Sin–Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be–the Spoiling of Shalom

Sin is a form of self-harm, some might even say, self-hatred.

For example, when a man is not a good husband, and, say, repeatedly commits adultery, he not only hurts his wife and children, but also his own wellbeing. Put differently, by fulfilling his role as a faithful husband, who models his loving actions to his children, he lives life to the fullest as Jesus taught (see Jn 10:10). A good husband, himself, enjoys the fruit of his own good works via living the good life.

Ironically, in the name of “happiness” men and women leave their spouses to find fulfillment elsewhere. However, true happiness is associated with the spiritual-moral practices of justice and righteousness, as well as other biblical virtues, such as obedience and holiness.

As my academic and spiritual mentor, Jeff McCrory, explained it to me: justice is the act of being in right relationship with others, and righteousness is the state of being in right relationships with others. Thus, justice serves righteousness. And as Isaiah the prophet exhorts us, “The fruit of that righteousness will be peace [shalom]” (32:17a, NIV). In other words, when we treat each other as we ought–being in right relationship (righteousness)–then we flourish or practice shalom or live happily, abundantly, truly fulfilled.

According to the immediate context of Isaiah 32, the way things ought to be is the positive consequence of divine righteousness empowering human righteousness (i.e., the righteous reign of King Hezekiah). In the OT, God uses a standard conduct by which to adjudicate a righteous king from a rebellious one. If a king lived or practiced the ethical standard of the Tanak (viz. exhibiting a healthy fear of God via fulfilling a virtue ethic of justice and righteousness), then he was considered righteous and just. These moral norms have been called the “Yahweh criteria” by McCrory. Thus, the Yahweh criteria of justice and righteousness result in modeling a proper morality of happiness, or, in short, shalom.

Evangelical minister Gary Thomas discusses the consequence of rebelliousness or sin vis-à-vis to living the good life for us today: “Name a sin and you identify a serious threat to true, abundant life. Name a spiritual failing and you recognize a vicious attack on a fulfilling life.”[1]

Theologian Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. calls this threat to a fulfilling, abundant life the “spoiling of shalom.”

In his book, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, he explains, “Sin is a culpable and personal affront to a personal God. But once we possess the concept of shalom, we are in position to enlarge and specify this understanding of sin. God is, after all, not arbitrarily offended. God hates sin not just because it violates his law but, more substantively, because it violates shalom, because it breaks the peace, because it interferes with the way things are supposed to be. (Indeed, that is why God has laws against a good deal of sin.) God is for shalom and therefore against sin. In fact, we may safely describe evil as any spoiling of shalom, whether physically (e.g., by disease), morally, spiritually, or otherwise.”[2]

It is important for us to adopt a biblical theology and anthropology. When we start with the flourishing of Adam and Eve in the Garden with each other, God, and their environment, and then move to discuss the Fall from felicity, we are better equipped to understand what sin violates—shalom—“because it interferes with the way things are supposed to be.”[3]

But when we emphasize the decay of humanity over the way things are supposed to be, we begin to pave a perilous path: an unhealthy obsession with hamartiology and thus a distorted view of anthropology.[4]

A biblical, anthropological ethic tells us our telos: God has created us for good works (e.g., justice and righteousness) and thus for fulfillment. To delight in what is good is a daring-faith activity in which we believe that the lifestyle we have been predestined for is shalom.

Plantinga expounds, “The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight is what the Hebrew prophets call shalom. We call it peace, but it means far more than mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight—a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.”[5]

[1] Gary Thomas, Pure Pleasure: Why Do Christians Feel So Bad About Feeling Good? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 27.

[2] Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, [1995] 1996), 13–14 (emphasis in the original).

[3] Ibid., 14.

[4] Nancy Pearcey, in her widely influential book Total Truth admonishes something similar, wherein she balances the doctrines of the Creation of God and the Fall of man with the cosmic redemption of Christ: “A genuinely biblical theology must keep all three principles in careful balance: that all created reality comes from the hand of God and was originally and intrinsically good; that all is marred and corrupted by sin; yet that all is capable of being redeemed, restored, and transformed by God’s grace.” Nancy R. Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity (Wheaton IL: Crossway Books, [2004] 2005), 95.

[5] Plantinga, 10 (emphases in the original). Augustine said something similar when he talked about the concept of ordered love. The root difference between the two cities—City of God and City of Man—is whether or not love is “‘rightly ordered love’” (Augustine, City of God XV. 22) or as Plantinga puts it, “the way things ought to be.” When we love God, who is deserving of love, we exercise virtue, which is “the condition of the good life” (Augustine, City of God XV. 22), and everything is as it should be. But when we love other things or people in place of God, we exercise vice or disordered love, which spoils even the possibility of shalom.

Chester Delagneau

4 Responses to “Sin–Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be–the Spoiling of Shalom”

  • Karen Friday says:

    Good word, Chester. Love this thought, “However, true happiness is associated with the spiritual-moral practices of justice and righteousness, as well as other biblical virtues, such as obedience and holiness.”

  • Bryan Townsend says:

    Well said. I completely agree, this is exactly what Holy Spirit teaches on the inside of this temple. Thx so much brother!

  • Mariann says:

    Beautiful!

  • Myriam Delagneau says:

    So true Chester, when we are in peace every part of our body feels great. Sin for the contrary, steals our peace, and the worst problem is that, one sin brings another and another to the point that we don’t care or see the damage we are doing to our loved ones, or some one else. Great message.


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