William Hogarth – Satan, Sin and Death (Milton’s `Paradise Lost’). Circa 1735.

According to the New Testament “The wages of sin is death” –Romans 6:23.

Sin is a violation of divine law. A law is a regulation imposed by an external entity, even if it is you, in one of your roles as law-maker, sinner, and judge of yourself. Divinity means God. God is unknowable and unanswerable.

There are numerous classifications of sins and within them multiple degrees of sin and there are also certain other sins that could damn you forever. All lists are invented. So may be the laws and the divinity. Somehow, we came up with lists. Lists of seven sins correspond with lists of seven virtues. Seven is the number of God.

Sins include (these are the “seven deadly sins” of Catholicism):

We don’t speak for God, and a sin is precisely defined as an action against the laws of a divinity. Why is not for us to ask. Sins which are the most serious disrespect the divinity but are also sins which impede salvation. As below, so above. Mock a priest and go to Hell.

God is the final judge, but different churches have different expectations: God will know if you commit a sin, but it may or may not count against you in the final judgment, and there may or may not be anything you can do about it, and it may or may not be your responsibility in the first place since God made you that way. Why should you take the blame?

What is the great dragon that the spirit no longer likes to call Lord and God? ‘Thou shalt’ is the name of the great dragon. But the spirit of the lion says ‘I will.’

Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for Everyone and Nobody.

Faust turns to magic, God’s secret knowledge, and the Devil. He does not repent.

The early (1587) Faust stories appear to be Lutheran, but Lutheranism was still in late formation at that time, evolving out of Roman Catholicism, native temperament and tradition, and Luther’s surviving circle. 

‘For if we willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy “on the testimony of two or three witnesses.” How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by those who have spurned the Son of God, profaned the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know the one who said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.’

Hebrews 10:26–31

Lutherans think that salvation was decided long ago for everyone. After all, God knows everything. Because of Original Sin (which God apparently didn’t anticipate) , we’ve lost the strength of will to not sin. Sin is also an outward sign and a symptom of God’s displeasure, something Faust and his compatriots would have recognized.

We clearly don’t understand, though. Are we just going through the motions, waiting for the end of time, and for this charade to be over? Are we puppets debating free will?  Lutherans allow for limited free will. There is room to manoeuvre and be saved.

For Lutherans, salvation comes through faith, God’s grace and Jesus.

For Catholics, sins are an obstacle to salvation. You have free will and are able to not sin, so don’t or else. There are degrees of sin. Faith, confession, repentance and restitution can help, but a serious enough sin will not be forgiven.

Later variations on the Faust story reflect the faith of their authors and the theology and philosophy of the time and place. From a Lutheran printer of the first Faust tales, there is Calvinism behind Marlowe’s Dr Faustus, which he wrote just out of religious studies at Cambridge, and Lutheranism and humanism and free-thinking in Goethe’s Faust1.

Original Sin

Apart from their personal sins, humans must contend with Original Sin, which concerns the consequences of Humans being expelled from the Garden of Eden and the specific punishments inflicted by God way back at the beginning.2 Lutherans (among others) say that we all bear the stain of that, and that it affects our ability to exercise free will and to not sin. It’s an inherited guilt and infirmity, from the original sin of the father (and mother).

Sins Which will not be Forgiven

And also there are the unforgivable sins (from the Book of Matthew):

12:30 He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.

12:31 Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men.

12:32 And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.

Book of Matthew (King James Bible).

Faust may have committed the eternal or unforgivable sin which cannot be forgiven. Wikipedia says:

Eternal sin—Commonly called the Unforgivable sin (mentioned in Matthew 12:31), this is perhaps the most controversial sin, whereby someone has become an apostate, forever denying themselves a life of faith and experience of salvation; the precise nature of this sin is often disputed.

But Christianity doesn’t support abandoning souls when there’s still a chance of their salvation. Everybody sins. Faust’s most damning sin was in not returning to God.

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  2. Adam and Eve got thrown out because God was afraid they’d eat from the Tree of Life. Punishments were additional. See Genesis 3. []