Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video. In the current climate, there is a danger in recording something even two days in advance, given the trauma unfolding in Ukraine. I had intended to spend some time in Lent on some of the big questions of faith. One of these is the idea of original sin – a stumbling block to many people. But, perhaps viewing the actions of Putin and his henchmen might make it easier to understand.
Part of the problem is that the idea of sin is rooted in a story rather than a philosophical argument. The first three chapters of Genesis provide us with a startling insight into the human condition. I should say at the beginning that these three chapters are not meant to be taken as a literal scientific treatise on human origins. The world was not created in 7 literal days starting on October 23rd 4004 BC as calculated by James Ussher, the Archbishop of Armagh in the 17th Century and unfortunately repeated many times since! The point of the story is that we understand the world owes its existence and origin to God. Many scholars argue that the book was written during the Babylonian exile as a polemic against paganism. Their origin stories usually involved something emerging from God’s fighting each other and provided grounds for the pagan practice of buying gods off with sacrifice.
The Genesis story tells us that human beings owe our existence to God’s creative energy and are designed to function best in a relationship with Him, a relationship in which we find joy, purpose, love, and significance. This relationship is marked by a willing submission to God and his ways. This is the only safe way to live given our frailty and limitations. In this model, worship is not appeasement of a hostile deity or a way of making Him feel good about himself because he has self-esteem issues. It’s actually a form of recalibration. Living as we do in a world that tries to convince us that life revolves around us; biblical worship has always been about re-centring on the reality it actually revolves around Him. The fall story in Genesis 3 is about the human tendency to take hold of autonomy and authority for ourselves. However, given our limited understanding of how the world works, or even a passing self-knowledge of what is really good for us, we construct systems to make life work centred on what feels good in the moment. St. Augustine described it as ‘collapsing in ourselves’. And because 7 billion people can’t get their own way all the time, hurt and broken people hurt other hurt and broken people and so on, until you get to Vladimir Putin whose capacity to hurt is amplified by his control of one of the world’s largest armies.
Adam and Eve are the Hebrew for man and woman. This story isn’t so much about the origins of sin as a commentary on everyday human experience. Someone once said that if the story wasn’t there we’d have to invent it. Original sin is the innate tendency of every human being to prioritise the self and the tribe. This is the opposite of love. It is a symptom of a broken relationship with God who we no longer trust to supply all we need for happiness. I know that my every action, word, and thought is tainted by selfishness as is everyone else’s. Like a bowling ball with an uneven weight within it, I will always tend to deviate from the straight and true unless another force rectifies my inward bias.
All of us need saving if we are to fulfil our true potential. Putin needs saving from his idolatrous nationalism where God has been replaced by a myth of Russian history. The cheating husband needs saving from his disordered desire for satisfaction outside his marriage covenant. The anorexic teenager needs saving from the yawning insecurity that expresses itself in a distorted body image and need for control. The person whose epitaph is that they would be happy to help anyone, but who like the rest of us turn the TV over when confronted with too much human suffering needs saving too. These and many others are manifestations of the stuff that rushes in to fill the hole where God is left out.
Jesus teaches us that if we are to really enter into the good life we need the sin dealt with first. The remedy is not disciplined self-improvement but forgiveness. If the root of our problem and Putin’s problem is a broken relationship with God, then that relationship needs fixing. Our Lenten journey will take us to the cross where forgiveness is won for us. Where God in himself confronts the reality of human brokenness and sin and allows justice to be served. Receiving that forgiveness as a gift and re-submitting to God’s rule over our lives releases the resurrection power of God’s Spirit into our lives. This is the force that allows the bowling ball to run straight again, that replaces delusion with truth and starts us on the journey of renewal and reformation. I pray that confronted with his own failure and brokenness Mr Putin might find that for himself, as I pray we all do also this Lent.