Old Covenant vs. New Covenant: Mediation

“High Priest Offering Incense on the Altar”, illustration from Henry Davenport Northrop’s “Treasures of the Bible”, circa 1894

What is the real purpose of a covenant between God and man? There are many different ways to answer that question, each of which would capture some aspect of God’s intent. However, I prefer to speak of covenants as a means of relationship between God and man.

Any relationship between an infinite Creator and finite creatures must necessarily be somewhat different than relationships between human beings, with which we are far more familiar. We do not have the capacity to grasp God in all His glory, so He must condescend to us in one way or another. Since man’s fall into sin, our relationship with our Creator has been complicated even further, for He is holy and just. Because none of us are capable of making ourselves holy, we need the supernatural actions of a holy God if we are to have fellowship with Him.

Both the Old Covenant (here I mean the Mosaic Covenant) and the New Covenant provide means for human beings to relate to God through a system of mediation. A mediator in the biblical sense is someone who stands between sinful humans and a holy God to make the relationship possible, and this necessarily requires some kind of payment for sin. As this relationship is at the heart of any covenant between God and man, we must ask ourselves a very basic question. Continue reading

On Sin

A knight prepares to do battle with the seven deadly sins in the “Treatise on the Vices” by William Peraldus, circa 13th century

In order to understand the world, it is essential to understand sin. Without a proper appreciation of sin, all anthropology is destined to fail.

Let me start out by establishing two very important truths. First, sin is not a theological buzzword. It is not something that exists merely in the realm of theory – an abstract concept latched onto by those seeking to comprehend the world around them. It is not just some word that religious fundamentalists use to describe people unlike themselves, things that scare them, and actions they find distasteful. This is not the true meaning of sin, however much some individuals might attempt to co-opt the concept. Sin is the deadly enemy of the human race. It is killing us every day – claiming us for its own.

Second, sin is not just a single action or series of actions. From a human perspective, it can certainly seem so, and that is how we usually address the topic. You tell a lie, you sin. You steal something, you sin. You punch someone in the face, you sin. All of this is true, but if that is the only way we think about sin, then we are missing the point. We are underestimating the problem in a way that is bound to lead us into all kinds of difficulties. It is more useful to think about sin as a state of being, a worldview, or a modus operandi. Sin is not just what a person does: it is part of their essence. The Bible calls this the sinful nature.

I recently heard a very interesting idea: the most effective prison is one where the prisoner actually wants to stay. How could such a situation occur? When the prisoner comes to believe that black is white and night is day – that is, rather than being the source of their torment, the prison is in fact their source of protection and even liberation. Through a series of lies, they become convinced that leaving the prison is too risky and what they need is in the hands of those who hold them captive. It’s not so much that they lose the desire to be free, but rather that they are mistaken as to where true freedom can be found. Sin is completely this way. Continue reading

Gluttons for Punishment?

Gluttony

An illustration by Albrecht Dürer depicting gluttony, circa 1498

What comes to mind when you hear the word “gluttony”?  My immediate mental image is of a rotund man sitting at a banquet table, turkey leg in one hand and wine goblet in the other, stuffing his face past the point of normal endurance.  My imagination then expands to the Independence Day hot dog eating contest at Nathan’s on Coney Island, sumo wrestlers gorging themselves on trays full of sushi, and frat boys trying to best each other in a drinking contest.  Perhaps I even see a cruise ship drifting through the Caribbean, its eager occupants devouring food and drink 24/7.

These scenarios range from silly to serious, and all of them have to do with the rapid devouring (I use this same word again because no verb in English seems to capture the meaning of gluttony as well as “devour”) of some kind of food or beverage, all of which usually leads to or is a part of bad behavior. But in our culture, such consumption is not considered to be especially bad.  Continue reading