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Who are we?

Who are we according to the Church, or the Bible, or tradition, or reason?  Who are we?

Some would say that we are people.  Human beings.  In the Christian tradition, most of us would probably jump to the idea that people are sinners and some are 'sinners saved by grace'.  I am starting to believe that this is only one aspect of who we have become.  But, we also become blind, deaf, enslaved, exiled, dead, etc.  All of these words describe the human condition.  Well, they describe the human condition after 'the fall'.  The problem here is at least two fold.  First, to just use one term as a catch-all for the human condition distorts our plight.  A blind person needs to be able to see, not to be freed from slavery.  Perhaps if the blind person could see she could find her own way out of the prison.  Perhaps not.  In the Western Church, we have usually stated the human condition on at least one of these words, 'sin' (some would even say 'dead').  I think this misses the point.  As I stated, the Bible uses a rich tapestry of words to describe our needs.  To reduce them to just one all encompassing term doesn't see the bigger picture and distorts the issue.

The opposite of sin, or its remedy, is forgiveness.  But that's not the remedy for exile.  The remedy for exile is return.  The remedy for deafness is hearing.  The remedy for enslavement is freedom.  The remedy for death is life.  When we pray for people who are enslaved to addiction, whether it be alcohol or pornography or whatever, we don't ask God to forgive them for their addiction.  We ask God to deliver them from bondage.  That is what they need.  We need to use the colorful palette that the Bible provides to address the hurts of people today all the while recognizing that they aren't sinners at the deepest level.

I know, that was sort of shocking.  But it's nevertheless true.  The Bible is extremely clear on this point.  All people, not just believers, but all people are made in the image of God.  Period.  We must start there.  See, most of our Western traditions don't start there.  They start in Genesis 3 where Adam and Eve are sent into exile.  But that is not the beginning of the story.  The beginning states that they (we) are made in God's image.  We never lose that.  Every person that we see is an image bearer of the Divine.  Even our enemies are made in God's image.  At their deepest core that is who they are.

Now think about this from a different angle.  If we continue to tell people, say, our children while they are growing up, that they are 'stupid' or 'worthless', what happens to them?  They start acting like and believing that they are those things.  Most of us would never dream of telling our children such things.  And yet, we tell them something diabolically worse.  We tell them that they are 'sinners in the hands of an angry God'.  We tell them, by no actions on their part, they have broken God's laws and have no good thing in them.  That they 'enemies of God', hideous, rebellious, little monsters that deserve 'hell'.  Seriously.  Some people, most people that I know, do that.  Do we see the mixed message here?

This happens to us adults, too.  How many times have we seen advertisements for products because we are not good enough?  We are constantly bombarded with ads telling us that we are worthless, ugly, inferior, ad nauseam.  And don't for one minute think that this doesn't have some impact on how we perceive ourselves.  My wife was a S.A.N.E (sexual assault nurse examiner) for a number of years.  Day after day I would listen to stories about how 'men' abused women.  After a couple of years of this I started to feel horrible.  I started to see myself as one of those 'people'.  She would try to reassure me that this wasn't the case.  'But if you keep saying "men" are such-and-such, and I'm a man...how am I supposed to separated the two?  How can you not look at me and question if I might act that way?'  It was a valid question.  What made this worse was that it was coming from my wife.  The person I love the deepest in the entire world.  If my deepest love thought men were animals then that would make a huge impact on how I started to see myself and how she would start seeing me.

We do the same thing when we see people as nothing more than 'dead' beings that have 'no good in them'.  That they are nothing more than 'enemies of God' and 'deserve' death and 'hell'.  When we believe that, we shouldn't be surprised when they act that way.  In fact, we aren't.  But that is not who we are at the deepest level of our beings.  We are bearers of the Sacred.  When people act like something they are not, we should be grieved as Jesus was when entering Jerusalem.  Our hearts should be breaking when we see people dehumanizing themselves and others.  At the deepest level of each person, at their sacred core, is the imprint of the Divine.  That is the foundation of who they are.  But they have become lost.  They are in exile.  Somewhere in them is a memory of the 'garden'.  There is an echo of a voice calling to them in the cool of the day.  There is a longing to return to the garden to the place where heaven and earth meet.  At the base level, people aren't sinners.  They are 'children of God' that have sinned, and become blind and deaf, who have become lost and enslaved.  People, at their very foundation, are 'children of God' in exile.  But the good news is that they can be forgiven.  They can be made to see and to hear.  They can be found and released from bondage.  People can return home.

So, yes.  I am questioning the doctrine of original sin.  I'm not questioning that people are sinners.  I'm questioning the view that that is who we are at our deepest level.  It's not.  People, at the very core of their being, are the image of God.
'God created human beings in his own image.  In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.'

Peace be with you.

OD

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