Today’s blog is in response to an assignment I have for seminary on original sin, in which I am to respond to the following statement:
“It just doesn’t seem fair for God to hold us responsible for Adam’s sin.”
My response would be an unqualified, “So?” and if pressed, “Life’s not fair.”
After picking myself up off the ground (for my interlocutor is the size and strength of Pastor Brian, but less Lutheran and more violent), I would ask my new friend to further explain her question. I imagine our dialogue would go something like this: She: You Lutherans are always going on about the freedom of the will, and that we are saved by grace, but if this isn't Calvinistic pre-determinism, I don’t know what is. You’re saying, with the doctrine of original sin, that innocent babies are born having no choice but to sin, that we are condemned from the outset by our ‘loving God,’ and that we can’t do anything about it?
Me: Yes and no. We are conceived in sin, and there is an indelible mark against us called “sinful nature.” That is why, if you listen carefully on Sunday, that the pastor forgives you of all your sins – the sins of thought, word and deed – but not of your “sinful condition.” Those sins that you commit – the actual sins – are the misdeeds that you confess each week, the ones committed by you. But we can never escape our sinful condition; not by ourselves anyway. So is there something you can do about your actual sins? Of course – you can commit to loving your neighbor and doing all the things a follower of Jesus would do. There is nothing you can do about your original sin (which is not, to quote Eddie Izzard, poking a badger with a spoon, though that definitely is original.She: But that’s not fair.
Me: Tell that to the child born with AIDS, or leukemia, or crack babies, or children with the proclivity towards alcoholism, or other forms of instant gratification. It’s not fair. And who do we blame for their condition? She: In the case of some of those conditions, their parents.
Me: And what did they do? She: They drank or smoked crack while pregnant, or slept with someone who had AIDS.
Me: So you’re saying that the blame lies with the parents. She: Yes.
Me: Me too. She: Wait.
Me: No, you’re right. Those children inherited their disease from their parents. We inherited sinfulness from our parents. And lest you go laying all the blame on Adam and Eve, if it hadn’t been them, it would have been Cain. And if Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel would have somehow been able to live a perfect life, someone along the way would have started the stain that became original sin. My choice would be Lamech (Gen. 4:23) She: But why is this important?
Me: It’s foundational to our belief, because we do not believe that people are inherently good; and think of the shift in our educational, psychological, political and sociological policies if we operated under that supposition. You don’t have to look any further than the recent housing crisis to conclude that it arose from our sinful nature, of wanting something for nothing. She: I think I’m almost there, but could you give me a metaphor from Bo Giertz?
Me: I’m happy you asked. Bo asked us to picture sin and our sinful nature as a Norwegian bachelor farmer clearing his farmland. Some of his sins are like grapefruit sized rocks evident from the surface that he can easily toss away. One sweep of the ground, rocks in the bin, a good days’ work. As he starts to plow the field, however, he runs into some bigger rocks below the surface. So he spends a week unearthing those sins that are not quite evident from a surface examination. He works hard, and excises all of the bigger rocks. Satisfied with his work, he sets about plowing his field once again, and discovers a sin the size of a boulder. Realizing he cannot by his own strength get rid of that boulder, he calls his friends and neighbors and together they first set about breaking the boulder into smaller pieces, until he can haul them away. This takes the better part of a month, and he and his neighbors are satisfied that he is free and clear to live a righteous life; i.e. plant his crops.
The funny thing is, though, that while he was standing in the bottom of the hole they took the boulder out of, he discovered that there was something hard underneath the ground. Thinking it was another boulder, he quietly tapped-tapped it. It was bigger than a rock, bigger than a bigger rock, bigger than even a boulder. In fact, the more he cleared the dirt away, day after day, he realized that it was not a rock at all, but a foundation of granite that lay underneath his entire land. And upon this discovery, he was humbled, and then rejoiced, because he realized that he had plenty of good, fertile land to upon which to grow his crops; and yet there was this underlying hardness which he could never get rid of.
That granite is our sinful nature, upon which we can live as righteous followers of Jesus, but never escape completely. She: Thank you, Lutheran man o’ God!
Me: You’re welcome.