On Sin and Grace
If our sin is original, isn't also our grace?
The doctrine of Original Sin has permeated Christian thinking for over 1500 years. As expounded by St. Augustine in the 5th century, all humans are descendants of Adam, and therefore all humans have inherited Adam’s sin. In Augustine’s doctrine, this is an inescapable biological inheritance that we cannot escape from on our own. Only God can pull us away from sin. If God chooses not to pull us away from sin, we are stuck: no exit.
So, whatever happened to free will? Apparently, we have none. Because Adam defied God by disobeying God’s command, all of us are defiers of God from birth. And we cannot choose God – only God can choose us – so we are devoid of any real free will. Augustine believed we only had free will to sin.
It’s interesting to note that there seems to be very little Biblical support for this doctrine. Paul writes in many places, but particularly in Romans, of evil being an external force – Satan – to which we might succumb, rather than an internal attribute over which we have no control. Evil is not a part of our DNA. Each one of us may freely choose the “free gift” of Christ’s redemption, or the forces of evil.
In this day and age, particularly amongst Protestants, this subject may seem a little arcane or dated. But the doctrine of Original Sin was used, most notably by Calvinists, to divide humanity into the “elect,” those chosen by God for salvation, and the “damned.” In other words, there is an elite, and then there’s the rest of us. Societies have used, and continue to use, this kind of elitist philosophy to consolidate power into the hands of the chosen few, just as the church has attempted to do the same at various points in its history.
How can Christians justify this? In Christ’s universe, there are no elites. Each one of us will ultimately stand before God stripped of everything but our faith, just as Christ did not differentiate the pharisee from the leper. And God is not so cruel and thoughtless as to consign billions of souls to eternal darkness, without any hope of redemption. Doesn’t that whole concept nullify Christ? Why then does humanity continue to pursue elitist ideas? To say that some people are inherently sinful based on some immutable characteristic is nothing more than reviving Augustine’s doctrines in different clothing. If we have no possibility of overcoming our sins, original or not, then we truly are damned. There is a real and tangible power in the forgiving grace of Jesus Christ. Paul knew this, as did many others. Christ calls us to lead our lives according to the original grace of God, even as we struggle to return to the Garden we left so long ago.