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Sin“The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight is what the Hebrew prophets call shalom.  We call it peace, but it means far more than mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies.  In the Bible, shalom means universal human flourishing, wholeness, and delight—a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights.  Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be…

In biblical thinking, we can understand neither shalom nor sin apart from reference to God.  Sin is a religious concept, not just a moral one…God is not arbitrarily offended [by sin].  God hates sin not just because it violates his law but, more substantively, because it violates shalom, because it breaks the peace, because it interferes with the way things are supposed to be. (Indeed, that is why God has laws against a good deal of sin).  God is for shalom and therefore against sin.  In fact, we may safely describe evil as any spoiling of shalom, whether physically (e.g., by disease), morally, spiritually, or otherwise.  Moral and spiritual evil are agential evil—that is, evil that, roughly speaking, only persons can do or have…In short, sin is culpable shalom-breaking…Have you disturbed shalom or preserved it?…

‘Culpable disturbance of shalom’ suggests that sin is unoriginal, that it disrupts something good and harmonious, that (like a housebreaker) it is an intruder, and that those who sin deserve reproach….Failure to do these things [God requires in His commands]—let alone indulgence in outright scorn of God—is sin because it runs counter to the way things are supposed to go.  Godlessness is anti-shalom.  Godlessness spoils the proper relation between human beings and their maker and savior.  Sin offends God not only because it bereaves or assaults God directly, as in impiety or blasphemy, but also because it bereaves and assaults what God has made…In sum, shalom is God’s design for creation and redemption; sin is blamable human vandalism of these great realities and therefore an affront to their architect and builder.” (Cornelius Plantinga Jr., Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin, pp. 10-16)

Gilbert“The tension between these contrasting impulses [duty and desire] has characterized Christian thought from the start…Saint Augustine’s Confessions provides a rich text for reflecting upon these contrasting impulses of Christian life—a desire for union with God, together with a sense that God does not exist simply to make us happy.  Indeed, Augustine has in considerable measure set the terms in which Christians have thought about this tension… Here and now, in this life, placing our happiness in God will require that we relinquish this desire for happiness on our own terms and cultivate instead the patience to wait for God.  The way to fulfillment of self may therefore seem more like sacrifice of self…

Because our desires remain disordered even after the fundamental division within the self has been overcome, the God who is our happiness may not make us happy here and now…The path to self-fulfillment must often seem more like self-sacrifice…That is, we can have a sham happiness that will not really satisfy—or we can relinquish the desire to grasp the happy life here and now, leaving open in our being a gaping wound that God must fill in his own good time…We should be reluctant to adopt strategies that invite us to underplay the importance of self-sacrifice in the Christian life…We are left with a duty so stringent that it must cut very deeply into our character, as deeply as does the desire for happiness.  And we must wonder, then, about the relationship between duty and desire in the Christian life.  This tension between what Henry Sidgwick called the ‘attractive’ and the ‘imperative’ ways of depicting the center of the moral life has been present for centuries in our tradition…

The obvious way to come to terms with this tension between the attractive and the imperative is to remember that only the pure in heart will see God…‘Any account of morality which does not allow for the fact that my death may be required of me at any moment is thereby an inadequate account’ [Alasdair MacIntyre].  Put more theologically, the very possibility of martyrdom reopens the chasm between the imperative and the attractive.  The existence of the church’s martyrs teaches Augustine that we are sometimes obligated to relinquish certain goods, even that of life, rather than violate our duty.  It suggests the possibility of an obligation that does not seem to lead to any fulfillment…It compels us to realize that—in any place and in any historical moment—duty might take on an unconditional character with no apparent connection to fulfillment of our desire for happiness.  The seeming unintelligibility of our moral obligations is a permanent possibility…The gap between desire and duty remains open.  Acting as duty requires will not seem to be the ‘way’ to happiness; on the contrary, it is a way that seems to arrive at a dead end—and yet is required….

By making duty absolute [or primary], Augustine diverts us from our search to unify (by our own power) the right and the good in life.  The path from where we are to where we long to be can only be traversed and believed, but not always seen…Just as Augustine sees that trust and hope are required to do what is right even when it seems unlikely to lead to the best results on the whole, so hope is needed if we are to believe that the path of duty will lead not to a dead end but to the fulfillment of our desire to be with God…‘It is,’ as Augustine says in his Confessions, ‘one thing to see from a mountaintop in the forests the land of peace in the distance…and it is another thing to hold on to the way that leads there’ (7.21).  That haunting refrain of book 10—‘give what you command, and command what you will’—gives voice to a wa of life for which the duties God commands may not always make sense or seem to lead to that land of peace in the distance.  The gap that sometimes separates desire and duty in our lives cannot be solved by moral theory.  That gap, is finally, the tension between the God who calls us to himself and the God who commands us to obey.  Only the God who gives what he commands, in whom we are to hope, can overcome it.” (Gilbert Meilaender, The Way That Leads There: Augustinian Reflections on the Christian Life, pp. 3, 5, 18-19, 71-72, 74-76)

Brueggemann“It is the task of prophetic ministry to bring the claims of the tradition and the situation of enculturation into an effective interface.  That is, the prophet is called to be a child of the tradition, one who has taken it seriously in the shaping of his or her own field of perception and system of language, who is so at home in that memory that the points of contact and incongruity with the situation of the church in culture can be discerned and articulated with proper urgency…The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us.  Thus I suggest that prophetic ministry has to do not primarily with addressing specific public crises but with addressing, in season and out of season, the dominant crisis that is enduring and resilient, of having our alternative vocation co-opted and domesticated.  It may be, of course, that this enduring crisis manifests itself in any given time around concrete issues, but it concerns the enduring crisis that runs from concrete issue to concrete issue.  That point is particularly important to ad hoc liberals who run from issue to issue without discerning the enduring domestication of vision in all of them…

The key word is alternative, and every prophetic minister and prophetic community must engage in a struggle with that notion.  Thus, alternative to what?  In what ways alternative?  How radically alternative?  Finally, is there a thinkable alternative that will avoid domestication…So my programmatic urging is that every act of a minister who would be prophetic is part of a way of evoking, forming, and reforming an alternative community.  And this applies to every facet and every practice of ministry.  It is a measure of our enculturation that the various acts of ministry (for example, counseling, administration, even liturgy) have taken on lives and functions of their own rather than being seen as elements of the one prophetic ministry of formation and reformation of alternative community.  The functional qualifiers, critical and energizing, are important.  I suggest that the dominant culture, now and in every time, is grossly uncritical, cannot tolerate serious and fundamental criticism, and will go to great lengths to stop it.  Conversely, the dominant culture is a wearied culture, nearly unable to be seriously energized to new promises of God…The task of prophetic ministry is to hold together criticism and energizing, for I should urge that either by itself is not faithful to our best tradition.  Our faith tradition understands that it is precisely the dialectic of criticizing and energizing that can let us be seriously faithful to God.” (Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination, 2nd ed., pp. 2-5)