The topic of original sin comes up in the strangest places. On a recent flight I sat beside a devout religious lady, who insisted that sex was the original sin. My protest that sexuality was God’s idea fell on deaf ears. So many of our religious perceptions depend on culture, and religious affiliation. Jews, Muslims, and Hindus all have their own understanding. The concept of sin differs within each religion depending on whether you are an orthodox believer or a liberal adherent. The same goes for Christians. A Catholic has to deal with some “sins” that don’t even make it on the radar screen for Baptists and Pentecostals. Then again, evangelicals have their own sin-lists that Catholics haven’t even heard of. Our convictions will differ depending on whether we were born in Russia, Argentina, Canada or Alabama.
To find the answer, we first look at the question, “who is God”. Is the Almighty a cosmic police officer, focused on human failures, ever ready to catch us in wrongdoing, and nail us for our transgressions? Is God petty, scrutinizing, condescending and small-minded?
The New Testament of the Bible amazingly tells us that God, not only has love; God is love. Love can never be confined to self, which makes the revelation of God as Trinity both necessary and remarkable; Father, Son and Holy Spirit in an eternal mutual love relationship. Love can only be love when it is expressed, and for eternity the Father has loved the Son, and the Son has loved the Father, while the Holy Spirit reflected that love. It is called the divine dance.
God made people to be included in this dance of love. That’s the purpose of life. Sin is not a list of “dos” and “don’ts”; it is missing life’s purpose, not being in the dance. Satan introduced our original parents to the twisted, grotesque idea of a God, who wanted to keep them down, so they wouldn’t become like God. The first humans fell for the temptation to divorce from the God, who is love. Instead of self-realization they experienced self-depreciation. They took matters in their own hands, shaped their own destiny, while separating from their life-source. Our detachment from the God, who loves us unconditionally, is the original sin.
There is nothing we can do in order for God to love us more, or to love us less, because divine love is not based on our performance. His love remains unchanged. The human struggle is rooted in our quest for self-realization and purpose outside of that love. The things we call sins, from murder to gossip, are mere by-products of the real issue, our estrangement from the God of love.
At a recent wedding I sat beside a self-professed atheist, the head of a psychiatric hospital. It didn’t take long for our conversation to turn to God, or at least the idea of God. She made a startling comment; “twenty-five years ago when I started my practice, patients had more religion-related psychiatric problems; people talked a lot more about sins, the Ten Commandments and God. As the influence of organized religion has waned, people have less sin-problems”.
I questioned, if it is not true that whatever we call it, we are dealing with the same underlying issues; shame, guilt, regret. “You are absolutely right”, she responded. We may say, “I have sinned”, or we may put in another way, “I’m haunted by the wrong I have done”. Regardless of how we package our failures, and what we call them, the underlying problem is universal. This is where Jesus comes in. What God did through Jesus is universally applicable. By the sacrifice of Himself, Jesus absorbed the totality of human failure, and on the basis of Jesus’ sacrifice, God now invites all into the divine dance of love.