So as I was thinking about sin in the context of the Amish, I confess first that "sin" might not be the right word. That is, it might not be the word that the Amish themselves use for the things they aren't allowed to do. It may just be the idea of how God desires for them to live, as opposed to how He doesn't desire for them to live.
Of course, we're splitting hairs here because isn't any way that God doesn't want you to live a sinful way?
The first question I want to ask when I'm thinking about this is: is sin relative?
The Amish believe they should live off the grid. They should not be tied into utility lines. Should not have televisions. Should not drive vehicles. For the purposes of our conversation, we can ignore every theological foundation they have for these beliefs - that's not important.
What's important is that as much as we see the Amish embrace a life that rejects all of these things in their own homes, we also see them riding in cars, going into towns, using these things to their advantage without using them for their personal comfort. They form friendships or working relationships with the English who are able to do these things, and then, they let the English do these things for them.
The question of whether sin is relative is basically this: if God doesn't want you to do that, is it okay for someone else to do it? (Yes, I understand there are multiple layers to this scenario, and we'll get to some of them, but we're starting simple.)
It's not just the Amish that raise this question for us. Our culture does this all the time, too. Especially in a postmodern "what's-true-for-you-is-true-for-you" mentality. There are Christians now who honestly, earnestly say things like, "Well, I don't think God wants me to engage in that sort of behavior, but I don't know what He wants for you."
In other words, it might be a sin for me to dance, but it's okay if you dance. It might be a sin for me to curse, but it might be okay for you to curse. We could say this about nearly anything - and we do. We're really good at justifying human behavior - our own and everyone else's. We're really into this idea where we're not allowed to judge someone else's life because we don't know all the details and because we can't hold them to our standards.
Okay. So. Is sin objective or subjective? Is it constant or is it relative? Does God have one idea about how men are supposed to live or does He have 9 billion different ideas about how men are supposed to live?
The trouble with saying that sin is relative is that it means that God is a little...shifty. It means that God has different standards for some than for others, and if that's true, then it means that God is not constant in and of Himself. And if God is not constant, then that's a problem for a lot of other things that we believe about Him.
If we say, for example, that it might be a sin for me to lie but it might not be a sin for you to lie, then what we're really saying is that God doesn't always value truth. Or really, that God isn't always truth. Sometimes, He's truth; sometimes, He's not. Do you see why that's a problem?
See, everything that God says is sinful is sinful because it does not measure up to the character of God and the example that He's set for us in His Word and His Son. The minute we start saying that we can't really define sin in any objective way - in any way that applies to everyone universally - then what we are really saying is that we can't define God. We can't know Him. We can't depend on His unchanging character because it might actually be changing.
So no, I don't think we can say that sin is relative. I think we have to say that what is sinful for me is sinful for you is sinful for everyone because sin is determined by the character of God alone.
Maybe you agree at this point, but you see another shade of grey arising in the scenario of the Amish and their relationships with the English. Maybe you're thinking right now, okay, sin is sin, but we can't hold others to our definition of it; we can't make them believe what we believe.
So we'll talk about that tomorrow.