athanasius Contra Mundum." (Latin for Athanisius against the World)

I will take this as an opportunity to throw some worthless trivia about Athanasius at you. You probably already know this, but being a history major like myself, I assume you will appreciate my worthless arsenal of early church father factoids.

You have to keep in mind that Athanasius was a vehement anti-Arian, that Jesus was of the same substance of the father. Unlike Arius, who said that there was a time when he (Jesus) was not. So his big schpiel in On the Incarnation was coming from this theological world view.

Athanasius was a deacon at the Council of Nicaea, and had a big impact on the later doctrine of Homousia (one substance) and hypostases(3 persons).

His festal letter...39 i think (I'm pulling all this off the top of my head)...was the first church document to name the exact 27 books of the New Testament canon.

Athanasius was one of the 4 doctors of the Eastern Church. (Basil, Gregory Naziensus, and John Chrysostom wwere the others.) Not bad for a guy who was exiled and restored 4 times in his life.