Sunday, August 16, 2009

What I Think Of Original Sin

This is the Adam and Eve painting I like best. It's by Titian. Yes, there is breast, but we're all adults here, yes? I like to think we can be grown up about artwork. The reason I like it is the conceit of the portrayal of the devil. He's a cherub with little horns, and the back half is a snake.

Like the title says. This's been a long time coming, and I've rewritten it by hand a couple times. It's not some huge theological treatise or anything, this is just me, and my opinion, but...I've had a hard time writing it. I tend to veer off into tangents. So, please bear with me. :)

I don't think that there can be a discussion of original sin without mentioning Lucifer. I feel that he represents an integral part of how humans exercise free will. After all, if there is only one choice - God - what's the point of free will? How can you know what good is, if there is no evil? Humans experience, and define things, in many ways, by what they are *not*. Dry, wet, cold, hot, heavy, light. What's something 'dry'? It's not wet. See?

So, without the evil that is represented in Lucifer and his fallen angels, would we understand the goodness of God and His angels the way that we do?

And I'll admit, 'sympathy for the devil'? I have it. I suppose it's from a feeling that it isn't *fair* that we can ask for, and receive, forgiveness, and most people hold that he and the other angels can't. Of course, we don't really know the details of the Rebellion, if that's really what it was, but could what they did be any worse than what we, as humans have done? And then there's Job - I read that, and I see Lucifer as someone performing a *job*, in wreaking havoc and tempting. It goes back to my whole, you need both good and evil to define either one.

I happen to like this quote, for a philosophy on this entire matter:

"Concerning this 'war in heaven' (Rev. 12:7) we have only cryptic references in
Scripture; we are not told in detail what happened, still less do we know what
plans God has for a possible reconciliation within the noetic realm, or how (if
at all) the devil may eventually be redeemed. Perhaps, as the first chapter of
the Book of Job suggests, Satan is not as black as he is usually painted. For
us, at this present stage in our earthly existence, Satan is the enemy; but
Satan has also a direct relationship with God, of which we know nothing at all
and about which it is not wise for us to speculate.
Let us mind our own
." - Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way, pg. 57 - 58

So. Why begin with Satan when I'm supposed to be talking about Original Sin? Because, to my mind, without him, there wouldn't have *been* an original sin. The *original* original sin was his. Before we even came on the scene, the Devil and his angels had rebelled - they had defied and sinned against God. If Lucifer hadn't rebelled, he wouldn't have been in the Garden, whispering to Eve and Adam. And without his whisper, would they have eaten the fruit?

Ah, but he was, and they did. So. What was the original sin? I don't think that it was a shiny red apple, that's artistic representation. It wasn't even a literal fruit. What does the Bible actually say:

"Gen. 2: 16-17 - And the Lord God commanded Adam, saying, 'You may eat food from every tree in the garden; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you may not eat; for in whatever day you eat from it, you shall die by death.'"

"Gen. 3: 2-5 - And the woman said to the serpent, 'We may eat the fruit from the trees of the garden; but from the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, God said, 'You shall not eat from it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die'.' Then the serpent said to the woman, 'You shall not die by death. For God knows in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like gods, knowing good and evil.'"

Okay, so. If they weren't literal trees, which I don't think they were, what were they? And what was the 'fruit'? I can't tell you what the 'trees' were, but their 'fruit' was knowledge. Different 'fruits', different kinds of knowledge. God told them they could gain any knowledge, except for this one, the knowledge of good and evil. Why? Well, once you can see, good is this, evil is this, then, as creatures with free will, we have a choice. Before that, we have a choice, but we don't really *understand* it. Would we have gained that knowledge eventually?

I like to think, yes. I believe that the end goal was always the deification of mankind. We would have been given the knowledge, eventually. *However*, we weren't ready for it, when we took it. Our ancestors attempted to do an 'end run' around God and gain knowledge that we weren't prepared for. They thought of what *they* wanted, and not what God wanted, and *that* was the first sin. Self-centeredness.

And what happened, to them, to us, as a result?

1. Death - prior to the Fall, mankind was immortal. No death. After the fall, we became mortal. God told us death would be the result - since Adam and Eve didn't drop dead immediately, the aging and death that we know as normal must be what was meant, along with the spiritual death that is the separation from God we experience in sin. I believe it is a *mercy*, actually, that we die a mortal death. After all, if we were still immortal, but fallen, we would have to suffer as we do for all eternity. Death is a ending, and a new beginning. We can leave this struggle behind and go on to where we were always meant to be.

2. Propensity to sin - I cannot believe that we carry any of the guilt for the original sin. We weren't there, we didn't eat the fruit. However, as we are descended from those who *did*, we suffer the consequences of it. The inclination to sin is one of these consequences. When given two choices, one good, one bad, our first impulse is often to the bad. Why? Because it (nearly always) *feels* better, in the now. It's *easier*. It feeds our selfishness.

3. Man is a tarnished Image of God - We were created in the Image of God (Gen. 1: 26 - 27), but after the Fall, that Image is a little stained. We're not totally evil and depraved, or we wouldn't even be able to realize that we were in need of saving. Rather, I think it's like a veil that's covered us. We see through the veil, which tints and reshapes the world that we see. The world God created is still there (there is only one reality - we lack the power, even from the beginning, to change what God made from good into evil), but our perception of it is not as it should be. When we reside in the grace of God, struggling against our own selfish natures, against the propensity to sin, we lift the veil a little, and see the world as it really is.

4. Hardship - all the pain, suffering, hard work, and agony that we live with, came through the fault line of that original sin. And now we can use it, and how we react to the problems of the world, can be used to help us back into the grace of God.

5. Our Intellect - we were always meant to be thinking creatures, so the questioning, pushing parts of us are natural. The fact that someone invents a new energy source, or a new drug, doesn't make them (or what they've made), evil. It's neutral. It's what we *do* with our intelligence, what we do with what we make that is either good or evil. We have the capacity for both.

So. That's what I think. I hope that makes sense. If not, I'm sure someone will let me know. :)


  1. Hey Amber, you sound really really Orthodox and not very Roman Catholic. What have you been reading?

  2. Alana,

    I knew parts of it were fairly Orthodox, but is it really that far 'slanted'?

    2, 4, and 5 I have always thought, but #1 (the death as mercy portion anyway), I did come to understanding/agreement with after I started reading up on Orthodoxy and #3 is a new to me concept, which I did also get from Orthodoxy. I'd always been taught that we carried at least some of the guilt of the original sin, and that we somehow broke the world and made it fallen, but if you think about it, that doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

    I've read both The Orthodox Church and The Orthodox Way at least twice (with minireads for reference) and I'm in the middle of Let Us Attend, which goes step by step through the Divine Liturgy. *Very* interesting. Mostly though, I've been listening to the Our Life in Christ Archives as I get the chance. Fascinating stuff, and nicely presented.

  3. Wow, very well-thought out. Lots of new stuff for me. My Calvinist friends would argue with you on the totally depravity issue and the fact of us realizing we needed to be saved.

    But related to you in a way is that they think God does elect some because without election we would not realize the GREAT love God has for His elect. What I mean by it's related to you is your point about ...oh, I don't know now. But *something* made me think that way.

    Never heard of sympathy for the devil, but didn't think about the angels cast out of heaven not being offered redemption until a few weeks ago. Hmmmm.

    Anyway, lots of great stuff here. Thanks for posting it. Wow!

  4. Susanne,

    Thanks, I'm glad it did make sense.

    I imagine that your Calvinist friends and I would argue about a lot of things. :)

    I see no evidence, Biblical or otherwise, for the fall causing the total depravity of mankind. Because Calvinist's (and others) believe in our total depravity, they almost *have* to believe in election because otherwise how would we come to realize that we're depraved and in need of salvation?

    But I have issues with the doctrine of election. To my understanding, the idea is that God purposefully creates the majority of souls with the intention of them going to hell. They don't get a chance. Just the ones that God has pre-ordained for salvation get 'elected'. This removes our free will element necessary for salvation, and makes God an unjust God.

    Heh. Well, Sympathy for the Devil is a song, actually, but the phrase is apt. I feel sorry for them, I suppose. But I'm determined to take Kallistos Ware's suggestion to heart and 'mind my own business' on this particular matter.

  5. Yeah, I disagree with my Calvinist friends on some of those same issues you mentioned. I think they make Jesus look really foolish in some ways. I know they want to glorify Him and all that stuff, but quite frankly, I see it differently. I can elaborate if you want to know more, but otherwise, I'll keep this post Calvinist-free. (Well, I already brought them into it so that didn't work so well. Ooops!) Just don't get your knickers in a knot, 'k? ;-)

  6. Susanne,

    I'd like to hear the elaboration, if you get the chance and feel like it. :)

  7. how God is hurt for being rejected by Israel when Israel goes "whoring" after other gods in Jeremiah and other of the prophets. And when Jesus weeps over Jerusalem and says He longs to gather them like a hen gathers her chicks, but they would not let him. I think, HOW could they "let" you do that IF you made them nonelect and damned them to hell. Calvinists say God has to do all the work basically (which is fine), but then He weeps because they can't do something He never equipped them for. I told my Calvinist friend it was like I was a music box maker and I made 10 boxes. On five of them I made it so they could play music, but the other five I left out the music-playing ability. Yet I wept because those latter five wouldn't play music for me. Hello! I didn't make them capable of playing music so I am foolish to cry about that. So when you damn someone to hell and then cry about them not coming to you, it makes Jesus seem wacko.

    That's how I see it anyway. Aren't you glad you asked? :-)

  8. Ahahahahaa...

    Oh, yes, that actually makes sense. :)

    Kind of makes God seem... schizophrenic or bipolar or something.

    I'm always glad I asked. :)


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