Sunday, June 7, 2009

Why Do We Get Punished For Others' Sins?

Recently, in DT we looked at Gehazi in 2 Kings 5 and how he got leprosy after he lied to Elisha about going to Naaman and receiving the gifts. It is understandable that he is punished, but why do his descendants also get punished? Isn't it unfair?

13 comments:

Robert said...

If we want to say that it is unfair, we are trying to distinguish the descendants from their ancestors; however, in reality we know that this is not the case. We know that the character of Gehazi would be passed down to his offspring and this pattern would continue. In that way, the descendants are also being punished because sin is generational. This idea of generational sin is throughout the Bible such as the line of Cain, the Amalekites, etc.

dan said...

@Robert
The idea of 'generational sin', as you put it, very much is in the bible, and to argue against that wouldn't make sense. The question, though, is why does someone have to be punished for the sin of parents or ancestors? You say we are trying but failing to distinguish between ancestors and descendants, but I would argue that we very much are different people, that I am not some collective soul with my ancestors, and that I very much can have a different character than them. So if I was a descendant of Gehazi, why would I have to be punished for what he did?

Just a little bit of devil's advocate here ^_^

Allen Chen said...

A "common sense" response is to simply say that sin is by nature unfair. I remember Daniel's example a while back that demonstrates sin being unfair. For example, what if he decided to sin against someone by punching that person? From the other person's perspective, he's received a wrong already. True, it isn't "fair" that he's being punished for Daniel's sin, but that is the nature of sin. Why does that person have to be punished for Daniel's sin? Isn't it unfair? Yes, but that's unfortunately part of what happens. It's like children of an alcoholic--they didn't sin, but they still suffer from the rage, outbursts of anger, and even financial burden created by alcoholism. It's not fair for them, but sin affects others in a generational sense, in the same way that blessings also affect others in that way too (parents moving from a poor country, working hard, sacrificing themselves for their children give them greater opportunities for success).

jenn said...

The way I read it, it seems that in 2 Kings 5:27, God's prophet is pronouncing a curse upon Gehazi's descendants. I don't think it is analogous to a person experiencing the consequences of a punch, because the leprosy isn't the natural outworking of Gehazi's sin, but an imposed punishment, right? So then I'd reiterate Dan's question.

Daniel Kim said...

Just wondering, are you suggesting that Gehazi's descendents all had leprosy forever (since that's literally what it says)? So there's still a group of people that are born with leprosy today?

jenn said...

Hmm, actually after I posted, I wanted to take back my comment =). I was thinking, if the curse upon the descendants is merely descriptive of what would take place through the passing on of Gehazi's genes (making a person more susceptible to contracting leprosy), then Allen's analogy would make sense. =)

Daniel Kim said...

I'm not sure if we need to bring genes into this.

The unfairness of sin still stands whether or not it's a "natural" consequence or not. i.e., even if it's natural, one could still say that it's unfair for a parent's sin to mess up the children.

Aaron Hong said...

This is a difficult question, but how I view it is that there is nothing that says the world has to be fair, as in we have to experience the same amount of impact/punishment from sin.

People have mentioned it before, sin is unfair. In order for it to mean something, it has to have consequences, and consequences that are substantial too.

Also, secondly even though there are obvious ramifications for other people's sins in our lives, we at least are not judged for other people's sin (maybe someone can show the contrary).

dan said...

I think there are two main points to be made from all of this, and what we need to clarify when we talk about 'generational sin', like God 'cursing' Gehazi and his descendants. The first is what's already been said, that the free will given to us allows us to change the state of reality for others, in both a positive and negative way. The second is to recognize what it means to a man and his descendants to be cursed by a prophet(and ultimately by God). Assuming God is sovereign over all of time, it makes perfect sense that a group of people would be 'cursed' by God, not necessarily because God says 'hey, you're part of this guy's family right? I'm going to curse you'; It makes sense because He may very well be saying 'Gehazi, YOU have cursed your ancestors, in doing this wrong'. This just goes back to the ripple effect of sin.

Daniel Kim said...

I think Dan makes a good point in saying that "God's curse" is not just a prescriptive measure by God, but perhaps a descriptive statement about what just happened. I am reminded of the first "curse" -- when Adam and Eve sinned. I think it would be rather simplistic to say, "Wow, why is God cursing these poor human beings?" It's hard to draw a line between what God is doing as a punishment and what Adam has just done to himself.

Keller said...

This unfairness is actually a way to disprove the Christian god. This, along with original sin, creates a very strong case against him. The first thing I ask you is, is it possible to go your whole life without sinning? No, it is not. Even if I wanted to, eventually I would sin, because I am incapable of not sinning. Is this my fault? No. But I am punished just the same. God's thinking is just so illogical, it cannot possibly be done by someone who is perfect, more likely by some Bronze Age man whose had a few too many drinks. God is perfect. God creates universe. God creates organisms in that universe that have conciousness and are capable of choosing between right and wrong. God creates a moral status quo that they are NOT ABLE TO OBTAIN. He then goes on to punish them for being themselves. But then he says, "Oh, I think I just screwed them over. Well, I'll just incarnate myself in some dude, have them crucify me, and then it will all be better." It just doesn't make any sense! Couldn't god have made us like angels? Angels are perfect, and if they want to, they are able to not sin. Some chose to sin (Satan and the other fallen angels) but they could have remained just as sinless as the other angels IF THEY WANTED TO. St. Paul says it the best, "Why do I do the sin I don't want and not the good I do want?" Before you flat out reject what I'm saying, think about it. Is that fair? I used to be Catholic, I actually was thinking about becoming a preist. Then I thought about how unfair original sin is. Why are we punished for Adam and Eve's sins? It seems like God just set us up for failure. I'm not disproving that there is a god at all, I'm a Deist, not an Atheist. I'm just disproving your god. Think about it, and e-mail me if you find any errors in my logic. I want to believe in Jesus, I would just rather believe in what I can percieve as the truth and go to hell than believe in something that I cannot logically justify and go to heaven.

Daniel Kim said...

>> Even if I wanted to, eventually I would sin, because I am incapable of not sinning. Is this my fault? No

I know this is a tough issue, but before we espouse claims driven by doctrinal statements, I think it's helpful to check the claim against the reality of our experiences. So the statement above.. that you are incapable of not sinning.. that it's not my fault.. Is that true? It's a simple question, I believe, but still a question that can insert reality into an otherwise strictly abstract and academic argument. If I were pressed to name a single time when I was "forced" to sin (where it wasn't my choice), I would have a hard time naming a single instance. So what does that mean? Well, for me, at LEAST that means that I cannot say it's not my fault. I have to acknolwedge, to the extent to which it was my choice, that it was my fault. So then where does that leave the doctrine of original sin and sinful nature of human beings? Well, that's another topic (which we can get into), but I just wanted to pause for a moment and insert reality of our own experiences to moderate what we say regarding the ramifications of a certain doctrine. All I am saying is that perhaps the doctrine of original sin and sinful nature is a lot more complex than we think.. And surely, our own experience testifies to this complexity.. When you do things that you are ashamed of, did you really want to do it? I think it would be too simplistic (and perhaps a false dichotomy) to say yes or no to that. Our honest reflection tells us that it's both. We don't want to do it, but at the same time, we wanted to. I wasn't forced to do it.. It was I who did it.. yet it's true that when I take a step back and look, I didn't want to.

I understand why this woould be confusing.. we want to say either a person chose to do something completely freely, or that person was completely made to do it without any choice. That framework is much cleaner; however, that's not really true to the reality of our experiences, so I just want to recommend that we try to become more "real" with our thinking about this very important and significant topic. If we buy into the false dichotomy, and say that since we have the sinful nature, we cannot help but sin (therefore we have no choice) but still God punishes us for it, then I agree with Keller -- this sounds really illogical and cold and perhaps even evil. But what I'm suggesting is that it's a false dichotomy to think that we have no choice, as verified by our own experiences of our own sins.

BTW, we do not sin because we are sinners.. we are sinners because we sin. I don't want to play with symantics with such an important topic, but I think the subtle difference has significant consequences in thinking about this issue.

Thanks for the comment, Keller.

Dan Kinder said...

I can understand Keller's discomfort with this topic, because there does seem to be a problem with the fact that God seems to have made us sinners by definition, "born to lose". This isn't really taken from the fall, necessarily, but from the fact that it seems impossible for any regular human being to be sinless, based on other parts of scripture.

So summarize Keller's argument(in I hope a faithful way), the problem isn't that we all happen to be sinners - sin makes sense given our free will and all, that's not so bad - rather the fact that we seem to be sinners by definition. It's one thing to say "Yeah it's possible that some normal person could live a perfect life, but so hard that no-one does", and a completely different thing to say "It's impossible, we sin no matter what". So how do we get around that?

I think Daniel made solid points, that even without a full intellectual model we can see how the sins we inevitably commit really are our own choices. On top of that, the fact that it's these sins that make us sinners - not our 'design' or some uncontrollable property - seems to clear the situation up well.

A final thought I had(which I would like some evaluation on), that hopefully does a better job of addressing the intellectual side, is whether a the existence of a perfect person(that is not God) is logically possible given creation. If it isn't then I believe the problem is solved, because the fact of humans as a whole being sinful is simply a true statement.

First, we consider the true definition of sin, that it is a misalignment between our will and God's will. It is us putting our own choices above God's, where our wills do not match.

Second, consider why God created man: possibly among other reasons we don't know, God seems to have created man in order to have a true loving relationship with man.

Third, if someone exists who lives sinlessly, that means that their will is in line with God, completely and entirely. They are, in the area of will, the same as God himself.

Lastly, we know that love cannot be forced. God had to create free creatures because, were we simply automatons that did His bidding, we would be unable to love, because love has to be a choice(hopefully that's intuitive).

So would God create someone with a will identical to His? Did He not create us specifically to be distinct from Himself(so that a chosen relationship can form)?

This seems to point to the real reason the 'perfect person' would not be created outside Himself, and it's because that person would have to be the same as God, but we were not meant for that. In fact, the one and only person who did turn out to have the perfect life was God.

Does this make sense? It was really an argument from the top of my head, I hope it is logically consistent. Even if it isn't, I still find Daniel's "true to life" points convincing.