25 Jun 2017
“If the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.” (Rom. 5:15) (+)
I went over to the Sunderland Library’s book sale back in May and I picked up a copy of the book Can a Darwinian Be a Christian? I probably paid 50¢ for it. On my office bookshelf I have a framed picture of the tomb of Charles Darwin. He was an avowed agnostic. He wasn’t sure if God existed or not, but he was buried in Westminster Abbey because of his contribution to human knowledge. Westminster Abbey is the church of the British monarchy. Every British monarch since William the Conqueror in 1066 has had their coronation there. It is a hallowed place for all things British, and it was felt that Darwin brought great honour to his country. The Sunday following his funeral, a sermon was preached about the propriety of his burial in consecrated ground. The homilist threw cold water on the idea that there is “a necessary conflict between a knowledge of Nature and a belief in God.” And I couldn’t agree more, and I often refer to a passage in Romans to explain why. There Paul writes: “Ever since the creation of the world [God’s] eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.” (1:20) That revelation becomes unlocked by people like Darwin.
Roman Catholics, Main Line Protestant churches and our church have long embraced this attitude toward knowledge. [Song sheet Hodur quotation] We are created in the image of God and God is all-wise. So when we use the gifts of our intelligence we are acting as God has always intended. God has allowed us the privilege of using our wisdom creatively as does He. And this is what that minister meant back in 1882 in Westminster Abbey when he said that there is no necessary conflict between knowledge and faith. There’s even an evolutionary scientist today by the name of Franciso Ayala who addresses this topic all of the time, and Franciso Ayala is also a Roman Catholic priest. And Fr. Ayala has argued that having to believe in a single pair of parents as the origin of the entire human race, even if they’re not named Adam and Eve, goes against everything observed and taught in evolutionary science. The idea that all of the various pathways that led to the emergence of our human species came from the union of one man and one woman many hundreds of thousands of years ago and based only on one chapter of the Bible and read only in a very restrictive manner, creates a bottleneck not seen anywhere else in the history of life.
This is important for people of faith because if the story of the one pair of parents is upended, then this means that the whole sad theology of original sin must be upended too. Original sin is the idea that because Adam and Eve sinned, sin has become part of our inherited human nature. Sin has become a part of our DNA. Rather than being in the image of God, original sin insists that our very nature is broken and offensive to God. Sin is no longer a choice; it is our nature. This subverts everything about our relationship to God and with God.
To be like God is full of promise and potential, but also challenge. It means we have wisdom and free will, but it’s up to us how we’ll use them. Do we become creative and caring or do we sink into destructive and selfish? But see, the choice is ours. This, of course, means we can screw things up, but this is also the only way that we can make doing good and becoming better our accomplishment. Too many times and too many people choose to use these gifts from God in an ungodly fashion and the results are all of the violence and injustice we see everywhere, but let’s not turn around and blame our nature for this. It’s not easy to be godly, but nothing worthwhile is. Original sin is a cop-out. It’s an excuse for not working to become what we can be. It lets us settle for crime, war, poverty, hatred, etc. and etc. because this is who we are by nature. It ignores who we can be as people of faith.
And original sin not only denies the goodness in us, original sin denies the goodness in Jesus. The last verse of today’s Lesson makes this clear. It begins with a very important if. If sin and death became a part of our nature because of original sin, then, as Paul puts it, “much more surely” has Jesus reversed the curse. Jesus is fully human. Jesus’ nature is our nature. And Jesus is without sin. So human nature can’t be sinful by definition. Also, Jesus’ grace assures us that He will always be ready to help us be godly. Original sin denies all of this.
There’s also another matter to be addressed. Genesis and Paul link original sin to not only sin, but to physical death. We’re not talking spiritual death. We’re talking actual physical mortality. Now people who believe in original sin can speak about it as a spiritual inheritance, but they’re not being honest. Original sin, purportedly, changed our physical human nature. Before the Fall we were immortals, living forever. After the fall, we die. This means our physical DNA changed, and original sin is passed along with it. It’s somewhere in our genes. I hope we can realize that homo sapiens were never immortals. Darwin has shown the beneficial, random changes that have accrued over the ages. He wouldn’t call it progress, but I will. Original sin throws this into reverse. We went from better to worse. Darwin at least offers us hope. Original sin is one of the most despairing theologies ever concocted and the cleaner a break we make with it the better off we will be. The break will be psychologically helpful, spiritually meaningful and it will theologically correct an abbreviated reading of Romans chapter 5 that basically ignores Paul’s “much more surely.”
Human nature is not perfect, but it’s who we are. We can’t confuse limitations with sinfulness. The “terrible two’s” are terrible by nature, for example, but that doesn’t make them sinful. Jesus’ grace can help us past the limitations so that we can become what is possible. This progress is the opposite of original sin, and for this progress may we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randy Calvo