Orthodox Christianity has, at least from the time of Augustine, upheld the doctrine of original sin. According to the church, the first man’s rebellion against his creator left all humanity guilty before God and damaged in their nature. When Adam trespassed and fell, humanity fell with him.
K. Chesterton claimed the doctrine of original sin is “the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.” And it does not take a long string of philosophical arguments to prove it, since anyone “can see it in the street” (or, for that matter, in politics, corporations, media, factories, schools, homes — pretty much wherever one might choose to look).
The theologian Cornelius Plantinga looked in the street (and in politics, corporations, schools and homes) and remarked it’s “Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be” (the title of his 2003 Christianity Today “Book of the Year”). The doctrine of original sin explains the dilemma of contemporary life.
The shame of past wars, the bloodshed of current wars and the threat of future wars — not the way it’s supposed to be. The arrogance of rulers, the corruption of national leaders, the danger of nuclear annihilation — not the way it is supposed to be. Corporate greed, price gouging, the disdain of the rich for the poor — not the way it is supposed to be.
In our own country, racial prejudice and class hatred is not the way it is supposed to be. The termination by abortion of nearly one out of five pregnancies is not the way it’s supposed to be. Scammers using catastrophes like Hurricanes Harvey and Irma to rob both donors and victims of crucial funds — it’s not the way it’s supposed to be.
But we don’t have to look at international politics or national controversies to see things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be. We can see it in our own homes and churches. Recent findings suggest that 30 million Americans binge drink regularly. Families are being torn apart by alcohol, opioids, pornography addictions, and compulsive overspending. Divorce tears up almost one in every two American families. People are discontented with their spouses, their kids, their parents and themselves. Mental illness affects one out of four Americans, a rate far surpassing that of other nations. This is not the way it’s supposed to be.
But why? Why is it “not the way it’s supposed to be?” The church’s answer is: Because of sin. According to the Bible, sin is an active force, which “seizes opportunities,” “rules,” “deceives,” and “kills.”
But sin is not a person, so how can it “do” things? Think of it this way: A computer program is not a person (though it was devised by a person), yet it can do things: It can change traffic lights from red to green, guide a precision surgical device, or launch a nuclear warhead. Likewise, sin is not a person, but it can do things — bad things.
Contemporary computing provides an analogy. In computer parlance, a “trojan horse” is a program that misrepresents itself to trick a user (victim) into installing it, since the program can’t install itself. So, programmers make the trojan horse to look good (useful, profitable, or enjoyable) to deceive the user. The hoodwinked user installs it, but it is the programmer who benefits.
This is very much like what happened in the Genesis story of humanity’s fall. Sin was misrepresented as useful, profitable, and enjoyable (the words in Genesis are “good,” “pleasing” and “desirable”) and, though Adam had been warned, he clicked the download button. Since that moment, nothing has been the way it’s supposed to be.
Humanity, which is not just individuals scattered through time and space, but one enormous, interconnected thing, stretching across space-time — a massive body with a hundred billion entangled parts — was infected. When Adam hit the download button, he didn’t merely install sin in himself but in all humanity, and sin spread through the entire network.
Because of his decision, sin is not just out there in the world but in here, in you and me. It is part of our programming, and the reason things (and people) are not the way they’re supposed to be.
— Shayne Looper is the pastor of Lockwood Community Church in Branch County (Mich.). Read more at shaynelooper.com.