The Sin Archipelago: Why We’re Often Wrong About What’s Right and Wrong

Aland island archipelago

Strange as it seems, there is something interesting about archipelagos that tells us a lot about the nature of sin.

Unless you are a professional oceanographer or a logophile who’s addicted to The New York Times Sunday crossword, the term archipelago (ar-ke-PEL-a-go) isn’t often used in conversation. At the risk of oversimplifying, an archipelago is a cluster of islands in a body of water like the Greek Islands, the Caribbean, the Hawaiian Islands, Japan, and Indonesia just to name a few. What’s fascinating about many archipelagos is that the islands we see jutting out of the ocean are actually land peaks or mountains from an underwater land mass submerged just underneath the ocean’s surface. For example, New Zealand’s islands are the highest peaks of a submerged continent called Zealandia that’s actually larger than the entire subcontinent of India. And Java, Borneo, and Sumatra are all peaks of a submerged landmass called Sundaland. In the southern Indian ocean there are a series of tiny island chains called the Kerguelen and McDonald Islands, that, when considered as part of the same underwater continent, the land mass is more than three times larger than all of Japan. On a common, two-dimensional map, islands such as these appear to be distinct and unrelated because their relationships are hidden by the surface of the ocean. But, when examined closely by the trained eye of a scientist, these islands are far from distinct. Instead, they are biologically interconnected, share identical geological characteristics and are unified by the same tectonic histories and destinies.

So why do I call this essay, “The Sin Archipelago”? Because there is something about archipelagos that have helped me understand the true nature of sin as it is understood by Christian Orthodoxy. In essence, all sins listed in the Bible are visible peaks (no matter how different or distinct they may appear at first) interconnected by a underlying, unifying land mass. And it is that common connection that ties together so many biblical themes and simplifies so much theology. (more…)

To Be Holy? Or To Love?

What's a poor sinner (like me) to do?

What’s a poor sinner (like me) to do?

I had a typical conversation with a good friend not too long ago on a cold Tuesday afternoon in Wisconsin. We were belly-aching about church, crazy things Christians do, the times we live in, and a host of random topics you routinely hear when Christians get together.

At one point, my friend asked me, “Steve, why is it you’re always yapping about love—‘The church needs to love more’ and ‘All we need to do is love better?’ Don’t you know that God is just as concerned that we live a life of holiness, too? Isn’t the church commanded to be salt and light? We need to be promoting righteousness, not just sentimental feelings. Christians can’t just go about ‘loving’ everyone and turn a blind eye to all the wickedness of our times. We need to balance love with holy living.”

Wow. I really didn’t have a good response. My first reaction was to defend my position, but I stopped from doing so. Right away, I began to doubt my assertion.

Maybe I have been off-kilter. Maybe I had overemphasized one Christian virtue to such a degree as to stretch and tear the whole cloth of the Christian faith.

Yes, we are to be salt and light. Yes, we should mourn over sin and injustice. Yes, we must be about promoting righteous living. But when is it most appropriate that we love? We are commanded to do that, right? But when, then, is it best to focus on holiness?

Taking Socrates’ Lead

Not long after, maybe a week or so later, I sat down one pre-dawn Saturday morning, trusted mug of coffee in hand, and tried to sort through my confusion. And, in deference to Socrates, I began my analysis by defining terms.