We continue our study from the teachings of the Apostle John, understood in
Celtic Christianity, and what they have to say to us about living in the Way of
Christ. Today we turn our attention to the Roman Church’s teaching on
Original Sin and the Celtic teaching that we are sacred from birth.
The Doctrine of Original Sin didn’t enter Christian thought and teachings until
the 4 th century. “Original Sin” teaches that we are each born without the image
of God within us – God is not in us – and that it is only through baptism, given
by the official Church, that God is imparted to us. It is not that we sin –
however it is you define sin. It is not that we sin, but that, in our essence, we
ARE sin; we are without God – and we are without God until the Church
imparts God to us. Original Sin tells us that we are essentially ignorant rather
than bearers of light, that we are essentially ugly rather than rooted in divine
beauty, that we are essentially selfish rather than made it the image of love.
[JPN] And it teaches that what we need to be whole must be given to us by
This teaching comes from the Roman Church’s interpretation of the story of
Adam and Eve eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
An interpretation of disobeying God. An interpretation of punishment for
disobedience. An interpretation that we are all, every person of humanity
since the time of our beginning, are born of sin because of the story of Adam
and Eve in the garden. … And so they call it ‘the Fall’. A fall from grace. A fall
from goodness. A fall from connectedness to God as punishment for
disobeying. A fall from which humanity must continually strive to recover but
has little hope of doing so.
For today’s scripture text, I used the Jewish Tanakh translation – in it we hear
subtle but important differences from our Christian translations. For the
Hebrew people, this story is about gaining wisdom, gaining awareness,
coming to see good and bad – and therefore, human persons come into
maturity and responsibility in their own living and in their life as community.
… In Jewish teachings, the first ‘sin’ in the bible is the murder between two
brothers. So, Adam and Eve eating the fruit? That wasn’t sin, that was choice;
human free will in deciding: do you want to live in innocence forever, live in
childhood forever; or do you choose to become aware of and seek after your
potential for growth, remembering that with this knowledge comes the
possibility for doing harm to others and the responsibility to learn to live in
harmony with God and with one another. … Choice. Free will. … In many
Jewish teachings and in the early Christian tradition, Eve is venerated for
making the choice for wisdom, growth and enlightenment, rather than
denigrated and blamed for causing all the evil that exists in our world.
The Doctrine of Original Sin is still held to in the Roman Catholic Church, as
well as in some Protestant traditions. Others have denied the Roman Church’s
teaching that God is no longer in us – teaching instead that the story of the
garden is a story of our fall from grace and, therefore, our on-going seeking
after reconciliation or reunion with God. For them, Original Sin means we are
‘born sinners,’ and all of life after that is seeking to overcome our sinful
The teachings of John and Thomas tell us, instead, that we are born of God.
That the image of God within us is the core of who we are. This understanding
of the Way of Christ remembers first: “God said, “Let us make humankind in
our image, according to our likeness. … And it was so. God saw everything that
God had made, and indeed, it was very good.” … So, Jesus doesn’t come to
teach us how to become something we are not. Jesus reminds us of the heart
of God that is at the core of our being, and shows us a path to uncovering that
heart and living from that heart in our actions and our words.
We, you and I and all of humanity, are made in the image of God. We are made
in the character and likeness of God – it is not simply a piece of us; it is the
essential core of who we are. According to the Hebrew Scriptures, that means
we are merciful, gracious, faithful, forgiving, and forever steadfast in love.
These are the words used to describe God again and again and again
throughout the Old Testament – merciful, gracious, faithful, forgiving, and
forever steadfast in love. … Made in God’s image. And Jesus has come to
remind us of the fullness that we already are.
Alexander Scott, a 19th century Celtic teacher, uses the analogy of a plant
suffering from blight to teach of our essential nature. If this plant was shown
to a botanist, they would describe it in terms of its essential nature – type,
quality, life features. They would identify it with reference to its healthy
properties not define it in terms of its blight. They would instead say the blight
is foreign to the plant, that it is attacking the essential nature of the plant. …
We miss this point when it comes to defining human nature. We have tended
to define ourselves, and one another, in terms of blight, in terms of sin or evil,
in terms of the failings or illnesses of our lives, rather than seeing what is
deeper still – the beauty of the image of God at the core of our being. [JPN]
The Celts are not ignoring the infections in our lives – the greed and self-
interest, anxiety and fear from which we often move. Rather, they are saying
that the Light from which we come, the image of God within each of us, is
deeper than the tangled infection of our ego-self.
The longer I’ve journeyed into a deeper understanding of this deep difference
in teachings about Jesus and about our essential nature, the more I’ve come to
see how pervasive the teaching of Original Sin is to how we understand our
walk of faith and spiritual growth.
From it has come a model that the spiritual path is like ascending a mountain
of perfection and our job is to transcend the lower impure self and achieve
higher and rarefied states of purity and perfection. It teaches that something
is inherently wrong with me, and the realms of sexuality, sensuality and
emotionality are to be guarded against with great vigilance. Our earthy nature
is not to be trusted but to be controlled. So, like Sisyphus rolling the boulder up
the mountain, we strive and strive but will never reach the goal set before us –
the perfection, necessary for reconciliation with God.
However, when we believe that goodness and light are the core of our
essential nature, then our spiritual path becomes a journey toward wholeness,
rather than perfection. Instead of pushing a boulder up a mountain to rise
above and go someplace else or become someone else, Jesus teaches us to turn
into ourselves and to this world, to recognize who we essentially are by
embracing this world, embracing our life in all its realness (its broken, messy,
driven, aliveness). For it is through embracing the shadows of fear and
anxiety, greed and self-interest within our living that we come to remember:
that what lies at the core of who we are is love. It is traveling through the
messiness of this world, not rising above it, that we connect with the sacred,
rest in the arms of the beloved, and travel into wisdom.
Jesus’ teachings remind us… When we lose touch with the wisdom within us,
we live out of ignorance. When we no longer remember the truth of who we
are, we become slaves to falseness. When we forget the deep root of our being,
we become prone to fear and anxiety.
Even then, made in the image of God, we know that wisdom is deep within us,
and love and the desire to give ourselves away to one another in love is at the
heart of who we are, deeper than any fear or hatred that holds us hostage.
Original Sin teaches us: It’s not okay to make mistakes. It’s not okay to trust
yourself. You will never be good enough.
Jesus reminds us: You are already good. Your presence matters. You are loved
for yourself. Always.