Where does sin come from?

I've had great apologetic conversations with students over the years. Every year, I seem to hear this question: "Where does sin come from?"

Think about it.

Christians claim that God created the world and everything in it. Christians claim that God created the world good and very good. But in our day to day lives we experience evil. Where does evil come from?

The basic Christian answer is that evil comes from sin. The world is broken from its foundation because of sin. Sin permeates everything and corrupts all that it touches, giving birth to evil and death.

But where does sin come from?

Tim Keller, a pastor in New York City and an InterVarsity alum, has an excellent reflection on this question over on his website (Click here to listen to Dr. Keller). One quote from his answer always jumps out to me:

My Old Testament professor, Meredith Kline used to say "Sin sprang to life in the heart of Satan. And where God hath shut his holy mouth, I should be afraid to open mine."

This is a spectacular, biblical answer. When we first encounter sin or evil in the biblical narrative, it already exists in Satan. God makes no claim to it and is never seen endorsing it. God always opposes sin. Sin doesn't have its origin in God. Sin sprang to life in the heart of Satan.

This month I've been reading Paradise Lost by John Milton. In this 17th century epic poem, Milton imagines Sin as a character, a woman springing fully-formed from Satan's head. Writing this, Milton linked the Christian narrative to the ancient Greek myths, where Athena is born from Zeus' head. Do you remember that story?

Milton was trying to answer the question about the origin of sin. Where does sin come from? It just leaps into existence. And Lady Sin tells us something about her corrupt Father Satan, just as Athena's wisdom and strategic acumen reveal something about the god Zeus.

For generations answers like these, mythic and narrative answers to the origin of sin, satisfied all (or most) askers. And yet, we don't find these answers satisfying. We feel like there has to be an answer behind the answer. We want there to be something more.

Why are we unsatisfied with the answers we're given?

I have a theory. I'm not sure if it's right. Let me know what you think.

Over the generations we learned to live as if we live in a closed universe, a rational universe, a knowable universe. This philosophy has roots in Christian theology, the "fides quarens intellectum" of Anselm. And this presupposition lies beneath our philosophy of science, which explains why science gets so quirky around the edges of our knowledge base. Talk to quantum physicists and evolutionary biologists and you'll hear brilliant people theorizing at the limits of their ability, straining their powers to grasp that which has yet to be discovered.

There's something beautiful beneath our scientific philosophies.

But there is one (or at least one) presupposition that we make in our pursuit of a deeper and more meaningful understanding of our world: we assume that the whole story is our story.

We assume that we stand at the center of the story, rather than at the center of a set of chapters that include us. Most of us have the humility to admit that we aren't alone in the story or even the main characters in the story. Religious people will point to God or gods or angels. Even the non-religious may include animals and trees. But we assume we have access to the whole story, that our involvement runs throughout.

And according to the biblical story, that's just not true.

There are chapters of the big story that don't mention us. There are whole sections of the story that don't connect with us at all, some where we play on the edges, some where we're referenced but don't appear, some that predate us and some that focus entirely on someone else.

CS Lewis wrestles with this idea toward the end of A Horse and His Boy, when a young man asks a lion for details about his friends fate and past and future:
"'Child,' said the Lion, 'I am telling you your story, not hers. No one is told any story but their own.'”
The hard truth about the origins of sin is that it begins in someone else's story, in Satan's story. Though it spills over into our story, through it impacts us deeply, Sin sprang to life a few chapters before our characters appeared. What we know, we learned second-hand.

The question raised in our chapters of the story isn't "Where does sin come from?" but "What will God do about sin?" and "How will humans respond to sin?"

This will have to do until we have an opportunity to read the story in its entirety. At the very least, this gives me peace.

What about you? How do you answer the question: "Where does sin come from?"?

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