Sin’s Disruption and Disordered Love: Insights from St. Augustine

image 1 - Adam and EveWhen Adam and Eve turn from God and His will by choosing for themselves and their own will, they were in essence choosing to love themselves over God. Sin can be both the decision for and experience of disordered love.

Saint Augustine, the 4th century Bishop of Hippo in present-day Algeria, described this reality when he wrote: “virtue is nothing other than perfect love of God” (On the Morals of the Catholic Church, XV.25) Augustine is telling us that the good life – the virtuous life – is formed around well-ordered love of God. 

In light of that well-ordered love of God we learn to love everything else, whether people or things. He writes:

though [something] is good, it can be loved in the right way or in the wrong way – in the right way, that is, when the proper order is kept, in the wrong way when that order is upset. (City of God, XV.22)

This helps us to understand what happens to our love through the Fall.

It is dislocated from its proper center in love for God, and then, being out of order, it leads us to love people and things in wrong ways. And so, impacted by sin, we try to love things in ways that do not give us life:

  • A father tries to feel love and acceptance in life through others’ acclamations of his child’s athletic accomplishments 
  • A daughter tries to receive love from her mother by always doing the right thing or pursuing goals her mother likes but the daughter does not
  • A man tries to feel loved through serial sexual experiences with others but finds intimacy and love elusive
  • A woman escapes an unhappy marriage through an emotional affair but still fees empty

The catalog of ways we experience disordered love could go on and on. It is because love is disordered that the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13 are so powerful and praised: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast.” The very fact that this passage is so revered tells us just how special – and perhaps rare – ordered and right love truly is.

But it is not only that we love things wrongly in our Fallen state. We also, apart from God, evaluate love wrongly in ways that reveal our utter disorder:

  • someone’s love for sports overruns their priorities and ruins their marriage
  • someone’s love for their work becomes obsessive, ruining the family they are trying to support with that work
  • someone’s love for interacting with others on social media loses all bounds, ruining their actual face-to-face friendships 

As Augustine writes elsewhere, real love knows how “to love things…in the right order, so that you do not love what is not to be loved, or fail to love what is to be loved, or have a greater love for what should be loved less” (On Christian Doctrine, I.27-28).

This attention to disordered love is foundational to our discussion about the ways in which we experience disorder in our sexuality and our bodies because, as Jesus says, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Luke 6:45). That is, our outer life of action flows from the inner life of the heart and its related desires. Or, as Jamie Smith says, “you are what you love.”

We were made by God for loving relationship with God and others, but the Fall sunders that relationship and creates disorder in love.

God made us with the creational good of love to sustain and hold together every aspect of our identity, including our sexuality and bodies. But sin dislocates us, leaving us confused and muddled in the way we love things. All of this has tremendous impact for our bodies and our sexuality.

[This blog post is excerpted from my message, “Fall and Embodied Sexuality.”]

Fall and Embodied Sexuality

Love Sex Body Series GFX-05I continued our series, “Love-Sex-Body: Toward a Biblical Theology of Embodied Sexuality,” this past weekend at at Eastbrook Church by turning to the second chapter of God’s Good Story: the Fall from grace.

This message draws primarily from Genesis 3 and Romans 1, with a smattering of other verses throughout. This is, in my opinion, perhaps the most challenging of all the messages in this series for a few reasons. First, it addresses how sin leaves us with disordered love, sexuality, and bodies in very different ways. Second, it can in some ways be the most painful and apparently hopeless weeks of the series, leaving us in the Fall without the grace of redemption. However, I still believe that taking in this part of the series is vital for our healing. Like a good surgeon gives us an honest diagnosis, God provides a clear appraisal of our fallenness in Scripture. Recognizing it and believing it are the first steps toward healing.

You can watch my message from this past weekend and follow along with the message outline below. You can also engage with the entire series here or download the Eastbrook mobile app for even more opportunities to connect.

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The Weekend Wanderer: 9 November 2019

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

92946“The Road from Damascus: How an Evangelical Syrian Spoke at Harvard’s Commencement” – A story worth reading: “Born in Homs and an evangelical Christian, Tony Alkhoury is 1 of 450 Syrians in the US on an active student visa. In Arabic, Alkhoury’s family name means “the priest.” Currently pursuing a PhD in practical theology at Fuller Seminary, in 2016 he began a unique cross-cultural ministry adventure—at Harvard University. Through it drove the divinity student to the depths of depression, it ended with rapturous applause.”

 

03hayhoe-superJumbo“I’m a Climate Scientist Who Believes in God. Hear Me Out.” – Here is a thought-provoking OpEd by Katharine Hayhoe, professor and co-director of the Climate Center at Texas Tech University. “As I always do now when someone asks this, I explained that climate change is not a belief system. We know that the earth’s climate is changing thanks to observations, facts and data about God’s creation that we can see with our eyes and test with the sound minds that God has given us. And still more fundamentally, I went on to explain why it matters: because real people are being affected today; and we believe that God’s love has been poured in our hearts to share with our brothers and sisters here and around the world who are suffering.”

 

family_flag“Evangelical Call for Restitution-Based Immigration Reform” – When I graduated from college, I worked for three years with the sub-Saharan Africa programs of World Relief. Those experiences changed my life drastically. World Relief is perhaps better known these days for their work with refugee resettlement and advocacy for immigration. I continue to be engaged with World Relief on a number of issues, including this latest effort, in partnership with the Evangelical Immigration Table, to call for restitution-based immigration reform. I urge you to read and consider backing this effort toward biblical justice and righteousness for the immigrant in our midst.

 

Screen Shot 2019-11-08 at 8.35.35 AM“Trump’s refugee cap compromises the US economy and American identity” – On a related theme, you may want to read the President of World Relief, Scott Arbeiter, speaking about the historically low numbers of refugee resettlement in our nation. “Yesterday marked the end of the first full month in decades in which the U.S. resettled zero refugees. How did this happen? At the beginning of October, the State Department unveiled the new cap for refugees in fiscal year 2020: 18,000. It’s a shockingly — and shamefully — low number, and it has not yet even been signed and put into motion to keep resettlement moving. This lapse and this number are at complete odds with the United States’ character and our historic record.”

 

John Crist“John Crist Cancels 2019 Tour Dates After Reports of Sexting, Harassment, Manipulation” – You may or may not be familiar with John Crist, a Christian and a rising star of comedy. Crist rose to fame with videos poking fun at life within the church, such as “Church Hunters” or “How It’s Made: Christian Music.” Crist was slated for a Netflix comedy special and the release of a new book in 2020, but both endeavors are on hold after Charisma’s investigative reporting revealed a sordid underbelly to Crist’s life and work. This is one more example of how we need to get real with leadership formation in the church, as well as how love, sexuality and the body are vital aspects of our discipleship. We are all broken in different ways, but Jesus invites us to more.

 

Ingmar Bergman“The Silence & Presence of God: Moviegoing with Ingmar Bergman” – Some of the most penetrating and difficult conversations I have with folks in my vocation as a pastor rotate around the silence of God. Questions arise again and again, such as, “Where is God in my loss?”, “Why doesn’t God relieve my suffering?”, or “Why don’t I seem to hear from God or sense His presence in prayer?” Simplistic answers are not very helpful in these situations. God is always with us, but sometimes we experience the silence of His presence. Filmmaker Ingmar Bergman devoted a significant amount of his work to this topic. Here is Hetty White engaging with Bergman’s work in this important aspect of the human experience of the divine.

 

Music: Lee Morgan, “The Sidewinder,” from The Sidewinder (1963).

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

One Fear You Don’t Want to Lose: Living with Appropriate Fear of the Lord

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There are things in life that you need a healthy fear of: open flames, dangerous or abusive people, life-threatening diseases, identify theft, riding with your son or daughter behind the wheel when they have just received their temps. No, in all honesty, there are things that we would be foolish not to fear.

But what does it mean when we hear in the book of Proverbs that we are to fear the Lord?

Some people think that we are to wander around afraid of God all of our days. Some might say that we should live joyless, unhappy lives plagued by God’s arbitrary activity in the world – you never know what He might do with sinners like us. There is a sense of terror in some people’s view of God.

But that’s not what fear of the Lord means when we look at it in the Bible. Let’s read the two key verses that phrase appears, Proverbs 1:7 and Proverbs 9:10, which serve as book-ends around the first large section of the book of Proverbs.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7)

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Proverbs 9:10)

In the Bible, the concept of the fear of the Lord holds in tension that we stand before a powerful God who also wants to relate with us.

We are talking about the God who created everything…who spoke all of creation into being with a word…we are talking about the God who has brought into being more than 20,000 species of fish, some who exist at depths of 3,000 to 6,000 feet…we are talking about the God who has brought more than 250,000 species of plants into being and who actually knows the difference between Poa protensis (bluegrass) and Adansonia digitata (baobab tree)….the God who, it says elsewhere, sustains all things, including not only our solar system but also the 200-400 billion solar systems in the Milky Way Galaxy, and the estimated 100-200 billion galaxies in the known universe.

This is the sort of God we are talking about when we approach the scriptures.

We should be humbled when we approach God. We should realize that we are very small. We should approach God with, as one Old Testament scholar writes, “knee-knocking awe.” God is truly the only awesome one. When we realize who we are dealing with in this way, then we are starting to get at what fear of the Lord means.

But here is the other side of that story. This same awesome God who with a word created such varied beauty and variety in our world and countless wonders throughout the known and unknown universe – this same God actually wants to relate to human beings; no, not just that, this same God wants to relate to you – YOU – and me.

That’s what the Bible tells us. The Bible is the story of God reaching out to human beings, starting with Adam and Eve, and carrying on through characters like Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Jacob, Ruth, Nehemiah, Esther and more. This reaches its pinnacle in the awesome story of God becoming a man – the wonder of incarnation – when Jesus Christ walked our world, died, and rose again. Jesus is the supreme example of God’s outstretched hands to humanity.

That same all-powerful and tremendously creative God who should inspire knee-knocking awe in us, also wants to inspire intimate relationship with us. He wants us to have reverent trust with Him. And when we realize who we are dealing with in this way, then we are starting to get at what fear of the Lord means.

Knee-knocking awe before the only awesome God.

Reverent trust in relationship with a loving God.

True wisdom comes when we have an appropriate fear of the Lord.

N. T. Wright on the Importance of Binaries in Genesis

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In my message this past weekend, “Creation and Embodied Sexuality,” I referenced an extended quotation from New Testament scholar N. T. Wright on the importance of the binaries in Genesis. As I mentioned, there is a structural symmetry throughout Genesis 1 that links pairs of differents one to another.  This symmetrical crescendo of creation reaches its high point in God’s creation of humanity and the pairing of sexual difference characterized by male and female. This biological sex difference is a creational goodness of God intended to reflect God’s greater good story in all of creation. Here is the quotation from N. T. Wright, found in a 2014 article in First Things, which is drawn from an interview with Wright:

The binaries in Genesis are so important—…heaven and earth…sea and dry land…male and female. It’s all about God making complementary pairs which are meant to work together. The last scene in the Bible is the new heaven and the new earth, and the symbol for that is the marriage of Christ and his church. It’s not just one or two verses here and there which say this or that. It’s an entire narrative which works with this complementarity … [as] a signpost or a signal about the goodness of the original creation and God’s intention for the eventual new heavens and new earth.

The differences within creation, including the sexual differences of human beings, all point to God’s Good Story, and the ultimate coming together of all things in the Restoration. Human sexuality is not only good, but is theologically significant.