Starving the Rats

After writing about C.S. Lewis, rats and sin, I got a couple of interesting responses. The first was an email from my mother:

I’m not sure what is the big difference in the sin issue, we all have sinned, we all continue to sin, we all are tempted to sin. (All of sinned and come short of God’s glory.” “There is none that doeth good…”) Yes, we can confess, and address the temptations to sin … but the tendency to sin is perpetual. If we get to the point of thinking we have it all made, then we begin to deal with false pride (sin). And the more subtle sins such as an ungrateful heart (hey! I have this sin thing licked)

There is a subtle, but vital, difference here. The temptation to sin is always with us. We can how we tend to respond. The Orthodox affirm Roman’s statement that “All have sinned” but they see it as more of a descriptive statement (“Look, everyone has sinned”) rather than a perscriptive one (“Man is so corrupt that it is completely impossible for him to avoid sin”). The Orthodox do not teach that you are born guilty of sin. Yes, “I was conceived in a sinful world” but, no, I did not bear the guilt of sin from my conception. This is even reflected in the Orthodox understanding of the Cross. Esther Lily’s baptism included the statement that Christ died to free her from Satan’s Tyranny. At Pascha, we sing “Christ has risen from the dead and trampled Death by death.” Salvation, in the Orthodox understanding, is the process of removing sin’s control over us. Of course, if we began to think that we were no longer threatened by temptation, we would be in danger again. This is why the Orthodox teach the need for a spiritual father: he helps us see the sin we can’t see. Is this a foolproof method? Of course not! Many Orthodox people don’t understand it and I’m a poor example of it. But understanding that we do not have an inherent tendency to sin is a helpful change in paradigm. The other response was from . Jim wrote:

The conundrum for me is this…we have to find a way to affirm the notion that God’s creation is good and that we have been endowed with an inherent goodness but at the same time we have to affirm the reality that the world groans for redemption and that humanity lives no where close to God’s created intention for it. The Reformed Tradition places an incredible amount of stress on the fallen nature of the world, the total depravity of humankind, and the absolute need for God to regenerate the degenerate. It focuses so much on that end of things that it seems to exclude any ability to see much inherent good in either the created world or in humankind. That is probably not the best approach. On the other hand, I seem to hear a lot of Christians affirming the goodness of humanity and the world to the point that they deny the reality of sin or evil. […] My question essentially boils down to this…where did it all go wrong and how does the Orthodox Tradition hold these two in balance???

As far as I know, it all began to go wrong with Augustine. The Orthodox still respect him and consider him a Saint, but reject his idea of Original Sin and such. Now, if you never held idea that we are, at our core, wholly sinful, the opposite problem doesn’t come into play. That is, if you haven’t been told you’re inherently worthless, then there is no need to play Pollyanna and ignore reality. So, of course God’s creation is good. Of course, we have the capability to do good: all common sense and our own experience tells us this. Why, sometimes I’ve managed to do the right thing without any sin whatsoever! So I know that I have the capablity. The problem is that we live in a fallen world. This is a world where temptation isn’t always obvious. The right choice isn’t always obvious, especially since most of us have not achieved theosis, or unity with God. However, unity with God is possible. With the Holy Spirit working in us to draw out the image of God with which each of us were created, we can live righteous lives. Make no mistake: the standard is set high. But that standard is heavily tempered with Love because that is who God is. We all know that we can live better, no one doubts that he is a long distance from perfection. But perfection is attainable and in this life. Evil things really happen. It is a perverse generation, but we can seek God and his righteousness. Death and sin are conquered! That is the good news of the cross. Their effects aren’t simply mitigated. We don’t just get a pass even though we continue to sin. No, sin is conquered and Death is destroyed. Satan, the illegitimate usurper, has been overthrown! So why does sin continue? Since we can no longer blame Satan (“the Devil made me do it”) and we are not completely degenerate at our core of our soul (which is in the image of God), we are completly to blame for own own sin. We choose, however unconciously at times, to sin. Orthodox spirituality provides a way to experience God and, through that experience, learn how to deal with the temptation to sin. In this way we acknowlege that we sin but also that sin is overcome by grace. Does this answer your question? Do any Orthodox want to comment on how wrong I am?

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