Privatio

 

One of my drumbeat issues: sin

 
Augustine’s fifth century debate with Pelagius had much to do with defining sin as moral privation (Latin “privatio”): an absence of righteousness in human conduct.  Let me offer a snapshot of what Augustine was saying and then invite comments from readers.
The problem of evil troubled Augustine when he was new to his faith. 
Earlier he had joined the Manicheans and adopted their answer that a perpetual dualism of good and evil exists—the “good and bad side of the Force” as later offered in Star War movies—but he abandoned it as inadequate.  To have a true good there could never be an equal and eternal quality of evil—rather evil must be seen as a lesser, parasitic reality.
But what troubled Augustine was the idea that evil has any sense of genuine “reality” at all in a creation that the ultimate and only-good-God had created as good.  How could evil even exist in a universe shaped and ruled by God?  The answer, Augustine concluded, lay in the Aristotelian concept of privation: of something losing a quality of its proper being.  Augustine saw that this could account for evil existing as a distortion of whatever God made for good.  So that evil is not some sort of defect in God’s work of creation but a twisting of what is good so that the goodness is removed.  God made the cosmos to be vulnerable to the eruption of evil while not creating that evil.
Privatio can be seen in the function of eating: it is good to have food, but eating can be removed from its creation purpose in cases of gluttony, bulimia, or anorexia.  The same is true of human sexuality: it was meant for good in the creation of Adam and Eve and for all subsequent marriages.  But in being removed from that creation context it becomes an “ungood”.
The next question: why, then, did God allow a vulnerability to exist in the creation, especially when he knew beforehand that evil would erupt as a result?
The common answer is that he allowed his highest creatures—men and angels—to enjoy a free will as relational beings; and not to live as automatons.
That’s a serious near miss. 
As the Augustinian thinker, Jonathan Edwards, pointed out—in his ironically titled Freedom of the Will—there is no such thing as a free will.  What God gave us is a free heart—with all our choices (setting up the so-called “will”) always ruled by our dominant affections.  So, as Luther held, our real battle is always an affection-fighting-another-affection with the strongest affection always winning—whether it is our love of security, of honor, of wealth, or an appetite for sensual pleasures.  Our desires rule us so that we always do what we want to do.
The basis for this is that in making us in his own triune relational image—as one who “is love”—God made us to enjoy love while never coercing us to receive or reciprocate his love.  He won’t force himself upon us; rather we respond to his beauty.  And apart from him we never discover what we were made for nor do we share in his own eternal life that consists in mutual love.
Augustine then pointed to Adam as the original source of sin so that sin now rules all humanity: all are now “in Adam” and dead towards God until a new birth by his Spirit.  This is offered to all but is received only by some.
With spiritual death came the many polarities of the Bible narratives: God’s goodness is taken over by moral privatio; evil is called good; folly displaces wisdom; darkness is preferred to light; the Truth is dismissed for the Lie; hope is replaced by anxiety; and death is loved rather than life.  Privatio is the realm of the ruler of darkness whose kingdom is the polar opposite to God’s kingdom in every detail.
Pelagius, however, countered Augustine’s use of privatio by noting that the lack-of-something is not able to be transmitted.  In other words an illness can be passed along if a virus is at fault; but if someone simply lacks a strong immune system, that lack isn’t passed along to others.  Hence, each person is like a “new” Adam able to make their own moral choice: to become either righteous or unrighteous before God.
Augustine answered by pointing to the ultimate expression of privatio that accounts for every lesser sinful behavior: the loss of God’s presence.  With that loss the human soul is still energetic in its love but that love no longer has its proper focus: God.  So the natural energy of love now curves back onto ourselves in what Augustine called concupiscence—or self-love.  It expresses itself, to use a modern analogy, as an active malignancy in every human soul until God himself recaptures the heart by wooing us to himself in Christ.
The solution to sin? 
Respond to Christ’s love and then offer that love to others.  By this love all men will know that we belong to him. Without it we continue to embrace privatio.
~ Ron
You are invited to comment on Ron’s article at Cor Deo
 
Dr. Ron Frost
Ron served on faculty for more than 20 years at Multnomah Bible College and Biblical Seminary. At the seminary, from 1995-2007, he was professor of historical theology and ethics. He earned his PhD at King’s College of the University of London. His research featured Richard Sibbes (1577-1635). He now teaches internationally while serving as a pastoral care consultant to missionaries with Barnabas International. Ron authored Discover the Power of the Bible and writes on spreadinggoodness.org [See “Resources”].
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The Vision of the Basket

 

Amos 8:1-14


This is what the Lord God showed me: behold, a basket of summer fruit. 2 And he said, Amos, what do you see? And I said, A basket of summer fruit. Then the Lord said to me,

The end has come upon my people Israel;

I will never again pass by them.
3 The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,
declares the Lord God.
 So many dead bodies!
They are thrown everywhere!
 Silence!

4 Hear this, you who trample on the needy
and bring the poor of the land to an end,
5 saying, When will the new moon be over,
that we may sell grain?
And the Sabbath,
that we may offer wheat for sale,
that we may make the ephah small and the shekel great
and deal deceitfully with false balances,
6 that we may buy the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals
and sell the chaff of the wheat?

7 The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.
8 Shall not the land tremble on this account,
and everyone mourn who dwells in it,
 and all of it rise like the Nile,
and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt?

9 And on that day, declares the Lord God,
 I will make the sun go down at noon
and darken the earth in broad daylight.

10 I will turn your feasts into mourning
and all your songs into lamentation;
 I will bring sackcloth on every waist
 and baldness on every head;
 I will make it like the mourning for an only son
and the end of it like a bitter day.

11 Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord God,
when I will send a famine on the land—
not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water,
 but of hearing the words of the Lord.

12 They shall wander from sea to sea,
and from north to east;
they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord,
 but they shall not find it.

13 In that day the lovely virgins and the young men
shall faint for thirst.

14 Those who swear by the Guilt of Samaria,
and say, As your god lives, O Dan,
and, As the Way of Beersheba lives,
they shall fall, and never rise again.

 
Introduction
Amos
This is the fourth prophetic vision in this book. All these visions are to reinforce the message that Amos proclaimed to the people. We also see Amos continuing to obey God’s call. Amos understood God’s purpose for him and lived accordingly.
Exposition:
I.    The vision revealed God’s determination to judge Israel (8:1-2, 7). God made this known in two ways.
A.    In the vision Israel is compared to ripe fruit (8:1-2). The word used means “late summer” or “early fall” fruit, and so fully ripe.

1.    Ripe fruit needs to be gathered at once. This demands immediate action from those who pick the fruit. There is no time to delay. God knows when he has to act at once and he does so (cf. Gen 6:11-13).

Apply: This illustration should remind us that Christ is the vine and the Father is the vinedresser. God expects spiritual fruit from us. Is he finding it?

2.    Judgment can no longer be halted (cf. 7:8). We should not misuse God’s patience and mercy. “The great reason why sinners defer their repentance… from day to day is because they think God thus defers his judgments, and there is no song wherewith they so effectually sing themselves asleep as that, My Lord delays his coming….” [Henry]

Apply: Repentance to salvation (2 Cor 6:1-2) and reformation of life (Rev 3:19-20) always require immediate attention.
B.    God confirms his purpose with an oath (8:7).

1.    By the phrase “the Pride of Jacob”, God is referring to himself (Heb 6:13ff). God is the One in whom we are to make our boast (Jer 9:23-24). But now the One who should have been their joyous glory will only act for their sorrow.
2.    God asserts his action in the judgment (8:8-10). The metaphor of the sun going down at noon is to teach the rapidity of the judgment. God would turn all their joy into sorrow, and that of the most bitter kind (Jer 6:26; Zech 12:10).
3.    The words point out that there can be no possibility of Israel avoiding punishment. God will remember their sins and call them to account. How much better is the promise of the new covenant (Heb 8:12)!

Apply: We must treat the Lord with proper respect. He is not to be trifled with. We must take God seriously.
Transition: Why does decide so strongly on this course of action?
II.    The reasons for the Lord’s decision
A.    Their covetousness

1.    Aided by dishonesty (8:5b-6)

a.    They were selling less and demanding more. Does this sound familiar? Think about how some products are repackaged (smaller) and the price changes (increases).
b.    They used a false standard of measure (cf. Dt 25:13-15; Prov 20:10). God expects us to deal justly with people.
c.    They were selling products of inferior quality—“even the sweepings with the wheat”.

2.    Coupled with the oppression of the poor (8:4, 6a) – They had more regard for money than for their brothers in the covenant nation.

Illustration: Remember the problem of Judas (Jn 12:4-6).
Apply: When people turn away from the Lord, they begin to lose their interest in the dignity of all people as God’s image bearers. Thus people look down on those who they deem lower in society. This is also a root of racism.

3.    Their lack of interest in God, while being very interested in money (8:5a). Compare Col 3:5b. This requires us to question ourselves:

a.    Do I enjoy worshiping God? Or is it only a burden that I must put up with? Do I want to be doing this? Compare Ps 63:1-3.
b.    “Can I spend my time better than in communion with God? And how much time do we spend pleasantly with the world?” [Henry] Ask yourself, “Do I really value communicating with the God I claim to love?” The answer to that question will determine how we prioritize prayer in our lives!

B.    Their false religion (8:14a)

1.    God did not forget that they had turned away from him (5:5; Ho 8:5). Religion is not humanity’s plaything to change and adapt according to our whims.

2.    Human religion is unacceptable to God. We must do God’s things in God’s way (by faith) or reap the results of our disobedience and unbelief.

Apply: The Holy Scriptures provide the standard for our religion, and that must involve salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.
III.    The character of the judgment (8:8) – Judgment would surely come, just as the Nile rises and falls.
A.    Physical characteristics

1.    Death and its companions (8:3, 10) – Tragic and gruesome pictures of the calamity that would come. Songs would turn into the dreadful sound of silence. “Mourning will follow sinful mirth, yea, and secret mirth too….” [Henry] 2.    Strength, beauty and the false religions (cf. 2 Ki 17:30) that humans boast in will not provide escape (8:13, 14b).
Comment: We need to remember the self-confidence of unbelievers when witnessing to them.

B.    Spiritual characteristics (8:11-12)

1.    They didn’t care for God, so God judges them by removing his word from them. This is the most bitter irony. What the people despised when the “shelves were stocked full” they now long and search for with all their effort. The Lord is just!

Example: Consider the time of Samuel’s youth (Jdg 21:25; 1 Sm 3:1); think also of the “four hundred silent years” from Malachi to Christ and of the veil that covers the hearts of those of Israel to this day (2 Cor 3:14-16). This judgment…

a.    Signaled the loss of part of Israel’s glory (cf. Rm 3:1-2)
b.    It was clear evidence of God’s displeasure – The Lord didn’t want “to talk with them” any longer.
c.    This took away their hope of comfort from the word in distress

Apply: We should say at any time of affliction that the loss of God’s word is an even greater affliction.

2.    We should we rejoice that we are able to hear the Holy Scriptures. As the Puritan’s said, “Brown bread and the gospel are good fare.”

Apply: Many never understand the worth of God’s mercies until they feel the lack of them. Many people “vote with their feet” week after week to close down all churches that preach the good news of Jesus Christ, and then when a local church closes and the neighborhood becomes a veritable “suburb of hell” they wonder “what happened?”
Apply: Any local church is a lampstand, and the Lord of the church reserves the right to remove any of them from its place (Rev 2:5)
~ Dave
 
Pastor Dave Frampton
When push comes to shove there is usually nothing more satisfying than for a saint of God to have at his or her disposal a source of biblically sound instruction in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The faithful and spiritually profitable labors of Dave Frampton are here at CMC to be a blessing. Bible teacher and student alike will profit much from his labor in the God’s Word. Visit Newtown Square Baptist Church.