August 2010 Archives

The question of sin and the forbidden nature of sin looms large in the understanding of God as Father. What is God's nature as Father--arbitrary rulemaker or dedicated guardian. Is something sinful because it is forbidden? Or is there something more?

Reading through Edmund S. Morgan's biography of Benjamin Franklin, we find the following passage:

from Benjamin Franklin Edmund S. Morgan

He never came to accept the Bible as a divine revelation or Jesus as the son of God. But he characteristically discover a new basis for Christian morality in the usefulness that was so unhappily missing from what he had earlier taught his friends about the rightness of everything. His new view was "that tho' certain Actions might not be bad because they were forbidden by it [the Bible], or good because it commanded them, yet probably, those actions might be forbidden because they were bad for us, or commanded because they were beneficial to us."

This is how Franklin remember his change of heart and change of mind in the autobiography, and it seems to have been a accurate description. He enunciated the same view of moral in Poor Richard's Almanack for 1739, in slightly different form: "Sin is not hurtful because it is forbidden but it is forbidden because it's hurtful. . . . Nor is a Duty beneficial because it is commanded, but it is commanded, because it's beneficial." Franklin arrived at this formula for reading the biblical Commandments only after a great deal of thinking on his own about what was hurtful and what was beneficial to himself and to the rest of God's creation.

We have in one way a very utilitarian view of sin and virtue and one result of this is that Franklin develops a very odd list of virtues. However, utility aside, is the view of sin more compatible and more coherent with respect to the image of God as a loving father.

What is more plausible from a loving Father--that he will arbitrarily forbid some things and encourage others or that the reasons for his strictures would have foundation in what is good for the child He is guiding? It would seem to me the latter. If so, that would mean that we should look upon sin as an action that is forbidden because of the harm it causes the individual committing it and the community in which it is committed. Morgan later calls such reasoning heretical (although, I think he means in this instance "going against the common strain of religious thought" rather than technically heretical.

I have not yet consulted the catechism on the matter and so cannot advance this theory without the caveat that it might indeed run counter to the teaching of the Church; however, I don't think that it does: I suspect that it falls into the realm of the theologian rather than the proper realm of the magisterium--but if there is anyone left who is still reading this blog, perhaps they can better advise as to the Catholic validity of the statement.

However, I have always viewed the commandments of the Bible as being there to prevent harm to God's children--body, mind, and soul. For example, I look upon many of the provisions for kosher as dietary laws that either (1) prevent sickness of the body--think trichinosis, or (2) prevent harm to the soul--think about the provision against eating the flesh of strangled animals--more about cruelty and the mark that inflicts upon the soul than about the arbitrary provision that the means of death somehow taints the person who consumes of the flesh.

I don't know, but I offer these speculations, half-formed as they are, as a reflection on the nature of Fatherhood. A good father makes his rules and laws not to impress upon his children a whimsical and variable will, but because he knows the inevitable consequences of actions and the harm or good that will come from performing them. If it is legitimate to consider sin in this light, we have a deeper insight into the Fatherhood of God and why that image is so important in our understanding and relationship to all things Divine.

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I'll start with something short and sweet--I hope. I want to develop this thought at some length, but need to grope my way in the dark right now.

Much of what I'll say is borne out of a personal struggle to understand and communicate with God as Father. Much of it has been inspired by an encounter with Donald Miller's book Father Fiction. While I can't whole-heartedly recommend the book (after all, I am not in its demographic), many of the point Miller makes hit home and so this is the beginning of my attempt to translate his observations into a more systematic understanding of God, Our Father.

Many of us have a huge barrier set up in opposition to the notion of God the Father. The opposition stems from the quality of relationships with our own fathers. When the human example is poor, it is hard to make sense of the notion. However, another part comes from what I think is a fundamental misunderstanding both of Church Teaching and of what Jesus and God Himself in revealed scriptures had to teach us about God the Father.

It is difficult to reconcile God the loving Father with the images often given of God through much of the Bible--even some of the parables. How do we bring all of the information given about God into some sort of focus? I don't know yet. That is what these experiments will attempt to do, because I believe this foundational understanding is so critical to a great many of us who struggle with father, with trust, and with acknowledging the creative and supportive presence of God in our lives.

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This page is an archive of entries from August 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

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