Monday, November 25, 2013

Sin is irrational - The Instructor

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.
"Everything that is contrary to right reason is sin. Accordingly, therefore, the philosophers think fit to define the most generic passions thus: lust, as desire disobedient to reason; fear, as weakness disobedient to reason; pleasure, as an elation of the spirit disobedient to reason." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 1, Chapter 13)
This is a profound statement and one that we might be reticent to accept at first glance. We have been conditioned to think of sin in terms of our disobedience to God, His Word, and His ways, and justly so since sin is certainly all these things. However, to juxtapose sin and reason in such a way is not familiar to us. Is there a relationship between sin and right reason?
"If, then, disobedience in reference to reason is the generating cause of sin, how shall we escape the conclusion, that obedience to reason—the Word—which we call faith, will of necessity be the efficacious cause of duty? For virtue itself is a state of the soul rendered harmonious by reason in respect to the whole life. Nay, to crown all, philosophy itself is pronounced to be the cultivation of right reason; so that, necessarily, whatever is done through error of reason is transgression, and is rightly called, sin." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 1, Chapter 13)
If sin is anything contrary to right reason then anything done according to right reason must be righteousness; reason being the cause that promotes our duty of right behavior before God. Can it be true that to error against reason is to error against God? That both are one and the same and are both called sin? Interestingly, God refers to sinful man in this way, "Man in his pomp, yet without understanding, is like the beasts that perish." (Psalm 49:20) It is also interesting that Clement defines faith as "obedience to reason." We typically understand faith as being related to the promises of God and the things of the Kingdom that remain unseen. How is faith and reason related?

The answer to how sin, righteousness, faith, and unbelief are all related to reason is that Jesus is the Word or, as the Greeks would say, the Logos of God. Logos is a Greek term for reason. Jesus is the right reason of God! Jesus is what makes this whole world make since. He also brings to light the invisible Kingdom of God. Jesus is not only the Word, as in the message of God, but also the Logos, as the very reason and wisdom of God. To obey Jesus as being God's right reason is both faith and righteousness.
"The right operation of piety perfects duty by works; whence, according to just reasoning, duties consist in actions, not in sayings. And Christian conduct is the operation of the rational soul in accordance with a correct judgment and aspiration after the truth, which attains its destined end through the body, the soul’s consort and ally... For the life of Christians, in which we are now trained, is a system of reasonable actions—that is, of those things taught by the Word—an unfailing energy which we have called faith." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 1, Chapter 13)
I have, at times, looked upon works with disdain, as if they were incongruous with my life of faith. However, as the soul works together with the flesh, so faith energizes and produces works. Each are in concert with the other and one cannot exist without the other. James put it this way, "faith without works is dead." (James 2:26) A Christian life cannot be realized without corresponding action, in fact, it is by these actions that we recognize the Christian life in others. It is also these same actions through which we serve both God and mankind. Christianity is not intellectual in that it requires the full participation of the person; both body and soul. Therefore, when considering the instructions of our Lord it is reasonable to expect them to be taught as a "system of reasonable actions."
"The system is the commandments of the Lord, which, being divine statutes and spiritual counsels, have been written for ourselves, being adapted for ourselves and our neighbours... Whence also duties are essential for divine discipline, as being enjoined by God, and furnished for our salvation... The commandments issued with respect to natural life are published to the multitude; but those that are suited for living well, and from which eternal life springs, we have to consider, as in a sketch, as we read them out of the Scriptures." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 1, Chapter 13)
Fortunately for us, God has already laid out His counsel and instruction for a life well lived. We find them both in the written word of the scriptures and in the person of Jesus who is the very Word of God. As Clement closes Book One and moves to Books Two and Three, he will draw from the scriptures the counsel contained there in that we might be instructed in the right way, the way of eternal life.

David Robison

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