The second “nature” of sin

For Kierkegaard, sin is an independence that is a slavery. In it one seeks independence (to not be dependent, to be secure and sufficient unto oneself) – one ‘wants to entrench himself’, but ‘in this entrenched security he is living – in a prison’. This entangling is the ‘sophistry of sin’. For sin gains an ‘impetus’, a momentum in the wrong direction and so one is bound, enslaved to it. Thus sin is like a sickness that, if untreated, gets worse, of itself. The leap of sin then enters one into the ‘circle of the leap’ in which ‘sin presupposes itself’. Here sin become a ‘coherence’, and ‘encompassing nature’, a ‘second nature’, a corrupted disposition. This ‘weed of corruption…that…sows itself’ – ‘the rust’ that ‘can consume the soul’ – degrades and corrupts the aesthetic, the sensual, the temporal – making them incorporated functions of sin’s coherence.

-Christopher Ben Simpson, The Truth is the Way: Kierkegaard’s Theologia Viatorum, p.119

I find this idea to be remarkable helpful. It explains the twisted “logic” of sin in more satisfying way than simply classifying it as some sort of foolish rebellion. Foolish rebellion it is, but this implies the person is a fool – someone who is stupid. If they could just wrap their head around the big picture, take in the eschaton, they would clearly get smart and refrain from doing something so destructive to themselves and others in the short run.

This doesn’t work though. Many of the greatest sinners are very smart. They have high IQs and strong wills. Can they not apply their logic to sin and comprehend something of the larger picture of God’s order and holiness? I don’t think that simply “lack of self-control” is a good enough explanation for why I “do the things I hate” as Paul puts it.

But what happens? When you plant the seed of sin, it grows and becomes, as Kierkegaard puts it, a “coherence”, a “second nature”. It creates it’s own little virtual world inside your head. Here, all your strength of thought are bent like light through a lens. You think the beam is still traveling straight, but in this little alternate universe a little evil seems to make sense. Our own powers of perception and logic turn in on themselves and feed the lie. Self-justification abounds (when viewed from the outside), but it just looks like common sense, the laws of nature, on the inside of the cycle. But it is a new SECOND nature, a world where your sin makes sense.

This model also helps explain how sin grows and matures (“and when fully grown produces death”). We feed it ourselves, not from some well of nasty twisted depravity within us, but with our good faculties of logic, reason, and “emotional intelligence”. It gains momentum the longer we build on it. We keep the tree of sin growing in a way that makes sense to us, but as Proverbs tell us, “in the end it is death”.

The law has the power to burst our bubble and show us what the real nature outside our shadowy simulation really looks like. Only the kindness of the gospel has the power to actually pull us out of that cycle though.