Wednesday, 15 February 2017
Chained to the Past
A few weeks ago I introduced the idea of sin as those things which chain us to the past. I want to explore that concept further this week. I came across this concept or definition of sin quite a few years ago. However, the source has been lost in the recesses of my memory. My supplication to the god Google was not answered. So I have to accept the uncertainty of the genesis of this concept of sin.
The concept of sin as being chained to the past resonated with me when I first heard it and I still believe that it gets at a, if not the, fundamental aspect of what sin is. Sin is not morals or ethics; although sin can certainly involve moral and ethical behaviour. However, if we see sin more as an approach to life and to how we respond to life in all its aspects, I believe we are getting to the heart of sin as being chained to the past.
Humans are created in the image of God. However, that image does not mean that we are God or gods. We are imperfect and we will not follow the course of life that God intends for us. So what is it that chains us to the past? We all have developed survival mechanisms which we believed, on an unconscious or conscious level, were necessary for us to be successful in life. Indeed they may have been absolutely necessary given the cards we were dealt in life. If someone was raised in an abusing environment they developed mechanisms that helped them survive e.g. run and hide from the abuser when certain signs were there that abuse could be about to happen. If someone was raised in a scarcity of food or shelter, a person would develop ways of doing what was necessary to gain those necessities. If someone was ignored as a child they may decide that they need to act out to get the attention they crave to have their existence acknowledged. In my case I found the world I was in to be a puzzling and somewhat scary place outside my home. So found my small corner which was safe and which I could withdraw to when the world became too much for me to deal with.
These survival mechanisms were necessary and appropriate given the circumstances people find themselves in. However, when our circumstances change, perhaps knowing that you will have the necessities of life, or that the people in your life now are not abusive, the person may not accept that as the reality and react as if the world is still the old familiar way which is no longer necessary. This prevents us from living the life as fully as possible. It chains us to the past and does not enable us to become the people that God intended us to be when God created us; that for me certainly one aspect of sin.
I recently finished reading The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. I believe purchased the copy some years ago but had never read it. It describes wonderfully the concept of sin as being chained to the past. The book is an allegory along the lines of Pilgrims Progress (although not quite up to that caliber) which describes a scenario where a bus has arrived in heaven with a load of passengers who have come from the village where they have been. This village is, in reality, hell—although they do not recognize that it is hell not having experienced hellfire and brimstone. These souls are met by residents of heaven who they have known in their lives and who are their guides to the heaven where they now find themselves. The souls find heaven to be too real and too substantial. They are insubstantial so even the grass is too solid and too uncomfortable for them to walk on without some discomfort. Different souls are presented as stereotypes that reject heaven because of their beliefs and ways of being.
For example, one resident (angel) of heaven greets a “Fat, Clean-Shaven Man” who he knew in life. The angel tells him that he is now indeed in heaven and the place he left was indeed hell. The soul refuses to believe him and engages the angel using semantics to defend his view of reality. The angel tries to make him understand that his view of reality is wrong. The soul rejects the angel’s “crude salvationism” and unwilling to abandon his intellectual construct of life smugly goes off to catch the bus for the return trip to what for him is an acceptable existence in the village.
I do not agree with Lewis’s theology on some points, however, I enjoy his writing immensely and there is much about his faith and belief that I admire. In The Great Divorce I believe he has caught the essence of the concept of sin as those things that chain us to the past. One of the callings and challenges we have as Christians is to try and discover and break those chains that keep us from living the life God intends us to live.
Blessings on you journey.