Original Goodness: Taking our First Creation Seriously

Posted by on May 28, 2021 in Blog | 4 comments

I often listen to the theology podcasts from Yale Divinity School. Their by line asks a question: “What is a life worthy of our humanity?” I love it. It reminds us that although we might talk about original sin, God’s first word after the creation of humans was that they were very good, and indeed, that they were made in God’s own image. To bear the image of the Creator is a lofty status and provides a hint at how much is involved in leading a life worthy of our humanity, a life blessed by original goodness.

The reason why we strongly object to poverty, slavery and injustice of all forms is because it falls far short of a life worthy of the humanity of those who are trapped by it – and if by our passivity we consent to the dehumanization of others we also fall far short of a worthy life. It is true not just for questions of justice. If we fail to treat our bodies well, or fall into destructive habits, or run away from challenges which would grow and stretch us, we sell ourselves short, for as God’s image bearers we have been made for more. 

Made for more. It is a good catch phrase. Made to offer more kindness, love, grace, imagination, creativity, goodness. Made to be more Christlike.

At this point many of you are probably thinking, “yes, but don’t forget that we are fallen image bearers.” Augustine, perhaps the most important of the Church Fathers,  highlights the importance of original sin – and indeed most of us talk of original sin more quickly than original goodness. 

So which is it? Original sin or original goodness, because both can’t claim the original title? 

It comes down to what we are talking about. Yes, we should talk about original goodness because that is what the Bible talks about and it is God’s first (original) word about us (that our creation is “very good”, Gen 1:31). But there was also the first (original) sin committed by humans, when they ate the forbidden fruit in Eden’s Garden (Gen 3:6). And that is where the confusion so often comes in. We think that original sin refers to the first verdict on our humanity (you are a dreadful sinner) whereas it is a later verdict that all those who have been made in God’s image are impacted by the original sinners, Adam and Eve. Their capacity for sin was hinted at in the account of humanities creation from the dust of the earth and the breath of God (Gen 2:7). What does it mean to be human? It means that you are made from the dust of the earth (and are therefore frail, mere dust), but that you are brought to life by the breath of God (and therefore, you are an amazing, incredible, God animated being). In practice, our frailty (or because we are creatures of dust) saw us fall into the first sin.

But think a little more about that first sin. Why did Eve and Adam eat the forbidden fruit? 

According to the Genesis account the temptation comes because the serpent says “when you eat from it [the forbidden fruit] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good from evil” (Gen 3:5). The original temptation is therefore to be like God – becoming wise enough to differentiate between good and evil. Here’s the thing. Adam and Eve were already like God. Gen 1:27 makes it perfectly clear that both women and men were made in the image of God. And being made in the image of God means to be like God – so like God that we bear God’s own image. As for knowing the difference between good and evil, Eve’s hesitation in following the serpent’s urging shows that she already did know the difference. She knew this was wrong. 

The serpent essentially promised that if they sinned they would have what they already had! Why is that temptation? It is if you have been persuaded that you don’t have it. That is the lie Adam and Eve fell for… that they weren’t already like God, that they didn’t already know the difference between good and evil. They failed to appreciate the goodness of their creation, and the loftiness of their status. Because of that, they sinned.

It is suggestive, isn’t it? If I think of myself as inadequate, I do inadequate things. If I think of myself as an image bearer of God, I challenge myself to live a life worthy of my humanity. 

True, we must add some nuance to this. For we are the offspring of a fallen ancestor, and Paul makes it clear in 1 Cor 15:22 “in Adam, all die” – and we can only lay hold of hope because “in Christ all will be made alive”. We live in hope because of Jesus, and the restoration that Jesus brings for us. But we must not make what in principle would be the same mistake of our ancient ancestors, and fail to appreciate what we have been given in Christ – a new identity as a beloved daughter or son of God. If we fail to grasp this, like Eve and Adam of old, we will live a life unworthy of our humanity.

Preachers sometimes feel a need to convince people that they are fallen sinners. I wonder if it is not more important to remind people that they are restored saints – children of the God in whose image they have been made. Because of Jesus, we are a new creation. When this knowledge deeply impacts our sense of self, we might rise to the invitation of living a life worthy of our humanity, indeed – a life worthy of the humanity of the Son of God who loves us, and calls us to follow in His steps.

As always, nice chatting…

4 Comments

  1. Brian, thank you! Another insightful blog which resonates ??

    • Thanks Sherryle. Hope things are going well for you.

  2. Wow, Brian, I hadn’t thought of this before. I know Adam and Eve were created perfect but we hear so much about “original sin” that what God created was perfect. This is inspiring to live a life worthy of the calling and to stop judging ourselves and finding ourselves inadequate. Thank you for this wonderful reminder.

    • Thanks Ruth. I was very taken when a friend pointed out to me that the serpent’s temptation was to become what they already were. Talk about being tricked!

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