A long time ago I heard a lecture by Francis Foucachon on how different cultures talk about sin and salvation. There are essentially three ways of doing this, all of which are found in the Bible. Understanding each of them individually gives us a better understanding of the whole picture. In expanding our understanding of these things, this also allows us to better to communicate the Gospel.
The first way of talking about sin is probably the most familiar in general American culture. In this paradigm, sin is about violating laws. You are guilty or innocent, having transgressed God’s rules, and are in need of a substitute to take the punishment for you. Since this is such an obvious and common way of talking about the Gospel in our culture, I won’t say anything more about it.
The second way is just as true, but not as commonly used around here. This is the language of fear and power. In this paradigm we are slaves to sin and the devil, and under the power of death. When Christ comes, he is the liberator. Instead of a substitute, he is talked about as the one who conquers evil, sets free the captives, and empowers his people. This is the story of the Harrowing of Hell and the inspiration for various movement towards freedom in newly Christianized cultures. Here most of all, Christ is conqueror.
The last sort of language that gets used is that of honor and shame. This was a little more complicated than the other two, or so it seems to me. It also is the one that fascinates me the most. To properly understand it, you can’t think of honor and shame as expressions of self-importance, but as one’s relationship to society. An honored man is one accepted, respected, and loved by society. A dishonored man is shunned and cast out. Sin is shameful, the sort of thing that causes God to disown us.
In an honor/shame paradigm, God our Father has become ashamed of us and disowned us for rebelling against him. But Christ has taken that shame on himself, been shunned in our place. At the same time, he lived righteously, endured every insult and injury given to him, and honored both God and the people he came to save. In taking on our shame, he became yet more honorable. And, crucially, he acted as our intermediary, being separated from the Father for our sake and asking the Father to accept us once more for his sake.
A lot more could be said about these, and I do want to do more delving, especially in that third category. But what’s necessary to realize is that all three are true, and they are more or less dependent on each other. You cannot be shamed unless you have violated some code, broken some law. You cannot be freed from the power of sin and death unless you are honored by the Free Man and accepted into his presence and that of our Father. You could not be under the power of the curse unless you had violated the law and become subject to the curse. You can’t have any of them without the other.
On the other hand, it makes perfect sense that some people and some cultures emphasize one aspect more than the others. We’re finite beings with a finite attention span and a finite amount of time in the day, so we pay attention to what we can. We also have unique stories and therefore things that draw us specifically. So long as we don’t lose sight of the truth of the other points, there is nothing wrong with emphasizing one over the others.
At any rate, there’s an interesting thought to think about. Peruse your Bible with this in mind. It’s fun.
Have a blessed weekend.