Sunday, August 8, 2010

Why the Incarnation Matters: Original Sin and the Call Home

Having established the condemnation of the devil previously, we now turn to the ramifications of Original Sin for man. In that short moment of partaking of the forbidden tree, everything changes. Indeed, when reflecting on this story, one cannot help but feel a sense of great sadness by the actions of our previous parents. Genesis tells us the following about the condemnation of our first parents in human history, starting with Eve:

To the woman also he said: I will multiply your sorrows, and your conceptions: in sorrow shall you bring forth children, and you shall be under your husband's power, and he shall have dominion over you.
Just like with the devil, the precise opposite of what they hoped for is received. Eve used her persuasion to win over Adam in eating of the fruit. In a real sense, she gained authority over him. Now, that changes. In the state of nature now, things are reversed. Adam is a dominus over Eve, her master.

There are those who have used this teaching in Gensis to justify the harsh treatment and oppression of women in society. In doing so, they fail to realize that this result is a consequence of sin, not Divine Providence. As we shall see later, even if we suffer the results of this fall, God calls us beyond the fall. For now, that is all we will say about this. Yet remember this paragraph as we continue our series. To Adam, the consequences are just as dire and severe:

And to Adam he said: Because you have hearkened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded you, that you should not eat, cursed is the earth in your work: with labour and toil shall you eat thereof all the days of your life. Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to you, and you shall eat the herbs of the earth. In the sweat of your face shall you eat bread till you return to the earth out of which you were taken: for dust you are, and into dust you shall return.

Some read this and think “Adam got off light.” If we have a proper understanding of Genesis, we know this not to be the case. We know from the creation account that even before Eve was formed, Adam was given dominion over every creature on Earth. He was also given dominion over the entire Garden of Eden and the agriculture of the Earth.

In response to sin, all of Adam’s authority is twisted upside down. Rather than having dominion over the Earth (in bringing forth fruit with little effort), the ground resists man’s attempts to grow food. Now we must work hard to get what we want, rather than it being given freely as a gift. In a certain sense, our authority over the land is eroded.

Most importantly, death enters the world on account of Adam’s sin. This right here shows that far from getting off light, the harshest of punishments were reserved for Adam, and occurred because of Adam. The man who was originally created to live forever and keep God’s garden would now be ejected from that garden, engage in back-breaking labor his entire life, and die. It is from here one could even develop a certain formation for the man being the “breadwinner” of the family. In a very real sense, man works as part of an apology to the woman for his actions. Had the first man not sinned, the situation would not be as it is today.

We must return briefly to the phrase “he will have dominion over you.” For the man, this is hardly a satisfactory situation. He always had a certain authority, being the first of creation of man. Yet just as his mastery over the ground and crops are twisted by sin, so will that authority over his wife. Rather than exist as one to protect her and lead, he must struggle with the inclination to dominate her, using her for his own ambitions. Far from giving happiness, this selfishness of the man makes a marriage and society as a whole worse. When he engages in the kind of authority that seeks to dominate a person, he gives into the disordered desires of the heart, a consequence of the fall.

For the purpose of building a narrative, I would like to skip forward just a bit. After cursing Adam and Eve, casting them from Eden, God declares:

And he said: Behold Adam has become as one of us, knowing good and evil: now therefore lest perhaps he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever. And the Lord God sent him out of the paradise of pleasure, to till the earth from which he was taken. And he cast out Adam: and placed before the paradise of pleasure Cherubims, and a flaming sword, turning every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.
There are some who would say “see, he really did become as a god!” Yet one can see in here a rebuke of Adam’s pride. Far from having authority over good and evil, now evil has a strong hold over him. Out of concern for Adam does he banish him from the tree of life, not out of the threat Adam now poses! If Adam continued to eat of the tree of life, he would live forever, yet still have this disordered condition on account of sin. As human history will make all too clear, the desires of men will launch unbelievable perversities in their desire for power, but also out of fear for security.

Now if one leaves the story just here, things do indeed look pretty grim. Our first parents have been corrupted by sin, and driven from their original home. One may indeed think that the Manichean/Gnostic argument about the evil of the flesh is correct reading just this. Yet we know that this is hardly the story.

There are two instances that I believe refute this warped understanding of our flesh, and of our natures. First, God provides fig leaves to cover Adam and Eve. He knows that their tendencies towards lust and domination will be incredibly strong. He also knows that they, being corrupted by sin, would never choose (with all of the ramifications) the means to gain a full victory over concupiscence. (Such is impossible this side of the grave.) Yet He gives us remedies to this still. He offers fig leaves to cover ourselves as a way to avoid the temptation of lust, to be able to focus on the person for who they are, not what they can do for us.

The next way is through the birth of the family. There may indeed be those who claim that sex is evil or some animal desire. Left to our own devices, it most certainly is. Yet God uses these things of our nature for His own purpose in the birth of Cain. Don’t believe me? Read the beginning of Genesis 4. After Adam “knew” his wife, a son is born, and that son is obtained “through God.” Our God is not a God of evil. The command to be fruitful and multiply still exists, even after the entrance of sin into the world. Even the first moment after sin, God begins to call man back to himself. The same occurred with the birth of Abel.

Unfortunately, even the non-believer knows what happened next in the story of Cain and Abel. Yet having established what we had earlier, let us look at the story in a new light:

And it came to pass after many days, that Cain offered, of the fruits of the earth, gifts to the Lord. Abel also offered of the firstlings of his flock, and of their fat: and the Lord had respect to Abel, and to his offerings. But to Cain and his offerings he had no respect: and Cain was exceeding angry, and his countenance fell. And the Lord said to him: Why are you angry? And why is your countenance fallen? If you do well, shall you not receive? But if ill, shall not sin forthwith be present at the door? But the lust thereof shall be under you, and you shall have dominion over it. And Cain said to Abel his brother: Let us go forth abroad. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and slew him.

Within these two men is contained in a very real sense all of humanity. On the one side, we have those who strive to control their passions and sinful natures like Abel. While they may never reach that perfect and total victory, they still realize that sin is deplorable, and seek to do well in avoiding it. Because of this desire and action to please God, He looks with favor upon the sacrifice of Abel.

Cain on the hand represents the worldly way of thinking, even in religion. Like his brother, he lives in a state of sin. Yet unlike Abel, he does not try to wage war against it. He essentially takes it as it comes. Since he is powerless to achieve that complete victory on his own, why bother? When told that there is another way to live his life, he takes it not as a loving correction. Wrath enters his heart alongside the jealousy he has. Just like today, the world persecutes those who seek to follow God; to overcome the domination sin has on them. They persecute because they understand it is possible, yet they refuse to give up that which they currently do. As a result of this, Cain murders his brother.

Horrendous as this act is, we must remember just as much the words of God to Cain, calling us to fight that dominion over sin. While we may have sinned, we are not to desire or accept sin’s master over us. Unfortunately, things will get a lot worse before people begin to pay attention to this lesson.

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