Thoughts About Original Sin

Detail from Jan Breughel & Peter Paul Rubens: The Garden of Eden (1615)

According to some Western Christians, sometime between 7 and 10 thousand years ago, God created the Universe. This event is recorded, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth.” As the story unfolds, we read that every plant and animal came into being ex nihilo,(out of nothing), through Divine fiat. God spoke it; it came into being. At the end of this first part of the story, God created humans. And, it must be noted, God created the original humans in God’s own image.  For millions of people this is historical fact.

In the next part of this story, we learn a little bit more. The actual physical location where God created these humans isn’t known. The story only tells us that after forming the first Human, God put this person in a garden in order to serve and protect it. It was there, in that garden, that God formed the first Woman from a rib taken from the Man. These first Humans lived in that God-made paradise until they were duped by a talking reptile. This talking reptile,(from here known as, the serpent), talked the Woman into eating the fruit from a tree that God had expressly forbidden the humans to eat from. She ate and gave some to the Man, and he ate. This meal even has a name, “Original Sin.”

The whole concept of Original Sin has been discussed among Christians since very early in the Church’s history. However, it really took off in the late 4th century C.E. when a guy named Augustine of Hippo included it in his autobiography, “Confessions.” Taking the Biblical story as his starting point he was able to trace his own personal proclivity toward sin back to the Original couple. Now, we need to understand that there was a belief in the ancient world that character traits could be passed from one generation to the next through semen. Therefore, Augustine understood that the guilt of Adam was passed to every subsequent person ever born. And, this also allowed Jesus to be born without that taint. (Virgin birth and all.)

Later, John Calvin doubled down on this idea. He concluded that not only death and guilt were part and parcel of Original Sin. But, shame and total depravity came along for the ride. And this, my friends, is the heart of reformation theology. There is absolutely nothing good about humanity. In fact, it is impossible for anyone to think or do anything good. God’s wrath and hatred are hanging over us. Only by looking at Jesus can God’s Holy anger be placated. But, heaven help us if God should happen to get a glimpse of our worthless and hated selves.

But, what if that’s not how things happened? What if 7,000 years have not passed since the Earth was formed, but rather, over 4 billion years? What if all the stuff that science has discovered is the truth and there was no first couple? And, therefore, no Original Sin?

This can, (and should),  turn the Reformed way of thinking on its head. If there was no Original Sin, then why did Jesus come, live and die? I mean, many of us who were involved with the Fundagelical world of religion preach that Jesus HAD to die in order to break the bonds of Original Sin. He cleansed us from that and enabled us to start over with a clean slate. For lack of a better term, to be “born again”! If Original Sin is out of the mix that whole house of cards crashes.

What’s interesting is that sin isn’t even mentioned in the first chapters of Genesis. God never pointed a Divine finger and said, “Oh, you guys! You really sinned now.” No. God said that death would now become a part of their lives. In fact, sin doesn’t enter into the equation officially until Gen. 4 when God spoke to Adam’s son Cain. God said that sin was crouching at Cain’s door. Cain was encouraged to ‘master’ sin. If there was an Original Sin that was so dire that nothing could ease its effects, how was Cain supposed to be able to master it? No, I don’t think that Original Sin as the Western Church has understood it is a reality. I don’t believe that humans are born depraved as Calvin and Co. would have us believe. But, I do believe that there is an enemy to be overcome. A reason that God chose to come and “pitch a tent,” (John 1:14), among us. And, that enemy is death.

Let this thought percolate for a bit. What does it mean if there was no Original Sin? How does that affect the meaning of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension? Use the comments to express your own thoughts.

Admittedly, this asks more questions that it provides answers. But, it may also open locks on chains that bind many people…too many people.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *