1. Prone to outbursts of temper; easily angered.
2. Characterized by or resulting from anger.
Lately, I've been thinking about folk conceptions of sin. I fully understand that folk conceptions pale in comparison to fully worked out, academic, systematic, and theologically rigorous notions of sin. But as a psychologist I live in the world of folk theology and I seek to understand its nature.
(Note, when we put the word "folk" in front of some area of academic study, as in "folk psychology" or "folk theology", we are speaking of notions "on the street." That is, we are speaking of commonly held conceptions. Thus, a folk theology is not found in the halls of the Academy but in the pews of church buildings and Sunday School classes. Sometimes folk and academic theologies clash, sometimes they agree. As a psychologist, I'm particularly interested in the disagreements.)
When we explore folk conceptions of sin, they tend to cluster around notions of God's irascibility. That is, certian actions (or thoughts) are deemed to be displeasing to God, evoking God's anger, wrath, and judgment. In this formulation, what is sinful is what angers God.
The implications of this formulation are obvious. If sin is associated with God's irascibility then the Christian walk is largely about managing the psychology of God. That is, God's temperment sets the agenda and holy living is about managing the nuances of God's moods. In the language of the pews, we seek to be "pleasing" to God.
If we poke at the folk conception we may ask "Why is God so irascible?" The folk answer (and I believe the acadmeic answer agrees on this point) is an appeal to God's holiness. That is, God isn't iracible, God is holy. And violations of God's holiness cause God to respond in wrath and judgment.
I have heard this appeal to holiness for years, but, to speak candidly, I don't know what people are talking about. What is holiness and how is it linked to notions of sin?
Generally, holiness is about God's Separateness, God's Otherness. As far as this goes, I'm fine. God is Ontologically Strange. But the idea gets extended. It is extended it two ways which sets up the irascible outcome:
1. God's Presence is a place that is "pure" and "undefiled."
2. God is protective of his "holiness."
With each of these in place the irascible outcome follows: In the presence of sin (a defilement) God's protectiveness lashes out. This seems to be the theological configuration that "explains" God's irascibility.
But I have a few issues with this formulation.
1. The Biblical Imagination
First off, it is within the biblical imagination that God's Presence can tolerate the presence of Satan. Witness the story of Job. Apparently, it is possible to imagine Satan entering God's Presence and God not defending his Holy Pretense. Thus, if Satan can talk to God in his throneroom, I expect that a mere mortal, however sinful, can be in God's Presence without God throwing a temper tantrum.
2. Jesus as Hermeneutic
If Jesus is our hermeneutical norm (i.e., to interpret the bible we must filter it through the life of Jesus) then it seems clear that God is not irascible. God isn't defensive about contact with sinners. His Holiness can't be contaminated. It's robust and intrinsic. God's holiness isn't situational. That is, it doesn't matter if God is close or far away from sin. Situationally, it doesn't matter. His holiness needs no defending or protecting. Again, witness Jesus' table fellowship with sinners.
3. Omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience
I don't subscribe to these Greek adjectives for God, but the folk theology does. So I'll use them to argue with the folk ideas on holiness. Specifically, if God is everywhere then I don't see how he would be irascible in the presence of "sin." Second, if God in omniscient it seems that the advent of sin would have been on his epistemic horizon. Thus, his righteous indignation at sin seems, well, overly dramatic and histrionic. Finally, if God is all-powerful we must ask if he has control over his own personality. Can he, in the presence of sin, even if he is holy, restrain himself and deal with the person in a loving and charitable manner? Or are the better angels of his nature overthrown by the holy impulse to destroy sinners who find themselves in his Presence?
4. Circular Reasoning
The folk formulations of sin and holiness are circular. It goes like this:
Q: Why does God destroy/punish sin?
A: Because he is holy.
Q: But what does that mean, "God is holy"?
A: It means that God will destroy/punish sin.
Basically, "holiness" isn't an explanation for God's irascibility. It's just another description of it. To invoke "holiness" doesn't add anything to the conversation.
I think the whole folk theology regarding sin and holiness has got to go. It's incoherent and spiritually dysfunctional. Phrased more sharply and provocatively, the whole idea of "pleasing" or "displeasing" God is the worm at the core of most Christian (mainly folk) belief systems.