Sin and Its Consequences

Christian concepts of sin generally include sins of commission (in violations of legal or ethical prohibitions) as well as those of omission (in violation of legal or ethical commands or duties).  In my first year of college, I had a religion course with Dr. Nida.  His definition of sin has had great significance for me over the many years: “sin is anything that separates us from the love of God.”  In law school, Professor John Snowden distinguished the negative form of the law of the road, as a prohibition (“do not drive faster than 65 miles per hour”) and a positive, but open ended, command (“drive safely”).

For the Christian, as, I’m sure, with many other religions, focus is often upon omissions or violations of fine details of the law.   Jesus confronted such legalism throughout his life.  “Love and do not judge.”  “Is it not right to do good on the Sabbath?” versus “Do not be like the Pharisees, notorious ‘protectors and keepers of the law, often to the point of mere display.”  “Do not harvest food (wheat) on the Sabbath.”  He railed against any religious authority that would burden common people with technicalities, as though it were millstones about their neck.  In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus tells us that the self righteous religious authorities ignored one of their own who had been beaten and left to die beside the road; it was one who was hated by their own, the Samaritan, who showed compassion for the man and took responsibility to restore him to health.  The Samaritan was the “good neighbor.” The message: be the good neighbor, even though the one that you help may hate you.

For Jesus, the core of the laws were simple: love God, and like that, love all.  In such a view, sin is the disruption of right relationships with others and with the world, as well.  To the degree that one sees the Divine in all of creation, disruption of right relationships with all life and the world that we live in is sin.

Religious Tolerance writes of the variety of Christian notions of the taint of sin at

Most conservative Christians believe that   almost all of the Mosaic Code no longer applies to them. It was replaced by   God’s grace in the New Testament. However, many hold on to the applicability   of some of the laws, like the two condemning homosexuality in Leviticus 18 and Leviticus 20 which   they quote often.
Sin is implied in the Judeo-Christian Golden Rule.
Sin is implied in the   analogous Ethics of   Reciprocity found in almost all other religions.

Conservative Christianity deviates little from historical Christianity on matters of sin. However, secularists and followers of present-day liberal Christianity often find their beliefs in conflict with biblical passages and traditional Christian teachings. They find many biblical passages about sin difficult to understand or comprehend; they violate modern religious and secular concepts of morality and ethics.

Christianity, and other Western religions, have historically taught that most [“unbelieving”] people will spend eternity in Hell after they die:

Because of Adam and Eve’s “original sin”   that all subsequent generations of humans have inherited from their ancestors   before birth, and/or
Because of their sinful   acts perpetrated during their life on earth.

Different Christian religions view Salvation differently. For example:

Roman Catholicism places great emphasis on   church sacraments as the main process by which a person’s sins are forgiven   and one is assured to eventually attain Heaven after death.

Most conservative   Protestant denominations have traditionally placed salvation from sin firmly   into the hands of the individual. She/he must repent of their sins and trust   Jesus as Lord and Savior in order to be saved from eternal punishment in   Hell after death. This remains a major concern, within at least the   conservative wings of most Western religions; it strongly motivates many   conservative Christians to proselytize others in order to convert them to   their belief systems.

Although there are reported accounts of “near death experiences,” there are no reports of life following after unabated physical death, in terms of organ shut down for a prolonged period, and confirmed, or significant bodily deterioration.  There was a remarkable book concerning the reality of heaven as told by a child, but its content is a matter of faith, not experientially verifiable nor subject to duplication.  We can only draw upon our human experiences to describe notions the survival of any part or essence of the individual after medically irreversible death.  Therefore, notions of what happens after death are much more varied among the major religions.  Such consequences range from physical and/or spiritual resurrection in the Latter Days, to continued life “in the people, or, as to the individual, Heaven or Hell, Purgatory, life simply ends, reincarnation with more opportunity’s to “get it right,” and, as opposed to the spirit ascending or descending to its “reward,” notions of the continued presence of the spirit of the deceased in the memories and lives of survivors. There is no way to physically confirm or disprove such notions.  One can choose how one “sees” or treats the death and loss.

For example, a member of my Sunday school class reported one Sunday that both of her parents were killed in an auto accident. She was told by mental health experts that she needed to grieve their death or it would haunt her.  She said that they were coming from a casino where they had both been successful at the games, and they were driving home when they were killed. She said she imagined them in heaven, enjoying their winnings. She was happy for them. I was somewhat confused and inquired: ” I thought you did not believe in a place called Heaven.” She responded. ” I don’t, literally. But that is the way and that I imagine them.”

Later, I was talking with a woman who tragically lost a young child in a tragic event.    Her experience of grief over the last decade has not entirely relieved the pain.  It never can.  But over the years she has transformed the tragedy with hope of reunification in the future, after her own death.  “It doesn’t really matter whether and how we are reunited.  If I am wrong, upon death I will know no different.”

This range of belief concerning the consequences of sin after death is wider among the regions, even among their sects, than any other aspect of religious concepts.  The reason is that the other concepts have some relationship to shared human experience.  For example, love, hope, estrangement, separation, reunification, atonement (at-one-ment), and forgiveness are common human experiences fundamental to human existence and human relationships.

All that we can do is ask how that belief, although unverifiable, affects the quality of our living today: does it promote our respect for life? is it conducive to courage to face life’s challenges? does it inspire love and inclusiveness?  (These latter considerations are based upon value judgments, such as, is it better to love than to hate?  Or is it better to live in the present with hope than to be shackled to the past with vengeance? represents a Jewish view of sin and its consequences:

Humans are inherently neither good nor bad; humans are just humans. All humans have an impulse toward good as well as an impulse toward evil, and that is not going to change throughout our lives. We will not magically lose the impulse toward evil through an infusion of the Holy Spirit, a Second Birth, or any other such supernatural experience. We are all doomed to remain human. Sorry about that.

Further, our job is not simply to resist the evil impulse and go with the good; for one thing, that is not humanly possible to do 100%. For another, the evil impulse is necessary to human existence. For instance, if there were no such thing as selfishness, to ANY degree, we would all be poor and homeless because we would all have given away everything we own.  If no one sought sexual gratification, humans would have been extinct before we ever got out of the caves – and maybe the trees.

It is our job to take the evil impulse and sanctify it; to turn it to the service of good. Do you ache to be famous? Be famous for doing good; be a philanthropist or a volunteer. Do you want to be rich? Get rich by inventing or discovering something that benefits everyone. Do you want power? Run for office, and do your best to serve and do good for the people who elect you. Do you crave sex? Get married to someone who feels the same way and ball your brains out; make each other happy. Do you want to be admired and looked up to and depended upon? Do the same, and have many children.

The emphasis in Judaism is on doing good, not on not doing bad. It seems to me an altogether more positive, healthier, and happier approach. One spends one’s energy looking for good things to do, not bad things to condemn.

Whereas the typical Christian feels self-assured of heaven if he or she “confesses Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior” and is “born again, (right belief), Muslim assurance is generally limited to special acts, such as martyrdom.  On the other hand there are a number of sins that will guarantee eternity in Hell.  Beyond that, there is nothing to guarantee the Muslim eternity in Heaven.  That will be decided after death on an individual basis, if the Muslim was “good enough.”

For an examination of the major world religion, in their various prominent aspects concerning sin and its consequences relating to life after death, see


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