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.

Symbols and Metaphor…Paths to the True Destination

For those of you who have followed my blog for any length of time, you’ll know that one of my favorite bloggers of all time if Jennifer D. Crumpton. Today I read her most recent post. In it she looks at a new book by Reza Aslan, entitled Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. He considers what the writers and original readers of the gospels would have understood about the truth of their stories. His is not a new take on this topic by any stretch. It is focused on people who say they have faith, they’re just not religious. Of special interest in Jennifer’s post is a video of an interview she did with Aslan. Both the blog and the video are a bit lengthy. So, if I had to choose, I’d watch the video. Pay special attention to the historic and literary context that Aslan identifies for the writing of the Gospel texts. A link to this particular post is here.

What do you think of the position taken regarding Scripture? Is it possible that fiction can bear truth?

 

Knowing God

Awhile back I had a discussion, well, let’s say a momentary interchange, with one of the pastoral leaders of the church I was attending. I was excited about the scriptures, in that they were becoming alive for me in ways that I had not experienced previously. I mentioned to him that I did not think that the Bible was a users manual for humans. It’s purpose is not so much to tell us how to behave as it was to reveal God’s love for the Cosmos. Although, there are things that point to how God expects those who are called as God’s children to live and act, this was secondary. My point being that unless we allow God’s word to transform us internally, the external things are of little importance. His response was that the Bible is a guide to living a morally and godly life. That it is imperative to follow the guidelines and precepts present in the text in order to please God.
Hmmm….I don’t think so. In Jesus’ day there were groups of people who thought like this pastor. We know them as Pharisees and Sadducees. The Pharisees loved Yahweh. They tried to follow the Torah in their everyday lives. They followed all of the prescribed behaviors in order to respond in righteousness to the grace they had received as God’s chosen people. This kind of thinking led Paul to state that he was, in fact, righteous according to the Law. But, the Pharisees missed something. Jesus said about them, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life” (John 5:39-40). Many today, like this pastor, think that by reading, memorizing, and attempting to apply the scripture as if it is law, they will achieve righteousness and, ultimately, eternal life. Yet, like the Pharisees, they aren’t able to “come to me” and receive life.
Like the Sadducees who were mistaken about the resurrection, people today impose on God presuppositions that limit what they allow God to be. They have an idea of how God is supposed to work, and try to fit the scriptures to that small understanding of the Creator/Yahweh who walked among us. Jesus’ response? “Is this not the reason you are mistaken, that you do not understand the Scriptures or the power of God?” (Mark 12:24). We all try to fit the infinite Yahweh Elohim into our finite minds. We are not built to grasp and understand the transcendent. But, we do God, the very good creation, and ourselves a great disservice when we try to do that very thing. God will not be fitted to our image. God, on the other hand, will try to make us into the image dei.

.

I saw this cartoon over at Dr. John Byron’s blog. For me, it sums up the position of biblicists. Folks who come to the scripture with presuppositions that specify how God must act, speak, exist in order to shore up a poorly designed position of biblical inerrancy. More on that to come.

Peter Enns and Adam

There is an interesting thread beginning over at http://thebiblicalworld.blogspot.com/.
Dr. John Byron has blogged about Peter Enns’ book, The Evolution of Adam: What theBible Does and Doesn’t say about Human Origins (Brazos Press, 2012).
The book has the potential to free many from the shackles of biblical idolatry, (bibliolatry). So many of us put the scripture in bondage to something that it was never intended to be. It is not a history, although it contains some. It is not intended to be science. Regarding some of the factors that Enns proposes we approach Adam today, Dr. Byron wrote, “(1) literalism is not an option, (2) that the Bible and science speak different languages and ask different questions, (3) that inspiration should embrace God’s use of cultural idioms, and (4) that a rapprochement between evolution and Christianity requires a synthesis, not just adding evolution to theology.”
I am waiting anxiously for Amazon to get my copy of Enns’ book into my hands. It sounds like a refreshing take on an old discussion.

The Whole Truth, and Nothing but the Truth

The ongoing discussions about biblical inerrancy continues to fascinate me. I’ve read the Chicago definition. I find it wanting. Mostly, because it tries to define God in an extremely narrow manner. It also, I feel errantly, raises the biblical text to the place of godhood. It is, as they say, bibliolatry. What really got me thinking about this was the nastiness that many display when this question comes up.
While struggling with this, and other issues related to the biblical literalist position, a professor of Old Testament asked an interesting question. While considering both Ruth and Esther as stories that most likely were not accounts of actual events, he asked if it was possible for truth to be expressed in fiction. Hmm….Heck Yeah! I began to think about the story of Scripture as narrative…a love story from Yahweh to creation. The inconsistencies in the text disappeared as did the battle between science and theology. In this world all can live together in the discussion. Inspiration has never been an issue with me. The text is inspired. It is, however, free to express God’s love, mercy, compassion, etc. without the hindrance of having to line up with, or do away with observable truth. Yea, God!
Anyway, I bring this up to share a link to another blog where this topic is being chewed on once again.
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2012/03/15/absolute-perfection-oh-my-rjs/
Enjoy!

The Virgin birth…fact? Does it really matter?

There has been quite a reaction to an article written by Albert Mohler. This article was in response to another by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times. Mohler’s argument that one must accept the virgin birth of Jesus as fact or risk one’s position as a Christ follower. He wrote, “This much we know: All those who find salvation will be saved by the atoning work of Jesus the Christ — the virgin-born Savior. Anything less than this is just not Christianity, whatever it may call itself. A true Christian will not deny the Virgin Birth.”
While I personally do believe in the birth of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels, Mohler’s inflamed rhetoric does little to convince anyone who is not a Christ follower of the truth of Christ’s life and mission to reconcile the Cosmos to Yahweh. It does, however, point to the narrow focus of some. Having read some other articles by Mohler, I think that this recent one reveals more about Mohler’s view on biblical inerrancy than to anyone’s faithfulness to Christ.