Moving and Starting Over

I suppose it is time for another “life update.” As of a couple weeks ago I am employed again, and as of two days ago I am living in Houston. This is not where I expected to end up (and indeed if you look at what I was hoping for three months ago, and where God placed me instead, you will see that there is little matching), but God knows what He intends and my job is to follow His lead.

In a way this is a good thing. Those of you who have been speaking with me for a while know that upstate South Carolina, despite liking the climate and landscape, was miserable for me. Work was a constant stress, especially from April until July, and after being there for two years I could still say I had no friends in the area. True, I had acquaintances at church and was beginning to get along okay with some locals, but there were no relationships deep or significant enough to call real “friendships.” Alongside this, because I have moved every year since 2006 and have had little chance to “settle” for a while, I ended up falling back to online contacts because I knew that even if I moved, they would still be with me, so I devoted more time than I probably should have to those friends I have online.

This has gone on for years.

But when I was driving through Spartanburg to drop off my cable box and router, and a few times going to church in the past month, I passed through parts of town I had never visited in two years. I did not know what was on the east side of town. I did not visit the downtown library until six weeks ago. I never stopped by to see what the downtown square had to offer.

In a way this could be viewed as two years of wasting opportunities.

This is not going to happen in Houston. In a way, moving this far out here will be a good thing, because I know no one and have no one nearby, so I will be forced to get to know people in order to function at a minimum and enjoy it here. The last two years were squandered. The next two, three, or however many, will not be. I have been given a chance to start over and do not want to lose it.

Culture Shock

Culture shock can manifest itself in the oddest of places. I have lived in the South all my life, so I am used to the Carolinian/Georgian way of doing things, but for the most part I don’t feel too out-of-place when travelling. Some of this is due to the effect of modernization on different societies (when I landed in Bogota I wasn’t sure if I’d left Atlanta). I don’t even feel out of place in Toronto, although this time around I did notice a few more differences I did not quite pick up on at first.

Visiting Texas for an interview was another matter entirely. The entire trip was a reminder that I was far from home in unfamiliar territory. Even though I am used to life near the ocean, and have worked at a plant on a river, there was much different. I did not figure out the feeder roads while I was there, nor was I sure what to make of the menus at restaurants (missing items I am familiar with), and the way of life I observed during my brief stay there was different enough to make me feel uncomfortable.

What are the odds that I would have more trouble adjusting to a town in “my own” region rather than one on the other side of the continent? Apparently rather high.

Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling…

Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy,

How many of you have read this verse before? There’s something profound in it, yet so simple you may overlook it. Read it again.

“Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling…”

This is a departure from the lifestyle of modern Christians in the West today. True, most will agree with this verse with their lips and in their minds, but so many qualifiers are hung from this phrase that you can no longer see the truth beneath the clown costume others have put on it.

Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling… sometimes.

Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling… into habitual sin.

Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling… even though you sin every day.

Present you faultless… after death removes our sinful flesh.

Present you faultless… because God sees the sacrifice of Jesus and not our sin.

I don’t really want to go on.

The modern Church has abandoned the truth of God and has substituted a man-pleasing, sin-accepting false gospel in its place. They can read the same words everyone else can, but because they love their sin more than God, and because they know in their hearts they do not meet the expectations of God and probably have a seared conscience, they have to add these qualifiers.

Many in the Church – I would dare to say most in the Church – have never felt godly sorrow leading to repentance. Why do I say this? Because many of them would admit to sinning every day in word, thought, and deed. They are still in the “trying to overcome” stage where if they think they beat themselves up enough and make themselves miserable enough, the temptations they have will go away and they’ll stop falling for the same lies over and over again. A despicable few go so far as to glory in their sins and point to their sin as an example of their humility and right standing before God. (I have met someone like this.)

Allow me to make something clear: if you are still persisting in your sin, then you have not repented of your sin. You are still a slave to your sin, which means you are not a slave of righteousness, which means you have not been born again.

Which means you do not know God.

But rather than fall on their knees in fear of the God who will visit his wrath upon them, instead of repenting of their sin and pleading for pardon, instead of letting the blood of Jesus cleanse them of all unrighteousness, they come up with excuses. They implement regimens intended to prevent them from committing the sin, perhaps, but these are external acts leaving the root cause untreated. Their hearts are never changed. Rather than abandon their pride and place all their trust in the one who is able to keep them from falling, they try to improve their own lives little by little. Many of them will have the gall to accuse of pride all those who do place all their trust in God.

The solution is simple, although for those whose pride has been deeply implanted, difficult to implement. Believe in Jesus and the one who sent him. Repent of your sins. Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. God has the power to save you from sin, and if you love God, you will keep his commandments anyway. You will no longer live day-to-day fretting about whether or not you will sin some way or another, no longer agonize about every decision you make, because you will know that you love God and seek to live for him in all you do.

Believe in the one who is able to keep you from stumbling, and who will present you blameless before God.

Life Since July

A month ago I lost my job.

Things had not been going as well as they could have been. A few weeks after my new supervisor started, the company elected to move me from my old process engineering role to a more involved project management role and give me several projects at once to, in their words, “see what you would do.” It ended predictably, and a few months ago they took me off the management and restored me to my old engineering role.

Last month they told me they did not want an engineer who was not ready to be a manager, so rather than train me for a year or so they opted to get rid of me and find someone with more experience.

So I have had a month to think about the past and the future.

Firstly, God be thanked that after the first sleepless night and feelings of misery the first morning, there has been next to no stress. Would this inner calm and peace not have to be from God? He will provide something new.

Secondly, God is the one who must lead. I have wondered in the past few months if the reason I was so miserable here is because I acted, not contrary to the will of God, but too quickly when God would have provided something better had I waited. At first God said I could be here, and he instructed me to remain with the congregation I have remained with from the beginning, but lately he’d been saying, “I have a better path that you must take.”

So God allowing me to be removed from my job was from him. All the other offers may not be from him, although I consider it nonsense to say that only one offer is the right one and all others are against his plan for me. The right option is acting in faith and trusting in God, that no matter where I go I will seek him first always.

If God is the one who allows me to lose my job, and he is the one who will lead me forward, what reason is there to fear?

None that I know.

I have had the option to reexamine myself, my likes and dislikes, and to my dismay discover a fair amount of mental, emotional, and perhaps even spiritual damage I had suffered during my time here. I have only recently begun to enjoy old activities and feel myself again, so this time away from work has been a time of healing. Again, God be thanked.

But my life is about to reach a decision point from which I cannot go back. A company in Colorado has been courting me ever since late May, and while they are interested, their hands were tied for a while. No longer is this the case. More recently, a company in Wyoming has asked me to visit them at the end of the month, after which they are likely to offer me a job but of course they may decide not to.

Today another company called. This one is local, and I would be doing almost the exact same work as I have done the past two years.

My options become this: Do I stay here and continue to live as I have, and do what I have done, where I know what to expect and what I will like and dislike, and have a reasonable estimate of success? Or do I go to a totally new place, where I know no one, in a job capacity that is unlike anything I have ever done before, and there is no guarantee I will be successful?

Do I step out in faith with darkness before me and only the light of God inside me illuminating the way, or do I remain here where my knowledge can fill in the gaps? Do I leave this place with its memories of stagnation and despair and begin life anew elsewhere, or is this where I belong and to leave here is to chase a fool’s dream?

Do I stay where I am stable and secure, where prudence suggests I ought, or do I abandon my security in favor of the unknown? Am I a fool for leaving and wise for remaining, or am I a coward for staying and courageous in venturing?

While this is posted for anyone to see, I’m not asking for feedback, not really, unless in God’s wisdom you are compelled to leave your thoughts. Please respond only in wisdom as God directs, and not on your own understanding.

New Podcast

If you have not noticed, we have scaled back our release of WagzTail episodes to once a week. The reason for this is twofold: First, we have no full-time editor, so we are currently limited to our spare time. Second, we have launched a new podcast, called ChristianPaws.

We had wanted to reduce the often quite religious nature of WagzTail, portraying it instead only as a family-friendly podcast, but we did not want to abandon deep theological talks, either. To do that, and to tie it in with the forum ChristianPaws (see the forum link at the top of the page), we have moved the religious-themed topics to their own dedicated show, with a slightly different format from the familiar WagzTail.

Today is Sunday, so a new episode will have been released on the forums by the time you see this. This week we are talking about faith. You ought to check it out!

Defacing “Howard’s Rock”

One news item that came to my attention earlier this week was the defacing of “Howard’s Rock,” a Clemson athletics icon that has stood at the entrance to Memorial Stadium since the 1960s, when football coach Frank Howard reigned. Elevated in the past few years from a gift to a shrine worthy of worship by the most dedicated of fans, even going so far as to put it in a protective glass case, the transience of these icons was demonstrated when an as-yet-unknown individual or group took it upon themselves to carve a chunk out of it for themselves.

Now, there are some admissions to make before I go any further. First, I am a graduate of Clemson University, which is likely the only reason why the story came to my attention in the first place, and possibly the only reason why I am writing about it. Second, I care nothing for sports and never had an interest in their sports program, so while I know quite well what “Howard’s Rock” is and have seen it many times, it is in my mind about as interesting and important as the rock collection I kept as a child.

I don’t make a good Clemson fan for the same reason I make a bad nationalist or traditional Christian: symbols don’t mean a whole lot to me. The supposed “most exciting 25 seconds in college football” are dull, and I don’t see the thrill of having every player rub their hands on the rock as they run past it. To be honest, it sounds very unsanitary. Maybe it is supposed to evoke memories of grandeur and forge a connection to the past, but I still don’t get it. Symbols and the traditions surrounding them are not bad, I do not mean to suggest that, but when a symbol becomes something to be revered, and tradition takes on the authority of holy writ, then there are problems.

Perhaps the next Clemson fanatic, hyper-nationalist, or Catholic can explain it to me.

Neither does the rivalry make much sense. I can understand difference of opinion and even playful banter, but this division into groups always strikes me more as social conditioning to make people good, controllable citizens than anything else. It reinforces the “us versus them” approach that dishonest individuals use to advance their agenda. In the long run, does it matter if one team’s players are better at running and keeping the ball than the other team’s? It is a game, nothing more. It is not life. Why can you not simply enjoy the game as a game, without adding all the other baggage to it?

And yet, we see this rivalry turn into brutality. “Fans” of rival schools think nothing of denigrating the students or institution that is not part of their “us.” A physically old but mentally immature Alabama fan poisons very old trees held in honor by rival Auburn, for no reason than to show his irrational dislike of his concept of Auburn. A Clemson fan scribbles a rendition of the tiger paw on a South Carolina field (at least grass grows back). Someone else irreparably damages a rock symbolizing Clemson’s athletic achievements.

These are not good things. It keeps a people fragmented who ought to be together. It keeps them fighting each other when they should be identifying and fighting a common enemy. It enables stupidity to escalate, encouraging a few to descend from trivial damage, to something more noticeable, all the way to causing irreparable harm.

We should not approve of these things. We should be trying to build relationships with others, not tear them apart. If we do not, or if we only address the symptoms of the larger problem, then there is no bright future, only the guarantee of worse to come.

Definition of Sin

The following is an essay I wrote for ChristianPaws, on a workable definition of sin. It is not quite complete, but its purpose was to write something as a starting point. As it turns out, there hasn’t been as much discussion as originally anticipated.

Purpose

One of the most foundational concepts to understand in Christianity is sin. All other doctrines: the fallen state and nature of man, the nature of Christ, the atonement, and regeneration are all affected by this singular concept, and to err in understanding what sin is will create confusion when trying to understand everything else. Thus, we have chosen to let our first post in the “What does the Bible say about…” series to be about sin.

While everyone reading this doubtless already has an idea of what sin is, including the author of this essay, I think it best to lay aside these presuppositions for the time being and focus only on what the Bible has to say about sin. We will use the Scriptures to develop a workable definition of sin, which we will be able to reference in all future discussions if this essay does as intended. By doing so, it is assumed that the Bible is authoritative and serves as the basis for all doctrine that we develop. (The forum leadership assumes the Bible is absolute, complete, and inerrant, and viewpoints contrary to this will not be entertained.) Once this definition is developed, it will then be possible to proceed to other topics, such as where sin comes from, what it does and how it separates man from God, and the consequence of sin.

Defining Sin

Sin is understood as having two different aspects: one of nature, and one of action. As to the first, there are multiple viewpoints as to whether mankind is born with a depraved, sinful nature; or if mankind makes his nature depraved on account of the choices he makes; or if it describes a state of being that the person possesses yet is not guilty of. As such, the exact form of this aspect of sin will not be examined, and we will simply agree with the Scriptures that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

The second aspect is what we will be more concerned about in this essay. In this aspect fall all acts of sin. The Bible ascribes characteristics such as unrighteousness, unbelief, and rebellion to this aspect of sin; in other words, it is what people think of when they hear phrases such as “This person has sinned.” This is the consideration of sin as a verb. We will now look at various passages of Scripture describing and defining sin.

1 John 3:4
Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. (NASB)
Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. (KJV)

James 4:17
Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin. (NASB)
Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin. (KJV)

I have quoted these two verses because these are among the two clearest examples in the New Testament of a definition for sin. These two verses also provide the two fundamental qualities that any definition of sin must possess for it to be considered both Scriptural and adequate. The first is that sin must include breaking a law of God: “sin is lawlessness” or “sin is the transgression of the law”. This should be too obvious to expound. The second comes from James.For something to be sin according to him requires knowledge of what is right to do, coupled with a decision not to do the right thing.

This allows the following definition of sin: a willful violation of a known law of God

The definition accounts for both qualities given in the quoted verses, and it adheres to the thought that sin is rebellion and requires a deliberate turning against what one knows to be right. For example, we can consider a situation with which we are all likely familiar: driving the speed limit on a road. Say someone was driving on a road with a posted speed limit of 55mph, and turns onto another similar road with a posted speed limit of 45mph. Say further that the speed limit sign on this new road has been knocked down, and that the driver has never been on this road before. Assuming the speed limit on the new road is the same as the one he was last on, the driver continues on this new road at 55mph, or 10mph in excess of the legal speed limit. A police officer pulls him over and tickets him for speeding.

Was this sin? It was not, according to the definition given above. The driver did not know the speed limit was now 45mph, and had no way of knowing that was the new speed limit. He was not willfully violating the posted speed limit, but made what was revealed to be a wrong assumption about what he was and was not allowed to do. Nevertheless, he broke the law, and when he found out, he was obligated to pay the fine for doing so.

This is not the same situation as if he had seen the 45mph speed limit sign, or if a friend had told him that the speed limit dropped, but he continued at the old speed anyway. In this situation, he not only knew the law, but he was willfully ignoring it. That would be sin. Also, if he thought the speed limit dropped to 45mph, but he continued at 55mph anyway, that would also be a sin because he intended to do what he knew to be wrong.

This simultaneously reveals two important distinctions to make. The first is that sin is not merely outward action, but is a decision of the will and of the heart. If someone wants to do something they think is wrong, and they do it even though according to the law it is not wrong, then it is still sin for them because they were still acting in rebellion.

The second is that there is an ethical distinction between “willful sin” and “mistake,” although there may not always be a legal one. In the first, a person knows what to do and deliberately does not do it, and he is rightly condemned for this act of rebellion. In the second, a person is presumably acting with good intent and is doing what he thinks is right, but due to ignorance of right and wrong ends up doing something wrong. In the speeding example given, the driver was not trying to speed, he thought he was doing the right thing by going the posted speed limit, but he found out he was wrong. This is a mistake.

Objections

At this point someone may be tempted to reply, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” As this saying is not in the Scriptures, you are better served if you abandon that phrase, and you will not make much headway here.

I realize this definition will make some people unhappy. I will be accused of advocating a definition of sin that is too narrow, one that does not take into account all the facts. So I will now begin to address that. It is a common error in the Church to define sin as “missing the mark” (the literal definition of “hamartano”) and to extrapolate from Romans 3:23 that everything that falls short of God’s perfection is sin.

While the definition of sin as “missing the mark” is literal, it is not useful unless one also defines what the mark is, and by what sense the mark is missed. For this reason, attempting to define sin as “missing the mark” is inadequate. Nevertheless, I am obligated to comment that this definition of sin would benefit my definition, because one has to be able to know about a mark and see it before they can ever aim at it, and one must also have some ability to aim, although miss.

Attempting to define sin as anything that falls short of God’s absolute perfection is not merely inadequate, it is absurd because that renders mankind – both saved and condemned –  sinful every second of every day. This would mean that forgetting someone’s name, or not scoring 100% on a test, or tripping over a root would be sins, because they display imperfections. Because humans are limited by nature, that means everything they do falls short of what God would do, so everything they ever do is sin. This produces so many absurdities in Scripture that it would take pages to list them all, but it would especially render as nonsense such verses as

And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more. (John 8:11 KJV)
Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee. (John 5:14 KJV)
My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: (1 John 2:1 KJV)

We could continue. The command “go sin no more” and “write that you not sin” both imply that sin is something mankind is able to avoid, so sin cannot be suitably defined as anything departing from God’s absolute perfection. That would mean Jesus expects us to be God, or that John thought his readers could become like God, which is nowhere attested in Scripture and cannot be defended. While the definition is borne out of a desire to magnify God, it simply creates more problems than it solves, it does not work in practice, and it must be rejected.

Testing the Definition

It is good to test definitions as well. Different definitions can be discussed endlessly, but how do they fare when put into practice? A few examples will be provided.

Genesis 18:20
And the LORD said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their [willful violation of a known law of God] is very grievous;
And the LORD said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their [deviation from God’s absolute perfection] is very grievous;

Both work here, but the second is odd.

Genesis 20:9
Then Abimelech called Abraham, and said unto him, What hast thou done unto us? and what have I offended thee, that thou hast brought on me and on my kingdom a great [willful violation of a known law of God]? thou hast done deeds unto me that ought not to be done
Then Abimelech called Abraham, and said unto him, What hast thou done unto us? and what have I offended thee, that thou hast brought on me and on my kingdom a great [deviation from God’s absolute perfection]? thou hast done deeds unto me that ought not to be done

The first definition does not fit here, and the second is also a poor fit. Probably this would fit under the idea of a sin of ignorance or a mistake and identifies a weakness in both definitions.

1 Samuel 12:23
Moreover as for me, God forbid that I should [willfully violate a known law of God] against the LORD in ceasing to pray for you: but I will teach you the good and the right way:
Moreover as for me, God forbid that I should [deviate from God’s absolute perfection] against the LORD in ceasing to pray for you: but I will teach you the good and the right way:

The first definition fits, the second is very awkward.

1 Samuel 15:25
Now therefore, I pray thee, pardon my [willful violation of a known law of God], and turn again with me, that I may worship the LORD.
Now therefore, I pray thee, pardon my [deviation from God’s absolute perfection], and turn again with me, that I may worship the LORD.

The first definition fits, the second does not make sense.

John 9:2
And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did [willfully violate a known law of God], this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?
And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did [deviate from God’s absolute perfection], this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?

The first fits, the second makes no sense in context.

Romans 2:12
For as many as have [willfully violated a known law of God] without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have [willfully violated a known law of God] in the law shall be judged by the law;
For as many as have [deviated from God’s absolute perfection] without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have [deviated from God’s absolute perfection] in the law shall be judged by the law;

Both work here, but the second is odd. Why tell us about something we could never avoid?

Romans 5:14
Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not [willfully violated a known law of God] after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come
Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not [deviated from God’s absolute perfection] after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come

Again, while both could work, the second is awkward. Deviated from God’s perfection differently?

Luke 17:3
Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother [willfully violate a known law of God] against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him
Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother [deviate from God’s absolute perfection] against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him

The second definition fails, it does not fit the context.

John 5:14
Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: [willfully violate a known law of God] no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.
Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: [deviate from God’s absolute perfection] no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.

The second definition render’s Jesus’ command impossible. It must be rejected.

John 8:11
And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and [willfully violate a known law of God] no more.
And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and [deviate from God’s absolute perfection] no more.

See above. The second definition is impossible.

Romans 6:15
What then? shall we [willfully violate a known law of God], because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.
What then? shall we [deviate  from God’s absolute perfection], because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.

Only the first definition makes sense in context. Clearly, sins are avoidable.

1 Timothy 5:20
Them that [willfully violate a known law of God] rebuke before all, that others also may fear
Them that [deviate from God’s absolute perfection] rebuke before all, that others also may fear

Rebuke people for not being God? Absurd.

It is not the intent of this essay to provide other examples, although they can be examined in one’s own time when suitable for the reader.

Conclusion

In conclusion, sin is treated by the Scriptures as something that can be avoided, implied from all the commands to do right and not evil, and the simple fact that people are held accountable for the sins they commit. This means any definition of sin must acknowledge that it is an act of the will, and prefers that they have some knowledge of what is right and wrong. Any definition of sin that makes sin a malady, and something mankind has no control over or no choice but to commit, must be rejected. A “sin of ignorance,” or a “mistake,” while wrong is not treated as the same as a willful act, and so the definition of sin must also reflect this. The definition given at the outset does have its weaknesses and requires some qualification to correct these weaknesses, but it is faithful to the Scriptures and meets the ethical requirement for sin while acknowledging the legal requirement as well.

Regarding Unintentional Sins

One other important definition regarding sin is that of unintentional sins, or sins of ignorance. These are terms often mentioned, and they do appear in translations of the Scriptures, so they ought to be accounted for. I provide here two instances of sin, one unintentional and one deliberate, from the book of Numbers.

And if any soul sin through ignorance, then he shall bring a she goat of the first year for a sin offering. And the priest shall make an atonement for the soul that sinneth ignorantly, when he sinneth by ignorance before the LORD, to make an atonement for him; and it shall be forgiven him. Ye shall have one law for him that sinneth through ignorance, both for him that is born among the children of Israel, and for the stranger that sojourneth among them. But the soul that doeth ought presumptuously, whether he be born in the land, or a stranger, the same reproacheth the LORD; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Because he hath despised the word of the LORD, and hath broken his commandment, that soul shall utterly be cut off; his iniquity shall be upon him. (Numbers 15:27-31)

When presenting His Law to the children of Israel, God made a distinction between sins of ignorance and sins of presumption, or what would be called a willful sin. Sins of ignorance could be atoned for, but a willful sin could not be atoned for; the penalty was being cut off, or death. Furthermore, there are only these two categories of sin that we are given. While this same distinction is not to be pressed too strongly today, because the only unforgivable sin is that of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, this does serve to establish that God does view certain sins differently from others.

We cannot stop here, however. This passage in Numbers allows us to conclude that sins resulting in being cut off were what God called presumptuous or willful sins, and sins resulting in atonement were what God called ignorant sins.

This leads to some interesting results. According to the Old Testament, sins such as lying, theft, even rape were not punishable by death, so they would fall under what Numbers calls “unintentional” sins. If you do not believe me about that last one, examine Deuteronomy 22:28-29.

If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days.
The punishment is not being cut off, so it cannot fit in the defiant sin category. But are they unintentional in the sense the word is understood today? Taking into account the above, I do not see how the case could ever be made that they are. Rather, the sinner knew that what he did was wrong, but he did not sin for the purpose of spiting God; he sinned because he wanted the pleasure resulting from that sin.

Here is another example from Exodus:

If an ox gore a man or a woman, that they die: then the ox shall be surely stoned, and his flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall be quit. But if the ox were wont to push with his horn in time past, and it hath been testified to his owner, and he hath not kept him in, but that he hath killed a man or a woman; the ox shall be stoned, and his owner also shall be put to death. (Exodus 21:28,29)

Here, the owner of the ox is not blamed unless the owner knew the ox had a history of violent behavior. It was his responsibility to know what he needed to do to keep the ox restrained, yet did not do it, so it was sin. If he did not know, then it was not sin and he did not even have to offer a means of atonement (although restitution was necessary).

Yet another, this time from Leviticus:

And if any one of the common people sin through ignorance, while he doeth somewhat against any of the commandments of the LORD concerning things which ought not to be done, and be guilty; Or if his sin, which he hath sinned, come to his knowledge: then he shall bring his offering, a kid of the goats, a female without blemish, for his sin which he hath sinned. (Leviticus 4:27-28)

In this passage, the person is clearly guilty of sin, because a sin offering is required and the passage states unequivocally that he sinned. This is also a scenario of sinning through ignorance, so that may allow for the possibility of sinning without meaning to. However, that understanding of the verse is not without problem. Remember that people are responsible for knowing right and wrong, and they should take the initiative to know what is permitted and forbidden. Failure to do this is itself sin. What is possible here is someone forgot a portion of the law, or even did something without checking their knowledge of the law to make sure they were not in violation of it. Then in retrospect he realized he did wrong, or was made aware of the wrongness of his action by someone else, and then he was required to present a sin offering. It is unlikely that genuine ignorance is being spoken of here, because of the example in Exodus where genuine ignorance is not deemed sin. To be consistent, one must apply the same standard both times.

Therefore, I would propose that the terminology “sins in ignorance” or “sins unintentionally” is not a good understanding of the term. Rather, it should be contrasted with deliberately defiant sins and not be thought of as truly accidental in the modern sense of the word. As these are not legitimate mistakes either, the term “mistake” does not apply. It is better to not try to come up with a novel category for the term and simply use the term “sin” for this type of sin.

On Writing

Yes, I know six weeks ago I said I would begin writing a few posts relevant to transformation, furry, and how that fits (or doesn’t fit) in the Christian perspective. I have not gotten around to doing that yet and don’t know when I will. I know it will eventually happen, but please don’t demand a timeline.

Anyway, I have been working on the first major revision to the coyote novel I began last spring. It is going well (about 22,000 words into it) and there have been no plot absurdities as there were in the first attempt. The story from its current point onward has been mapped out, giving ample room for future creative freedom, so it should be easy going from now on. Many story elements have remained the same, much to my surprise, but a few major changes have helped the novel along. I don’t want to go into detail, but I did want to share one of them.

The most notable change has been consciously making the novel more theistic. While not a religious story by any means, the primary characters reflect a more theistic mindset, rather than the attempted agnostic approach from the earlier draft. I am simply unable to replicate a believable agnostic attitude, so for the sake of the story I abandoned it.

There’s something else I have found. Two earlier novels which I enjoyed, and which I consider to be my strongest, had this in common: both were written around a particular theological question. I would not call them “preachy;” I was not trying to insert and promote a given doctrine by adding it to the text, but a theological controversy formed the backbone of both stories, which were written to explore the problem and develop a possible solution. The stories had meaning beyond pure entertainment value.

Naturally, I don’t want to state what the questions were. :)

The coyote novel lacked this at first. This, I think, was a large part of why it failed. There was no compelling reason to finish the story, nothing to share with the reader. It still isn’t there, although it is exploring a concept that arose through writing that initial draft. It has meaning again.

Two future stories will return to the model of constructing a story around a question, and I am excited to see where they will go when I am finally able to write them. Meanwhile, I’d like to hear from you. If you are a writer, what drives you to write? What made one story better than another?

Book Review: Summerhill by Kevin Frane

About two months ago I went to a convention in Atlanta and saw a vendor selling Summerhill. It has a dog wearing a suit on the front, which is interesting in itself, but I recognized it as having been written by the guy who led a writers’ workshop a few months back. I’d not read any of his work before, so since it was there I thought it was worth a try.

As a general rule, I avoid furry literature for a number of reasons. I like more “human” characters, dislike the amateurish feel so many have, and especially don’t want to read erotica, which I get the impression there is far too much of in furry.

So I was not sure what to expect.

As it turns out, not only is Summerhill the best furry work I have read so far, it is the first book in years that I have read and thoroughly enjoyed reading. Frane includes no shortage of creative chaos in this book, which he handles quite well although it took some getting used to in the first couple chapters. (This reminds me, the chapters are not always numbered sequentially. It took a little while to be convinced this was not an error, but there is a reason for it which I won’t say.) You don’t know anything the protagonist doesn’t know, and trust me, there isn’t much. You discover his world and his life along with him.

Not only is the plot complex, but so is the protagonist. Summerhill doesn’t really know who he is or what he’s looking for, and only has a fragment of information to go on. He’s also more than a little clueless and selfish at the beginning. It is pleasing to watch him develop a greater understanding of the world he is in and his place in it, as well as discovering that there are consequences for all his actions.

There’s also some romance and rivalry to move the plot along. There’s Tek, a likable male otter he has a strong fondness for and a very brief intimate encounter with – which causes a crisis for him early on. There’s also Katherine, a rival, partner, and primary obsession for Summerhill throughout. Stay with her and it’ll work out, but staying with her is not an easy task.

Summerhill is an engaging book with a complex plot, interesting characters, and very little objectionable content (mild profanity and a tastefully-portrayed intimate encounter). It’s definitely worth the read if you have the time and inclination.

What I Seek in a Church

This is a brief list of what I look for in a church. Many of these are mandatory, others have room for negotiation. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it is a start. If you know a congregation in the area that meets all these criteria, let me know.

  • Cannot be Calvinist. It must reject the false teaching of inherited total depravity and the sinful nature, and teach the Scriptural view that people are born morally innocent and spiritually alive.
  • Must teach holiness. Perfection in love and consistent obedience are to be taught as the normal Christian experience. There is no room for the “sinning Christian” idea.
  • Additionally, there should be no mention of a second work of grace, which is absent from the Scriptures.
  • Must take a hard stance against sin and sinners in the congregation. Must be willing to engage in church discipline up to and including the point of expelling a sinning member from the congregation.
  • Divorce is not tolerated. It must recognize that God hates divorce and considers remarriage after divorce to be the same as adultery. Thus, it does not recognize second (or third, or so on) marriages.
  • Teaches a Scriptural perspective on offerings. Teachings such as storehouse tithing are rejected as false.
  • Favors expository sermons over topical.
  • The congregation is not segregated and families stay together.