“It is not that if I am moral, then I will be loved by God; rather, I must first come to experience God’s love, and then I will—almost naturally—be moral.” – Richard Rohr
When you peel back the layers of a person, when you move beneath our experiences, stories, and ways we’ve been formed by the world, when you get to the ESSENCE of a person what do you encounter? What is your and my true self, innocent and untainted by life? Are we inherently bad or are we born good? The way we answer that question makes all the difference in the world, AND whether we realize it or not, we’ve been deeply informed by a story saying our truest self is faulty, we’re born bad.
Within western Christianity and for over a thousand years there’s been two beliefs, which go hand-in-hand and greatly influenced all the West for quite some time: Original sin and sin nature. Original sin says that once the first humans, named Adam and Eve in the Bible, went astray, stopped trusting God, and sinned by eating the forbidden fruit, humanity has been tainted. It effectively says their wrong permanently altered our DNA, making it so we are born with a sin nature. As I understand it, sin nature means our innermost wants, desires, and passions are selfish and warped. It says our true self, the innermost core of our identity, is wicked, as we’re evil in our hearts.
Maybe this notion sounds ridiculous to you. Perhaps you’re nodding and thinking: “Yup, that’s pretty much how we are.” Possibly you’re somewhere in between. That said, I think wherever you stand on the topics, in the West original sin and sin nature have deeply informed our worldview and how we treat others.
Let me point out a couple of quick examples. Consider the justice/legal system in the U.S. Think of our prison system. Do we rehabilitate people? Do we seek to heal lawbreakers? Do we truly try and help criminals become the positive and productive citizens I’m convinced they’re capable of being? OR, instead do we punish people? Do we set them up for future failures instead of coming success? Once they’re set free do we see them as beautiful humans or as criminals? Do we minimize them, exclude them from jobs, and even prevent them from voting?
Hopefully you get my point. Are there stories of redemption and turning things around? Absolutely! AND stories and statistics show the norm is NOT healing or restoration, instead it’s exclusion, marginalization, neglect, and more crimes for those who’ve gone through our prison system.
Now, bring to mind the U.S.’s relationships with other nations. Remember the “Axis of Evil”? What do you think of when I say North Korea? How about Russia? Or ISIS? How many countries do we have military bases in, so we can protect our interests and selves from the BAD GUYS? BTW, Momma Google says it’s more than SEVENTY (BBTW, it’s “Momma Google” because when you have a question, you ask mom 🙂 Do you see what I’m getting at? The U.S. fundamentally approaches much of the world as if the people are evil and not to be trusted.
I know I said a “couple” of examples, but lets make this a little more intimate with one more. Bring to mind a person who drives you CRAZY. A person who hurts/hurt you (or people close to you), treats you unfairly, doesn’t care well for you, doesn’t hear or see you well, etc. You may be super enlightened and incredibly kind (LIKE MY WIFE! <3 , and isn’t there part of you that just writes him/her off as BAD, DONE, and irredeemable? Or is just me who goes there?
I could go on, but my point is simple: Those of us who live in the West have been formed and influenced by the beliefs of original sin and sin nature. We write people off as hopeless. We see people groups, nations, or races as flat out evil.
In my mind and experience, though, original sin/sin nature and the ways they’ve formed us are pretty much UN-helpful and largely untrue. Did you know Jesus was a Jew and Jews don’t believe in either doctrine, so as best as we know the Christ didn’t think original sin and sin nature were “things”. Muslims don’t affirm them either. Truthfully, much of the Christian Church also doesn’t uphold these “truths”. I’m convinced a FAR better path forward for us all is to accept and live into Original Blessing, wherein our job becomes to remind each other of our inherent goodness, as Richard Rohr says.
(Evil Lang and Good Lang 🙂
Did you know Original Blessing is every bit as Christian, if not more, as original sin? So, what is “Original Blessing” anyway? And why does Lang keep capitalizing “Original Blessing”, while leaving “original sin” in lowercase? Great questions!
Original Blessing is a gift. It is grace through and through, GIVEN to us by God. No doing is required. It’s the Divine Love always and forever with us, before us, around us, within us, and declaring us beloved children. We are goodness becoming better. I capitalize Original Blessing, then, because it’s not of us, though it IS us, so much as it is a gift FROM God. This makes evil and sin foreign substances. They are outside powers counter to our Creator and the divine blueprint we’re birthed from (hence lowercase). This is why Jesus is frequently seen as and named Healer. And think about the numerous times the Christ is portrayed as casting demons out of people, isn’t that the expulsion of evil things that, while IN us, are truthfully FOREIGN to us?
You know how sometimes we make HUGE deals out of small things? We even have a saying for it: Making a mountain out of a molehill. It seems to me that’s what happened with the whole original sin and sin nature thing. In trying to make sense of why there’s so much violence, hate, division, and harm in the world, and ourselves, we latched on to one passage in the Old Testament and a handful in the New Testament and made MOUNTAINS out of them.
I don’t want to go all Biblical on you, so will just talk briefly about one well known story and point you to further reading if you’re interested. Original Blessing: Putting Sin in Its Rightful Place by Danielle Shroyer is a well written, easy reading, thorough, and mind-blowing book on the topic I’m writing about. I HIGHLY recommend it.
In Genesis 3 we get the story of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit after being tempted by the snake. This is named “The Fall” and cited as the moment of original sin, which gave us our sin nature. I’d like to point out two things I think are SUPER interesting and helpful. First, the Bible is nothing if not repetitive, especially the Old Testament. Over and over and over and over and over and over it hammers important points home. For instance, there are over THREE THOUSAND verses in the Bible saying how vital it is for us to feed, support, house, cloth, care for, and love the widows, the orphans, the aliens, the hurting, the oppressed, and so on. YET, not once do the Old Testament writers refer to Genesis 3 and the eating of the fruit as any kind of important moment. IN FACT, as near as I can tell they don’t refer to it AT ALL.
My second point is something that IS talked about frequently. Creation is full of Divine splendor and beauty, and we are made in the image and likeness of this joyful, extravagant, and loving God, who created ALL reality from and for bliss. Right from the outset, God names animals, mountains, nature, and ALL creation “GOOD”, before declaring humanity “VERY GOOD.” This refrain, about the wonder and beauty of what the Divine fashioned, is repeated over and over and over and over and over and over in Scripture. Why? Because when something is important we say it, shout it, and proclaim it every chance we get. BTW, I LOVE my wife!!! <3
Do you want to know something “weird”? The Bible starts with the Book of Genesis, and the beginning of Genesis is Genesis 1 … NOT Genesis 3. I say that because “The Fall” is in Genesis 3, but creation and God making us in the Divine image and naming us “VERY GOOD” is in Genesis 1. In short, the beginning of the Biblical story STARTS with blessing, goodness, and joy. If you and I were a building, this would mean our foundation is stable and secure, it is Light and Love. Falling down, like we ALL do, comes later, is on TOP of the foundation, and is NOT our starting point. We start as children of a Loving God, made in the image of Love, created to love and be loved, and with the potential to live into these truths.
I hate to take a consumerist turn, but I think it helps drive this point home. When you buy something defective, what do you do? You return it for a refund or replacement that works, right? And what happens to companies that regularly produce flawed products? They go out of business, because word will spread and people won’t buy their junk. If there was a BEST COMPANY EVER wouldn’t it be God? And wouldn’t the Divine make the most AMAZING things? With that in mind I ask: How could a good Creator make inherently bad humans? Or how could us mortals so deface a Divine product that it’s fundamentally flawed?
We trust God is good and we are in that image, so how could our truest and innermost selves be anything other than Light and Love?
Side note, I considered saying I was just using this as an illustration and us mortals really shouldn’t be in the business of questioning or critiquing the Source of all reality … but then I remembered questioning, wrestling with, and even accusing God is one of the most faithful things we can do. The Bible is chalk full of people engaging our Creator in these ways, and it appears God generally approves it. After all, who could be safer, more understanding, and more caring than our Divine Parent?
What do we make of sin and evil in the world and ourselves then? And what about Jesus then? If we’re inherently good, why and from what do we need the Christ to save us from?
In my mind, and following the lead of Richard Rohr and others, I understand true sin to be forgetting who we are and Who we are always with and Loved by. A super helpful way of reading the Bible is to see the stories as archetypes, meaning they’re examples of journeys we all go through and give us pointers on how to thrive during those parts of our lives. For instance, in Genesis 3 the serpent asks Eve questions concerning God. More to the point, the serpent casts doubt on whether God is trustworthy, loving, giving, and good. I’m convinced these are lies and sin is nothing more or less than when we trust them. Sin is believing the Universe is unfriendly, thinking our Creator is unsafe and to be feared, not trusting Love is on our side and has our backs, and forgetting God is always and forever with us and on our side.
When we forget these truths or believe the lies about the ultimate nature of reality, the results are the moral actions we usually equate to sin: harm, lies, selfishness, theft, abuse, etc. This brings me back to Original Blessing. Original Blessing is NO DOING required. It’s grace thru and thru. Our egos think we have to DO things right to get to or get “right” with God, we must love to be loved or lovable, and we must DO good to BE good. YET, while egos are helpful, they get us out of bed and the dishes done, this simply isn’t true.
An incredibly humbling, yet FREEING truth is our inherent goodness, our Light and Love, and the gifts of Original Blessing have NOTHING to do with you or I. ZERO. They are 100% gifts from God. They are Grace. We can’t do anything to earn them or to take them away. They simply are. Period.
Now we arrive at a key distinction: We are made inherently good, with the POTENTIAL to either live into this goodness or not. We can become increasingly our True Selves (Light and Love) or we can increasingly choose to act in accordance with the infectious and oppressive powers of culture which enslave us and make us think money, possessions, vacations, titles, homes, automobiles, looking young, and “winning” are what make for a “good life”.
In my view, this is a big part of what we need Jesus for. The Christ saves us from the oppressive and enslaving power of our society/culture. While culture/sin says you have to compete, own, and achieve to be successful and valuable, Christ says, “rest dear child. You are loved period. You are infinitely worthy, full stop. Nothing you do or don’t do could increase or decrease your belovedness. I am yours and you are mine forever, because NOTHING can separate ANYONE from the Love of God.”
I’d love to say much more (in seminary I literally had to spend time cutting things out of my papers to get them UNDER the MAX for EVERY assignment 🙂 but I think I’ve said a lot and hope it’s enough, so I’ll land the “plane”. How we view ourselves and others will determine how we treat each other, it’s as simple as that. We easily and naturally love those we think are good, so when we see we’re all innately beautiful, then we’ll steadily and surely love more and more people.
In the end I think it’s as simple as this: If we believe and act like people are inherently bad, then where is the hope, how can we heal, why would we love? How can life be enjoyable? YET, if we trust and treat everyone like they’re innately good, then hope will abound, healing will flourish, and love will reign as people blossom and transform into the most amazing versions of themselves. Life will be AMAZING. Bad breeds bad, but Good grows Good. After all, regardless of if you’re Christian or not, I think we can all agree Christ was/is an incredible role model FULL of Light and Love. Christians believe the Christ is the Creator and Blueprint for us ALL, and is both within each of us and holds us all together. That being said: I invite you to join me in increasingly naming, seeing, and calling forth the Christ in each of us, Who has been blessing us from the beginning.
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Grace and peace,