Who Am I?

Original Sin 19 – St. Augustine & Pelagius

Posted: March 14th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Original Sin | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

It’s impossible to discuss the origin of the idea of original sin as the inherited or shared guilt of Adam without noting the context within which St. Augustine developed it. And the idea developed within the context of the long-running dispute between St. Augustine and Pelagius. I find that this particular dispute is often caricatured and positions are attributed to each man that do not appear to be entirely accurate.

So let’s start with Pelagius. While his teaching was ultimately condemned and he is considered a heretic (one who holds and teaches a different faith) in both the Eastern and Western Church, it doesn’t seem to have been as blatantly distinct from Orthodox faith as it is sometimes portrayed today. While Christianity had always taught and practiced the process of salvation as a lifelong synergy between God and man rooted in the amazing act of God in the Incarnation, Cross, and Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, it seems that Pelagius taught that in light of Jesus’ accomplishment, man had the potential to “work out his salvation in fear and trembling” without anything else from God. Most wouldn’t or couldn’t, of course, and thus required the grace or energies of God. But it was at least possible.

Pelagius, however, seems to have been quite adept at putting that idea in terms that seemed orthodox. The reaction to him in many places was ambivalent and sometimes even accepting. And that seems to have infuriated St. Augustine, who ultimately did convince his fellow bishops to condemn Pelagius. St. Augustine, known for his piety, had a deep sense of his own sinfulness and his inability to make any headway without the grace of God (which is to say God himself). As easily happens in such situations, St. Augustine was striving to make his case and in this instance, seems to me (and many others) to have overreached in making a rhetorical point.

That does not then mean that Pelagius was right. Today a lot of people seem to cast the discussion as some sort of an either/or dichotomy. Either you accept everything that St. Augustine ever wrote over the course of the dispute or you accept that Pelagius was correct. And that’s a false dichotomy. It’s easy to believe that Pelagius taught something other than the faith handed down by the Apostles and still believe that St. Augustine overstated his own case and was even wrong on some points. I certainly believe that’s true when it comes to his formulation of original sin and so does all of Eastern Christianity.

Nothing human ever happens in a vacuum. There are always many dynamics and forces at work. And if you want to understand an end result, you have to have some insight into the process and circumstances that produced it. Hopefully this post helps adds some of that context to the discussion.


Original Sin 18 – Seminal Reasons

Posted: March 13th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Original Sin | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Original Sin 18 – Seminal Reasons

I want to begin this post in the series with a disclaimer. I have had a deep love for the history of ancient and classical Greece, its gods, its plays, and its literature for most of my life. By the time I finished fourth grade, I remember having read Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, Bulfinch’s Mythology, the Illiad, the Odyssey, and Antigone. I was hooked. (That was also a somewhat more … interesting … year than some of the others growing up, so I may have buried myself in books a bit more than usual that year. And the reading wasn’t all on one topic. I know I read King Lear for the first time that year — and performed a scene from it in a talent show. Oh, and I have a memory of reading a ton of the Hardy Boys books that year as well.)

With that said I have to confess that that love never translated into a love for Greek Philosophy. Plato, Aristotle, Socrates? Over the course of my life I’ve read some of their work and have some general understanding of their frameworks. But in all honesty, I can’t think of any time I wouldn’t have preferred spending time with Lao-tzu or the Bhagavad Gita over any of them. I can usually tell the Stoics from the Epicureans from the Neoplatonists, but I hardly know much beyond the basics about any of them.

I say all that in order to say that when I speak about them, which I have to do in order to do justice to any series on the topic of Original Sin, I’m doing so from a state of qualified ignorance. I will undoubtedly make mistakes at some points. Hopefully they will be fairly minor. I believe I grasp the important points as they relate to my topic fairly well. But if you know more on this subject than I do and you notice a mistake, please let me know. It was probably made from ignorance not malice.

In this post I’ll begin to explore the history behind the idea of original sin as inherited guilt. And such a discussion has to begin with St. Augustine, and thus it also has to begin the Stoic and Neoplatonist perspective that shaped his perception of reality and from which he drew pretty heavily in his works. And one of the central ideas from which he constructed his view of original sin was the Stoic philosophy (also adopted by the Neoplatonists, I believe) of seminal reasons. That’s basically the idea that indeterminate matter has in itself the principles of all future manifestation and development. St. Augustine used that concept in a number of places, especially when it came to creation. But for the purposes of our series, this idea held that all future generations were present in the seed of Adam and, when he sinned, all future generations sinned with him.

That idea by itself is not exactly the same thing as inherited guilt, but in its effect it’s largely indistinguishable. When you combine it with the fact that St. Augustine appears to have held to some form of traducianism, which asserted that the soul as well as the body is derived in its generation from the parents and you can see how the idea that we all share the guilt for Adam’s act developed.

As far as I can tell, these philosophies — not anything specifically Christian — provided the structure and form to the idea of original sin as inherited guilt. I’m certainly not one to say that truths cannot be found in other religions and philosophies. I absolutely believe that they can be — and as Christian, when they are, I attribute their revelation to Christ. However, a lot of people seem to strongly believe that these ideas are rooted in the Holy Scriptures or were developed entirely from the tradition of the Apostles. And they weren’t.

I will look at the other driving forces to St. Augustine’s approach and the way he connected these ideas to the Holy Scriptures. But I wanted to tackle the philosophy behind the idea first. Hopefully I’ve done so in an understandable fashion.


Original Sin 17 – Blocked Transmission

Posted: March 12th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Original Sin | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

In addition to the issue of Christ’s nature that I discussed yesterday, which I perceive as the central problem, the idea that all mankind naturally inherits guilt in a “sinful nature” but that Jesus didn’t tends to raise another question. How is it that Jesus did not inherit our nature of inherited guilt when he became human? It seems to me that many Protestants simply ignore the question. I could be wrong, of course. I’m hardly an expert on any Christian tradition. But that’s my impression. I am aware of two different ways this question is answered, though.

The first I remember hearing in a sermon from a Baptist minister when I was a teenager. It stuck in my head all these years because it sounded so strange to me at the time. I wasn’t sure at first if he was serious or not, but it quickly became apparent that he was. I have no clue how common or uncommon this idea might actually be. If anyone does know, feel free to add that information in the comments. Here’s the thread of the explanation as I recall it.

Because Adam ate knowingly and was not deceived like Eve, his offense was worse. Both ‘fell from grace’ with God, but it’s from Adam that the guilt of original sin is inherited. As a result, children ‘inherit’ their nature of original sin from their fathers, not their mothers. The guilt is transmitted through the male descendants to their offspring. Since Jesus did not have a human biological father, he did not inherit the nature of inherited guilt and was thus born free of original sin.

In my mind, even if I try to take the idea seriously, it immediately raises another question. It’s safe, I think, to assume that at some point in the future, we will be able to do in vitro fertilization from cellular genetic sources other than, strictly speaking, a female egg and a male sperm. Ignoring for the sake of this question the whole matter of bioethics and whether or not this is something we should do, let’s just assume it will happen. Does that then mean that a child conceived from the genetic material of two women would also be born without a nature of inherited guilt? And what about a child conceived from the genetic material of two men? Does that child get a double whammy of inherited guilt?

I might sound facetious. I’m trying not to be, but the idea still strikes me as absurd decades after I first heard it. But if that is truly what some people believe, they will need to face questions like that and figure out how they are going to answer them.

The other response to this question lies in the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Roman Catholic Church. This is actually a more sophisticated dogma than the way it is sometimes portrayed by those outside the Church. It holds that Mary was miraculously preserved from the stain of the inherited guilt of original sin in order to provide a fitting womb for the infant Christ. It does not, as is sometimes said, that God could not have (or did not) simply preserved the infant Jesus from inheriting the stained nature of inherited guilt. It uses more the language of honor, reverence, and what was fitting. Also tied into this is the idea that Mary needed to be so preserved in order to offer her free assent to God.

I will note that the Immaculate Conception was fixed as dogma in the 19th century, so it’s a relatively recent Roman Catholic dogma. And I will also note that Eastern Christians, who certainly cannot be charged with a failure to hold the Theotokos in great honor and esteem, view it as unnecessary specifically because they do not agree that the state of sin for Adam’s transgression is transmitted to every human at conception. Although it retains much of the character of a mystery, it’s my understanding of the Roman Catholic teaching that though it is normal for human beings to inherit the guilt of Adam (which they do note is different in some sense from the guilt for acts we actually commit ourselves), God can intervene and prevent that from happening and he specifically did so with Mary and (I presume) Jesus.

The question that raises in my mind is probably different than the ones it raises for most people. My question is simple and direct. If God can choose to act to preserve people from inheriting some aspect of the guilt of their ancestor’s transgression without damaging their free will or their nature as his icons, why has he not chosen to do so for all people? After all, if the Christian God is truly a good God who loves mankind, we are under the curse of inherited guilt through no fault of our own, and he is able to simply free us from inheriting that guilt through a unilateral act, why hasn’t he done so for everyone?

If I were to accept any sense of original sin as inherited guilt, it would probably be the Roman Catholic version. It is the most nuanced and reasonable of all the variations. And yet it tends to collapse as well. In my mind the dogma of the Immaculate Conception does not alleviate that underlying tension. It makes it worse instead.


Original Sin 16 – Healing the Nature of Man

Posted: March 11th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Original Sin | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Original Sin 16 – Healing the Nature of Man

As I began to knit Scripture together with its ancient Christian interpretations, the image that likely sealed my turn toward Christianity was the image of recapitulation first found in the work St. Irenaeus of Lyon, Against Heresies. His imagery of recapitulation follows St. Paul’s typology of Adam and Christ.

[Christ became man], in order that, as our species went down to death through a vanquished man, so we may ascend to life again through a victorious one; and as through a man death received the palm [of victory] against us, so again by a man we may receive the palm against death.

Or perhaps my turn was sealed when I read Athanasius who in On the Incarnation of the Word wrote, “For He was made man that we might be made God.” Or perhaps it was Paul who in Romans 8, Ephesians, and Colossians described a vision of a work of God in Christ redeeming creation, summing up all that is in Christ, and doing it in and through and by love, that captured my heart as no other story about reality had ever done.

But at every point in my journey, I have been drawn to a God of love who became one of us, who was tempted in every way we are tempted, who endured all that we endure, in order to join his nature to ours and through that union restore us to life, bring us into communion with God, and redeem all that exists. That’s a God worthy of all worship and of all love. I would not say that about any other god.

And here is where the doctrine of original sin as inherited guilt creates a serious problem. For if Jesus was never condemned by God, then he could not have been born guilty. However, if his nature at conception did not carry the burden of inherited guilt and the nature of man is so burdened, then Jesus did not actually become fully human. He became instead something like a superhuman. He was not one of us. He walked above us instead instead of with us. Moreover, if he was not fully man, then his work cannot have truly healed man’s nature. St. Gregory of Nazianzus captures it beautifully in the simple statement, “What has not been assumed has not been healed.”

If Jesus was born with a different nature than the rest of mankind, then whatever else he accomplished, he could not recapitulate our lives on our behalf. He could, perhaps, purchase us. But having purchased us, he could not also heal us. He could not join our nature to God’s. There is a deep theological problem with the fundamental idea that we inherit guilt at birth as part of our human nature. It makes us other than Christ in our very nature. If Christ is not fully human, Christianity has nothing to offer — at least to me.


Original Sin 15 – What is the Gospel?

Posted: March 10th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Original Sin | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

I have been struggling over how I would write this part of the series since I started it. I know what I want to say, but I’ve discovered over the years that this is a place where the fact that I was not culturally shaped within the context of American Christianity creates a disconnect that is difficult to bridge. I don’t really grasp the inner experience and automatic assumptions of those who were shaped within that context and so it is often like navigating a minefield. I tend to express myself in ways that produce reactions I did not intend. I’ve never been known for a reluctance to “stir the pot” in any situation if that’s what I feel is necessary. However, I don’t have the sense that anything I want to say on this topic should be controversial for any Christian. It’s not only deeply embedded in the Scriptures, but consistently in the interpretation of those Scriptures throughout the first centuries of the Church. So I ask that if you react negatively to something I write in this post, takeĀ  a moment to explain your reaction to me and I’ll see if I can find better words.

I’ve been writing this series from the perspective of my own personal journey into and with Christian faith, so I’ll continue in that vein. It seems to me that most American Christians today don’t realize that in order to proclaim their story of “good news“, they must first either make a person feel bad about themselves or convince them that there is a powerful deity out there who will torment them forever if they don’t do as he requires. When you boil them down, most of the common “gospels” require you to first induce fear, guilt, or shame in the hearer before the rest of the proclamation (which is basically deliverance from the very shame, guilt, or fear you’ve worked so hard to instill) makes any sense at all.

Stop here and think for a minute about how you would explain to someone why they should consider being Christian. Am I wrong? Now, if someone is already consumed to some degree by shame, guilt, or fear, then it’s an easy sell, I suppose. But if a person is not, then unless you can manipulate them into feeling guilty or fearful about their status before this deity, most modern “gospel” proclamations have nothing to offer. And it seems to me that as soon as we fall into manipulation, we are acting in ways that God does not act. If I am trying to manipulate you, then I am treating you not like a person, but like an object instead. I cannot love you and use you at the same time. If that’s not “sin“, I don’t know what is.

I did not come into Christianity because I feared what this deity might do to me. I was living within non-Christian frameworks and was largely content with them. There was no ground in which fear of this Christian God could take root. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hand of the Lord, but you have to be Christian or shaped by a Christian culture before you begin to understand the deep truth of that statement. And by then you should understand that it is fearful due to the all-consuming fire of his love.

Similarly, I did not become Christian because I felt guilt or shame before the Christian God for my “sin“. Oh, I had and have guilt and even shame, but largely for the way things I’ve done have hurt other people or for failing to be the person I desired to be. (Some of it also probably flows from childhood experiences, but that’s a different topic altogether.) I had no sense of guilt toward the Christian God. In fact, I would still say that I am just discovering what sin actually means in a Christian context and how deeply that thread is interwoven in my life. Sin is also something that can truly be understood only from within a Christian framework.

If those aren’t the “gospel”, what then is the “good news” of Christianity? And why is it good news?

Christianity proclaims a good God who loves mankind. Christianity tells the story of a God who is about the business of rescuing mankind and all creation. The Christian God is not some distant, transcendent deity. No, the Christian God is the one who comes near, the one who enters his creation as a part of it, who empties himself. And by doing so, the Christian God is the one who destroys death and heals mankind’s nature, making communion with God possible for us all.

Here’s a question for you. If mankind had never sinned, if we had remained faithful, would the Son of God still have become Incarnate? The ancient Christian answer to that question is yes. Jesus would not have had to die if that were the case. It was through the Cross that he was able to destroy death in the Resurrection. But it was always God’s purpose (see Ephesians) for mankind to be joined in full communion with God. And that was only ever possible through the action of God. We could never have joined ourselves to God unless he first joined his nature to ours.

When I think about the Gospel, I like a phrase of Fr. Stephen Freeman’s. “Jesus did not come to make bad men good. He came to make dead men live.” I think that captures a significant and central part of it.

I realize that this post is getting long and I’ve still not reached the point that I originally intended to make. So I’ll wrap this up here and continue the discussion tomorrow.


Original Sin 14 – The Two Natures of Christ

Posted: March 9th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Original Sin | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Original Sin 14 – The Two Natures of Christ

Whether through the hands of another human being, in the narrative text of the Holy Scriptures, or through some sense of direct connection, it has always been Jesus of Nazareth, called the Christ, who draws me toward Christianity and who keeps me circling in a whirlpool of love with Jesus at its center. But I wasn’t interested in knowing just any Jesus of my imagination (or the imagination of others). I wasn’t interested in buddy Jesus. I’ve always been repelled by white, suburban, American, Republican Jesus. No, I wanted to understand (to the extent possible), learn to worship, and grow in communion with the actual man.

On the one hand this Jesus was a specific historical human being, a seemingly failed revolutionary gruesomely executed by one of the empires most gifted at instilling fear. The Christian scriptures themselves tell us that Jesus was tempted in every way we are tempted, he endured everything that we endure, he is truly one of us. When we turn toward Jesus, we do not find some supernatural, divine avatar who is something other than human. We find a human being in the fullest sense of the word.

And yet … he did not sin.

Sin is a word that is full of modern, often awful, connotations, but the way I have come to understand it is that Jesus did not miss the mark. He remained faithful where we all have been faithless. He lived and died as the true man, the Son of Man, the sum total of all that humanity was meant to be.

And here is where Christianity takes an amazing turn. Death could not contain Jesus. Death thought it had swallowed a man and found it had swallowed God instead. For the one human being, Jesus of Nazareth, was both man and eternal Logos — the Word or Act of God. Everything that could be said of the Father or had ever been said of the Father, could also be said of the Son. Somehow the one who created all things and in whom everything subsists became a part of his creation.

And all humanity is healed in that union. We are no longer in bondage to death. It is no longer the nature of man to die. Moreover, since our nature has been joined to God’s in Christ, we can move out of our bondage to death and sin and into communion with God. We are able to participate in the divine energies of God.

This discussion may not seem directly related to the topic of original sin as inherited guilt. But it seems to me that many people today often have a somewhat truncated vision of Christ. I’m not entirely sure why that’s the case, but if what I’ve described in this post does not lie somewhere near the center of what you consider to be salvation, then you may have only just begun to wrap your head around the immense implications of the Incarnation. I feel this post lays necessary groundwork for the next thing I want to discuss in this series.


Original Sin 13 – What Does Scripture Directly Say About Inherited Guilt?

Posted: March 6th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Original Sin | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Original Sin 13 – What Does Scripture Directly Say About Inherited Guilt?

I’ve spent a lot of time walking through the narrative of our Holy Scriptures and the way I see them interacting with the idea of inherited guilt. I imagine at this juncture, though, at least some readers are probably wondering if the Scriptures say anything directly about inherited guilt. And actually, they do. Personally, I know of only one place where the Scriptures directly address the idea.

(Ironically, it’s like the doctrine of sola fide or faith alone. There is actually only one place in the entire text of the Holy Scriptures where we explicitly find the idea of “faith alone” discussed, but those who hold to sola fide don’t really like to focus as much on that text and it’s one where they have to struggle for “alternative” readings of the text. Similarly, you won’t find much focus on this particular text among those who hold to the idea of inherited guilt.)

For that text, we’ll turn to our final prophet, Ezekiel. As a rule, I dislike placing too much emphasis on individual verses or short segments of the text. But there’s always a tension since you can’t just read or quote the entire text in every discussion. I encourage anyone following this series to go read all of Ezekiel or at least the entire flow of the narrative around chapter 18. But here is Ezekiel 18:20.

“But the soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the wrongdoing of his father, nor shall the father bear the wrongdoing of his son. The righteousness of a righteous man shall be upon himself, and the lawlessness of a lawless man shall be upon himself.”

We bear the guilt for our own actions, not for any other person’s actions. As with James, I’m sure there are any number of ways you can choose to read the text that negate its meaning. That’s why I don’t generally find that simply quoting texts has much value. The meaning of a text lies not in the text itself, but in its interpretation. That’s one of the reasons Christianity has over 30,000 schisms today all of which claim to ‘faithfully’ interpret the text of Scripture.

Ezekiel is an intriguing book. I’ll also note that a little later the text calls into question an idea that is usually closely tied to the idea of inherited guilt — that God condemns us to death for our inherited (and actual) guilt. Death and sin are intertwined in Scripture and its rarely a straightforward cause and effect relationship. We are mortal because humanity has turned from its only source of life. But then we are more strongly inclined to sin because we are mortal and because we experience the consequences of the sin of others. “Do I ever will the death of a lawless man, says the Lord, since my will is for him to turn from the evil way and live?” Is it God who wills death? Or is it ultimately us?

Just something more to think about. We’ll move on to other topics in the series tomorrow.


Original Sin 12 – God & the Nations

Posted: March 5th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Original Sin | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Original Sin 12 – God & the Nations

So God doesn’t eternally condemn or separate from his people, but he called a specific people because he does condemn the nations, right? After all, they don’t worship him, but other gods instead. They are mired in practices God condemns and it seems like God completely rejected them when he called his own people. And whether we call the people of God ‘Israel’ or we call his people the ‘Church’, they are still his people. He loves them and condemns the nations, right?

That is actually a valid question. And even if it’s not expressed exactly in those terms, how often do you hear things in Christian churches today that fall somewhere along those lines? I think you’ll find that the sentiment is broader than you might have imagined. Does it help if we call the nations the ‘world’?

In the Old Testament, I find one of the clearest answers to that question in Jonah. God loved the nations, even then, so much that he sent a prophet to them. That was a highly unusual act. After all, as far as everyone was concerned, he wasn’t the God of the Ninevites. They had their own gods. Moreover, they weren’t even a friendly nation. They were enemies of the people of God.

We usually reduce the story of Jonah to one about trying to avoid doing what God wants us to do. And while it’s true that we should not fail to do what God would have us do (even though we really don’t like much of what the NT has to say on that topic), that’s not really the point of Jonah. The focus is less on Jonah trying to avoid acting as God’s prophet and more on why he was trying to avoid that call. Jonah is running because he hates the Ninevites and wants them to be destroyed. And, as he says again and again, he knows that God is “compassionate and merciful, longsuffering and abundant in mercy, and willing to change your heart concerning evils.”

Jonah knew God better than many Christians seem to know God. He knew God had no problem with forgiveness. And he was thoroughly ticked at God for that precise reason.

The story in the Old Testament is never about inherited guilt. It’s about what people (or collectively nations) choose to do or not do. And God is first and foremost a God of patience, compassion, and mercy. That makes sense, of course, if Jesus really is God because that is one of the things that marks the Gospels so distinctively.


Original Sin 11 – God & Israel

Posted: March 4th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Original Sin | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Original Sin 11 – God & Israel

Obviously, an exploration of the arc of the narrative of Scripture, even when trying to focus on a specific topic, could go on forever. I still have a good bit to explore in this series after I finish my “quick” look at the narrative, so I’ve narrowed this part of my series down to three more posts. These three posts will primarily shift over to the prophets. The prophets are an intriguing bunch. They were given a message from God to proclaim on behalf of God. And often that involved not just speaking it, but living that word in and through their bodies. When we look at the prophets, we get some of the clearest pre-Incarnation portraits of God in terms we can understand.

Yesterday, I explored how God’s rescue mission for mankind turned when God called a people for himself. And God’s relationship with that people can tell us a lot about his attitude toward all mankind. After all, the people of God are ultimately intended to spread through the nations like yeast (as Jesus notes), heal Babel (as we discover at Pentecost), and bring all peoples into the one people of God (as we see especially in Paul talking about the Church).

I’ve listened to many different Protestant denominations speak about God and man as informed by their perspective on the doctrine of original sin as inherited guilt. And that perspective seems to require that God not only condemns mankind for their inherited guilt, but is ‘separated’ from man. A common image is one of a gulf or chasm between man and God. There seems to be this sense that unless you are repentant and “covered” by the blood of Jesus so that God can’t actually see you at all, but can only see Jesus, then God is repelled by your sin, condemns you, and is probably pissed off at you.

But does that really describe God? I would submit it can’t describe God as revealed in Jesus of Nazareth, since the entire Incarnation denies it. God draws completely near to us. He becomes one of us. And he seeks out the unrighteous and the unholy. In fact, that’s one of the complaints levied against Jesus, that he eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners. But that image of God is not just denied in the Incarnation. I noted earlier in the series that God has always drawn near to us in the story of Scripture. And once he calls a people, he continues to draw near despite their unfaithfulness.

The clearest picture we see of God’s faithfulness to Israel in the face of her unfaithfulness is Hosea. Hosea is told by God to go marry a prostitute, love her, build a family around her. And when she returns to prostitution, laying with other men, he does not leave her in that state. No, Hosea goes to her, buys her back, and brings her home once more. Yes, Gomer suffered the consequences of her own actions. Their children also suffered the consequences of her actions (as told by the story of their names). But there is no sense that Gomer is judged for inherited guilt. And she is ultimately not condemned. Hosea redeems her, rescues her from the conditions in which she has placed herself.

So it is with God and Israel. God calls a people. And they remain his people. He draws near to them before they were his people and he keeps coming near to them even when they turn from him. Ultimately, of course, God comes completely near by joining his nature with ours in Jesus of Nazareth. This God doesn’t easily align with the image of a God who attributes the guilt of ancestors to descendants. It’s my observation that people tend to end up with some pretty distorted ideas about God when they try to simultaneously hold both images of God in their heads. There is just not sufficient correspondence between the two narratives.


Original Sin 10 – God Calls a People

Posted: March 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Original Sin | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Original Sin 10 – God Calls a People

It’s within the context of a humanity divided into many peoples with many gods, that we see God’s next move in Genesis 12. And unless you grasp the context of Babel, the dominion of death over humanity, and something of the depth and breadth of the healing and restoration we required, God’s moves looks exceedingly odd. Out of the nations of the earth, God calls a people. Think about it for a bit. Humanity is fractured. Not only have we turned from our only source of life, but we have turned from one another. We’ve abandoned communion with God and thus we also have no communion with each other. And every nation and even household is ruled by its own god or gods.

It’s in that context that God calls one man and tells that man that He will make him into a great nation. But there’s more there than promising him land and many descendants (essential components for a nation). God also promises that he will “be God to you and your descendants after you.” In our ears it sounds strange to hear God promising to be God. But in the ancient context where every nation had its gods, the promise makes sense. You can’t have a nation without gods. And for the nation God will form from Abraham, God promises he “will be their God.”

On the surface, it looks like God is doing little that is different from the surrounding landscape. He will have his people while the other gods have their peoples. But there is a difference that at first is easy to overlook. God promises right at the start that in Abram “all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” God is creating a people certainly. But the purpose of that people is to bless all the nations. That theme steadily develops over the course of the narrative, though by the time of Jesus it is unclear how it will ever be fulfilled.

One thing, though, is clear. This is not the reductionist narrative I mentioned yesterday. From Genesis 12 on to the end, our Holy Scriptures form the story of the people of God. And it’s a complex and rich story that in the Old Testament speaks of Christ in shadow and in the New Testament is illuminated in and through Christ. It’s not the story of a people among many peoples, of a nation among many nations. No, it’s the story of a people that spreads through all the nations of the world like yeast in dough, incorporating them into one people of one God.

It’s hard to fit the idea of inherited guilt into that story of healing and the restoration of communion. It doesn’t fit anywhere in the natural flow of the narrative as we have it in scripture. Rather, it sticks out like something that has been jammed into it, but which forms a jarring note. Tomorrow we’ll look specifically at just a bit of the Old Testament narrative. There are a few things about God I want to draw out and emphasize.