I once preached a sermon at my North Philadelphia congregation with the title: “What Does Sin Have to do with the Finite and the Infinite’? I immediately added that when they heard the title of this sermon, some probably thought: “ Come off it , Ron. Get off your high horse and cut the high fallutin’ nonsense.”
So I said, okay if you prefer, I can title this sermon: ”What is sin all about?”
I believe thinking about sin in terms of the finite and infinite really helps. Finite things have an end. This pulpit ends. Every honeymoon ends. The earth is very big but it has an end. Everything in the created order has an end.
Only one thing has no end: God. God is infinite.
As we look at Genesis and Romans, we see that the heart of sin is making some finite, created things god instead of accepting God himself, the infinite one, as God. We human beings love to make ourselves the center of everything. We like to think that we are more beautiful or handsome or smarter than our friends.
This is really pretty silly!
One morning this week, I was sitting on my prayer cushion having devotions. I was excited about all the things happening in my life. And there were many good things God was allowing me to do.
Then I began to think about how tiny and insignificant I really am. I am just one small person in Germantown, which is just one neighborhood in the city with dozens of neighborhoods. And Philadelphia is just one city in a country of 330 million people. And the US is just one country on our planet with over 7 billion people. And the earth is just one of several planets revolving around our sun. And our sun is just one of billions of stars in our galaxy. And our galaxy is just one of perhaps 200 billion galaxies and each galaxy has billions of stars. So there I sat on my little cushion in a tiny part of Philadelphia in one country on a tiny planet in one small solar system in one small galaxy: feeling important!
I'm not exactly infinite. I am very very limited, very very small!
Only God is infinite.
Genesis 3 verses 1 to 19 tell us that the first thing satan did was to make Eve doubt God. In verse 4, satan assures Eve that even though God said they would die if they disobeyed, they will not die. So Eve began to doubt God. Notice verse five. Satan promises that if she disobeys God, she will be like God!
Verse 6 says that they looked at the tree of knowledge and it looked great. There was no obvious reason not to eat the fruit except that God had said they should not. So they placed their tiny limited reason above the command of the infinite God. Instead of letting God set the rules, they made their own rules even though they were small and finite and God is infinite.
The result of course is that Adam and Eve messed up everything. They messed up their relationship with God, themselves and the earth. Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the snake. What a family fight they must have had that night!
You see the created world is finite, but still very good. The Bible gives us a fantastic picture of joy and goodness in the garden of Eden. God wants us to enjoy this good earth: fruit trees, flowers, and the ecstasy of a man and woman living together in love and joy. But we can enjoy the good finite earth only if we don't make it more important than it is. If we make these good finite things more important than God, then we spoil even the goodness of the finite.
Romans 1, verse 18 and following has a profound theological discussion about the nature of sin. Romans 1 makes the same basic point as Genesis 3. Verse 23 says that persons replace the glory of the infinite God with finite things. We make images of people and birds to worship instead of God. Verse 25 shows that we worship the creatures rather than the creator. Verse 28 says we will not accept God as God.
In truth, only the all-powerful, all-knowing God is infinite. We are tiny, limited, finite. And the heart of sin is to want to play God, to try to place ourselves at the center of the universe. So we place our weak reasoning above God’s knowledge and revelation. We place our desires above God's commands.
Now all that still sounds very abstract. It's just theory. Maybe it sounds like just a dry theology lecture!
So let’s make it concrete.
Think about three specific areas where we refuse to accept our being finite, limited--where we worship the creature instead of God.
First marriage. Every husband and every wife is finite, limited. Except for one husband in the world, somebody else has a prettier wife. Except for one husband in the world, somebody else has a smarter wife. Except for one husband in the world, somebody else has a kinder wife. If we don't accept the fact that our husband or wife is finite, limited, indeed quite imperfect, we are in for big trouble.
My wife Arbutus is a wonderful person. But she's not perfect. In fact on Tuesday and Saturday mornings, she's a long way from being perfect.
So I can do one of two things. I can accept her with her limitations and remember that I too am far, far from perfect and have no right to suppose that I deserve the most beautiful, the most intelligent, the most loving, the most thoughtful wife in the world.
Or I can secretly long for a perfect and infinitely wonderful, infinitely fabulous wife. If I do the latter, our marriage is in big trouble. If I do that, I will keep wanting other women who are more intelligent or more kind or more sexy or whatever.
I need to accept my finitude and her finitude.
Or take a second area, material things.
Material things are very good. Material things are so good that the biblical picture of heaven is that of a banquet, a grand feast! But it is so easy to make finite, limited material things more important than God, to let them become our god.
So we make money more important than people. We want more and more clothes, bigger houses and better cars. And we forget God to get these things. Sometimes we destroy our families to get these things. Sometimes we even kill to get more things.
Finally, Aging. Why are we so afraid of admitting our age? Of getting gray hair? Perhaps it is because we don't want to accept our being finite and limited.
Since the fall, God has declared that all persons will live for a few short years and then die. Of course we will eventually be resurrected. But for now, our teeth decay, our eyesight dims, our hair falls out, our energy slowly slips away.
To proudly ask that this body of clay last forever is to reject the result of the sin of Adam and Eve. It’s to try to be God.
One final point in conclusion .
There is a reason why we keep seeking for “better” spouses, bigger cars, longer life—more, more, more.
God made us with a longing for the Infinite. St. Augustine said our hearts are restless until they rest in God. We have a God-shaped place at the center of our hearts. Nothing finally can satisfy that longing except the living, infinite God.
No wife or husband no matter how wonderful can satisfy that longing for the infinite God. No car or house no matter how new and improved can satisfy that longing for the infinite God. No knowledge or scientific discovery or technology no matter how fantastic can satisfy that longing for the infinite God. No political power, no matter if it controls the whole Earth or the whole galaxy can satisfy that longing for the infinite God.
The human tragedy, the core of sin, is that we try to satisfy this longing for the infinite God with little tiny finite things. So we go for more and more sex, more and more money, trying to satisfy our need for the infinite creator through finite creatures. And it never works!
Let's stop looking for our ultimate happiness in the wrong places. Let's turn our hearts to the Infinite, Almighty God.
This is a short version of a sermon in my new book, PREACHING THE GOSPEL. The book is available from Amazon or www.wipfandstock.com.
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