This post is part of the Credo Blog Series (which has been a little slow coming – but I hope to get back into the groove of writing on these important theological topics). For some basic information about the series, go here. Photo Credit.
I believe that man is made in God’s image and that God created man to live in perfect communion with himself. However, God gave man free will. It was because of this that man chose the knowledge of good and evil over his creator God. Thus, sin entered the world. Because of the sin of the first Adam, all are affected by it. Humans are inherently morally corrupt by nature and can only do good by the grace of God. The sinful nature of man keeps us from wanting or even having the ability to know God. Therefore, God wanted to restore the broken relationship between himself and man. He accomplished this by condescending himself to his created world.
While I entitled this section “Humanity & Sin” – it certainly is mostly about the sinfulness of “man” [sic]. Let’s see what we have:
- Man [sic] chose the knowledge of good and evil over his [sic] creator.
- Because of the sin of the first Adam, all are affected by it.
- Humans are inherently morally corrupt by nature
- The sinful nature of man [sic] keeps us from wanting or even having the ability to know God.
Sounds like I covered it all there – wow. In a nutshell: “man [sic] is screwed.” Seems like kind of a bleak picture, if you ask me.
Since the section was entitled “humanity” – you’d think I would have spent at least a few sentences discussing how humanity was created in the imago dei, the image of God, and what that means. People have written whole books about the implication of what it means that we were all created in the image of God, but I tend to focus on the idea that it means we are called to be relational beings. Since before the creation of the world, God existed in perfect communion, love & relationship – humanity being created in the image of God means that we too are created for communion and relationship. We experience that with the others in our lives, and ultimately with God in some way.
I don’t know if I had just recently been reading some Augustine that semester, but the “original sin” element creeped into my Credo in a major way: “inherently morally corrupt.” Wow – now that’s a positive view of humanity. While it’s still evident in our world today to see the evil and brokenness in our world – I don’t want to say that humanity is inherently morally corrupt. I think that we have a deep vulnerability and knowledge that all is not well in the world – but as to our inherent nature? I believe that humanity inherently desires connection and relationship both with others, with the world and with the sacred. Yes we are broken – but I don’t see the benefit for humanity to constantly be focusing on the negative. But I also don’t want to be naïvely hopeful about humanity and fall into the modern sin of the idea of progress.
Perhaps it’s more that I think we ought to focus our discussion of sin not on the individual, per se, but on the structures of sin and systemic sin that is pervasive in our world today. Any good theology of sin will include both the individual and the corporate idea of sin; to focus solely on the individual is to avoid obvious social evils and forces of tyranny and oppression and to focus solely on the social aspect is to lose any type of human culpability and responsibility for the evil that is taking place, often times in social institutions because of individuals. Many times this occurs because of humanity’s desire to stop looking outside of themselves: “Man is tempted to make himself existentially the center of himself and his world” (Tillich, Systematic Theology II). Theologian Paul Tillich does a good job of recognizing the similarities and links between both the individual and the social and more universal aspects of sin: “Sin is a universal fact before it becomes an individual act, or more precisely, sin as an individual act actualizes the universal fact of estrangement.”
I also just recently read Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, “Speaking of Sin.” In her book, she argues that we must use sin language. She thinks that too often both conservatives and liberals have used different language for sin, and that has taken away some of the deep meanings and paradox of the term. Both the Hebrew and Greek words for sin have so many variations – it is such a rich term. And she believes that sin is our only hope.
She writes, “Sin is our only hope, because recognition that something is wrong is the first step toward setting it right again.” She believes that sin, at its very core, is anything that takes us “out of sync” with God. I really resonate with that language about being “out of sync.” There could be individual or corporate actions, big or small things, that could all contribute to our being “out of sync” with God.
Humanity & Sin – 2009
God’s act of creating culminated with the creation of humanity: beings made in the imago dei – the image of God. As we are created in the image of God, we have deep inclinations toward community and relationship. When we are at our very best, we are striving to be in sync with God, others and the created world. However, it’s clear when we look at our world today – things are not always in sync. This comes from humanity’s individual actions, corporate structures of sin and a world that groans for the day when we are able to experience the New Heavens and New Earth. While these imperfections exist in the world, women and men and creation are constantly on a journey toward restoration and sanctification throughout this life.