Bible Studies/Original Sin and Morality
Hi Marilyn, how are you? You may not like my question, but I will ask it anyway, because I am curious to see how you will answer it. I take as a premise the notion that we are not empty vessels to be filled by a higher power. Rather, we bring to the table some notion of right and wrong. We all know the golden rule, and did not need to be taught that; it is self evident. So I can defer to a higher power and recognize my own inadequacies, but ultimately I am still responsible for my own thoughts and beliefs, so there has to be some vetting process. To be clear, it is not God that I am doubting, or vetting. Rather, it is claims of God, since I learn what I do about the God of the Bible from the Bible, and this Bible comes to me not through some direct link from God to me, but rather through intermediaries, and no chain of custody has been established. Moreover, there are competing claims, and they contradict each other, so I cannot possibly believe them all.
When I try to sort through them, and make sense of them, I find it reasonable to apply the following test. I realize that what I know my be very little in the grand scheme of things, but it is still not nothing; I already know something about morality and ethics and right and wrong. So if a more comprehensive set of values is to replace my own, then I am open to that, but I first need to check that it can at least get the easy ones right. When I can decide what is right and wrong, then this more comprehensive set of values needs to agree with mine. If it does that, then we can proceed. If not, then the more comprehensive set has failed, and clearly cannot come from a just God.
And I know that I played no role whatsoever in original sin. Whatever happened before I was born has nothing to do with my guilt. Yes, events that occurred before I was born will still affect me, that is true, but I cannot be called to answer for them, since I played no part in them. So if the sins of the father are to be visited upon the son, then this is clearly an unjust system, and not one that can possibly come from a just God. If one argues that my own sin is inevitable, so it does not matter anyway, then I would counter that this inevitability makes clear that it out of my hands, so again, I am not responsible for this. I accept free will, and I will accept the consequences of my own decisions and actions. But do you really find it just that I (and you) have to come clean from something we did not do?
Along similar lines, how can Abraham's actions possibly be justified as moral? He was prepared to kill Isaac, who was presumably innocent of any crime that would merit a death sentence. Just following orders is the Nuremberg defense? When a mob hit man follows his orders, and carries out a hit that was ordered by the godfather, he shows his loyalty to the godfather, just as Abraham showed his loyalty to whoever ordered the hit on Isaac. But we do not praise this misplaced loyalty when the mob is involved. Yet when innocent blood is shed at the behest of one we are led to believe is God, now we praise it? Does this not strike you as a double standard?
"Socrates in the City" edited by Eric Metaxas is a collection of lectures given by various Christian intellectuals. Some of the subjects are: "The Importance of Fatherhood," by Paul Vitz which delves into the issue of sins of the fathers and "Who Are We? C. S. Lewis and the Question of Man" by Jean Bethke Elshtain among others. I think you will find it a very good addition to your thoughts.
God gave the earth to man, Genesis 1:28; Psalm 115:16. God is King over the Universe, but we have dominion here--we are His governors so to speak. That being the case, God does not interfere with our politics, our actions or our thoughts, but rather reasons with us and tries to nudge us in the ways He would have us go. So, God does not use automatic writing to create the Bible, rather He inspired the authors to write. The proof that the Bible is God's Word comes from these:
1) the Bible is amazingly consistent in theme and in details despite many different authors and having been recorded over thousands of years. There are some discrepancies of numbers in a few places, proof that humans wrote as inspired and not as dictated to. Occasionally translators have made errors, such as the original King James, "Thou shalt not kill," as opposed to the more accurate "Thou shalt not commit murder," but considering the vastness of the task of translation, it's astonishing how well most translations are completed. And, amazingly everything hangs together, each author possessing his own style of writing and voice, yet as if one mind were behind the whole.
2) prophecies in the Bible have come true. Compare Psalm 22 with the Gospel stories of the crucifixion for example. Or consider Daniel's description of world powers affecting the Israelites, Daniel 7: the lion with wings, Babylon; the bear with three ribs in its mouth, Medo-Persia which with the addition of Babylon became a kingdom composed of three nations; the swift leopard with four heads, Alexander the Great, whose kingdom was divided up between his four generals upon his death and Rome, the greatest beast with iron teeth and with ten horns (the horn is symbolic for power, thus this beast had ten types of power).
3) The gods human beings invent are human beings with super powers; they have foibles, they have tantrums, they cheat and rape. God is unique in that if He were our invention we would not have made a God like Him.
4) The Bible is the most complete work of ancient times to survive in as good a shape as we find it even today. If God is real and the Bible His Word, we should expect that He would preserve it and protect it.
5) Those who live by faith in God and His Word have found that He does indeed work all things for good for those who love Him, Romans 8:28, and He does keep His promises, though not always as we think we would like Him to keep them, but later as we discover was best to have kept them.
You are correct. Since we were created in the image of God, Genesis 1:27, we have a basic understanding of right and wrong that is built into us. Most of us know the Golden Rule is how we should live. We are not accountable for Adam and Eve's sin, the problem is that because of their sin, human beings' intended perfect/sinless nature has been corrupted--infected with an opposing nature that is at war with the original "programming." Perhaps you have felt this conflict within yourself. But, because God is perfect and anything that isn't also perfect cannot live in His presence, only one sin is enough to disqualify us from Heaven. One lie; one stolen paperclip. The penalty for even one sin is death. We disqualify ourselves as soon as we are mature enough to lie to our mothers or strike a sibling in rage or take another child's toy.
God made the awful consequences for sin clear to Adam when He created him, Genesis 2:15 & 16. Only one sin was possible for Adam, to disobey God and eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and he committed it. In that moment, some of the enemy's sin nature entered into him, even into his DNA and with it death in all its forms, disease, character flaws and weaknesses, aging and finally the death of this mortal tent (the body) and in the end, separation of the spirit from God and all that is good in hell.
We don't have to look far to see that our moral compasses don't always work. And there are horrific examples aplenty to make the point in mass shootings and Auschwitz and the massacres. Instinctively we know that at our cores we should be better than that, yet, we fail. Even if we manage to never tell a lie, selfishness will catch us in a moment when we are willing to ignore what we know someone else wants so that we can have our way or in the moment when we look on another person's car or house or girlfriend or horse or whatever with envy and wish it belonged to us--that is coveting and it is a sin. I'm sure you get the point.
So, yes, you are responsible before God for yourself, but let's look at how the sins of the father visit the child. The son watches his father abuse his wife. He may swear that he will never beat his child's mother. And maybe he will even be able to keep that promise--at least on the surface. An abuser and the abused in a marriage have a particular kind of relationship. Usually, in abusive relationships, deep within the participants are wounded in such a manner that their moral compasses have a specific malfunction. Often, for example, a woman who marries a man who will abuse her has a kernel of self-hate--lack of self-esteem. The manifestation of this may appear as she attempts to manipulate her husband, rather than being direct and openly communicative with him or she may communicate with him fine, but everything comes out in whining and bitching. The husband tells himself he will not break down and beat her, but within him are also issues of lack of self-esteem, or perhaps rage that may come from his father or mother having abused him, belittling him and mocking him. The wife may carry wounds from her father or mother belittling and mocking her or she may have been the least favored child and learned to get her way by manipulating and whining. These two come together, like a cold virus meeting a cell in the body and awful symptoms of the underlying wounding and broken moral compass are expressed. The boy who grew up swearing to himself that he would never beat his child's mother finds himself one day at the end of his patience or moral endurance or tired from long hours at work and he loses his temper and beats his wife. After this follows grief and self-hatred which rips open the scars and exposes the pain inside. But because we are often out of touch with our inner beings, with our spirits, we often do not identify root causes for things, or if we do, we can't fix them. Visiting a psychologist might give us some tools to deal with our brokenness, but we are never really repaired. The sins of the father are visited upon his son in woundings--an abused child becomes an abusing father--or bad examples, such as drinking excessively or the child of abuse becomes a passive-aggressive father or he becomes a door-mat modeling that failure to be a man for his son and so on. Or perhaps, the father cheats his friends at cards or somehow always forgets to return his neighbor's lawnmower or hatchet which the son sees him do and he later copies as an easy way to get stuff without having to buy it or any number of things that the child suffers or witnesses and unconsciously adopts or absorbs or has literally beaten into his character. Perhaps you can extrapolate this out and see how it applies to so many situations. Perhaps you have woundings your parents inadvertently inflicted on you and you can see how these color your relationships. This is how how the sins of the fathers are visited upon the sons. And it's not just coming clean from sin that we need, it's healing from woundings that cause us to sin. And God wants to do both.
We know when we've sinned. The child knows he's lied about the cookie he took, but he wants the cookie more than he wants to do what's right. If we ignore that prompting within us that tells us right from wrong we can utterly destroy it. This results in the killers who have no regrets or the financier who has no sorrow over the millions he stole from trusting investors. There are other sins of which we are unaware. Preoccupied with a problem, we might neglect to notice a friend in need of a kind word or a helping hand. We ignore the prompting to give a stranger a ride, rationalizing that there are evil people out there who would hurt us--and there are--but there are also people out there who need help and we too often do not give it. We intend to keep a promise and then forget and later think, oh well, it's too late now and embarrassed we don't even apologize. We are not perfect! Not even the kindest, most just among us are perfect. And the standard, if we are to get into Heaven for good behavior, is perfection.
We are responsible for our sins unless we take advantage of the way God has provided to get us out of this mess.
God took responsibility immediately for Adam and Eve's sin. He killed the first animals to make skin coverings for them, Genesis 3:21. And apparently He explained to them that they could offer an animal sacrifice--an animal dying in their place--a substitute because in Genesis 4, the brothers, Cain and Abel, are in a field making their sacrifices before God. Abel offers fat portions, what for people who work hard and might occasionally starve, are the best part of the animal, and some whole animals from his flock. Cain offers fruits and vegetables, which fail to meet the basic criteria--you've sinned therefore either you must die or offer an innocent animal to die in your place--and therefore could not serve the purpose of an offering. God accepts Abel's offering and rejects Cain's. Cain is jealous. God tries to talk him out of his murderous intentions. Cain ignores God and kills his brother. But the point of this story for us is that this is evidence that God had taught Adam and Eve that they could obtain forgiveness for their sins by offering an animal to die in their place.
Animal sacrifices were offered for centuries as substitutes for the humans who offered them. This practice was later codified and institutionalized with all sorts of rules and regs (some from God and some not) that limited animal sacrifice on behalf of the presenter to priests who acted as mediators between the sinners and God. And God accepted these offerings, but this did not fully solve the problem. This was only a short term solution. An animal is not the equivalent of a human being. This is why God had to become a Man and pay the price. This is why Jesus came. From His birth onward, Jesus did not commit even one sin, thus He was utterly innocent of any charges.
Jesus was tried in three mock trials and executed in the most brutal manner available at the time. Every sin every human being ever committed or ever would commit God placed on Jesus while He hung on the cross and Jesus paid for them all. He proved His innocence and power by rising from the dead. Now that sin has been paid for, it is possible for human beings' moral compasses to be fixed and the infection of sin to be extracted. Those of us who believe are all at different points in our journey with God, some of us farther along than others. Some of us are ignorant of what God wants to do and thus still failures because we don't know how to let Him heal us of our woundings and clear our minds of false paradigms. He does not force even those who call Him Lord to be or do anything, but rather nudges us and loves us into allowing Him to transform us. This is why the things He would do in the earth take so much time: He has to get humans to agree to and allow it to happen. We are still masters of the earth; we are still created in His image which includes free will and the right to be idiots if we so desire. Or to be utterly and totally evil, if we so choose.
Jesus said, "No greater love has a man than he give his life for his friends," John 15:13.
Abraham's and Isaac's story is a puzzle. Why would God ask Abraham to do this thing which He had declared to be a sin? On the surface it seems unjust and we have to wonder if Abraham has lost his mind. But here they are, the aged father, well into his 90's and the young son, perhaps late teens early 20's, on top of a mountain and the young son LETS his father tie him up for a sacrifice, Genesis 22.
Here is where we have to dig deeper to understand what the heck is going on.
Looking back to Genesis 18 we see that God had a special relationship with Abraham: God considered Abraham His friend!
Three men show up at Abraham's tent. One is the Lord Jesus, the Person of God who is visible to us. Abraham knows that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah are not good people, but he has compassion for them. His nephew, Lot, lives in one of those cities with his wife and two daughters, so Abraham is in a position to know something about those people. Jesus reveals His plan to destroy the cities. Then Abraham negotiates with Him. "Would you save it for 50 good people?" Jesus said, "Ok, I'll save it for 50 good people." Abraham, worried that maybe there weren't that many good people, negotiated it down again and again until he thought he'd found a sufficiently small number of people that the city might be saved, but actually, the only "good" people in the town were Lot and his family.
Normally when people read this story they point out that Sodom and Gomorrah were really awful and then they zero in on what a bonehead Lot's wife was and then what a failure he became when he got drunk and slept with his daughters. (God doesn't soften up or gloss over anything or how stupid even His people can be. I don't think a god we invented would do that.) The point I'm after here is that the Lord took time to wait while Abraham prepared him a meal from total scratch, slaughtering the animal and grinding the grain. He enjoyed the meal with him and chatted with him. And He allowed Abraham to negotiate with Him for the cities' fates.
God saw Abraham as His friend. And, as is the case, even with human friends, friendship is more than good times, it's friends who bear the greatest burdens for one another and put up with the most crap from one another.
God knew from the beginning that it was possible Adam and Eve would utterly and totally screw up. In the Garden of Eden, at that point in history, human beings future was incredibly simple. One of these things would happen when the enemy tried to destroy humanity: A) Adam and Eve would tell the serpent to get out of Eden and never come back, B) Eve would eat the fruit and Adam would refuse it or conversely, Adam would eat the fruit and Eve would refuse it or C) they both would eat it. And God had a plan in mind for each of those options, this is how Jesus is called "the Lamb Slain Before the Foundation of the World," Revelation 13:8. God contemplated from the beginning that He might have to become a Human Being and pay for sin. This is because none of us are innocent. It's not possible for one man on death row to take the penalty for another man on death row. If anybody is going to take the death penalty for someone on death row, it has to be an innocent person who is not in prison for anything. Jesus was that Man.
Because God and Abraham were friends, God asked Abraham to go through what He Himself would go through: sacrifice His own Son. Because God had given Abraham a son by his beloved Sarah even though she was past menopause and he was an old man, because they were friends, Abraham believed God would raise Isaac from the dead. And, it seems, God had a similar relationship with Isaac because the strapping young man allowed himself to be tied up as an offering. An angel stopped Abraham's hand at the last minute and God provided a ram to take Isaac's place. But because of this incident, Abraham understood on a visceral level what God would eventually do when He offered His Son. He could appreciate and empathize with His God. That's what friends do, appreciate and empathize with one another. Sometimes our friends ask us to do hard things for them, sit in the waiting room while a loved one is in surgery; break bad news to someone; do an unpleasant errand. God asked Abraham to experience a taste of what He was facing. And when we read this story, we can understand also. What would it be like to offer up your own son, your only son as a sacrifice for sin? That's the purpose of the incident: to show humanity what God would do and has done when He offered His own Son on the altar for our sins.
To be God's friend is the greatest thing in the universe. He sees us as friends, He sees us as we would be if we could be freed from the infection of sin and calls us friends before that is done! Even many of us, like Paul, who have deliberately chosen to be in opposition to Him, He calls "friends." And it's for us, His friends, that Jesus abandoned His position in Heaven and limited Himself in a Man's body. However, that body gave Him the authority to act as a Man, have dominion on earth as a Man, to enter death row with us and at last to conquer sin and death as a Man. Friendship with God comes with blessings beyond comprehension, but also trials beyond comprehension. This has been the case for all of God's friends from the beginning and will be until time as we know it ceases. God's greatest friends have eternal fame.
God values you and appreciates you. He calls you "friend." He invites you to question Him and dig deeper; He enjoys that kind of honest questing and searching and blesses it. Too many throughout history have pretended to be honestly questing when they have actually already made up their minds and refuse to see beyond the paradigms they already decided to build their thoughts upon. Knowing and understanding God requires some paradigm shifts because not all of the foundations upon which we build our lives are true.
Since Jesus there is only one law: LOVE. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. This is both simpler and more complicated than everything that came before. Here is an example: President Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty. That sounds like a really good thing. He decided that he would give money to unwed mothers to help them get on their feet. So he created a program that did this. Families that were struggling to get by, mothers and fathers who were working very hard, some at 2 and 3 jobs, looked at this program and the fathers said, "Well, why am I doing all this? You'd be better off without me," and the fathers left the mothers of their children. The mothers got more money, it's true, but now their children were being raised without fathers. Today, this sort of motherhood is institutionalized in every city in the United States and it has created a whole subculture with its own set of paradigms that govern how the people in that subculture think. Fatherless sons go out and shoot one another in the streets; they seek fathers in gangs and murder each other; they sire children that they do not father and don't know how to father. Love sometimes isn't what we think it is on the surface. LBJ's policy turns out NOT to be love, but rather a type of slavery and a bane on those who thought they were benefiting, it has become death to their children and is a blight on our culture.
Do not be quick to think you have right and wrong figured out or that God's way has to match yours before you will accept it. First come to understand why God has said or done something. This may take awhile. That's fine. Take all the time you need, but be diligent and honest. Don't delude yourself or cling to something that He is nudging you to reconsider. Be pliable, but observant. He wants to reason with you, not force you to comply.
I look forward to an ongoing discussion.