Genetics and Theology
Scientists are suggesting strong evidence that we may have certain genetic predispositions that may cause us to lean toward certain 'sins'. Alcoholism seems to run in some families. Certain ethnic groups seem to be more susceptible to alcoholism than others. Do humans have genetic tendencies or predispositions toward drug abuse or homosexual behavior? If it is proven that a person is genetically inclined toward those 'sins' then are they as 'liable' for those sins as those who are not genetically inclined? How might such genetic influences on our behavior affect our hamartiology? (study of sin)
I suppose it would be a huge boost to those who believe we are predestined were the genetic theory proven to be true. Though this paper is written to consider serious questions raised by the research, I am a firm believer in free will. I believe God was willing to take a huge risk when he gifted us with free will. He knew some of us would reject him and it would cost the life of his Son to reconcile us but he valued a reciprocal relationship enough to sacrifice his son to mend the broken relationship.
I am also a firm believer in instantaneous, transformational conversion. Genetic inclinations are a non-factor when it comes to the power of His blood. I believe the sacrifice of Christ is sufficient in bringing about such a radical transformation in a willing heart. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to assist believers in their journey toward Christ-likeness.
Is there a gene present that gives a person a stronger likelihood of becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol? Is the pleasure receptor gene hyperactive in such individuals? Is there a gene that breaks down the resistance one might have toward the pleasures that can be wrought from viewing pornography? Why are certain activities a temptation to the homosexual while these same activities are repulsive to others?
Men who suffer from a gene disorder called Huntington's disease are several times more likely to commit a serious crime. They are seven times more likely to be arrested for DUI. (1) One look in our prisons will indicate that those who have been assigned the Y chromosome are much more likely to commit serious crimes.
Burtin Webb and Keith Drury of Indiana Wesleyan University have written a paper exploring the implications of some of these questions regarding genetics and theology (2) Many Christians who believe in original or inherited sin believe this is exclusively a spiritual, not a physical inheritance. If a connection can be made between genes and our sinful actions our doctrine of original sin would certainly be affected.
Drury states that if genetics proves to be a factor in our desire to sin we may return to the idea of Monism, that a "human cannot be fully human without a body." The idea of a physical resurrection might be more strongly considered by its critics. What happens to the spirit when it is separated from the body? Will we be reunited with our original bodies or will we receive newly created bodies? Does the soul sleep until it is finally reunited with a body?
Drury defines sanctification as the "doctrine of how God helps us put off sin and put on righteousness, becoming more like Christ." Sanctification is a spiritual transformation that takes place in our hearts. Drury asks an intriguing question: "When a person is trapped by a 'besetting sin' like pornography, drunkenness or homosexual behavior we usually urge them to seek God's changing grace so they can be 'delivered' through a wholly spiritual transaction." What if the tendency toward sin could be genetically removed? Could a person be sanctified through genetic manipulation? Would genetic sanctification 'count' in the eyes of God?
It's amusing to consider questions that seem to border on absurdity. These issues might also provide great dangers to the soul. Many might take comfort in the fact that they have a genetic predisposition to sin and use that as a license to commit that sin.
Drury and Webb remind their readers that proof for a genetic predisposition toward sin is still lacking. It seems miraculous that God could make a complex salvation simple enough for a child to understand. We don't have to be a scientist to be saved and we don't have to have a perfect theology to be saved. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." - 1 John 1:9
1. Per Jensen, Crime in Huntington's disease: a study of registered offences among patients, relatives, and controls. (1998) Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychology.
2. Possible Influence of Genetic Factors on sin, Sanctification, and Theology, Burton Webb and Keith Drury, Indiana Wesleyan University.
Kevin Probst - Is a teacher of Apologetics and History at Calvary Christian School and Associate Pastor of Crosspointe Nazarene Church church in Columbus, Georgia.