THEOLOGICAL WORDS REMIX

(Note–I resisted the urge to write a Valentine Day blog.  Maybe next year)

My current sermon series is titled Missing Links and it is about the first three chapters of Genesis.  I had fun yesterday launching it.  Last year when I was formulating the idea, my original desire was to build the series around the unique nomenclature surrounding the origins of humanity.

  • ex nihilo
  • sabbath
  • imago dei
  • original sin

Ex nihilo is the doctrine that God made everything that is from nothing, using no pre-existing materials.  This classic doctrine is attributed to St. Augustine.  Sabbath is the Hebrew word describing the seventh day.  This is the day God rested.  The image of God, imago dei, is a specific doctrine about the composition of human beings—that which sets us apart form the rest of creation.  Original sin describes Adam and Eve’s fall from the ideal condition of creation.

Eventually I moved away from using these words as my over-arching theme, I still love them and will work them into the sermon.  As I looked at these words on the page, I wondered what alternate definitions might exist for these words.  It’s a funny word game I play sometimes with lots of words.

Warning, the following paragraphs are preposterous and not edifying at all

1.   ex nihilo—A former member of an underground group of people who worship the bottled carbonated beverage Nehi Grape.

I’ve heard that the most difficult part of being ex nihilo is when you start missing the 12 ounce glass bottles and craving the cheap fizz.

2.  sabbath—Slang.  Pronounced “Say Bath.”  A cleansing ritual in Arkansas involving hot water, soap, and shampoo.

Coot, do you know what time its gittin’ to be?

Nah?

Can you sabbath?

3.   imago dei—The latest fuel efficient car from Honda.

My new imago dei from Honda gets 48 miles per gallon.

4.  original sin—An award given to actors and actresses for the best original portrayal of evil on the big screen.

And the original sin goes to . . . Ralph Fiennes.

AN ORIGINAL

Pastor Greenbean spent a considerable amount of time yesterday working on his upcoming book.  It is a collaborative effort with my very good friend, David Caddell.  What we are doing is reading the Book of Romans and then interacting with it from our separate disciplines.  He is a sociologist and an expert in the first century cultural context.  I read it as a pastor and churchman with one eye on our culture today.  The book is, all except for the foreword, finished.  We have close to 380 pages of manuscript.  What I was working on is editing.

I was also doing a little tweaking as I was working with Romans 5.  Particularly troublesome is Romans 5:12, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death, spread to all men because all sinned.  When I write troublesome I do not mean the Bible is in trouble, what I mean is how I understand the passage is troublesome.  This is the classic passage where the doctrine of original sin is defended and taught.

Of course, original sin does not mean creative sinning, but the “origin” of sin.  Everything has a beginning and the beginning of sin is Adam.  That I’m okay with, but what I’m not really okay with is the history of this passage in trying to locate sin as a biological reality.  Sin did not originate with Adam as a chromo-spiritual defect.  I know many fine Calvinist people whom I love and respect would disagree with me, but in my mind that just can’t be what Paul is talking about.

What David and I argue is that the key to unlocking this meaning is not biology or heredity but instead communal solidarity.  The ancient mind, much more than the individual obsessed mind of the western world today, had much more of a group identity.  Adam, therefore, represents humanity as a group the way Abraham represents Jews as a group or President Obama represents Americans as a group.

What I am finding troublesome, and still working through is that both of these—the biological spiritual defect of classic original sin thought, as well as the communal aspects of group identity—let me off the hook as an individual for my particular sin.  If Adam did it then I can claim some sort of spiritual disability but it is truly not my fault.  If it is a corporate identity then I am off the hook again.  One explanation is “He did it” and the other explanation is “We did it.”

But I know that the truth is, “I did it.”  Adam did not think that thought for me, neither did the whole group stand there and listen to that gossip the other day.  I did.

Maybe Paul writes about Adam as a stand in for me.  That is why Jesus died on the cross—to save me, the sinner; not just to save Adam.  He didn’t die for Adam alone, but for me (and you too).

I am the origin of my own sin and as such I bring sin into the world.  In the end, I am no different from Adam.  Perhaps instead of using “Adam” Paul could have just left a fill-in-the-blank with the instructions [Your Name Here].