Monday, October 10, 2011

Adam's Sins Inherited

Why do I get punished for Adam’s sin?  That’s not fair.  Adam and Eve sinned, and I get messed up for it, because now I have this sinful nature.  Why do we have to get messed up because of someone else's sin?


Daniel Kim said...

The answer to this can be very deep, but here’s just one aspect of it.

Unfairness is a part of the nature of sin. Let’s say suddenly, I go and slap you for no reason. And I say, I did that, because I don’t like your face. Now, probably you’re not going to come to church for a while, and maybe you’ll become bitter against God – why did you allow that to happen, God? By a Christian leader! And you might have to deal with that for a long time. Now, notice: I sinned, it was my choice to sin. But because of my choice, you got a raw deal. That’s the nature of sin. It’s relational, and it damages people.

What if I chose to raise my daughters in an awful way? What if I used them to steal things and manipulate people? It’s my choice. But think about the dire effect that it would have on their lives. They get a very unfair deal. Again, this is the nature of sin.

Well, what should God do then? Don’t allow people to ever sin! Don’t give them an option to sin or disobey God. But there are serious consequences to that request. Do you really want God to fix your choices so that you can’t possibly sin? So even if you want to hit someone, you just can’t. In fact, you can’t even have a mean thought, all your thoughts have been fixed to be always loving God. That will be the same as getting rid of your free will and making you into a robot. Well, you know that if you were wiped clean and made into a robot, then it’s the same as death. Not only that, in such a world, there won’t be any love possible. We would not be able to love God, because love has to be freely chosen.

So we want to maintain free choice. But some people propose to get around the problem by having God allow us to make free choices, but it won’t have any negative effect on other people.

But what will that look like? C.S. Lewis talks about this issue in his book The Problem of Pain. Let's say I want to punch you. And God will allow me to do that, because He wants to maintain free will. But my fist turns into a petal of flowers in mid-air, so that they don’t affect you. I want to say something mean to you. So I say it. But the sound waves, while traveling through the air, gets transformed by God to say something sweet. I give you a mean look, and God bends the light photons to a smile.

In this case, you would realize that your freedom is an illusion. You want to hurt people, but you can’t. You want to gossip and get back at someone, but you can’t. It’s like if I were to give my kids $5 to spend. I tell them it’s yours to spend. So they go and buy candy. I say, no! Not candy. I take the money from the store owner, give back the candy, and give the money to her again, and I say: it’s yours to spend. I give you free choice. So she buys the candy again. I say, “nope, not that.” And then give the money to her again, saying it’s yours to spend. It won’t take long before the kid figures out that this is not really money for her to freely spend. That’s the case with our sins. In order for our free choice to be meaningful, our free choice to sin must have its actual consequences.

So that’s the nature of sin. Yes, Adam and Eve’s sin had unfair consequences on you. But then again, when you lie, when you betray someone’s trust, your sins bring unfairness. It deals a raw hand to people. You’ve dealt that raw hand to lots of people, you’ve freely chosen to bring unfairness into people’s lives. Isn’t that true? How many people in our lives got dealt a raw deal because of our sins? That’s why God says to repent of our sins and sin no more, because it’s this damaging.

That’s the first part.

Daniel Kim said...

The second part to the answer is that the Bible makes it clear that it’s not on account of Adam’s sin that we are considered sinners.

ROMANS 3:23 says:
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” For all have sinned. In other words, we have sinned, and that is what makes us sinners.

Well, we say, I couldn’t help it. I have a sinful nature, and that sinful nature made me.

There’s truth in that. Because at a certain point, we have all recognized that sin, like some kind of addictive behavior or lust, takes on a life of its own, and you realize that you’re helpless. But when we say “my sinful nature made me do it,” is that actually true to your experience? I think we can wax eloquent about the doctrine of original sin, but I think a dose of "reality check" would be good here.

We can say, "I have a sinful nature, so that I can't help it." But is that true to your experience? Is it the case that you really really didn’t want to sin, but something just made you? Like some kind of possession of your body? Or did you actually want to? I think we all know that although sin has a life of its own, we did choose to sin. If I were to ask you to name one incident in your life where you were "made" to sin, you would be hard-pressed to name a single incident.

We want a clean answer - either it's completely my choice, or it's completely forced. But introspection into our own experiences tell us that the truth is a lot more subtle than just saying I have a sinful nature, so it made me do it. You and I know that there's a part of that decision where we chose, because we WANTED to, and therefore we are responsible.

For all have sinned, the Bible says. And I have to admit, yes, I have sinned. And I have to take responsibility over that.

Anonymous said...

May I point out that Adam and Eve were created and lived in a perfect environment until the devil (sublte serpent) beguiled Eve. That God blamed the devil for this which meant that from then on all of us were born in enemy held territory thanks to Adam In short we are born without the knowledge of anything and only gain the knowledge of how we are to live and behavethrough our parents/prarent and peers. Ephesians 2 Wherein ye walked according to the course ofthis world, according to the prince (devil)of the power of the air, the spirit that worketh in the children of disobedience. This is why in 1Timothy we read that "God wills that all men will come to the knowledge of the truth" and we can only do that by being born again. This is only possible if we repent of our sins commited like Paul who declared that he had acted in ignorance and unbelief which surely is the state of all born after Adam and Eve.

Scrapsdog said...

I sometimes think if were to meet Adam & Eve or whomever made the choice that resulted in the fall I would make them sorry they got us into this mess. But trying to understand it I come up with the idea that if they gave into temptation it is a foregone conclusion that any human in the same situation would have made the same choice. God presented humans with the best and they still were not satisfied so it might be kind of arrogant to think that I would not have rejected His plan

Daniel said...

You have some good insight, but an objection that easily comes to mind us that yes, we sin because we want to, but why do we want to? Because we have a sinful nature? And then you have come full circle.

Daniel Kim said...

Hi Daniel Cartwright,

Yes, that is a common objection. But I think it can be shown from the Bible that it is not sinful nature that makes sin "attractive" to us. Seeing/feeling the desirability of sin is not sinful. In other words, being tempted is not sinful, and it's not due to our sinful nature. Even Jesus was tempted (Heb 4:15). Eve was tempted and saw the forbidden fruit and DESIRED it, even before sinful nature came into humanity. It seems like if you don't have sinful nature, then you shouldn't even feel the desirability of sin, but I think it can be reasoned that anyone, including Jesus, was tempted to sin.

I think this objection comes from the idea that a perfectly good person wouldn't even be tempted. But as one Christian apologist said, when you are blown by the wind of temptation, you do not know the power of temptation. When you turn and face temptation and you refuse to be blown, that's when you feel the full power of temptation. So in a way, it's the person who resists temptation that would feel the force of the temptation the most. That's what makes that person a good person - that he would understand the desirability of sin and be tempted, but would obey God instead.

Oana said...

I have struggled myself with these questions, and things can get so bad when the evil one knows your weakness and your doubts. The whole "problem" for me, was that it seems unfair to be considered guilty for something that we were born with or could not have done differently ( if we indeed sin because we were born in a way that we cannot change); how can we be guilty for not keeping the law, if it is not in our power to do so? (I know that we are guilty, because He sees us guilty, but the problem is that i don't find it right); How can I truly repent for something that somehow i was born with? And i do know that it is not fair also that Christ died for our sins. It really isn't and i know that. But my biggest problem is, how can i feel so loved and forgiven, and how can i truly understand and enjoy what Christ has done for us? I mean, it's like, in the first place, God was unfair to me, and what happened at the cross was somehow "the right thing to do". I know things are really not like this and I know that what I said goes against what Bible said, that He is just, that he can't act without being just and that He doesn't want the sinner's death at all. But still, I find these strong, bad feelings in my head and heart.
Now, what you said here, makes a lot more sense to me, but if all of these were true, then how do we explain that we can't have our own rightousness, Paul's struggle with the flesh ( I want to to good..but i find another law in me that doesn't allow me...), that we can only live by faith.
Could it be that somehow, we sin because we are born in flesh ( because this is the sinful nature), but in the same time, we sin because we want to? And God makes us responsible for our sins because we also want to do them, without any "external help", and in the same time, we can only be saved by Jesus, because we can't save ourselves?

Daniel Kim said...

Hi Oana,

I hear you on your struggle to make sense of how one can feel guilt for our sins and at the same time acknowledge that we have a sinful nature. And I'm glad that what was written above made more sense to you.

Re: your question: how do we explain that we can't have our own righteousness?
If I'm hearing this question correctly, I think you're raising the issue b/c if we do have free choice to truly go against our sinful nature, then wouldn't it be possible for us to achieve righteousness? Yet we are taught that we can't have our own righteousness, which seems to say that we are stuck with this curse. I think that's the issue that you're raising, so I will address that.

This is a much more complex issue, but one very quick way to answer that would be: You can think of the statement "we can't have our own righteousness" as a descriptive statement rather than a prescriptive statement. In other words, we can say: well, you can't save yourself, because that's the state that we're all in (descriptive). But that is a different thing than to say, you can't save yourself, b/c it's not even theoretically possible, because it was meant to be that way (prescriptive). For example, if I told you: "Every driver who has been driving for 10 years breaks some kind of traffic rule" -- that would be a descriptive statement, rather than a prescriptive statement.

Now, apart from all the theoretical discussions about sinful nature, if we just read the Bible's overall treatment of human sinfulness, I think we can see that the way that God describes the human condition is descriptive rather than prescriptive. God considers the human condition of rebellion as something tragic, something that precipitated a response on His part to rescue us, rather than something that was designed that way.

Re: making sense of Paul's struggle with the flesh (from Rom 7), I think the answer to that is pretty close to what you suggest at the end. Yes, our flesh is actually corrupted. Romans 8 talks about this in the middle of the chapter... and it personifies creation and says that all of creation "has been groaning" -- waiting for things to be made right.

So that means we will be born with cards stacked against us, in a sense. We will have certain propensities toward certain addictions, toward sexual brokenness, toward violence, etc. But they are not deterministic. IOW, even if we had that propensity, we are not completely left out of the equation. We do have a choice to act or not act on our desires.

So it goes back to what I wrote above regarding not seeing this as a black-or-white thing, but to recognize that there are both at play. And we experience both of these forces at play in our lives. We feel the power of the "law within" pushing you toward sin. And we also feel the power of our own choice in willingly acting on that. So I think we can still grieve along with Apostle Paul -- we can say: I feel helpless because I have this sinful nature in my flesh... but I grieve, because I willingly (and sometimes secretly gladly) choose to act on that desire.

I've talked with some people who gets stuck there. They say: if God were to judge me, then I should have been given a clean slate, without any cards stacked against me. To that person, I usually answer it this way: "In any action, there is probably a mixture of sinful nature pushing you to do it, and you willingly doing it... so let's just say God would hold you responsible for the part that you willingly did. Would that be fair?" That would be fair. But once you get to that point, you would realize: uh oh.. I'm still in big big trouble. Because there is a whole lot of sin that I willingly committed.. So I need Jesus. I can't save myself.

Daniel Kim said...

So that is my advice in thinking through this issue. In talking about the theology of sin, we can think through the theoretical stuff and that can be interesting, but ultimately we need to do a reality check. We need to be pragmatic and recognize that I have sinned. If there is a theoretical grandma somewhere who is so good that she was able to achieve moral perfection despite the temptations she faced throughout her life, that's amazing and that's great. An existence of such a grandma would throw our theoretical discussions for a loop. But practically, I don't know such a person besides Jesus. I've never heard of such a person, except in theoretical discussions. And more importantly, I am not that grandma. If someone claims to be that grandma, then I think we can safely move on from them, quoting Jesus: "those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners" (Mark 2:17). As for me, I know which group I belong to.

So I will cling to Jesus for salvation. And I would plead with other sinners to do the same.

Oana said...

This is exactly what I was thinking about these days: everywhere in the Bible, when God confronts sinners, I see Him judging them for something that is somehow in their will not to do, but they still do it. I know it is not the same situation, I know it was the Old Covenant, but even with Sodom and Gomorrah, he wouldn't kill them if there were righteous people in it. But He did it because He KNEW that there weren't.
The problem goes...why no human wants God? Even with no "sinful nature", they didn't want Him. As I see, free will comes with decision against God, but yet, only few angels decided to go against Him...And again, if i had children and they would all choose to leave me and do their own will would i be guilty for conceiving them? Was I the one who made them to leave me? Yet, when all the people go against Him, you might wonder that...and then again I say... but still, He never wanted or will desire that the sinner would perish, and that all His ways are right.

Daniel Kim said...

I hear you.

Re: difference between angels & humans, a short answer is that we have different "types" of free will. Angels were made to serve God, human beings were made to primarily love God, and it seems like although angels do have free will to reject God, that choice is a lot more deliberate and "permanent" than human choice.. such that once they do make that choice, they can never repent or go back.

When it comes to humans, I think the picture that you're drawing here is that here is God, and 100% of his creation has rejected Him. Well, if God is God, then He should know better and not have brought mankind into being, but the fact that He has -- doesn't God at least share the culpability there? That is the problem, right?

Well, I would agree with you if that were the final picture. But that is not the final picture. God has redeemed us and given us a choice to return to Him. So although 100% of mankind has rejected God, it doesn't end there. In the end, there is heaven, there is a countless multitude of redeemed people who declare God as their God.