Given the choice between the doctrine of original sin and the teachings of Jesus, I’m with Jesus!
For centuries the church’s doctrine of Original Sin, has defined human nature as inherently sinful. We are born cursed by the first sin of Adam. Born, some would insist, of bodily sin. Somehow the doctrine of Original Sin, permeates our understanding of the very act of procreation, and in the minds of too many, tainted the very idea of sex with sin. We are born of sin, into sin, and as such must die to our sins. So, we wash away our sins in the waters of baptism and are reborn as forgiven sinners. For years and years this has been the modus operandi of the institutional church.
This predominant doctrine of the church does not fare well when it comes to Jesus. Jesus knew nothing of Original Sin. Jesus was a good and faithful Jew. Original Sin is not Jewish. Original Sin is not in the Bible. For a good three-hundred years after the resurrection, the church had no doctrine of Original Sin. Today, Orthodox Christians have no doctrine of Original Sin. And yet the Roman Catholic and Protestant denominations have built their institutions on the Doctrine of Original Sin. I dare say that for a good many of us, our very psyche’s have been shaped by the doctrine of Original Sin. Most of us relate to God, as sinners in need of Grace. While there is no doubt that humanity is indeed sinful, I’d like to suggest that we look to the teachings of Jesus, and the ancient traditions of Christianity to recover a sense of the goodness of creation.
We are, as the stories handed down by our ancestors insist, created in the image of our Creator, and we are good. We are as Jesus insisted, loved and blessed. We are as the letter to the Ephesians declares, “God’s work of art” We are as the saints of old have known and written, “God’s delight.” We are as science proves over and over again wondrously made.
Every day as we learn more and more about creation and our place in it, we know that the ancient nomadic tribesmen of the Middle East got a few things wrong. There was no pristine human state. No time when humans were perfect. There was no fall from grace. The story of the fall is just that, a story told by an ancient tribe to try to explain their relationship to their Creator. Yes there is much truth to be learned from the story. But we cannot learn the whole truth from this ancient tale and we must not base our image of ourselves on this story.
We are wondrously made. We have learned so much down through the centuries and if we are to continue to follow the teachings of Jesus then we “must love God with our whole heart, with our whole soul, and with our whole mind.” We cannot check our brains at the door and don the persona of those “in bondage to sin” who cannot free themselves.
We have learned much about the cosmos over the centuries and that knowledge, despite our worst fears, does not diminish God. The more we learn about the cosmos and our place in it the more we learn of our Creator and the more we come to realize that it is good.
We live in a post-Darwinian world. We know about evolution. We know that humans have evolved and are continuing to evolve and this miraculous reality is to be celebrated and not feared. Creation is an ongoing reality. “All of creation has been groaning in one great act of giving birth.”
But sadly for some, it’s as if the Creator is throwing a marvelous banquet, and we are so preoccupied with our misunderstandings and distractions that we are refusing to attend. It’s long past time to free ourselves from the doctrine of original sin and embrace the sacredness of humanity.
The universe itself is full of grace. It’s time to open our arms to the embrace of the One who is, was, and ever more shall be, the One who lives and breathes in with and through us. The force that permeates the cosmos. We can hold on to our wounds or we can let them go and move on.
I’m not saying that there is no evil in the world, or that we are without error. But like Dr. Martin Luther King I believe that “the moral arch of the universe bends toward justice” and that standing on the shoulders of all those who have gone before us, creation has the potential to evolve. As part of creation we have the potential to evolve, so that each generation does a little better than the generation before. That means taking responsibility for our mistakes. Confession is good for us. We can’t learn from our mistakes unless we confess them. We can’t heal from our wounds if we don’t know what they are. We can’t develop if we don’t take a look at our shortcomings. We can’t simply let ourselves off the hook by saying it was ever thus, “We are by nature sinful.” and then keep doing the same things over and over.
Jesus’ life, death and resurrection calls us to do the work of improving our relationships with God and with one another, and to celebrate the goodness, the beauty, the grace, and the love that permeates creation.
There’s no time to wallow in our unworthiness. The banquet of blessings is well underway! It’s long past time to celebrate the blessing that Creation is. We’ve wasted enough time wallowing in original sin. It’s time to stand up and look around us at the original blessing in which we live and breath and have our being.
We are wondrously made! It’s time to embrace our Creator’s work; it’s time to embrace our humanity!
Re-reading Matthew Fox’s “Original Blessing”, I am reminded that although the doctrine of original dominates so much of Christianity theology and practice, there has from the very beginning been a splendid chorus of alternative voices who have heralded our Original Blessing. Contemporary voices are lending their voices to the chorus as we open our minds to the wonders that surround us in the cosmos.