What Is Sin? Reflections from Henri Blocher

What is sin? Throughout church history, many notable theologians have sought to describe the essence of sin and evil. Prominent in the list of root sins have been pride (drawing on Prov. 16:18), humility (at least from a feminist perspective of historical female subjugation), the curve of the self into the self (Luther), self-love, lawlessness (drawing on 1 Jn. 3:4), concupiscence, and a host of other theses. Different theological traditions have often shown family resemblances on this question. Perhaps the most obvious testament to the elusiveness of ascertaining the essence of sin lies in the ongoing attempts to define it. It is in reflecting on these various voices and in hope of describing (rather than defining) the problem of sin that the French theologian Henri Blocher offers the following:


“The fact of sin possesses enough unity and organization so that one may push aside certain propositions from its principle; it does not seem to have in it enough for any better proposition to sweep away conviction of it. The essence of sin escapes in the moment where one believes to grab it: one never controls anything except one of the tentacles of the octopus!

“We suggest that sin does not properly have an essence; only created things have an essence. Sin is nothing but corruption of a created good, always “parasitical.” Because of the unified structure of creation, sin can be situated: it disrupts the central link of the human “image of god” to its Creator, which involves the connection of self to self, to others, and to the world. But the corruption has a thousand ways to attack the good order of the beginning: it refuses or it accepts a misleading way, it sometimes refuses some aspect and sometimes another such aspect, and it diversely distorts the whole. . . . On corruption as something (it is a metaphor), there is not a clear, adequate concept. Sin in its generality is defined by nothing except a negative and definite way; the positive is always another side, the side of God and of his creation.” (translated from Henri Blocher, La doctrine du péché et de la rédemption, 35-36)

About Ashish Varma

I am a PhD student under Kevin J. Vanhoozer, and my dissertation project pertains to defending the theological validity and identifying the dogmatic location of virtue in traditional Protestant thought, namely within the sphere of union with Christ. My wife Narissa and I attend College Church in Wheaton.
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2 Responses to What Is Sin? Reflections from Henri Blocher

  1. Günther Borstel says:

    Professor Varma, is self-love an euphemism for masturbation?

    Günther Borstel, Essen (Germany)

    • Ashish Varma says:

      Günther, please forgive the delayed response. I suppose masturbation would be an action that results from self-love, but this is not what I had in mind. I was thinking of St. Augustine and his appeal that living rightly requires being rightly oriented. Augustine draws upon the duplex command of the law that is highlighted by Jesus and reaffirmed by the apostle Paul: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. For Augustine, love of God must take primacy such that right orientation entails loving God by cleaving to him. Love of neighbor, then, follows from this love of God. Conversely, self-love is the disorientation of love in which love of self becomes primary. Augustine saw this as the base sin, and anything done from this disoriented state of love is sin.

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