|Day One: Light - Good.|
We humans find an amazing breadth of topics, issues, and causes over which to differentiate, dispute, divide, and damage one another. The practice is so common one might imagine that we could establish a foundation for illimitable unity among all human beings simply by accepting the existence and effects of Original Sin. Even better, as a common foe against which we could battle, Original Sin is unlikely to be eradicated, thus providing a nearly eternal focus for our common efforts.
Sadly, though, there are significantly splintered positions on what to do about Original Sin, whether it truly exists at all, and whether we would be better advised to leave it well enough alone. Beyond that, some have built their entire enterprises on the flourishing of Original Sin. (The profit margins are staggering.)
A simplified (and, admittedly, simplistic) understanding of the original sin and its effects
Any discussion of Original Sin (note the capitalization) needs to account for “the” original sin. The details in the first two and one-half chapters of Genesis are clear enough, but let me synopsize the narrative.
|Day Two: Heaven - Good.|
God created everything. He announces this to Moses over a period of days, expressing that the elements of creation described in the first five days were all “good.” The capstone of creation, human beings, appear to be the reason for designating the product described on the sixth day as “very good.”
Following this, there is interaction in a veritable multitude of relationships. There is one God, eternally existing (and interrelated) in three persons. He interacts with humans, initially existing in two persons. But there is also the rest of creation, in which the two persons find their relationship with each other, and with God, deepened by a mutual focus outside themselves as stewards of all else in creation. This mutual relationship is further deepened through obedience to the command to be fruitful and multiply, and the subsequently more intimate tasks of raising the product of their intimate relationship: children.
All is well in paradise. God has created everything. It is all “very good.” And he gives it to us to care for. But eventually, despite having everything, we want to see what else there is. When you have everything, the only option for experiencing something else comes through breaking some of the everything you already have. We did.
|Day Three: Land & Sea, Vegetation - Good.|
And so, we now had most of everything, plus some of the everything now broken. And we saw that it was not “very good.” And we recognized that we were not “very good.” And so we turned the effects of “the” original sin into what can be called Original Sin. We hid from God.
There’s more to the story, of course. But our focus is on Original Sin for now.
The reasonableness of sin in a broken world
The reality of Original Sin is best seen in its effects, which some would differentiate as “sins,” rather than the more palatably vague metaphysical concept of Sin. So, to be clear, let me use a different term to identify the behavior that you and I regularly engage in: Sinning. Sinning is nearly as universal as some presume Original Sin to be. In fact, Sinning is the only reasonable response to our accurate perception of the world in its current state.
We were created with an expectation, not just a longing, for wholeness. Recognizing the brokenness of the world around us, the threats and dangers in that world demand that we find some means of provision and protection. The coping mechanisms we develop are many and varied, but they have two particular traits in common. First, we realize that others are either a resource or a threat to our own provision and protection. Second, we realize that we are viewed as either a resource or a threat to the provision and protection of others. In a whole and balanced creation, both of these factors would seem destined to create community, in which mutual responsibility promotes mutual respect and relationship among persons created to bear the image and likeness of one God eternally existing in three persons.
|Day Four: Sun, Moon, & Stars - Good.|
We do not live in a whole and balanced creation. Even when we attempt to establish equitable relationships based on mutual respect of our other humans, we are susceptible to the fear, greed, guilt, pride, lust, and loneliness that evaluates “me” against “you.” Therefore, I am regularly Sinning against you, even if only in my imagination. You most likely have something I think I might need. Granted, you may also have needs for which I could provide resources. But I would advise you, instead, to protect yourself from me, because I will tend to act in a way that takes what I need from you, while retaining the equitably balanced value of the resources you might have expected in return.
The motivations to manipulate, exploit, and oppress are as perfectly reasonable as the means of implementing them are widely variable. In short, there is no end to the means by which we damage one another. Sinning against you, in order to secure my provision, is a more reasonable course than waiting for you to come Sinning against me, thus having to waste any of my precious resources on protection.
|Day Five: Creatures of Sea & Sky - Good.|
The remedy for Sinning through a restoration to wholeness
Note, though, I wrote above that “Sin is the only reasonable response,” given the current state of this broken world. My intention is to emphasize that, while I believe that faith can be rationally justified, it is unreasonable. For all the factual and logical support that encourages the conclusion that one must exercise faith, that exercise itself goes against the rational conclusions we make about the brokenness of the world, and other humans, around us.
Our focus here is on the damage, though, not its remedy. But as a brief respite from the despairing conditions we are discussing, a quick read through Matthew 5-7, in which Jesus promises provision and protection, thus allowing us to do something as incomprehensively dangerous as loving our neighbors as ourselves, might be a good idea.
Influence and Causality differs from Imputation and Culpability
If the ongoing results of the original sin, in contrast to the doctrine of Original Sin, result in universally Sinning against one another, why do we fail to agree, much less unify, on the basis of this understanding.
For some, acknowledging the clear and pervasive effects of sin, Sin, and Sinning would require them to also acknowledge the source of our story. And for some, any position that allows scripture a status as even legendary or fabulous (i.e., demonstrating the nature of a fable or morality play) risks legitimizing religions against which they feel they must protect themselves. Again, this is reasonable, given the history of humans Sinning against one another while using their religions as not just a justification but a means of exploitation and oppression.
|Day Six: Creatures of the Earth & Humans - Very Good.|
But this disunity persists even among those who hold the highest views of scripture as a divinely dictated document preserved in its integrity through the intimate intervention of the Holy Spirit. The most rabid inerranticists (among whom I number myself: holding not only a high view of the doctrine of inspiration—that the original manuscripts are an authentic transmission of God’s message through the biblical writers—but a high view of the doctrine of illumination as well—that the Holy Spirit ensures the authentic transmission of God’s message to, in, and through us as well) may still disagree on the existence and effects of what most theologians mean by Original Sin.
At issue is the question whether the original sin affects all mankind through influence and causality (that Sinning against others results in their choice to self-protect and self-provide through Sinning against still others), or whether the singular actions of the first two human beings, Original Sin, results in penalties toward all subsequent human beings, imputing that act to us (i.e., as though we committed the sin ourselves) and making us culpable for its effects (i.e., as though we are responsible for the damage initiated by others).
The consequences of these positions may not be immediately apparent. But especially in considering the nature of the Atonement (the means by which Jesus Christ provided for reconciliation in our relationship with God) and the extent of its necessity to all human beings (in that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God), there is an elegant simplicity in the argument for imputation and culpability. If all human beings, from conception through death, are inexorably intertwined with the first human beings, responsible for their sinful actions and their consequences, then the Apostle Paul’s expression (all have sinned) needs no qualification. Unborn children, along with all who die in infancy and as toddlers, are rightly consigned to perdition (according to this view) since they are culpable for the sins committed by the original pair of human beings, and have not received redemption by actively choosing to put their trust in Christ alone for salvation. As distasteful as many find this position, it causes no theological difficulty to most determinists. Through God’s foreknowledge and/or predestination, we may (they would argue) safely presume that if a child were to have been among the Elect, then they would have survived to an age at which they could exercise faith for salvation. (Hopefully, I have made myself clear that this is not my position.)
|Day Seven: The Sabbath-Rest of God.|
In support of an alternative view of the effects of the original sin, I would point out the original sin’s influence and causality. In other words, the brokenness of the world that was produced by Sinning has provoked subsequent generations into Sinning as a result of damages initiated by the Sinning of the original pair of human beings. What about the unborn, infants, and toddlers, then? Ironically, while Romans 5:12 is often quoted as supporting a view that all humans are culpable due to the imputation of Original Sin, even that half of the sentence says something entirely different. “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—“ is what Romans 5:12 reads in the New American Standard translation. But the Apostle’s sentence continues, “for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.” This phrase (Romans 5:13) is among several that seem to suggest what has been called “the age of accountability.” In short, one’s culpability for Sinning is subsequent to understanding the nature of that Sinning, not simply to the expression of a developmentally immature human being’s instincts for self-protection and self-provision, even at the expense of others. (e.g., Ask my mother about my acquisitive approach to building blocks in nursery school.)
A Hopeful Conclusion
Volume upon volume has been written on the subject of the original sin and Original Sin, as well as sin, sins, Sinning, and more. In any systematic theology you will find a section on “Hamartiology.” Most Bible dictionaries will give an adequate discussion that is, in all likelihood, far briefer than the one I offer here.
But in belaboring the points I have, I hope that I have established a foundation on which the absolutely astonishing response to the original sin can be upheld in its glorious beauty.
Consider this: the Bible does not end after two and one-half chapters in Genesis. That seems self-evident…until you consider how the story could easily be expected to end.
Remember the story so far? I’ve included my own version of the ending here: “And so, God had given the humans everything. And when they wanted something else, they broke some of the ‘very good’ everything God had given them. And they knew it. And they themselves felt that brokenness, too. So, they sewed together fig leaves so as to hide from each other. And then they hid themselves from God, too. AND GOD NEVER. CAME. BACK. AGAIN.”
I have no idea why the story doesn’t end that way. But I’m very thankful that it doesn’t.
|In your life and mine: Let there be light.|
Despite the fact that I do not trust you, simply on the basis that you are a human being who would rightly be expected to self-protect and self-provide at my expense (after all, I’d do the same to you), I long for authenticity and transparency, even at the risk of vulnerability. I want an intimate, open relationship with others, even when I know that such a relationship will eventually hurt one or the other of us (except in the very rare occurrence where we both live happily ever after, and then die simultaneously).
And so, these words haunt me with their hope: “Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’”
God did not suddenly lose His omniscience. He knew where Adam and Eve were. They were not hidden from His sight. Why, then, does He ask, “Where are you?” I believe it is because that original pair of human beings needed to know where they were.
They had been placed in a paradise where everything was theirs, and it was all, until a short time ago, “very good.” Now it was not. And yet God still sought for them.
The broken relationship, the broken world, the broken people…it could not but get worse. And yet God still sought for them.
They would sin further, and the effects of those sins would teach others the art, and indeed the necessity, of Sinning as the only reasonable means of coping in such a damaged world. And yet God still sought for them.
We cannot build unity on the universal conditions resulting from the original sin. But we can have unity among those for whom God still seeks—at least among those who stop hiding from Him and one another.