Saturday, May 03, 2008

On Depravity and Obedience

[Inspired by the comments to this post; and modified from this comment]

Certainly one of those most difficult Christian doctrines is the idea of total depravity

The doctrine of total depravity, rather, holds that by virtue of the Fall, human beings are turned entirely away from God. Augustine understands this in terms of love: humans love God with the love due creatures and love creatures with the kind of love due to God. Luther understood it in terms of trust: we will trust anything with our ultimate well-being other than God. Either way, all of our faculties--even our good ones--are no longer directed at the love, trust, and glorification of God but are rather turned inward towards ourselves or outward at other created things. Moreover, our own power cannot, under any circumstances, turn ourselves back to God. People in this state (i.e., everyone) are entirely capable of doing wonderful things, but they are not capable of turning those wonderful things to the love and glory of God.
I think few Christians today actually believe that "original sin" or our "sin nature" is somehow passed down from generation-to-generation as Augustine apparently did. The idea, shown above, is that we are born with a sin nature as a natural condition. This is a result of the Fall - but it is not, as some outside or inside of Christianity might suggest, some sort of genetic/physical inheritance from our parents.

While disobedience of God would be sin - many people misunderstand why my section of Christianity tries to obey. Many folks seem to think we obey because we fear that God will smite us with some big stick, or not reward us, or that we will not go to Heaven, or that we will go to Hell. At least for my herd of ilk - none of that is a concern: we are "in Christ Jesus":
Romans 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. 3 For God achieved what the law could not do because it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
If we are free from the "law of sin and death" - then why do we not just do as we please: why talk about the "rules" at all?

First, because it is the least we owe God and Christ:
John 14:21 The person who has my commandments and obeys them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will reveal myself to him.

John 15:8 My Father is honored by this, that you bear much fruit and show that you are my disciples. 9 Just as the Father has loved me, I have also loved you; remain in my love. 10 If you obey my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. 11 I have told you these things so that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete. 12 My commandment is this – to love one another just as I have loved you.
Certainly, that passage gives plenty of reason to believe that falling out of Jesus' love is both possible, and dangerous to our salvation. However, the point is that obey because we LOVE Him - and love cannot be coerced by threats or rewards.

We also attempt to obey because the rules are the right thing to do - they protect us, keep us in right relationship with each other, and in right relationship with God. The Garden of Eden illustrates this: Adam and Eve's disobedience certainly led to the Fall; but that was because of the "infection" the disobedience brought and not strictly because the broke a rule. The Fall was not a punishment for disobedience but the natural outcome of the act itself. The rule was meant to protect them from just this outcome.

The root of the word translated "evil" in the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil means, at least in one of its definitions,
"to be broken, be broken in pieces, be broken asunder".
The first actions after eating can be taken a couple of ways:
  • you can make them becoming aware of their nakedness as a sexual issue;

  • you can understand it as an issue of self-focus.

When they make something to cover themselves they do not do it for each other, they do it for themselves. Certainly, God knew they had eaten of the tree because they were now ashamed of their nakedness - so that sudden awareness of self and desire to hide from the rest of the community was not His creative intent. Eating the fruit gave us a (depraved) knowledge and awareness of our own self as "a piece broken off the whole" of humanity. Our fallenness is not some continued punishment for that original disobedience - it is our selfish natures that we gained at that tree.

I think the ongoing sin after the garden is our separation from God and each other - our individualism and desire to serve ourselves at the expense of others; and, of course, relying on our own wisdom instead of God's. Certainly, Christ made it clear that obedience of His commands showed that we loved Him and God - but nearly universally the commands we were to obey had to do with taking our eyes of ourselves and taking ourselves out of the center of our universe by focusing on loving God and loving people. Time after time it is about diminishing ourselves (becoming last to become first) or becoming poor in spirit, etc. It was about letting go of what was important to us to look at what is important to God and other people. And, it is always about the heart behind the action and not necessarily the action itself.

When Paul talks about "sin nature" he talks about it as being an internal struggle between the desires of his own self, and the desires of God:
Romans 7:14 For we know that the law is spiritual – but I am unspiritual, sold into slavery to sin. 15 For I don’t understand what I am doing. For I do not do what I want – instead, I do what I hate. 16 But if I do what I don’t want, I agree that the law is good. 17 But now it is no longer me doing it, but sin that lives in me. 18 For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For I want to do the good, but I cannot do it. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but I do the very evil I do not want! 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer me doing it but sin that lives in me. 21 So, I find the law that when I want to do good, evil is present with me. 22 For I delight in the law of God in my inner being. 23 But I see a different law in my members waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that is in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
Paul used "flesh" and "sin nature" almost interchangeably. This is about serving ourselves and our own needs rather than the law of God - which is again those things Christ told us to obey: take our eyes off our self and place it on God and other people.

The "Original" sin, and our continuing sin, is about doing what pleases us at the expense of God and others. The disobedience only comes in because the law of God (which has only been with us since Moses) highlights our love of self and convicts us of that self-love.

No comments:

Post a Comment

How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly