the reason for God: chapter ten


This is the tenth post in a 15-week study. More information and resources can be found here.

A quick note to those of y’all who are not participants:

– Please read along as we go through the study chapter by chapter, and contemplate the questions we’ll be tackling. This is good stuff!

– We will be utilizing the comment section as a forum for discussion for the participants only. I respectfully ask – if you are not participating – that you refrain from commenting on the Reason for God posts, simply to help keep things well… simple.

– We have an incredible group of women representing various ages, faith backgrounds and life experiences – I hope you’ll check out all they have to say.

It is my prayer that the participants, as well as those of y’all who will be reading along, will contemplate your own faith and understanding of God in a new, and more purposeful way. If you have any questions about the study, or about God in general, feel free to email me from the link in the right sidebar.

The Reason for God – Chapter Ten: The Problem of Sin

Keller warns us right from the beginning that this chapter is not for beginners. And he is right. “It is hard to avoid the conclusion that there is something fundamentally wrong with the world,” Keller says. (p. 165)

Sin and Human Hope

Keller argues, “Many have the impression that the Christian doctrine of sin is bleak and pessimistic about human nature.” (p. 166) He says it is really the opposite; with the knowledge we are sinners comes hope because we are not “…simply the helpless victim of psychological drives or social systems.” (p. 166) Keller quotes Simone Weil as saying of sin, “All sins are attempts to fill voids.” He also quotes Barbara Brown Taylor’s agreement with Weil, “Because we cannot stand the God-shaped hole inside of us, we try stuffing it full of all sorts of things, but only God may fill [it].” (p. 166). Once we realize pride is the antithesis of hope, we also begin to realize we cannot save ourselves through our own efforts, Andrew Delbanco writes. (p. 167) Only by viewing our life through the prism of sin do we see our shortcomings in perspective, are willing to forgive others, while also “… Humbly seek[ing] and receive[ing] forgiveness from others.” (p. 168)

The Meaning of Sin

Kierkegaard, according to Keller, defined sin and faith like this: “Sin is: in despair not wanting to be oneself with God… Faith is: that the self in being itself and wanting to be itself is grounded transparency in God.” (p. 168) Keller references Kierkegaard’s assertion we are created for four things: to believe in God, to love God, to focus our life on God and to identify with God. “Anything other than this is sin,” per Keller (p. 168) The Bible defines sin as, “…not just the doing of bad things, but the making of good things into ultimate things.” (p. 168)

So, what is the defining force you rely on to give your life meaning? Keller says whatever you base your worth upon will be what you deify; and it will look, when viewed from the outside, as worship, passion and devotion — the essentials of religion. (p. 169) Keller again quotes Kierkegaard: “Every person must find some way to “justify their existence,” and stave off the universal fear that they’re a bum.” (p. 170)

The Personal Consequences of Sin

How can sin be destructive to us? Keller says, “Identity apart from God is inherently unstable. Without God, our sense of worth may seem solid on the surface, but it never is — it can desert you in a moment.” (pp. 170-71) He also says, “If anything threatens your identity you will not just be anxious but paralyzed with fear… Only if your identity is built on God and His love, says Kierkegaard, can you have a self that can venture anything, face anything.” (p. 171)

Keller says, “An identity based on God also leads inevitably to deep forms of addiction.” (p. 172) He continues, “If we take our meaning in life from our family, our work, as cause, or some achievement other than God, they enslave us. We have to have them… As in all addiction, we are in denial about the degree to which we are controlled by our god-substitutes. And inordinate love creates inordinate, uncontrollable anguish if anything goes wrong with the object of our greatest hopes.” (p. 172)

Keller again quotes Simone Weil while describing what happens when we are struggling with idols. Weil says, “One only has a choice between God and idolatry. If one denies God… one is worshipping some things of this world in the belief that one sees them only as such, but in fact, though unknown to oneself imagining the attributes of Divinity in them.” (p. 17

“A life not centered on God leads to emptiness,” Keller continues, “Building our lives on something besides God not only hurts us if we don’t get the desires of our hearts, but also if we do.” (p. 173)

The Social Consequences of Sin

“… Jonathan Edwards lays out how sin destroys the social fabric. He argues that human society is deeply fragmented when anything but God is our highest love,” Keller says. Edwards also says that only if God is the epitome and center of our lives will we be drawn to others and the world. (p. 175) Worshipping anything other than God “…means we must despise and demonized the opposition,” Keller argues. (p. 175) Since we must necessarily put down and attack as evil the polar opposite of our worship, Keller says, “The real culture war is taking place inside our own disordered hearts, wracked by inordinate desires for things that control us, that lead us to feel superior and exclude those without them, and that fail to satisfy us even when we get them.” (pp. 175-76)

The Cosmic Consequences of Sin

“The Bible even more comprehensively (and more mysteriously) about the effects of sin…,” Keller says. He further argues that the Book of Genesis is unique because it relates a universe created in harmony with multiple life forms and an Earth perfectly suited for maintaining the synergy — shalom. This he contrasts with physical science and other ancient religions which employ the use of violence in creation. What changed the world from conformity, unity and tranquility into the one of violence, disunity and disillusionment we see now? “… as soon as we determined to serve ourselves instead of God — as soon as we abandoned living for and enjoying God as our highest good… the entire warp and woof of the world unraveled. Disease, genetic disorders, famine, natural disasters, aging, and death itself are as much the result of sin as are oppression, war, crime, and violence. We have lost God’s shalom,” Keller postulates. (p. 177)

Who Can Put It Right?

Keller says, “At some point in our lives, we are confronted with the fact that we are not the persons we know we should be.” (p. 177) So what must we do? Keller says we have two choices – we can attempt to try harder or completely surrender our lives to Christ. C.S. Lewis states, “The almost impossibly hard thing is to hand over your whole self to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to instead. For what we are trying to do is remain what we call “ourselves” — our personal happiness centered on money or pleasure of ambition — and hoping, despite this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly. And that is exactly what Christ warned us you cannot do. If I am a grass field — all the cutting will keep the grass less but won’t produce wheat. If I want wheat… I must be plowed up and re-sown.” (p. 178)

Keller then asks, “Does that scare you? Does it sound stifling? Remember this — if you don’t live for Jesus you will live for something else… Whatever you base your life on — you have to live up to that. Jesus is the one Lord you can live for who died for you — who breathed his last breath for you.” (p. 179)

Keller concludes, “Everybody has to live for something. Whatever that something becomes “Lord of your life,” whether you think of it that way or not. Jesus is the only Lord who, if you receive him, will fulfill you completely, and, if you fail him, will forgive you eternally.” (p. 179)

Question: Keller includes the following quote from Simone Weil in this chapter: “One has only the choice between God and idolatry.” Do you agree? Why or why not?

My response: Absolutely. I accepted Jesus as my Savior in 2002 but only in the last few years – when I began praying for wisdom – have I truly begun to grasp the edge of my idolatry problem. Growing up, I based my idea of sin on the Ten Commandments – if I hadn’t committed a grievous crime, I was doing a-okay. And I think the enemy of my soul was pretty happy about that. My “standard” was found by comparing myself to others (and almost always to others who struggled with sin more than I did), instead of the standard set by a holy and perfect God. By avoiding the real standard – the law – I was justifying my sinfulness, grieving the Holy Spirit and breaking intimacy with God.

But God, in His grace, used the story in Luke 7 about the prostitute with the alabaster jar to reveal the idols of self-righteousness and pride in my heart. “I’m a pretty good person,” I thought to myself. And this idea of relative sinlessness, not even outwardly expressed, kept me from falling at His feet and truly accepting the forgiveness He so graciously and patiently offered. Thankfully, God chose to reveal my wretched and sinful heart, and as He did, He also revealed my status in His heart as beloved daughter.

He opened my eyes to the muck and mire of my sin. And then He lifted me right out of it.

Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” – Luke 7:50


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Ni Hao Yall



  1. I’m a first-born, high-strung, conservative, type-A person. For me, most things are black and white, with not a whole lot of gray anywhere. I think it’s the same way for me regarding God. He’s there, and He’s my only hope in this crazy, screwed up world. It drives me crazy that not everyone can see that. :-) So for me, YES there is only one choice to make. And it MUST be God or going through life and getting through the trials and struggles is pointless. That’s not to say that I have life well in hand. I still, on a regular basis, try to fill that God-shaped hole in my heart with other things, most often not even realizing it until after I’ve done it. Then the light bulb goes off and I say to myself, “You idiot! Haven’t you learned that lesson YET?!” I have so far to go, but God isn’t giving up on me. And slowly but surely (sometimes it feels like I’m crawling slower than a snail), I am filling that hole inside with more of Him, and less of everything else.

  2. This has truly been my favorite chapter so far.

    I totally agree with the Keller as he quotes Weil : “One has only the choice between God and idolatry.”

    Pages 174 to the end of the chapter really hit home for me. Wow. For so long my idol has been my family…..and the funny thing is I never realized it. I just thought I was being a ‘good’ and ‘devoted’ mom! Ha, the irony of it all. I just recently admitted to my 26 year old son (our second child), that I am finally putting God first in my life. I’ve been a Christian all my life…..sent my kids to Christian school, heck, I even taught for many years in a Christian school. HOw in the world did I miss this???

    My journey to God….to putting Him first, began as we were adding to our family through the miracle of adoption of our {first child from China} back in 2006. This is when I began to realize that God needed to be my true love, my first love…..above my husband…..and gasp,even above my children. Like I said, it has been a journey……a great journey…..a journey that is still on going.

    Sin is not just about doing “wrong” or “bad” things……It is about serving ourselves instead of God. So profound, yet so simple.

    On another note: I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the first paragraph on page 177. Keller talks about when we as human beings turned away from God, our world started to unravel. Death, disease, genetic disorders, natural disasters, war, famine, etc entered our world as a result of sin: We turned away from our Creator. The “genetic disorders thing” is very relevant to me. My eight year old was born with a cleft lip/palate. She has often wondered why God ‘made’ her this way. She has heard well-intention adults tell her God made her this way because she is strong and special…..blah, blah, blah. I want to shout from the mountain tops: God made her perfectly! PERFECTLY!!! It is the sin in our world that caused her to be born with this genetic disorder, NOT God. I am so immensely pleased at how Keller presented this. It’s like when people blame God for natural disasters……this makes me realize how important it is to really know God, and then how equally important it is to help others to really know Him as well.

    I can’t even begin to tell y’all how much I am loving this book!!! And this community!!! :)

    • I admit I am only half way through the chapter at this point, but so far this is my favorite chapter too. I just wanted to comment on what you said about your daughter being perfectly made. I have felt the same way and have often struggled with how to explain to my daughter, who was born with one arm, why. Because unlike the view point that so many Christian’s seem to hold that “God made you this way” I never believed that. I always believed and still do that it was a result of sin. Not necessarily the sin of her birth parents and certainly not her sin, but just the fact that we live in a fallen world. It was just encouraging to hear someone else agree that God did not do this to our children. And we have the assurance that he will take what the enemy meant for evil and bring good out of it.

  3. China Mom says:

    As harsh as this sounds, I do believe it is true. Which makes my very soul cringe because I have melted down some gold myself and concocted a Baal. Oh, I do not kiss it, dance around it, sacrifice to it, or any of those things. My idols are my family, friends, and even some not so pretty ones like clothes for my daughter etc. It hurt to hear the words…anything I put in front of God is an idol. I do this….I do it everyday.

  4. Yes, I believe it’s true to a point. This chapter really led me to some sorrowful soul searching. It made some points that I had never really thought of like that putting causes or family before God is still denying God. A friend of mine yesterday just happened to say that she had been to a recollection Mass the night before and the talk was about our vocations in our lives, and that God wants us to shine in those vocations (like Motherhood, being a wife, etc.) and to glorify Him through our actions. That kind of confused my thoughts more because I thought…well, which is it if this chapter conveys that putting vocations before God is a sin? So, I plan to continue a “balancing act” of living out my “vocations” in a positive and meaningful way, while trying to glorify God at all times. And at the same time, I will be more sensitive to whether I am idolizing anything.anyone other than God in the process. We’ll see if it works.

    I was especially sensitive to the addiction section of the chapter, since I have an Type A OCD personality anyway. I tend to get very wrapped up in things and my “issue du jour” jumps around a bit (whether it’s my Juice Plus business, focusing on my book, working on a project at home, family activities, volunteering) and I need to watch myself carefully to ensure that I am not treating these actions as “addictions” but rather vocations to try to make a difference in the world. All while putting God first!

  5. This last year, I read “Idols of the Heart: Learning to Long for God Alone” by Elyse Fitzpatrick, which kicked my butt. So, I was ready to hear from Keller a very similar point: anything that crowds out the place God deserves and commands is idolatry. And, again, it KICKED. MY. BUTT.

    How painful it is to turn the microscope inward enough to see ALL of the things that I let beat out God to His own throne! There is real grief for me in coming clean with how often–and with such frivolity–I allow this to happen.

    But, this side of heaven, it should be difficult! We are called to love and to shepherd our families; we are called to relationship with “the least of these,” serving and loving and living. We are called to be good stewards of our resources and our homes.

    What I am trying to say is this: it is so very hard to live in the balance of “the stuff of life” and “the stuff of God.” But, that’s where Tozer, in “The Pursuit of God” helped me: the Christian life is not a dichotomy of “life stuff” and “God stuff.” Instead, the more correct road is to see those two inextricably fused. It’s not an idol when I love my kids, plan for my kids, spend time with my kids, want for my kids; it’s an idol when I do that for myself and not the King.

    There is nuance there…. and I’m trying to learn to figure it all out. And in the end, I’m trying to find my boast in God alone!

  6. I definitely agree. I’ve been struggling a lot lately with wanting to have the next four, eight, ten years of my life all planned out, but it’s really just a whole lot of fog. There are some things I feel called to do, but am scared to try because I could fail. There are also things that I would like to do, but can’t tell if that’s where God wants me to go. I’m also, I’m realizing, a fairly ambitious person. I want to do big, great, wonderful things and go far career-wise. And many times I have put my education and school and how I “look” to others because of those things, over God. Never works out and I end up miserably stressed. So definitely, there is no and, only or.

  7. A year ago I would have read this chapter and walked away feeling like, “Ok, I need to do a better job at putting God first. I will start tomorrow by doing XYZ, and then I will love God above all things like godly people do.” And then a week later, after my plan failed due to the changing circumstances of life and/or my lack of discipline, I would have felt defeated and moped in despair for awhile.

    Today, by His grace, I am able to read these words and, though convicted, not sit in condemnation but instead be pointed to Christ. Why should I be shocked that I do not love GOd with all of my heart, soul, mind and strength? Why should I be surprised when He reveals idols of the heart? This is the truth of the gospel…that none seek after Him and none are righteous…and, for this, Jesus died.

    My Pastor is great at not letting you leave church thinking you can do anything in your own strength…or thinking you can have a Christian to-do list to check off during the week. He constantly reminds us of our constant need for Christ. After reading a chapter like this, I am best served to be at the foot of the cross asking my only Hope to open my blind eyes to see His glory, to cause my wandering heart to be captivated by His beauty and holiness, to allow my feeble mind to understand the depth of HIs love that I might love HIm in return. And all of this leads me to His Word, where He is sure to answer my prayers!

    • NiHaoYall says:

      And it is when we lay at His feet that we begin to see His infinite beauty and worth – far beyond any career, relationship, goal or pursuit – and our hearts are captivated. We don’t even have to try to put Him first, He is so clearly WORTHY!
      It is only when we take our eyes off of Him that we lose our footing…

  8. Based on John 1:3, I have to agree ~ Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
    Because I was made by God and for God, to choose anything but God is idolatry.
    It took nearly a third of my life to come to this realization. And believe me, it’s a daily struggle within my heart, because although I surrendered all to Jesus as my Lord and Savior when I was 36, I still long for many things of the world.
    Some of my deepest sin pitfalls are not even tangible ~ things like pride, selfishness and conformity.
    All the trying-to-be-a-better person will come to a dead end until I am confronted and deal with my sin nature. There was a time when I chose the Jesus Smorgasbord: a little of this; a lot of that; none of that…and then I realized I wanted Jesus… but not all of Him. I didn’t want Him to deal with my sin. At that moment He changed me from the inside out.

    This statement in the chapter resonates with me: …not just the doing of bad things, but the making of good things into ultimate things.” I can easily turn ‘serving’ into my god. Or ‘teaching’. Or ‘fighting for a cause.’ Those may all be great things, but they are not the Greatest. I have to constantly rein in my heart, striving to live only for my heavenly Father, keeping perspective and letting everything else take its rightful place.

  9. Yes. If something is taking up a lot of my time or I am solely focused on it then I don’t have time for anything else. I think about that and don’t spend time with God. My focus is not on him. I too have had way to much focus on family, especially my daughter. She was my sole focus to her detriment and mine too. I know now that letting God have it and focusing solely on him allows everything else to fall into place.

    If something doesn’t work out and you fall apart then you were worshipping this because if my identity is in God, worldly things won’t effect me. I would just see things as HIs will for me or not HIs will.

    I have known about God my whole life. However just in the last 9 – 10 years did I really begin my journey to know Him. Looking back I can see the journey thus far, the steps I have taken, and each day gets better and better. I am still on this journey and it will never end, but the closer I get the more peace and joy I feel deep inside. I still struggle and am convicted everyday, but now it just feels different, much better.

    I am so grateful, thankful to God that He never leaves and allows my missteps and loves me and brings me back.

  10. It wasn’t until I received a lesson on the etymology of the word “sin” that I finally (sort of) grasped what sin is. The Greek word for sin is an archery term that basically means “to miss the mark.” As a Christian, my “mark” is God and His standards. Anything I do (or don’t do) that misses that “mark” or that becomes more important than that “mark” is sin.

    Since I believe that idolatry is allowing anything (mostly myself and my lusts) to take the throne of my heart over God, I agree with the quote. Each person does have only 2 choices–God or idolatry.

  11. I agree with Weil’s statement. After reading and re-re-re-reading this chapter, how sad am I to realize I’ve chosen idolatry. Not a graven image kind of idol, but all the things Keller & others talked about in this chapter – making good things ultimate things.

    Every chapter teaches me something new and the really tough ones – like this one & the one previous – provide some hard insights about myself. Normally, I’d just avoid thinking about/working on those things…especially if they required some extra effort. I don’t know if it’s the material or if it’s all of you sharing your thoughts & hearts through your comments, but I’m actively practicing non-avoidance!

    • Isn’t it amazing how when we actually face truth we find freedom? God is so tender and good!

    • NiHaoYall says:

      So glad to hear you are continuing in this study – I know it has been well out of your comfort zone – but it sounds like God is at work revealing truths to you! Praying He continues to be a “light unto your feet” :)

      • He is, Stefanie! And as tough as some (OK, a lot) of it has been, it’s been less work than trying to constantly fill up the God-shaped hole. Does that make sense? Thanking God daily that you made room here for me!

  12. Sorry I’m late with this but was out of town for a funeral. This was my favorite chapter yet! I totally identified with “trying to fill the God shape hole”, I do it all the time! It’s so easy to consume yourself with other things, family, kids, work and “stuff”. I never thought of it as a sin but I get it now. My focus has to be on God and he will take care of the rest. The pass 4 years I have grown a lot in my faith. Letting go and letting God has been BIG for me and now identifying with filling the God shape hole has really opened eyes to what is good for my relationship with God. I am thankful and grateful to have a patient and forgiving God.

  13. Wow, this chapter brought me to my knees. When he said that pleasing people was a sin it stopped me in my tracks. That’s something I do a lot and it definitely gets me in trouble, but I never considered it a sin. It totally makes sense…putting others above God…yikes! Lot’s to think and pray about this week as I’m asking God to change my heart.

    • NiHaoYall says:

      Me too, Rachel… I so desperately need a heart change. Thankfully He is not only able to make us more like His Son, He is willing!

      • I’m so glad He is willing to change my heart and forgive me when I mess up once again for the billionth time.

  14. I apologize for falling of the radar recently…leaving my book on an airplane, a family death, adoption paperwork, and multiple out of town trips haven’t helped but as God would have it this chapter hit home and really resonated with me. I have struggled with this study and by far this is my favorite chapter. I agree with Weil’s statement…far too often I put “good things” in place of God. He desires ALL of me…not in part but the whole. The past few months I have been giving my time to many good things yet only offering my leftovers for a Sovereign God. I am emotionally drained and wonder why? Identity apart from God will always leave my heart empty and restless. So thankful for a patient and loving God that covers my sin in His all sufficient grace. It’s time for a course correction…not simply changing my behavior but refocusing my entire heart and life on the only One who will satisfy my soul.

    • NiHaoYall says:

      So glad that He brought you back to this study for this chapter. It really hit home for me too. So grateful that He is not only long-suffering but abounding in love for His wayward children!

    • NiHaoYall says:

      Hey! And I’m super excited to hear you’ll be bringing home another little blessing! Congratulations Amy :)

  15. Many years ago I got caught up in a hobby that I loved. It consumed much of my time and thoughts and required a chunk of our finances to support it. I made excuses of how I was helping others and how harmless it was, etc., but looking back I could see where the holy Spirit was gently trying to show me I had put too much value into it. Unfortunately it took several years before I woke up to the fact that I allowed this thing to become an idol in my life. I never thought of it as an idol, but once my eyes were opened and I was willing to confront it for what it had become I was able to turn from it and put it in it’s proper place. I am forever thankful that God is patient as he teaches us the lessons we need to learn. This chapter definitely has me in search mode for the things I am putting above God unknowingly. I have read and reread this chapter a couple time and know I will refer to it again. I truly want this truth to get into the depth of my being as I know it is far too easy to fill the emptiness with other things that never bring fulfillment. Only God!

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