The Diseased Imaginings of a Tainted Mind
This is one of those problems that’s been bugging me since I began reading a blog post about why, theologically, we _need_ a literal Adam. Annoyingly I couldn’t find the blog post again in order to take the points individually, but the general debate is based on the problem outline by Peter Enns in a blog post about his new book.
The problem seems to be that without Adam, Sin looses it’s force. It’s something that is not transmitted to everyone in a physical way. Of course, for this idea, we have to thank Augustine, and the way in which he approached and outline the concept of Original Sin.
I have, elsewhere, spoken about how I find the concept of Original Sin as expounded by Augustine unhelpful,and in the modern world incomplete. It was only when confronted, theologically, with the idea that Evolution that I began to explore what this implication truly means.
For me, of course, Evolution doesn’t pose a theological problem in that way, and I hadn’t really explored what problems others had with evolution. It seems to be that the reason why some people deny, or have difficulties accepting Evolution is that it means that their understanding of Sin falls down without Adam.
I have always accepted Adam as a metaphorical figure. The question for those Biblical litteralists is that if Adam is metaphorical, then ipso facto Jesus Christs existance/cross/resurrection is also metaphorical.
Now, I’m not sure that’s necessarily true, but I know that then opens me up to the causation of “cherry picking”. So be it. I’m comfortable with that. So, back to the point of the literal Adam.
If there is no literal Adam, why is there Sin?
It seems to me that the story of the literal Adam is unnecessary if the story is seen as a metaphor. That we each of us fail in our required obedience to the commandments of God. Some of us in small ways, some of us in big ways. The result of that disobedience is that we show ourselves unworthy of paradise, and the gates become locked to us.
Our world then becomes the place in which we have made ourselves live. A place of hardship and toil.
These ideas are not in and of themselves new. I would hazard that it is this position, or derivatives of it that most Christians today secretly accept as their position. It solves the rather quiet assumption that it was never possible to remove Sin before Christ, despite the Old Testament having many ways in which people could atone for sin, not least through animal sacrifice, and through the scape-goat(citation needed).
This then raises the difficult question of can one be Good without God?
For many, the removal of a form of the literal Adam makes this a rather scary possibility. Again, to deny that people can be good without God is to deny the reality of the world that we see around us. People can strive, and seek to do good. There are many people who donate time and money, as well as themselves to charitable works, without having a belief in a deity. It is possible to argue that, somewhere in their actions, they are not being entirely selfless, they are seeking personal wellbeing, or even a personal feeling of success, and as such they are not being truly Good, because they have not removed that section of the Ego.
Again, this seems to be simple denial of the truth. It would be difficult to find any Christian that is doing it simply because it is worth doing, and that their actions through doing it are for the Glory of God. For many, at the back of their minds is the promise of Eternal Life if they managed to live well, or perhaps of pleasing God. While Christians would affirm that these motives are more fulfilling motives, they are at the very center, selfish motives. The focus is not about what God has asked, but what God will do for me in that situation. God will be proud of my actions, and therefore grant Eternal Life.
The moment we allow for some leeway in some-how privileging the Christian thinking above others, we are in a very real way ignoring the deep-held Christian view of Sin, that it is about being prideful.
We therefore need to take another look at this situation, and it raises some very difficult theological questions.
1. If someone can be good without God, why do we need God?
2. If someone can be good without God, what use is salvation?
These are two very deep questions that both deserve an answer.
I have often thought that the notion of needing God in the modern understanding has lost some of it’s force. God is the force which drives, binds us, and calls us to always seek to do that which will build up his kingdom. He also ensures that we do not do these things in our own power, but enables us through his Holy Spirit to do these things.
It is the very understanding of that self-same Kingdom that gives us the beginning of our theological exploration. Jesus said “The first will become last, and the last will become first” (citation needed). It seems, on the face of it, very hierarchical. Rather, it is a reminder to us that we are to seek the place of humility, not for the sake of humility (for that is pride and ego), but because it is from that place that we can better serve.
In a recent statement, Pope Francis suggests that it is the action of doing good that is the important thing, and that through the blood of Christ shed for all, it is here that everyone can meet, and to follow their search.
We still have no articulated need for God. The movement here is towards the fact of God. God exists, whether we need him or not, and our journey, weather we believe it or not, is towards seeking our place in heaven.
If this is true, however, then what good is salvation?
To explore our answer to that, we need to understand the need for forgiveness. There are many points in our life where we need to be forgiven. Be it by a partner, a friend, or even an acquaintance. When you seek forgiveness, and have it granted, it is a release. There is also the need to seek personal forgiveness for those things that we cannot forgive ourselves for. It is in these struggles that the power of true forgiveness can be glimpsed. Our transgression are not simply forgiven, but wiped away, made clean. We can begin again.
This approach, however, still doesn’t articulate a need for the Salvation of God. It is here, however, that we find the greatest forgiveness. There will be transgressions that we have that weigh us down, that keep us from the spirit of heaven. Things that, in the darkest hours, return to haunt us. They are things that we know will keep us from peace. These are things that need to be forgiven, and we need to be absolved of them.
This then, begs the question of what sins are unforgivable? Is it possible to make it through life leading an exemplary life without such weighty transgressions?
The theory would have to say yes, that it is possible, but extremely unlikely. There will be a point at which we are able to explain away much of what we do, and some things we will feel, will not require the forgiveness of God.
However, does the emphasis on forgiveness do justice to the notions of salvation? Forgiveness in traditional thinking is predicated on the basis that we have, individually, done something that is requiring of forgiveness. This is something that we may have even inherited. If we are starting from a position that we have all chosen to fall from grace, a place with no literal Adam, we still need to put the emphasis on seeking forgiveness for that which we may have done. An ever increasing weight of guilt, seeking almost to make us paranoid about what we will need to ask God for.
This doesn’t settle well with the notion of a loving God.
Salvation, then, must be seen in a more radical light. The cross removes from us the barriers that we (as a people) had erected between us and God, the resurrection shows us the way to new life. It is not just about the forgiveness, and the emphasis that we have put on such forgiveness does breed a rather unhealthy obsession with the body; something that Plato would have been proud of.
SAlvation in this radical light then becomes more about the empowerment of the self through interaction with God. We are offered all kinds of benefits of seeking after God, and God’s wisdom, which are made even more concrete with the arrival of Christ. It Christ offers a way back after we ourselves have chosen to close the gates of paradise.
It may seem odd that in this modern world of skepticism that it would be possible to say that the gifts offered to the apostles are still available to us, but it seems to me that such is the power of Christ. We have to be careful not to overplay our hand, and to hold always that Indian proverb “Pray to God, but row away from the shore”. It is in this new life, with this connection that we are offered by God that those who seek to believe will find themselves. It is a connection of comfort, yes. Yet it is more than this. More than simply the offering of forgiveness for that which we have done. It is a place where we can seek to be who we truly are, with all our flaws loved and known by Christ.
Salvation does not lose it’s power when we remove the literal Adam, rather it empowers us to be in charge of our destiny. No longer are we “weighted to Sin”, but rather we are choosing with full knowledge those negative, destructive things we indulge. Without the literal Adam, God moves from a position of tyrant to being one who is, who is in charge in a more complete and deeper way over his creation. He is not the maker of arbitrary rules that we are destined to fail to achieve, but rather one who seek to create the Kingdom, of all people striving to do good, and to seek to meet them there. His sovereignty is intact, and more realised.
It may seem that there are some unanswered questions here, about the accusation of Cherry Picking from the Bible outlined above. This post is beginning to get a little long, so I’ll just say that it seems to me that each book of the Bible requires a different approach to reading it. I would even go so far as to say that sections of those books lend themselves to different approaches. We need to be fully aware of as much of the history, social movements, and other critical factors are the unmentioned subtexts in the books. I do not think that there is a single unifying way of approaching the selection of books, but rather that different modes of reading are appropriate for different forms of searching.
Thanks for reading,