It’s Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be

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.

  1. 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 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.

First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 9/9/2017

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8 Responses to It’s Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be

  1. Friends For Peace says:

    Once again, very well done my friend. John

    Sent from our iPhone

    >

    • salooper57 says:

      Thanks, John. Someday, God willing (as he surely is), it will be the way it is supposed to be. And we will be too. Reportedly, when Chesterton was asked by a reporter for a statement on what is wrong with the world, he sent back two words: “I am.” But (and what a thought!) the day is coming when asked, “What is right with the world?” each of us will be able to answer the same way.

      By the way, please give my regards to “Tulip-town Mike” when you see him.

      Shayne

  2. guero64 says:

    Dear Pastor Looper,

    Thank you for this thought provoking article. It came up in an “Orthodox Christianity” newsfeed I set up for myself on GoogleNews.

    Actually Orthodox Christianity has never upheld Augustine’s doctrine of original sin. Augustine, keep in mind, was a bishop in one particular diocese of one of the five Sees of the ancient Church – Rome (the other four being Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem). Augustine’s doctrine emphasized original sin as a sort of guilt for Adam’s transgression which was inherited by all mankind. The doctrine developed further after Rome fell into schism with the eastern Sees – collectively, the Orthodox Church – and formed what we know today as the Roman Catholic Church. Protestantism, which is an offshoot of the Roman Catholic Church and not the Orthodox Christian Church, retained the basic theology of original sin as guilt for an offense. The doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement – the notion that Jesus was punished by God in our place for our ancestral guilt – is a Roman Catholic notion developed by Anselm of Canterbury in the middle ages and is entirely foreign to Orthodox Christianity.

    Original sin in the Orthodox Christian understanding is often referred to as “ancestral sin”. Whereas the western notion of original sin is understood in the context of God having removed His Grace from man as a kind of punishment, the eastern (Orthodox Christian) understanding is that God never withdrew His Grace from man, but that man so damaged himself as to not experience it to nearly the same extent as he did before the fall. Thus, in the Orthodox Christian understanding, man does, in fact, experience the consequences of the “first” sin of Adam and Eve – through spiritual and physical death – but does not bear Adam and Eve’s guilt.

    I think the excellent observations you make about the consequences of “original sin” are actually more aligned with the true Orthodox Christian understanding of “original sin” than they are with the Augustinian/Roman Catholic understanding you refer to in the introduction to your article.

    In your article you also stated that according to the Bible, “sin is an active force”. Actually, though, I think Scripture says that exactly the opposite is true. Sin, according to the Evangelist John, is “lawlessness” (1 John 3:1). The Greek word here is ἀνομία – “anomia”. The prefix “a-” in Greek means exactly the same thing it does in English: it signifies a lack of something. In this case the lack is a lack of νομος (“nomos”) – “law”. Not “the Law” in the sense of the Mosaic Law, but the law that is written in our mind and hearts (Jeremiah 31:33-34). The Greek word itself for “sin” – ἁμαρτία (“hamartia”) – also signifies a negation of sorts (note again the ἁ- prefix”). In ancient Greek the term meant – in verb form – to “miss the mark”. In Homer’s Iliad, for example, a verse describes an archer missing his target. The late Orthodox Christian Archbishop Dmitry Royster wrote, “What does ‘being saved’ mean? From what sins do men need to be saved? [Matthew 1:21]. Since sin in the Greek original is hamartia, literally ‘failure’ or ‘missing the mark’, we have to conclude that man’s sin consists fundamentally in his missing the very point of his existence (although for some Christians, salvation has been reduced to nothing more than escaping the punishment of hell).”

    • salooper57 says:

      Thanks for the informative comment. I am grateful for the Orthodox perspective you share, and I agree with the helpful insight into ἀνομία – a crucially important passage regarding the nature of sin. When I wrote about sin as an “active force”, it was because of St. Paul’s usage, particularly in Romans. There he says it “reigns” (5:20; cf. 6:13, 14), it can be “obeyed” (6:16–17), it “pays wages” (6:23), “seizes opportunity” (7:8, 11), “deceives,” and “kills” (7:11, 13).

      Thanks so much for reading, and for taking the time to respond with these insights.

      Shayne

  3. Geezus H Cryst says:

    #godpeoplearestupid I just read what I thought was a scientific article about entanglement and was blindsided by convoluted creationism bs. If you want to “believe” in fairytales that is your choice and I defend that choice of yours. But please leave the fairytales out of the scientific discussions. It is making the mind of man stagnant in ignorance.

    Kindly.

    • salooper57 says:

      May I be frank? I think your response is not “kindly” given, that the hash tag is neither kind nor informed, and that one might expect an article on entanglement in Christianity Today or on my blog to have a spiritual dimension. I was careful to point out that I was drawing conclusions from an analogy, not an evidence-based investigation. If you would like to read a scientific discussion on the subject of the Chinese experiment written by those involved, I would recommend the article in the journal Science .

      Also, I was not writing about creationism, and it would be a mistake to think that Christians are monolithic in their understanding of the means by which God created. There are some really smart God people who write for the American Scientific Association and for biologic. The authors are, in large part, working scientists and philosophers who believe that science and faith are not exclusive. I challenge you to courageously investigate further, question your assumptions, and see what people are saying. A good place to start is with George Murphy’s article about science and theology in dialogue (>.

      Kindly meant,

      Shayne

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