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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Creation 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

This weekend, I turned our attention to the first chapter of God’s Good Story: Creation. The message draws upon many Scripture passages, but finds its footing in Genesis 1 and 2. My main point was basically that our bodies our good, our sexuality is good, and love is the good that holds that all together. In the midst of the message, I spent some time discussing the image of God in humanity, the nature of biological sex and gender, as well as some reflections on singleness and marriage.

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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Love-Sex-Body: An Introduction to Embodied Sexuality

Love Sex Body Series GFX-05This past weekend at at Eastbrook Church we began a new, five-week series, “Love-Sex-Body: Toward a Biblical Theology of Embodied Sexuality.” This first weekend in the series is an introduction to the themes of embodied sexuality, with attention to some ground rules for approaching this discussion and the framework for the series.

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 for involvement.

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Resurrection Bodies (discussion questions)

Here are the discussion questions that accompany my message, “Resurrection Bodies,” from this past weekend at Eastbrook Church, which is a part of our series, “Resurrection Hope” from 1 Corinthians 15.

Discussion Questions:

  1. When you hear about the resurrection of the dead, what sort of things come into your mind?
  2. As we continue looking at 1 Corinthians 15 this weekend at Eastbrook, we are looking at what resurrection bodies are all about. Whether you are alone or with a small group, ask God to speak to you and then read 1 Corinthians 15:35-49 aloud.
  3. In verses 35-41, Paul offers two pictures of what physical resurrection is similar to in our everyday experience. What are the two pictures and what do they communicate to us about resurrection? What other pictures do you find helpful or getting a sense of what resurrection means?
  4. Paul summarizes the contrast between our current bodies and resurrection bodies in verses 42-44 with four word pairs. What are those word pairs and what do you think they mean?
  5. The NIV translates the last pair of words, “it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” This phrase has caused some misunderstanding in the western world, particularly in some translations which contrasts a physical body with a spiritual body. The first phrase, translated ‘natural body’, is derived from the word for ‘soul’ and reflects being animated by human nature here. The second phrase, translated ‘spiritual body’, is derived from the word for ‘spirit’ and reflects being animated by the Spirit of God. This is not a contrast between the physical and abstract spiritual, but a contrast between ordinary human nature and spiritually renewed human nature. What do you see as the significance of this?
  6. When you read verses 45-49, what sort of hope do you draw from these words?
  7. What is one thing God is speaking to you through this study? If you are alone, write it down. If you are with a small group, discuss these things with one another.

[Next week we continue our exploration of resurrection themes by looking at “Resurrection Victory” from 1 Corinthians 15:50-58.]

All Together: Body and Spirit

I’ve been thinking about my body a lot recently. I know that sounds weird – maybe even a bit psychotic – but give me a minute here.

I’ve been thinking about my body and the fact that I live in it. I know, this sounds even more like I need to go to the nut-house now…but think about it for a few minutes with me.

We have these bodies we’re given – we’re literally born and grow up into them – and we have to live in them. It’s not like we are given a choice about it. As one of my son’s teachers used to say, “you get what you get and you can’t throw a fit.”

As I’ve thought about this, it’s led me to thinking about how our life in our bodies connects with our life with God. I’ve been thinking about how our spiritual life is embodied – how our spirituality is lived in a body.

I believe that a good portion of Western Christianity has developed a fundamental divorce between body and spirit somewhere along the line. The easiest place to point a finger is the Enlightenment, but there are admittedly other sources.

Because of this, there has arisen a sort of neo-gnosticism within Christianity. The gnostics were the people the Apostle John was speaking against in his epistles. They claimed that Jesus didn’t really come in a body. I am seeing this particularly in evangelical Christianity, where people either devalue the body (asceticism) or exalt the body (hedonism).

But this is not what we find in the Scripture. Instead, Scripture points to a basic continuity between body and spirit. For example, the Apostle Paul tends to take the readers of his letter through a discussion of spiritual truths in the first half of his letters that leads into a discussion of practical living in our everyday bodies in the latter half of his letters.

Also, we see in the Gospels that when Jesus rose from the dead, He did so physically. He even went so far as to eat some fish with His disciples. He was alive in a resurrection body not as some disembodied spirit. Paul elaborates on this when talking about how we will experience resurrection bodies ourselves. He writes that just as Christ is the “first fruits” of the resurrection, so we will be raised anew with resurrection bodies when He returns (1 Corinthians 15:20).

Thus, if the body is important for spirituality, then:

  • The way we steward our bodies and physical resources is spiritual (e.g., generosity versus hoarding, physical exercise)
  • The food and drink we take in has spiritual meaning (e.g, communion, nutrition, Paul’s discussion of food sacrificed to idols in 1 Corinthians 10)
  • The physical actions of worship and devotion are spiritual (e.g., raising hands, kneeling, fasting, the setting for worship)
  • The physical needs of the poor and impoverished have spiritual meaning beyond just keeping someone alive to share the gospel with them
  • We are not trying to simply save souls and get them to heaven, but equipping people to live physically to God’s glory once they begin to follow Jesus

Do you believe in the value and spiritual significance of your body?

Do our lives of faith reflect that bodily spiritual significance or a disembodied spiritualism?

How do you think we can live a life of worship of the true Creator God in our physical bodies?

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