Sunday, August 8, 2010

Review of "The Reason for God" Ch 10 on Sin

I've never seen an apologist point to the concept of sin as an indication that God exists. But this is what Keller does in this chapter. He defines sin this way "not just the doing of bad things, but the making of good things into ultimate things. It is seeking to establish a sense of self by making something else more central to your significance, purpose, and happiness than your relationship to God."

Keller views the doctrine of sin as a hopeful thing. This sounds paradoxical, but his reasoning is as follows: We all seek to build our identity on something, whether it be our career, doing good, our children, fame, or something else. This can prove disastrous on several levels. If the something on which we build our identity collapses, say our career, we are left without a sense of self. We are left empty and desperate. We necessarily idolize that which gives us our worth, which leads to denigration and exclusion of whatever threatens our sacred god. For example, if our identity comes from our wealth, we feel superior to those who are not. Or, if our worth comes from our morality, we will look down on those we deem immoral. Keller says that even creation is evidence of sin and points to disease, natural disasters, and death itself as an indication that the world is suffering the consequences of the original sin.

Keller says that the concept of sin provides us all a way out of this suffering. The answer to sin lies in making God our ultimate thing. By putting God first and living for Him, we are centering our lives around the only one who can fulfill you and give your life an ultimate sense of worth that cannot be shaken.

I've never seen an apologist point to sin as an indication for God. I'd be interested in knowing if this has ever impacted anyone.

I think we have all seen or experienced the results when the foundation of our self esteem is shaken (whether through job loss, divorce, child disappointing us or something else). How do any of you who are reading this post address this issue, particularly if you are an atheist? Have you found a solution to the problem of self worth that is as effective as Keller maintains his to be?


  1. I grew up as the youngest of nine children. My father was a college professor and most of my older siblings have advanced degrees. Although my family was not unsupportive, I never felt like I measured up.

    I was raised Catholic and turned to Evangelical Christianity for a couple of years in my late teens, but it never did anything for my self esteem.

    When I was in my twenties, therapy helped me to see that I needed to evaluate myself by my own internal standards rather than by comparing myself to others. I think the trick was realizing that I was much harder on myself than I ever would be on a friend (or even a stranger) who was going through the same things I was.

    For me, Jesus was just another external standard that I could not live up to. Keller's perspective may accurately describe some people's experience, but it doesn't describe mine, and it doesn't describe the experience of other people I have known.

  2. That's interesting to know. I wondered how many people would relate to what Keller is saying. The concept of feeling most fulfilled when I am living for something/someone beyond myself and I am not seeking to bolster my own ego resonates with my experience. What I describe also sounds similar to Eastern religion, though, doesn't it? I'm not very conversant on that topic, so I don't know for certain.

  3. It does sounds somewhat Zen-like although I think they don't see the something or someone as being beyond themselves. To let go of the ego gratification is to become so involved in whatever it is you are doing that subject/object dichotomy breaks down.

  4. Odd that Keller takes a human trait (the fact we develop self-worth through a variety of means), makes up a solution, and then claims because his allegation IS a solution, it must be true. Like my saying, “As humans we like to get there in a hurry, and flying cars would help. Therefore there are flying cars.” I scratch my head.

    And even as a Christian I really struggled with statements like, “By putting God first and living for Him,…” What does that even mean—“Put God First”? Take a typical Sunday morning; you agreed to show up early to help set up coffee, but on this particular day the kids are being monsters and your wife could really use your help, and the pastor just called to see if you could cover a Sunday School (and you ought to do at least some study beforehand). And you haven’t done your devotions yet.

    Now…what does God want you to do to “put God first”? Which activity do you chose (excluding the others) that constitutes “living for him”?

    Secondly, I questioned (and question) whether one should have insurance, savings accounts, stock portfolios or pensions. Is that “living for God”? Wouldn’t “living for God” partly mean relying upon him to supply all our needs? To not worry for tomorrow?

    I can’t help notice that Keller (and all others similarly situated) have the exact same identity crisis I do when my political candidate doesn’t win, or my salary is cut, or the economy tanks. How does one “put God first” when you fear your children will be thrown out of your house, ‘cause you can’t pay the mortgage after your company shut down due to some billionaire in New York getting richer?

    Thirdly, why does a god…[excuse me]…A GOD—the creator and sustainer of the freaking universe—need me to center my life around him? As you like Star Wars you may also like Star Trek and can understand the question, “What does God need with a spaceship?” What does a God need with my centering my life around him?

    Fourthly, in studying the Bible, it would seem the way to “put God first” is to follow his commandments. And his primary commandment is to love others. I do believe all the commandments can be summed up in “Love God; love others.” So if I am focusing on loving others, I am obeying God, and therefore “putting him first.”

    Yet…I don’t need a God to love others. In fact, I can cut out the middle-man, and go directly to loving others for who they are—not because I am following some God.

    “Put God First.” Huh. Unfortunately, this God of Keller’s is not very communicative as to how one pragmatically does that at a given moment.

  5. DagoodS,
    So, in effect, you're able to live the whole "Put God First" idea just as you did when you were a Christian, by loving others and trying your best to demonstrate that in your daily decisions and interactions. It sounds like the only thing that has changed is not having the stress of guessing how God wants you to put Him first in a given moment.

    I wonder, myself, about God's apparent need for our praise as described in scripture. It actually seems stressed as a reason for our existence more than anything else.