Written by Phil Monroe
Monday, 02 July 2012 00:00
Can your body make you sin? If so, are you still responsible?
In my last post , I answered “Yes…and yes.” And then I gave a short and partial defense. Today I want to give a vignette for us to chew on as we consider the matter of culpability for involuntary sins. And then…I want to consider a better question.
Your 2 year old missed his daily nap, is hungry, and tired as a result of an event you attended. He has a meltdown. He kicks, screams, cries, refuses his mother’s comfort all because he wants some object he cannot have. You, being the good parent you are, recognize the child’s distress, whisper in his ear to comfort him, say “no” firmly to his kicks, find something for him to eat and finally a place to take a nap.
Has the child sinned? He surely demanded something, acted aggressively, even disobeyed by grabbing the object after his mother said to stop.
Yes, he sinned.
But was it fully voluntary? No. We consider the circumstances (including the fact that we may have knowingly put the child into a situation like this because WE wanted to enjoy this event). We understand that his over-tired body is not helping matters. We forgive, we overlook, we understand, we help. We do so because we know his choices are not fully within his control.
Now, we may have another reaction altogether when we see our little boy (fully rested and fed) look us in the eye and try to bite his baby brother after we just told him to stop. We know he has better voluntary control here and is in a power struggle. And we respond with appropriate discipline.
But what about another vignette?
We could easily have considered a vignette of a brain-injured man or a panic-disordered woman. We respond to individuals based not only on whether something is sinful but also on how much voluntary control we think they have considering the circumstances in play (environment, biology, understanding, etc.).
So, our bodies can cause us to sin in that we have little capacity to choose otherwise. In the classic sense, we are guilty whether it is voluntary or not. And yet we, and God himself, varies responses to such sins based on a variety of factors (e.g., gentle exhortation for one to sin no more, curses to another). We do not ascribe innocence to those less culpable but do try to find merciful resources to help them beyond their limited capacities.
Thankfully, all of it is covered by the cross.
A better question!
If nothing we do is truly without sin in this life, do we gain much in trying to assess guilt/innocence and ultimate responsibility for behavior? Maybe we ought to consider a better question: What does the Lord offer as a way of escape from sinful and flawed behaviors…and will we use them (or offer them to others)? Consider the following merciful escapes:
Biological mercies. In God’s providence, he provides some with biological aids for body/soul struggles. Certain medications may help decrease addictive behavior, depression, or anxiety. These body/soul weaknesses are rarely cured by such compounds, but cure is not the only possibility of help. Sadly, I find many afraid to seek biological aids for what they determine to be primarily will problems. They worry that these aids will decrease their spiritual sensitivities. But if increasing positive mood enables a depressed man to say no to addictive behavior, should we criticize that way of escape?
Community mercies. I know a forty-year old brain injured man who is an emotional shell of his former self. While he looks fully recovered, he no longer has much self-awareness. He promises many things but lacks the ability to follow through. His church community includes other men who are patient with him and yet remind him frequently that he can best love his wife by doing simple chores each day. Rather than rebuke him over and over, they gently point him to better behaviors.
The point I am trying to make here is that much of our work as Christians should be that of compassionate rescue rather than impersonal assessment (AKA judgment). Yes, the wounds of a friend are sometimes necessary. Confrontation can be the best way to love someone. But we too often stop with our assessment of culpability and miss the fact that God is gracious in providing us a way of escape from our behavioral struggles.
Phil Monroe is Professor of Counseling & Psychology and Director of the MA in Counseling program at Biblical Seminary. He maintains a private practice with Diane Langberg & Associates. You can follow his personal and professional musings at www.wisecounsel.wordpress.comor read more about it at http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/phillip-monroe.