Friday, June 29, 2012


“Original sin is the one Christian doctrine that is empirically verifiable.”
(attributed to G. K. Chesterton) 

Last week a friend sent me the following e-mail:

I heard on the radio this morning that Sandusky was sentenced to life in prison. In the background I could hear people cheering and was reminded of your post concerning people cheering for the number of executions in Texas. In this case, I suspect that the cheering crowd was comprised mostly of people on the left of the political spectrum, or at least a good mix of both.

I will accept that he is guilty and that the punishment is appropriate, but I feel no elation in any of this. Why do you think we are so 'bloodthirsty'? I don't think the Bible indicates we should act this way (I know you will correct me if I am wrong). Should the church be taking a stand on this behavior?”

I replied that I agree with his comments, but had never really thought about whether the church should “be taking a stand” and said I’d “think on this one awhile.”

I also mentioned that I had published a few posts on these topics before:  VENGEANCE, WHOSE PREROGATIVE? and BLOODLUST?.

There is more to this matter, however, than simply seeing this sort of behavior as an ethical problem, to be addressed as a series of “you oughts” and “you ought-nots.”  I believe it’s a symptom of our lack of understanding of the above mentioned doctrine.  In fact, I believe this neglect lies behind much of our twisted thinking today.

The doctrine of Original Sin along with its sister doctrine of Total Depravity is a fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith.  Its basis is found in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments.  It is found in some form in nearly every creed or doctrinal statement of nearly every denomination. (See:  WHAT HAPPENED? and GOOD GUYS AND BAD GUYS).

This doctrine teaches that the whole human race is in some way corrupt, that we have inherited this corruption from our ancestors.  It means that we are sinners by birth and sinners by practice.  It does not mean that everyone’s sins are the same as everyone else’s.  But it does imply, I believe, that we are all capable of evil acts.

Our modern thinking rejects this teaching.  Today we like to think in the categories of pop psychology and pop theology.  We like to think that our greatest need is more self-esteem.  We have TV preachers telling us that God is some sort of Cosmic Grandpa who just wants us to be happy.  We have secular gurus telling us similar tales.  We’re not so bad.  We’re nice.  God’s nice.  He just wants us to be happy

I realize that I am oversimplifying.  Forgive me.  But this doctrine is, in the minds of many, something to be relegated to the Dark Ages.  It doesn’t dovetail well with the doctrine of progress.  It contradicts the idea that “every day in every way we’re getting better and better.

Nor does it fit well with the doctrine of a glorious past, of a Christian America.  It contradicts the idea that everything is getting worse and worse and that we can somehow restore this glorious past whether by political action or evangelism.

And this doctrine contradicts our concept of “the other,” which we’re told has been around since prehistoric times – the belief that there are good guys and bad guys; and, of course, the other guys are always the bad.

There are, of course, many who claim to accept this doctrine as true, who recognize that the human race is made up of sinners.  I would place myself in this group.  But if we really
believe it, do our actions demonstrate that we do?

·        When Jerry Sandusky was convicted of 45 counts of sexual abuse of boys, we cheered.
·        When the reports came in about the death of Osama Bin Laden, we cheered.
·        When the reports came in about Saddam Hussein, we cheered.
·        When the governor of Texas was questioned about the fact that more people have been executed under his watch than under any other governor in modern history, we cheered.

The list could go on ad nauseam.

Why do we cheer?

We would, I am sure, give our own particular reasons for the cheering.  Most of them could be boiled down to the fact that we feel these persons committed despicable acts and deserved whatever punishment was meted out to them.  Justice is being done.  But I also suspect it is because we know that we would never do such things.

Or would we?

We might say that we’ve never done anything like the horrible things these persons have done.  We’ve never even been tempted to.  I’ve never raped young boys, blown up buildings, gassed my own people.  I’ve never even been tempted to.  So it’s easy to condemn those who have done such things.

But I have lusted.  I have probably been angry enough to kill someone.  We all have!  And Jesus says that to do it in my mind is the same as doing it in my actions.  And many of those who cheer have committed these things in more than just their minds.

I suspect that the main reason for our cheering, for our “blood-thirstiness” is that we are unable to see ourselves in those we condemn.  Though we may not have committed these atrocities, we are capable of similar – if not the same – acts.  We don’t understand the doctrine of original sin.

Yes, some acts are more sinful than others, some, like those of the people listed, are downright evil.  But what am I capable of?

When the New Testament lists the sins that people are guilty of and capable of, it includes not just the horrible acts, but even those we may feel are not so bad.   And these lists are given, not so that we can condemn any and all whom we find in the lists, but so that we can see our need for the Savior.

“… all sinned and are coming short of the glory of God, being justified by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23, 24).

If we don’t understand sin we’ll never understand grace!  Christ died on the cross for the sins of people like Jerry Sandusky, Osama Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, etc.  He died for my sins.  Who am I to cheer over the justice they receive?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the thoughtful response. One statement really hit a nerve, "What am I capable of?". As I sit here considering this, it's a scary place to go. Really, what AM I capable of?