Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Ben and the art of auto-motive theology

The answer According to Ben in our Townsville Branch.

Does anyone have a fish decal (for a Christian car) with a cross in it for a CSO. The customer bought one and it just wouldn't stick. Which leads to an interesting theological question? Do you think it was the sins of the car, or the owners sins that caused this?


Dear Tim
What a fascinating question. Perhaps we can answer that question by looking at a similar situation in the Bible. John 9:1-7.

1As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2And his disciples asked him,
"Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"
answered, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works
of God might be displayed in him. 4We must work the works of him who sent me
while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. 5As long as I am in the
world, I am the light of the world."
6Having said these things; he spat on
the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man's eyes with
the mud 7and said to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which means Sent).
So he went and washed and came back seeing. (John 9:1-7, ESV)

Notice the disciples' question: "Whose sin was it that this caused this man to be born blind? Was it his or his parents'?"
Or in our context: "Whose sin was it that caused this decal not to adhere to the car? Was it the car or its owner?"
How can anyone sin before he or she is born?

Now, this gets fascinating. Just from the context of the passage, one can infer that some people (the disciples among them) believed God would punish the sins of parents by causing problems with the children. We can also infer that people believed God would punish a person's sins directly. In both cases, such punishment could extend to causing physical disability. Another inference-perhaps the most unusual one to us-is that one could be born into a condition of punishment for his own sins. Which leads us to consider, maybe it is not the owner of the car at fault but perhaps it was the 'parents' of the car who did not adhere to the laws of Scripture and therefore causing the car to be punished by not allowing a 'Christian' decal to adhere to it?
The text also refutes an idea or two. One false idea, sadly believed by many who claim to follow the Bible today, was that all illness or disability is caused by God as punishment for sin, or, alternatively, by the oppression of Satan. Sometimes on a cold morning I would debate a similar dilemma on why my car would not start. "Why me Lord? I'm already late as it is! What have I done to deserve this? Jesus clearly refutes the former case in his answer to the disciples.
What else can we directly infer from this passage alone? Not much.
How could someone who is not yet born sin? Did he commit some sin in utero?
Or perhaps during the car's manufacturing process it popped down to the pub or a ciggie and a few beers hoping no-one would notice.

What light does Scripture shed on these beliefs? The Old Testament talks about divine retribution, even such being passed on to the children of those God is punishing. So, we can see in Scripture the concept of the man being punished for his parents' sins. (I merely mention the existence of this topic; much further elaboration would be required to address its applicability to a case such as this.) However, nowhere in Scripture do we see the idea of someone being punished for personal sins committed before birth. Was God being pre-emptive, punishing the man with blindness for something the man would later do?

Ultimately, Scripture does not answer the question about how someone could be born into a condition of punishment for his own wrongdoings. Here we must look to the historical context of the passage.

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Bible, in this case apparently referencing the work of J.B. Lightfoot, summarizes the historical context of the disciples' questions quite nicely:

It was a universal opinion among the Jews that calamities of all kinds were the effects of sin. CF Luke 13:1-4. The case, however, of this man was that of one that was blind from his birth, and it was a question which the disciples could not determine whether it was his fault or that of his parents. Many of the Jews, as it appears from their writings (see Lightfoot), believed in the doctrine of the transmigration of souls; or that the soul of a man, in consequence of sin, might be compelled to pass into other bodies, and be punished there. They also believed that an infant might sin before it was born (see Lightfoot), and that consequently this blindness might have come upon the child as a consequence of that. It was also a doctrine with many that the crime of the parent might be the cause of deformity in the child, particularly the violation of the command in Leviticus 20:18.
We could then extend that to include the transmigration of souls into machinery, which could then explain why some cars, truck and tractors seem to have a personality of their own. A document discovered in the archives of General Motors in Detroit confirms this theory and goes on to explain how many hours of research went into stopping this transmigration of human souls into the vehicles during the manufacturing process, although some still do get through and into the vehicles

So, from the larger body of Scripture, the local context of this passage, and some educated guesses, one might derive a number of correct conclusions about what relatively common beliefs were for the subject at hand; but, without examining other historical writings, one could never derive all the possibilities of what was believed-especially the possibility of the transmigration of souls, which is not at all referenced in Scripture.
So getting back to Tim's question: Do you think it was the sins of the car,
or the owner's sins that caused this? I would have to say it was both.
Most likely the car (or the transmigrated soul within the car) had sinned in a former life and is now paying for those sins by 1) being a cheap and nasty car and 2) by having an owner who is too stupid to realise that if you stick a magnetic decal to a plastic bumper it will most definitely fall off.

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