Sin is Enacted Atheism

I have thought for some time now that there is a direct relation between unbelief and sinfulness, and that *it runs both ways.*

Thinking about God can be extremely hard when I feel really bad about how sinful I’ve been. When I’ve done something wrong, or want to, I want to avoid thinking about God. Because if I do, I shall see what a disgusting worm I am. And no one wants to face that.

It’s easy to see why shame would make me want to avoid God when I have sinned. The hardest thing of all to admit in our hearts about God is that because his beauty is infinite, even our worst sins are to him infinitely tiny. Whether we know it or not, and whether or not we admit the fact to ourselves, his overwhelming power washes over our sins the way that a great wave washes over the filth a fly has left in the sand of the beach. So, no matter how bad we have been, we can turn to him and he will wash over us, cleanse and refresh us completely.

But this is hard to remember, or understand. Indeed, it is hard to remember *because* it is hard to understand. Our sins loom large in our lives, and we understand the harm we have done – and the cost of its repair – quite well. Infinity being by contrast impossible for us to comprehend, we have a hard time doing the moral accounting involved in reconciling God’s omnipotent redemptive power to our picayune peccadilloes. It’s like expressing inches in light years, or vice versa. Light years just don’t mean anything concretely commensurable to our lives as lived, compared to the distance between two joints of a finger. So, all we can see is the sin, and the penalty thereof; we cannot see the everlasting life beyond its redemption. And so we avoid turning our minds in its direction, or toward God and the agony of his glory.

When we believe in something, we conform ourselves thereto. It shapes our minds, our thoughts and attitudes, and so our acts, and our lives. Because he has a hard time even thinking about God, the sinner, then, has a hard time really believing in God. His shame disinclines him to God; his disinclination to God inclines him to sin; his sin is shameful. It’s a vicious cycle.

But it works the other way, too: the unbeliever is eo ipso a sinner. Indeed, unbelief and sin are two sides of the same coin. For, as sin is enacted falsehood, so is it an explicit enaction of disbelief in the God who is all truth, and the whole of truth. It indicates a want of faith; for, if I really believed in God, and understood him, how could I bring myself to sin – indeed, how could the notion even occur to me? Doesn’t the presence of God in our hearts drive out sin? So, if I am sinning, doesn’t that mean that I have not very much God in my heart?

If my understanding of God is correct, if I really understand what “God” means – not as a philosophical proposition, so much as a concrete proposal for how I should constitute myself from one moment to the next, what I should consider, think, say and do – then won’t the beauty and power of that knowledge drive out all competing considerations? God is *infinitely* beautiful. Nothing else even registers, compared to him. If I really turned and accepted even that bare notion, how could I sin?

If I do sin, then, this means that there is at least some corner of my heart that does not believe in God. It resists him, or else is deeply confused.

My sin tells me that I have not yet truly and fully converted my heart to God. And since the love of God is generated irresistibly by the vision of God, by the apprehension of his beauty, my sin indicates that I have not yet properly apprehended him. I have somehow erred in my apprehension.

We cannot correct the error of our apprehension that enables our sin – or rather, that is to say, *constitutes* our sin – except by turning to face him, opening our eyes and our hearts and letting him in. But because we err, we cannot see where to find him unless we are already facing him – in which case, we are not erring in the first place! So, we are stuck fast in the Sin against the Holy Spirit, the one unforgivable sin that prevents our acceptance of redemption, and therefore effects its rejection.

That’s where Grace enters the picture. God will show us. All we have to do is ask, even though we don’t know exactly what we ask. When we say the Agnus Dei, or the Jesus Prayer, we ask him to show us how and where to turn to him.

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15 thoughts on “Sin is Enacted Atheism

  1. Gurdjieff would have said that that’s how almost all of us die – in our sleep – because that’s how almost all of us live, almost all the time: asleep; befogged and befuddled by sin and error, especially sloth. Death, then, is just the acme and fulfillment of sin – is befuddlement unto dissolution.

    Certainly it would be just for God to destroy us all, right now. We don’t deserve the lives we have squandered. We didn’t do anything to earn the gift of our lives in the first place, nor can we anyhow arrange to procure from nothingness another instant of life. Every such instant is completely unearned, totally gratuitous. And we botch them, almost all of them! It’s appalling!

    It’s not even that we do bad things. It’s that we fail miserably to enjoy, or even notice, the beauties inherent in just *being.* We are asleep, drugged, zombies. Fools.

    Think how much more life you would have lived if you had every moment been as awake and alert as in those moments when you realize you are about to have a serious automobile accident, and time slows to a crawl, and you notice *everything.* Your life would seem about 1,000 times as long, right? And, also 1,000 times as intense and significant.

    That’s why the wilderness is so salutary for us. It forces us to wake up and pay attention, or else die. The proximity of death clarifies. It wakens us to peak experience; to life as it is meant to be lived. When I was a whitewater boatman, the big drops woke me up to a remarkable degree. A passenger once told me that when she looked around at me after I had just run a really huge rapid, light was streaming from my eyes, and I glowed. I never knew what to make of that; she was a little new-agey, so I took it with a grain of salt. All I knew at the time was: almost unbearable intensity of being.

    It would be just for God to destroy us, right now. Again and again, we squander or ruin the moments he over and over volunteers to us. But he doesn’t. So, thanks! Thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory, over and over.

    We could not create a single instant of being, howsoever meagre; he pours them out like the sand on the shore. How odd it is, indeed, to consider how minuscule, how puny and pathetic are our sins, as against the immense donation of being we and all our fellow creatures enjoy at each new moment in the life of the world. How silly it is that we are so attached to our precious petty little trinkets, or to worry that they might somehow defeat him, and so doom us. It’s ridiculous, really.

    • And the atheist says that a world with disease and disaster and nature that is red in tooth and claw in the pitless pursuit of survival in defiance of a harsh world somehow proves an indifferent universe absent of a God.

      • I wish that you would elaborate on that. How have you concluded that we do not live in an indifferent universe absent of God? Are you saying that injustice and tragedy are there for our enlightenment-to wake us up?

  2. Shortly after reading this, I “coincidentally” (hah!) read part of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, including #87:

    Q. 87. What is repentance unto life?
    A. Repentance unto life is a saving grace,[180] whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ,[181] doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God,[182] with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.[183]

    [180] Acts 11:18. When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life. 2 Timothy 2:25. In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth

    [181] Psalm 51:1-4. Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest. Joel 2:13. And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil. Luke 15:7, 10. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance…. Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth. Acts 2:37. Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?

    [182] Jeremiah 31:18-19. I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus; Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke: turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the LORD my God. Surely after that I was turned, I repented; and after that I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh: I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth. Luke 1:16-17. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 1:9. For they themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God

    [183] 2 Chronicles 7:14. If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. Psalm 119:57-64. Thou art my portion, O LORD: I have said that I would keep thy words. I entreated thy favour with my whole heart: be merciful unto me according to thy word. I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies. I made haste, and delayed not to keep thy commandments. The bands of the wicked have robbed me: but I have not forgotten thy law. At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto thee because of thy righteous judgments. I am a companion of all them that fear thee, and of them that keep thy precepts. The earth, O LORD, is full of thy mercy: teach me thy statutes. Matthew 3:8. Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: 2 Corinthians 7:10. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.

    • The first argues that we can’t fully implement atheism in our lives and keep living, while the second argues that we can and do fail at the full implementation of theism.

    • Good question. I can’t say that I have any very strong intuitive grasp on a definitive answer.

      It would seem however that annihilation is impossible for the *rational bits* of souls. The irrational bits are eo ipso the inactual bits; the noise that one way or another vanishes. Hell would seem to be what is left for the rational remainder. Hell perhaps is the fullness of regret – but not yet repentance.

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  5. Sin and atheism go hand in hand. If once starts with atheism, one ends in a license to sin and a lack of grace to resist temptation. If one starts by sinning, one shuns grace and follows a course without God, and then gets so lost one starts to think there is no God. Of course most atheists don’t really believe there’s no God, as for instance Richard Dawkins who said “I’m 99% sure there’s no God” in “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.” This is in contrast to Pope St. Pius X who said, “God’s existence can be known with certainty by the natural light of reason.” Dear atheists: even Satan is not so foolish as to be an atheist, but he’s fooling you!

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