Tag Archives: love

How to Sin

(The following is a tangent arising out of our last class on Augustine)

What is sin? Can you define it? This should be a basic question, but we often skip over the basics. When pressed most of us would define sin as “breaking one of God’s rules.”

This definition is not incorrect, per se. The rules are useful, and following them will steer you away from a lot of common human failure modes. But it doesn’t cut to the heart of the matter. What is the unifying factor that makes breaking those rules a sin?

What is sin?

Sin is Love

To be more specific, sin is loving what you should not, or loving something that you should, but in the wrong manner. Even sin, at its core, comes down to love.

The nature of love is to unite the lover and the beloved. This, done properly, is not just a beautiful thing, it’s what we exist for. Indeed, we often mistake love itself at the marker of morality. But just as loving the wrong woman will ruin a man, so will any of our other loves if not directed properly.

Augustine had personal experience with this. When he was young, a very close friend of his fell ill and died. Augustine felt like a part of his own soul had been torn from him, because indeed it had. Friendship is not a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination; most philosophers would have actually ranked it as the greatest thing this side of eternity. But where Augustine went wrong was in seeking final contentment in his friend; in loving him as if he weren’t going to die. To find true lasting happiness, we must unite ourselves to that which is eternal.

Salvation is love

Salvation, then, is coming to love God as we should. And this gives us a hint of what it means to say that after the resurrection we will be “unable to sin.” Once we are fully transformed, we will love God truly and fully. To ask if we could love something else instead becomes something of a category error.

Could we still sin? It is analogous to asking me if I could murder my daughter. On the one hand, I am indeed physically capable of it. On the other hand, no, never, no. No no no no. This could not be. I love her, more than anything in this world. The question itself is nearly unthinkable. If I, though I am evil, am bounded so by love, how much more when I am not evil, and I can love freely and truly?

Love and Ambition

Blaise Pascal, famed mathematician and Christian philosopher, has some Valentine’s Day thoughts for you:

The passions which are the best suited to man and include many others, are love and ambition: they have little connec-tion with each other; nevertheless they are often allied; but they mutually weaken, not to say destroy, each other. Whatever compass of mind one may have, he is capable of only one great passion; hence, when love and ambition are found together, they are only half as great as they would be if only one of them existed.

How happy is a life that begins with love and ends with ambition! If I had to choose, this is the one I should take. So long as we have ardor we are amiable; but this ardor dies out, is lost; then what a fine and noble place is left for ambition! A tumultuous life is pleasing to great minds, but those who are mediocre have no pleasure in it; they are machines everywhere. Hence when love and ambition begin and end life, we are in the happiest condition of which human nature is capable.

I shared this with two acquaintances of mine, and they both immediately objected. Purse love before ambition? Madness! Money first, love later! (Much of our society’s advice on love could be boiled down to those four words.)

They are both unmarried, so I guess they have what they wish for. It’s worth pointing out that Pascal himself was a bachelor; he may have been speaking out of regret for a path not chosen.