The Tunnel: Life Inside the Bubble


Recently, I discussed sin with a friend and whether or not Christians can “choose” not to sin… to achieve a life without sin, despite living in a sinful world, by becoming one with Christ. I argued that this is difficult, because our decision may be “not sinful” on our end, but still have broader, sinful repercussions in the larger world.

One example of this might be frugality. You purchase an inexpensive trinket that brightens your life and brings you joy. You spent your money wisely, right? But what if that trinket came from a third world country, where a corrupt government keeps its people enslaved? Your purchase of that trinket indirectly keeps someone in poverty. Is that a sin? Should it be?

It may be irrational to try to live in a manner that does the least amount of damage possible. Can we survive without buying things from foreign countries with dubious governments? If our thinking were that broad all the time, we would doubt each purchase and social interaction, wondering what damage we inflict in our innocent consumerism.

My point is, sometimes we “sin” in ways we cannot or do not realize. Often, our preoccupation with sin is on the “obvious” sins – lust, or pride, or gluttony, or deceit, or any number of other things easily identifiable. You can slice and dice “sin” any way you want, in an attempt to figure out what it is and define it, but I think when your actions negatively affect someone else, that is probably a sin. In an ideal, divine world, these things would not happen. But we live in a fallen one – and they do.

The best visual representation for what I’m talking about actually turns up in The Tunnel, which starts up on PBS tomorrow. I’m leery about recommending it, because I’ve seen the uncut British version. Overlaid over the thought provoking plot is an awful lot of f-words and several sex scenes. (I have to wonder, how much will PBS cut? Any of it? How far has Public Broadcasting disintegrated since my childhood?) It is a story about sin. It is a story about deliberate sin, in the knowledge it will harm people… and innocent sin, in not realizing how far those repercussions will go.

Often, in sinning, we think only of the immediate fall-out, without realizing that sin is like an infection. It spreads. It touches people we don’t realize will be impacted. In this story, a man chooses a deliberate sin. He is accustomed to indulging in that sin. Little does he know, until late in the story, that this one sin, a sin he thought impacted only three people, has devastating consequences for hundreds of people.

Our actions have consequences. Our choices ripple out into society, no matter how small. We cannot always see the result. That is why we cannot attain perfection on our own. Even in being careful in our choices, we simply do not know.

18 thoughts on “The Tunnel: Life Inside the Bubble

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  1. We ended up having a negative encounter with neighborhood teens today, smoking pot and playing their music insanely loud in the car. They left only because I reported the incident to the police, on the phone, while I’m standing by their car and Dad videotaped them. We didn’t file an official complaint although the cops are aware of the car now since I gave them the license plate. Then Mom and Dad went down to talk to the neighbor whose kid it is. Single mom, really distressed by her son’s recent change in behavior, upset that he won’t listen to her, and extremely discouraged that he’s changed so much. What started negatively ended positively. She let Mom and Dad pray with her and Mom is going to start offering her moral support. Unbeknownst to her son, his actions have actually resulted in his mother finding some moral support in the neighborhood. And now I’m concerned about him. Truant 77 times in the last year while his mom thought he was in school. She nearly got arrested because of his truancy. Smoking pot. He’s not even 16 yet. What begins as a negative situation doesn’t always have to end up that way. I’m sure he’s either terrified or furious (I’m hoping for terrified), but at least his mother and my folks are in safe, respectful discussion about it. I pray that in the end, these actions have positive consequences.

    1. I wonder what inner self-loathing or fear is driving him to act out like this?

      Kids do not rebel without reasons. Maybe pray that the truth comes out, that his mom will know what is ACTUALLY going on, because this behavior is covering up something in his soul that needs expelled. (Could it have something to do with his dad? Frustrations over having no father figure?)

  2. Would you argue that there’s any difference between a “neutral” action which (unbeknownst to you) has negative consequences, and a sinful action which has extra negative consequences you didn’t know about? Or are they the same?

    1. I think distinguishing the two might engage in hair-splitting.

      We cannot live a sinless or blameless life even if we are fully in Christ, because even our innocent actions may have unforeseen consequences — and you can drive yourself crazy trying to imagine what those may be! This is why we need grace!

      1. Ehhhhhhhhhhhhhhh . . . I wouldn’t call it splitting hairs. I’d call it being a Thomist . . which I am 😉

        Would that require, then, that in order for Christ to have been fully sinless while living on earth, He would have had to avoid all actions that might’ve had negative consequences for others–not just “bad” actions?

        1. I know nothing about that branch of theology, sadly. (I assume you’re a Catholic?)

          ETA: Though, now that I have some free time, I AM going to answer your original question.

          Yes, there is a distinction between an unknowing or neutral sin (like buying crap from a foreign dictatorship country) without thinking about third world issues, and choosing a deliberate sin like, say, cheating on your spouse. One is an innocent sin, the other is sin with intent.

          That is something I pondered while watching “The Tunnel” — as well as WHY people choose to sin, when they have something “good” at home. What is it? The desire for more? Or is it a lack of love for someone else, that you would betray them in some way through sinning against them? I think it IS a lack of love. But now I’m rabbit-trailing.

          Presumably, yes, to your second question. But it’s also worth remembering that modern people have the potential to impact entire civilizations in ways ancient cultures did not.

          1. Yes, indeed, I am Catholic. *bows* 🙂

            You see, the reason I was asking those questions was because, in Catholic theology, the one ironclad “rule” about sin is that it requires both knowledge and intent. In other words, for an individual to be personally guilty of a sin–any sin–they have to have a) known it was wrong and b) deliberately chosen to do it anyway. So if you do something that hurts someone else without KNOWING, or being able to know–well, that can’t be held against you as a sin, because you just didn’t know. (That’s the way I see it, anyway.)

            I would say all deliberate sin is caused, at its root, by a lack of love. Lack of love not only for other people, but also lack of love for God . . . because otherwise, why would you choose to break His rules?

          2. I’m not sure whether I agree or disagree with that theology, because it assumes that a sinner in a culture without any awareness of what is right or wrong is without sin, because they are ignorant of their sin. But then, that might fall under grace — or it might not.

            I think there are no real rules, that things like sin and forgiveness and transformation are abstract concepts that people attempt to define in terms they can understand. If there’s a “rule,” they feel more comfortable staying inside it (or breaking it, as the case may be). Ultimately, God knows and we don’t.

            There’s also the moral gray areas of sin — when is a sin not a sin, and can you sin for a good cause, or does the sin itself undermine the good cause? I mean, lying is a sin, right? Except when you’re lying to protect the Jewish girl from the Nazis?

            One could run in circles discussing sin, when it is a sin and isn’t, whether motive has anything to do with diffusing how sinful it is, what negates sin, and the consequences of sin, and still have no real answers, just a bunch of hypothetical conclusions and lingering questions.

          3. No . . . I have to say I disagree with that. I believe there ARE rules; rules that God set up and rules that He expects us to know and to follow. I mean, I get what you’re saying about there being a lot of questions; but I don’t see any of those questions as insoluble.

            But we’re different people, of course; and we’re not going to see philosophical/moral issues the same way. (Especially with the Ne/Ni dichotomy.)

          4. But is a sin always a sin, as in the case of lying to save someone’s life? If a lie is a sin, is it still a sin in that instance, or is it a sin but still the right thing to do? Does God give you a pass on that sin, or does He still hold you accountable for it, since you are KNOWINGLY lying, but for a good cause?

            Do you see what I mean?

            Lies = sin would be a “rule.” But there are questions and gray areas in that rule.

            How many rules did Jesus give? Not many. The biggest was to love God, and to love one another. I think if we managed to achieve both of those, there would be no need for “rules” because loving others means never doing anything to harm them… thus, you don’t need a checklist of: don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, etc. The greater divine governance eradicates the list of do and do not’s.

          5. I know there are a lot of gray areas . . . but I personally happen to thrive on attempting to clarify gray areas I and resolve contradictions, so. Doesn’t mean it always works, of course. I just enjoy the challenge of trying. And so did Thomas Aquinas, so we get along 🙂

            Lying . . . is an intriguing case. Here’s how I personally see it:

            Lying = withholding the truth from someone who has a right to know it.

            And therefore, lying IS a sin.

            HOWEVAH. If somebody is going to use the truth to commit evil–ie, a SS officer who wants to know where the Jews are so he can murder them all–then they have forfeited their moral right to know it. So, in that case, withholding the truth from that person doesn’t actually count as LYING. It’s not a case of committing a sin for a good cause, because it’s not actually sinful in the first place.

            As for the other question . . . I definitely agree that “Love God and love your neighbor” is the ultimate moral rule, but I don’t agree that it’s sufficient to leave things at that and not attempt to define morality further. Because I think that would leave the possibility of people deceiving themselves into THINKING they’re doing the right thing out of love for others, but in reality causing great harm by doing something that really isn’t right.

            And yes, I know, I know–if the person is truly confused and truly believes they’re doing the right thing, you can’t hold it against them as an individual. But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t still be a bad situation to be avoided; and I think we can more easily avoid it by trying to come up with as clear-cut rules and definitions for sin, virtaue, etc. as possible.

          6. My point is this:

            Humans like to clarify things, but I’m not sure God sees them in similar terms. Humans are comfortable with rules. We think if we stay inside those rules, we’re “fine” with God. When in reality, Jesus Himself established very few rules — He spoke to larger abstract concepts, such as divine love, unconditional forgiveness, and so on.

            It is human, therefore, instead of divine, to try and create “rules” to live inside. It is not a bad thing, but it IS a trait of our small thinking.

            I agree that “love one another” is a broad concept. Maybe too broad. But think about it. If I loved so-and-so more than myself, would I tempt him into sin? Would I lie to him? Would I lead him astray? Or would I go above and beyond, giving of myself, to ensure his spiritual wellness?

            The psychologist Scott Peck defined love as thus: desiring the spiritual, mental, and physical well-being of another person.

            I think creating rules is fine, and living a general concept of love is fine, but I do believe certain things are less sinful in some circumstances. If stealing is a sin, is it still a sin if you have no other choice? (Or as a friend said recently, in the zombie apocalypse, if there is no one left minding the store or alive on the entire street, is it still wrong to steal in order to survive?) Or my personal favorite: adultery is always wrong. But what if sleeping with someone could save another person’s life?

            (Why yes, I sit around thinking of moral gray areas for fun.)

            So whether or not it is a sin, in your opinion, depends not only on your motive but the motive of the other person involved? Interesting. I could get behind that.

            Self-deception is always present, I agree. Still, I wonder how much of it might creep in, if there was so much God / selfless love in a person, and not much of that true person’s nature left? Is that even possible? Has anyone other than Christ ever achieved it?

          7. I’m not sure how God sees things, because, after all, I’m not God 🙂 But, I believe that He WANTS us humans to think in terms of rules, because, not being infinite or omniscient beings, we need clear instructions in order to do the right thing. He wants us to be as good and loving as we possibly can, but He’s not expecting us to turn into mini-gods who just “know” what the right thing to do is without any rules.

            No, certainly if you loved somebody more than you loved yourself, you wouldn’t want to sin against them or induce them to sin. But, what if you THOUGHT you loved somebody more than yourself–and thought that, because you loved them so much, you ought to murder them so they’d go to Heaven and enjoy eternal bliss forever? I know that’s a crazy example, but that’s the kind of thing people might start doing if you just told them, “Okay, folks, there are no rules anymore except ‘Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.'” People aren’t very smart sometimes, unfortunately, and they need lots of clarification.

            I was always taught that it’s not wrong to steal in order to survive, as long as you intend to pay back what you steal (if possible). So we’ll both remember that next time we have a zombie apocalypse 😉

            See, I definitely agree with you that there are a lot of extenuating circumstances which can be involved with sinful situations. That’s why God is the ultimate judge, because only He knows the true extent of our guilt or innocence. But as a general rule of objective morality, I believe that even a good motive does not “erase” a sinful action (although, again, if the person is confused and THINKS that it does, I believe God would be merciful to them). There was a quote about this in my high school religion book–I forget who said it–but it ran like this: “Let us not do evil that good may come.” As a general principle, I think that’s pretty sound.

            Like, I wouldn’t sleep with someone outside of marriage just for the sake of saving another person’s life. I’m cool with breaking property laws in order to survive (because those are a bit more fluid anyway), but not sexual laws.

            Speaking of which–have you ever read Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure”? It deals with that very topic and it’s super fascinating. You would really dig it, I think, if you’ve never read it. 😉

          8. Does He WANT us to see things in terms of rules, or do we DEMAND rules FROM Him, because that’s all we understand?

            (Kind of like how the Israelites demanded a king… because all the other nations have kings! How do we know they didn’t demand “rules” because all the other religions have “rules”)

            I agree with you that by in large, people can be stupid.

            I’m still not sure your version of “if they don’t know it’s a sin, it’s not a sin” holds up. If someone raised in a third world country is never taught right from wrong, are their sins not sins, because no one ever said, “Hey, that’s not good. Don’t do that”?

            Why do you consider sexual laws different from property laws?

            No, I haven’t. Not really into Shakespeare.

          9. PS: I should add, in case you haven’t caught on, that sometimes I might not agree with an argument, but I pose it anyway just to push it as far as it’ll go and see what happens. I realize this can be annoying to other people. You’ll find me quite rigid in a lot of my morality (Fi) but it’s still fun for me to entertain different possibilities. 😉

          10. God was the first one to initiate set “rules” with the Ten Commandments . . . and I ain’t never heard anything from Him about retracting those 😉

            But yeah. I think it has to do with the way God made us; He was the one Who gave us our human minds with their human limitations; and He knows that the way our minds are, they need rules to follow. The rules don’t necessarily have to be simple or concrete–they can be complex and flexible–but they need to be THERE.

            I think that’s where the whole “natural law” deal kicks in; there are certain actions which God expects us to KNOW are wrong, without being explicitly taught. (Cold-blooded murder, for instance.) So even in a country where nobody’s ever heard of Christianity or even of the Ten Commandments, people can still be held accountable for (say) murdering their wife. BUT, there are plenty of other things (polygamy, for instance), which God doesn’t expect those people to know are wrong. The actions are still immoral in themselves; but at the same time, the people responsible aren’t just automatically going to Hell because they had 4 wives instead of 1.

            Because . . . I do what I want 😉 Honestly, I can’t give you a good answer, except to say that it seems right to me.

            I understand! I have an Ne-dom sibling who routinely does the exact same thing. We’ve had a lot of . . . Interesting Discussions over the years 🙂

          11. Jesus also said He came to fulfill the law, which includes all previous rules. The 10 Commandments were part of the Old Covenant. Jesus is the New Covenant.

            I see us as made in God’s image — only as an ant, in comparison to a giant. The better part of ourselves reflects the nature of God. Creativity, the capacity for love, compassion, etc., … those elements that animals instinctively lack. The capacity to go against our instincts, for a higher purpose. (To help the wounded, rather than kill them, unlike an animal.)

            It IS interesting, isn’t it, how cultures regardless of religion do seem to have a collective agreement of moral behavior. No culture or society values or honors betrayal or cowardice. C.S. Lewis said something about how that speaks to a deeper intellectual understanding of God and right and wrong, regardless of what trappings disguise the message.

            Is polygamy wrong? It’s rampant in the Old Testament. It’s only in the New Testament, when it had fallen “out of favor” (does anyone know when or why the Jewish culture abandoned it?) that mentions are made of single marriages, rather than multiple marriages.

            Does our perception of it being wrong stem from a deeper truth, or is it influenced through society’s beliefs? Is our repugnance for it as a modern society what defines it as “wrong” or was it “wrong” all along? If its purpose was procreation and protection for women in a dangerous time (safety in numbers, as well as a wealth privilege) … was it still wrong? Did God still disapprove? Or did He tolerate it, much as He tolerated Israel’s demand for a king?

            One theologian I know says history is the story of God pulling humans, in all their blind stupidity, one step forward all the time. Introducing radical ideas into society structures that were left intact for the moment, because society could not handle the entire truth. History therefore has been shifting toward a greater state of godliness… one minor leap at a time. (For example: Paul admonishing people to be “kind” to their slaves, but not rebuking slavery… the idea itself is radical, but the greater idea of abolishing slavery was too radical for feeble human minds to conceive at the time. Abolishing slavery was God’s intention — but it took many more centuries to come about. Other ideas had to change first.)

            Basically: human brains are tiny. They are incapable at times of fathoming the truth of God. Society’s beliefs progress at a crawl.

            My answer as to why sexual sin matters more would be to say that our bodies are temples unto the Lord. The concept of marriage is symbolic of the union between Christ and His Church. To violate the sanctity of sex is a serious sin, because it is deliberately flouting a more profound union. Sir Thomas More would say Marriage is a Sacrament; violating a Sacrament is a more serious sin. I might also add that sex, more than just about anything else, has the greater catastrophic potential for negative consequences — for everyone involved. From something like contracting STDs to broken hearts and families, sex is an incredible, vital part of a person’s life — and something that essential to identity should never be taken lightly.

          12. Yes, I think that God’s tolerance of polygamy in the Old Testament was like His tolerance of slavery and of divorce–things that weren’t pleasing to Him in the abstract, but which He had to allow out of consideration for human weaknesses. It wasn’t that slavery and divorce and polygamy were ever “good things,” but more that they were necessary evils which God decided to be patient with for the time being. But when Christ came to institute the New Covenant, He basically told everybody, “Okay, y’all, listen up; you’ve been allowed to get away with this stuff for a long time, but you ain’t gonna be allowed to get away with it no more.” (In precisely those words, of course 😉 )

            Yes; that’s what I would argue too. Sexual relations are sacred and cannot be tampered with or taken lightly.

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