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.

The Father turned his back…I don’t think so

This is my 100th post. Holy Smokes! Maybe someone should bake a cake. So far, this has been fun for me. I’ve enjoyed trying, sometimes not so successfully, to get my thoughts organized and written. I hope that any who have chosen to visit here have not been disappointed by my lack of eloquence and understanding. This is, after all, a blog. It’s not meant to be a formal repository of all spiritual and experiential truth.
With that being said, I feel a need to rant just a bit. It’s my blog; I can do that.
Today is Good Friday. It’s the time when the Christian world remembers the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. After an eventful, and sometimes turbulent, public ministry the end came with a sudden ferocity that shocked those who were intimately relating with Jesus.
One thing that many people try to explain and understand is, what actually transpired on this day? Yes, we know that Jesus was unjustly tried, tortured, and hung on a tree where he died. But, what happened between the Father and the Son that day? Some have tried to say that between the hours of noon and 3 P.M., when darkness covered the world, the Father was compelled to turn away from the Son because your sin and mine were placed on Jesus. The Father’s holiness could not look on this sin. Therefore, the first and second persons of the Trinity were separated from one another for this time.
I’m sorry, but I don’t get this. Let me just share a couple points. The first is the ontological impossibility that I see in this. The very nature of Yahweh precludes this ‘separation.’ The Church has believed that there is, has, and always will be a perfect unity in the relationship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This unity cannot be broken because it is God’s will that it remain intact.
Another reason that is equally compelling for me is that this view gives a distorted image of the Father. What kind of Father would abandon his Son like this? Perhaps even stronger language is required. What kind of God would this represent? At best, one who is selfish and easily offended. At worst, one who is incapable of saving anyone. Now, I know that this idea of Jesus being totally forsaken and abandoned by everyone, including the Father evokes an emotional response that may cause someone to make a decision to follow Christ. But, what kind of God are these people deciding to follow? How deep is the commitment that is made by these people? I think that the distortions that this concept give of God, the loving Creator and Sustainer of the cosmos, are too many to recount.
So, what can we understand from this? Jesus, hanging on the cross, cried out, “My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?” Rather than taking this as Jesus, the divine Son of God, perceiving a real break in his eternal relationship with the Father, we should see Jesus, the Son of man totally identifying with the humanity he came to redeem. We sometimes forget that the incarnation means that God came to dwell with humankind as a human being. As such, Jesus was open to experience all that being a human person could experience. As he came to the end of his life, he fully and completely became Emmanuel, God with us. As David expressed in Psalm 22 these very words that Jesus spoke; as the prophets cried out time and again, “where are you, God?”; as Job in the depths of his misery cried to see and speak with God who had apparently abandoned him; as countless women and men throughout history have experienced the desolation and loneliness of suddenly realizing that all seemed lost, Jesus tasted the true human condition, embraced it, and totally identified with it. The result? I am saved by a person who understands me. I have a high priest and advocate who knows what it’s like to live in a world that needs a compassionate Savior. More importantly, I have a heavenly Father who will not abandon me because I may get dirty while walking through this world. I have a God who is not afraid to get the divine hands dirty while lifting me from the muck and mire of my life. This God; Father, Son, Spirit can be trusted with our very lives because Jesus is Emmanuel.

Atonement stuph…

It’s that season…Easter! The time when Christ followers around the world celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And, ever since that time discussions have ensued as to the meaning of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection.
Over at Theoblogy, Tony Jones has an interesting clutch of posts on the Atonement. Here is a link to a page that contains links to the discussions thus far. I’ve not read them all, but the discussion is open and diverse. I hope that you enjoy reading them!