Saturday, 06 October 2012
From time to time someone brings up the concept of 'Original Sin" which is a Christian belief and not Jewish. What does it mean?
"Original sin may be taken to mean: (1) the sin that Adam committed; (2) a consequence of this first sin, the hereditary stain with which we are born on account of our origin or descent from Adam. From the earliest times the latter sense of the word was more common, as may be seen by St. Augustine's statement: "the deliberate sin of the first man is the cause of original sin" (De nupt. et concup., II, xxvi, 43). "It is the hereditary stain that is dealt with here. As to the sin of Adam we have not to examine the circumstances in which it was committed nor make the exegesis of the third chapter of Genesis."
I think it means that we are brought into a world where cycles of violence and abuse of all kinds are passed on from generation to generation. Many ask in great pain why the world can't become a more humane place, why so much cruelty and horror? Unless there is a way to deal with this, our continue spiral downward will continue until perhaps we destroy ourselves in one great war of rage and self hatred directed outward.
This is hard to swallow I know, I don't like it myself, but the way of world seems to point that this view is correct. That does not mean that there are not many good people in the world who actually break the cycle of violence and abuse in their own families and by doing so do help all of mankind. Even the gifts of science can be used to destroy and enslave, our entertainment and news does the same thing. In the United States it seems apparent we are moving ever closer to more chaos and fragmentation -- there is no end in sight.
Those who seek to stop the cycle of violence I believe are touched by God's grace and that there are a lot of people who seek to better the world through compassion. No religion I believe can claim that only they are the avenue for this influx of grace and love from the Transcendent. The paradox is this, only those who know that they are part of the problem, or could easily be a part of the further disintegration of our societies can bring about change. Without self knowledge it is only reduced to finger pointing which only aggravates the cycle. Mercy and love or the only way to do it, nothing else will work.
To show mercy and forgiveness has a cost, a heavy one. When loving parents forgive a man or woman who abused or killed their child, they take on a great deal of pain; they can't seek revenge but take the cost upon themselves. They are crucified, but this kind of suffering leads to deeper healing and compassion. The seeking after justice or revenge for the most part can only lead to an ever deepening self contentedness and rage that has no end. If mercy is to be received, the who accepts it will only benefit to the extent that he understand the harm that was done and what those who forgive are putting themselves through. Mercy and forgiveness comes with a heavy price. It is easy to forgive someone unknown, or unloved, if the harm is slight, but the deeper the pain the harder it is to forgive. Justice demands balance, to forgive brings that back and stops the cycle of violence. When the past is held on to, those who do evil continue to exert power and dominance over their victims and their families.
Jesus Christ, who I believe is a revelation of God, did not come because of a wrathful God, no he came to show mercy and to forgive. Since all evil done to another human being is done to God, then only God can forgive all human evil and cruelty or if you want 'sin'. He did it by not seeking justice, but taking it upon himself; he suffered our spiritual death on the cross. "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me"? He experienced hell in our place; out of love, out of mercy; to bring us all to that place of inner healing.
Since Jesus is I believe God, what he has shown us in his death and resurrection, is something that has gone on from the beginning of time. God immanent and transcendent, who takes on our suffering and journeys with us, that is the message of the cross. It shows our worth, our dignity. Human hearts are made for love, we come close to God when we learn through our own needs and weakness to have compassion for all, this is grace at work, no matter what path is walked.
The belief in original sin and in sin in general is not there to make us feel neurotic guilt, but real culpability which is good. It is like feeling real anger; it gives the energy to move forward. To understand that sin means that I have the freedom to change, and that because of God’s mercy and compassion I can begin ever anew, each day.
I know for many this is absurd, fine, but the reality of our inability to make a better world on our own, points for me the reality of sin and our need for salvation by grace. This is available to all. Reality is open-ended, that means that any simplistic understanding in how God works in the world is doomed to becoming an ideology and that brings death.
What do you think original sin means to us today? Have you seen its impact in your life?