Whatever Happened to Original Sin?
I would like to delve somewhat deeply into theology with you today and, hopefully, relate this to our daily lives. Let’s look at that first reading for this Sunday from Genesis, the Fall of Man. This is the reading about original sin. Now there is a term we haven't heard for a long time. Whatever happened to original sin? I'm not asking "Whatever became of sin?” as Dr. Karl Menninger asked in his famous book of 1974, but, simply, "Whatever happened to original sin?" Did original sin just go away? If not, why don't we speak about it as much as we did years ago?
The doctrine of original sin is still a fundamental part of our theology, but the terminology has been modified because it is easy to confuse the sin that people commit every day with the state of turmoil our lives have been put in by the very presence of sin in the world. Catholic doctrine insists that revelation teaches that the first human beings who were the antecedents of the present human race brought sin into the world. They did this by resisting God's offer of love. These first humans lost the original justice with which God had endowed them. Original justice refers to the perfect ordering of the person to God and the resultant harmony and integrity of the person's inner life. By their sin, the first human beings lost the state of original justice and the ability to transmit this state to their progeny. Original sin in us is not a positive inclination to moral evil, but the absence of the ordering of our persons to God and the interior harmony which such an ordering brings with it. This lack of harmony is evident in our own personal sins. Every sin plunges us into turmoil. We tell a lie and spend significant energy trying to convince ourselves and others that the lie is true. We choose to let our tempers get our of control, and we upset our home and our inner life.
In the reading from Genesis, the heart of sin was not that Adam wanted an apple, it was that Adam wanted to demonstrate his ability to be separated from God. "God does not want you to eat the apple," the serpent tempts, “because then you will be like Him. Do this and show the world that you can stand on your own. Show the world that you do not need God. Be like God, self sufficient.” And so Adam committed sin. The decision for sin disrupted the harmony of union with God. Original sin brought turmoil into the world.
Before they sinned the first parents were the culmination of God's creation. They were the only creatures that could claim to have been made in God's image. They were indeed like God. They could choose. They could love. And they could choose not to love.
When they chose not to love, when they chose to reject God, to push him aside, they sinned. Then, instead of being like God as the devil tempted, they were all that God could never be, all that it would be a contradiction to be. They were in turmoil. They had no inner harmony. They were dead to the Lord of Life. They were exposed to hate and immediately focused it upon each other. Adam and Eve blamed each other. Cain killed Abel. The inner turmoil of refusing union with God had terrible effects upon all people.
It is ironic, but as soon as Adam and Eve decided that they did not need God, they immediately realized how much they did need Him. They realized that they were naked: exposed, defenseless, needing cover and protection. Even though they had rejected God, God did not desert them. Still, Adam and Eve would never be the same again. Their sin, as all sin, brought turmoil into their lives. The image of God they were created to be on earth was now totally marred, for rejecting the Lord of Life means choosing death.
The story of the first reading is far more profound than the simple terminology of a man, a woman, a garden, an apple and a serpent. The word "Adam" means 'mankind". The word 'Eve" means "mother of the living". Mankind, by deciding that he really does not need God, by relegating God to a place of insignificance in his life, became an aberration. We are created by God. But we have lost the intimate union with God we were created to enjoy. That is an aberration. The turmoil, the chaos that we suffer within ourselves and in the world is the aberration of Gods plan that mankind has brought upon itself. That is what we mean by original sin. Only God can remake us into new beings, the beings we were always meant to be. Only by accepting God's choice of us, only by baptism whether this be the actual sacrament or the spiritual baptism of desire, only in baptism can the life of God, his spiritual harmony be instilled in us.
That is why on Easter Sunday we celebrate our sharing in the New Life of the Lord.
I know that I have written in some rather deep theological terms today. Hopefully the theologians among you will agree with me that our adults need to know more about original sin than apples. If we look into our own lives, we see the relevancy of the effects of original sin. All sin is a plunge into chaos. All sin is a statement that we really do not need God. For example, a person who steals and cheats may know that this is wrong, but may also scoff at the thought that his wickedness is bringing evil into the world. This person may claim the battle cry of every sinner, the battle cry that, sadly, I certainly have made and I am sure that in honesty you can also claim. That battle cry is: “What I am doing is not that bad. Everybody is doing this.” And I, and you, give in to the very temptations placed before the Lord in the Gospel reading for today. Our desire for things, self-gratification and power, even if it is only the power of asserting ourselves within our families, all this become more important than the peace and harmony of union with God. With every sin, we demonstrate the reality of the original sin.
The search for inner peace, for harmony with God led Jesus into the desert for forty days. He had to prepare for the mission of restoring harmony to a world in chaos. He had to convince people to accept a whole new way of living. He had to take upon himself the chaos of the world so that the world could once more have peace. Can you now understand the profound significance of His first words to his disciples after his Resurrection: “Peace be with you.”
We join Jesus in the desert for the forty days of Lent. We seek the inner harmony with God which our baptism makes us capable of achieving. We look for the causes of disharmony: how it is that we have allowed sin into our lives? We seek union with God by revitalizing our prayer life. We choose this union over our own selfish desire. We demonstrate our union with God by making His Healing Hand present among the poor. Repentance, prayer, fasting and almsgiving, works of charity, these are the cornerstones of Lent. They are the ways that we join Jesus in the desert as we also prepare ourselves and the our world to celebrate the restored harmony with God, the new life of Easter.