Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Excuses for Sin

One of my goals for my internship year is to try to spell out what a confessional Lutheran psychologist would look like in practice. I've been troubled at the following thought, "Is what I am doing as a counselor merely helping clients make excuses for sin?" And, indeed, this is where many streams of thought in psychology would lead because the greatest good is widely believed to be personal happiness. I reject this premise. Popular psychology and self-help are built on this foundation of sand. Unfortunately, so is much preaching.
Realizing one's own culpability and asking for forgiveness is hard. So is extending forgiveness to others. Forgiveness, not excuses lies at the heart of the issue. One of the most obnoxious things I hear is that people must learn to "forgive themselves." First of all, rarely do people come down too hard on themselves. Most of the time people are experts at explaining away their behavior in terms of circumstances or necessity (hence there are very few people in prison who profess guilt even in the face of overwhelming evidence). Secondly, from a theological standpoint, what people need is not to forgive themselves but to be forgiven by God in Christ. But first, one must see their culpability, even if genetics, environment and social pressure were all shoving in that direction. Psychology explains behavior in terms of probabilities, how likely a person is to behave a certain way based on a number of variables. Even if we could predict with extremely high accuracy who would and who would not beat their spouse (for example) it would not remove the person's guilt for this behavior. The world doesn't get this. The world hears "sin" as something like "naughtiness" and as Christians we hear "sin" as much more like "humanness".


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great blog!

One small nuance, we hear "sin" as much more like "humanness" is right. But we know that really it is sub-human. Our true nature is not sinful, only our fallen nature is. Thus God became Flesh, one of us, without sin. He is the true Man, the new Adam. This distinction, it seems to me, is helpful for pyschology. For there is a true, godly glory in man. If it is worshipped (like unto humanism - my own greatest temptation) then it is idolatry. But even as we rightly admire the beauty of whales and mountains and trees, we can also marvel at the music of Bach or the comedy of Abbot and Costello, etc.


9:54 AM  
Blogger Preachrboy said...

Great blog. I noticed you have linked to the Lutheran Blog directory, but haven't listed in it? What are you waiting for???

Rev. Tom Chryst

11:17 AM  
Blogger Kletos Sumboulos said...

A nomination.

11:20 AM  
Blogger solarblogger said...

Good question.

In practice this will probably dog you your whole career. But in theory, I wonder. Let's just say someone takes virtually every possibility of an excuse that you offer. Does that really get them off the hook with God? The excuses work better with the neighbor. And they ought to. But before God, even if they can explain away a lot of their behavior, they won't be able to exlain it all. And with the severity of true law, I think whatever hasn't been explained away should be enough to convict them.

Also, St. Paul would almost seem to be offering an excuse for much behavior when he says that if he agees with the Law, then it is no longer him, but sin dwelling within him, that does it (Romans 7:20). Yet this doesn't mean that the sin is something other than sin. And there is a necessity for the person to agree with the Law before this viewpoint can help.

There are probably ways of allowing people to see their sinfulness in any number of areas whatever theory they're toying with as an explanation of another area. Repentance doesn't involve seeing every single one of your sins as sins, or we would all be lost. It involves the Law getting our disobedience to God to be very clear to us at some point.

9:41 PM  
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