Showing posts with label sin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sin. Show all posts

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

The Church's Hypocrites

The Church will have hypocrites for as long as it is earthly. Hypocrisy flows from the damaged and fallen nature of humankind, and so the only ultimate cure lies in the healing of that broken nature, something that only occurs with finality at the End.

Whilst the Church will always have hypocrites, this does not mean that hypocrites are a good to be treasured qua hypocrites. We all seem to recognize this at least at some level - even those bent on some brand of moral relativism see hypocrisy as immoral. Perhaps this is because hypocrisy is a sin against one of the more treasured of values these days, that of authenticity, of "being yourself." In Jesus' parlance, a hypocrite is someone who acts in such a way publicly that is not reflective of the way they are in reality. Those we now call actors were the hypocrites: they act on stage in the guise of some other person, not acting as themselves. In today's usage, a similar idea is conserved, but the dichotomy is usually presented as between what a person says and what a person does - and normally, there is some clause about being deceptive about it, which I will largely omit discussion of until the end.

Since Jesus' polemics where often against the Pharisees, and since this group is the one Jesus accuses memorably of being hypocrites (cf. Mt. 23), it is the Pharisees we think of most prominently as being hypocrites. And since our Anglophone cultural baggage derives much from the time of the Reformation, our view of the Pharisees is that they were a mean Judean sect, bent on being nasty to everyone and telling them how wonderful they themselves were, they were religious leaders who pestered everyone with their yoke of legalism and works-righteousness. In particular, they completely denied grace as a free gift and were completely unmerciful to anyone.

It seems commonplace, to accuse Church leaders of being hypocrites, or faithful Catholics of being hypocritical, by analogy with the Pharisees: totally mean to everyone, always trying to control the way to heaven by telling people what they can and cannot do, and never being merciful and kind to people (unlike that Jesus chap, the clause is sometimes added). This accusation comes from both the secular world and other groups of Catholics, and to a lesser degree from others.

Now, whether the analogy between the Pharisees as they were in history and particular Catholics nowadays holds is an interesting question. The socio-cultural context of the writing of the New Testament means that an objective view of the Pharisees in not sought - like often happens between religious kin, Christians are quick to differentiate themselves from the Pharisees in the apostolic and sub-apostolic ages. Certain myths do exist, however: for instance, the Pharisees were not religious leaders. Whilst it is common to hear talk of Jesus challenging religious authorities - something he did do, at least to some extent - his discussions and polemics with the Pharisees are not instances of this. The Pharisees were a lay group, a particular sect of Judean-Israelite religion, they were not religious leaders. They did not deny grace, did not preach works-righteousness, and I suspect they were mostly very intent on being kind and merciful (even though they probably also had a thoroughly in-group morality). The dis-analogies and myths that we think of when we hear the term Pharisee are numerous. But this is not my point, regardless.

The idea that the only way to be hypocritical is to be like our caricature of the Pharisees should be challenged, for whilst I freely acknowledge that there are many hypocritical Catholics among the faithful, I suspect that the Church's hypocrites that are hiding in plain sight are not the faithful Catholics, but the so-called "dissident" and "nominal" ones.

To be a hypocrite (in modern speech), it was said before, is for there to be a gulf between one's words and actions. If I tell people that it is always important to wash their hands before eating, but do not do so myself, I am being hypocritical. I put to the reader that when the faithful Catholic confesses, as is the true doctrine of the Church, that they are sinful in need of redemption, wrongdoers in need of forgiveness, and yet that not only they do wrong, but also others, and sometimes the wrongdoings of others are different to those which he or she commits, though all wrongdoings are immoral - they are not being profoundly hypocritical. It is true, when faithful Catholic encounters the mercy of God in the confessional, they are acknowledging hypocrisy, admitting that they have done differently to what they professed to be right. And yet, the nominal and dissident Catholics, whilst they also have this hypocrisy that arises from wrongdoing (or worse, hypocrisy arising from claiming that they commit no wrongdoing), they have a hypocrisy far more insidious, one that is not momentary in the occasion of sin, but endures further.

Quite simply, they claim to be something they are not. The litany of exceptions that flow from the phrase "I am Catholic, but..." amount to a resounding "I profess to be Catholic, yet deny it in my being." This is the essence of hypocrisy. It need not be vocalized so clearly, either: there are those who claim to be faithful and true Catholics, yet testify otherwise by their lives: "I have not been to Mass in a couple of years, but I am still a true Catholic," some might say. Perhaps they are very kind people, but let us not be held in jest: the one who claims to be Catholic yet denies that this involves gathering in communion with the rest of the Church for Mass denied in their lives that they are in fact Catholic.[1]

Or they might profess to be Catholic and deny it by their other words: "I am a true Catholic and am pro-abortion." Perhaps this person genuinely thinks they hold coherent beliefs, but in actual fact, they do not. A vegan who eats pork is either not a vegan or does not actually eat pork: the two cannot be held simultaneously. For exactly the same reason, a Catholic pro-abortionist is an oxymoron.

Now, there is some subtlety introduced when a person says "I am a progressive Catholic." Here, the terms admit reconciliation. Far too often, however, what the sentence really means is "I am a hypocrite, I claim to be Catholic when I am not." Progressive Catholicism, for most who claim to be its adherents, is the same as the Catholic buttery above - by adding Progressive as a qualifier, what is implied is that litany of exceptions to actual Catholicism, this time with some good marketing. After all, who is opposed to progress? Certainly not Catholics. But when some modern cultural fad is declared to be progress, such as the recognition of the right to kill one's child, Catholics do not reject it and hence reject progress, it is rejected for being regress. 

I could label myself "A Catholic for Change for the Better" - and if I started calling myself that, who could be opposed? But what would really be hiding, or at least obscuring, is my vision of what the Better is. I might think it would be better if all male, 19 year old students were stoned. I could say that the institution of this would be progress over the dreadful state of affairs where most of the people in that group are not stoned. Though this example is hyperbolic, the point should be clear: it is not the qualifying label that really matters, the label is chosen for PR, what matters is whether the qualifier actually negates the noun, whether claiming to be "progressive" actually constitutes a denial of being Catholic. If it does, then it is hypocrisy.

It is added by some that there are a diversity of views within the Catholic Church. This is absolutely true, there are a diverse set of views - theology would be over if there were not! One such plurality is over some soteriological questions, such as Molinism and Thomism in how to combine free will and predestination. Whilst both views cannot be correct, the Church contains people advocating both (a split which has traditionally been Jesuit-Dominican respectively). What those people tend to mean is that the Church contains views contrary to its teachings, and this is not the case. One can claim to hold to some dissident or heretical view only by deceiving either oneself or those around one, claiming to be something one is not, or in short, hypocrisy.

Let me return briefly to the clause I ignored that is often added to the definition of hypocrisy, ie, that the hypocrite not only acts contrary to their profession of belief, but also that their action is concealed, that there is deceit involved that amounts to a position of moral superiority being wrongly attributed to the hypocrite. If that qualifier is added, then the case of sin-is-hypocrisy mentioned at the beginning is not hypocrisy. However, the nominal and dissident "Catholics" still fall into the bounds of the definition, since they claim to be Catholic only deceitfully.

Perhaps the preceding has seemed overly harsh. I do not think so, I think it is important to flag hypocrisy and deceit in the Church - how can the Church reform if it does not identify the negative elements? Or perhaps it has seemed instead overly arrogant, as if I could say what is and is not Catholic. It has been my intention to keep the examples of ways in which one's Catholicism is denied to the minimum to avoid creating criteria for in-and-out, for precisely that reason. However, it is not arrogant to point out that, in actual fact, the word "Catholic" really means something. It is a word with content. As such, some combinations of the word with other terms produce logical contradictions, just like "vegan meat-eater" or, to use the canonical example, "married bachelor." Such an entity does not exist, and when someone points out that when a married man to claims to be a bachelor he is in fact mistaken or lying, it is not arrogant, it is simply applying the meaning of the words correctly.

Whilst I doubtless hope in vain, it is my hope that hypocrisy will begin not only be identified among those who do wrong, but also among those who claim the identity "Catholic" that they act contrary to.

[1] Some extreme cases could be given where somebody really is a faithful Catholic and has not been to Mass - perhaps they are imprisoned, perhaps there is absolutely no-where Mass is offered, etc. However, this is not a particularly large group, and certainly not the subject of my point here.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Though I Walk Through (Fortitude) Valley, I Will Fear No Beggar

Written for Social Justice Sunday, 29th of September, 2013 AD.[1]

I get off at the Valley railway station.

[i]It is a Thursday in the evening, as I walk through Brunswick Street to do some errands. People hailing from all parts of the world, particularly the neighbouring East Asian countries, bustle in the walkway going about their daily lives. The night brings people dressed in more expensive clothes, ready to partake in the Valley's night life. Some are wearing more formal dresses and suits, others seem to be going for sexual appeal - all seem to be getting ready for the entertainment the Valley brings.

Except not quite all. Looking a little more carefully at the people not rushing to get somewhere or huddling in large groups, some people are wearing rather inexpensive clothes indeed, perhaps sufficient for warmth in the upcoming months of Australian spring and summer, but barely enough to survive the ending winter. They seem to live on the streets, making surviving off the waste and generosity of others. Or perhaps they do have some accommodation – still, they barely scrape by the day.

One such person walks up to me now, a lady probably in her early-thirties, but looking closer to fifty years old. Her body looks fatigued, but her eyes dart rapidly around, as if she were paranoid about being attacked by someone behind me. We lock eyes and she, after looking at my chest for a split-second, approaches me with a little more energy.

“Spare a few bucks, mate?”

I stopped.


Someone like me gets asked that sort of question around Brisbane daily and probably every other second somewhere in the world. I suspect that anyone reading this has been asked on the street for money – not just by someone busking, but by someone in financial woes.

When I talk to people about the issue of giving money to beggars, or giving alms in language that is more common in the Bible, what the saying that usually pops up is “give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day, teach him how to fish, and he will eat for a lifetime.” That sort of logic seems to me to be correct: giving in a way that produces sustainability is better than giving in such a way that produces dependence.

When Caritas International says something to the same effect, I nod my head. Browsing the financial statement for Caritas Australia, I can see that every cent in produces a cent out in targeted and wise relief and humanitarian aid.[2] However, when I talk to the average person about giving to persons such as the lady that approached me on that Thursday evening, I am more than often talking to someone who justifies not giving fish by fooling themselves that they will teach them how to fish.

The brilliance of using that line is obvious upon a little reflection: one is able to justify to oneself one’s lack of kindness by pretending that one is being truly kind. After all, those darting eyes probably came from spending the last merciful soul’s money on drugs, right? One can rationalize the competing desires to give alms because it seems right, and keeping the money because we like money, by making out that keeping one’s money is actually right! With all one’s generosity, one can now abundantly not give.

The utilitarians can stop reading now. Considering only the outcomes of the action, and given that utilitarians are practically obliged to give away the money anyway, their not-giving is more like the targeted giving of Caritas.[3] Though I used to be a utilitarian, I must say I fell too often into the trap of self-deceit and selfishness. I should have known better than to conjure up a rule that justified my doing what I really wanted to do anyway.

The Christian perspective on giving is dramatically different. Of all the numerous parables, discourses and sayings of Jesus about judgement, caring for those in material need is one of the most prominent: be it caring for Christian brethren in need (such as in Matthew 25), or the poor person in the street (such as the parable of Lazarus and the rich man). In fact, Jesus gives us the very clear command to give to whoever begs from us, right after  talking about turning the other cheek, giving one’s cloak after having one’s coat taken and walking two miles when forced to walk one:

"Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you." (Matthew 5:42 – see comments here)

Anyone who refuses a beggar is, in a very real sense, sinning. But the reason we managed to convince ourselves that we were doing the right thing originally is that there was some truth in the fear that the money would just go towards making the lady’s eyes turn red, and it’s distinctly possible that this will be the case now.

Let me say a few words about people in material need who abuse drugs and alcohol: there may be very few people in the world who have more of an aversion to these two substances than me. For various cultural and personal reasons, substance abuse in all its forms is abnormally repugnant to me. It probably is to them, too. These people often abuse substances because forgetting their woes for a few hours, even a whole day, is often far more exciting a prospect than having some food. Particularly those involved in the sex industry, substance abuse can be the only way to get through the day. More generally to the question “what do you do with your pain?” that I heard asked to a group recently, the response was fairly quick: “get drunk.” Another said “Sex, drugs and rock and roll”. This is not a poor investment for many of them: it is an attempt to remedy something deeper, a reflection of the fact that “man does not live by bread alone.”

Suppose there’s a good chance any money given will be squandered on drugs – then is it OK to ignore the beggar? No. We followers of the Risen Lord have the example of Jesus to model our love on. Consider the recklessness with which Jesus graces us: imagine the angels giving counsel to God, saying “you shall give them the grace to do great things, and they shall squander it with sin!” I cannot speak for anyone else, but when God has given me much, too often I have used it all for my own gain. When, by the sheer love that Christ in his forgiveness has lavished upon me, I am pardoned of all my transgressions, when I am invited to dine with Jesus at the Supper of the Lamb, I frequently decline in favour of wrongdoing. So no, the chance, even a high chance, of misuse is not grounds for Christians to refuse alms.

I would go further and say that even the bank note in my wallet[4] is not mine by right, but instead mine by grace. St John Chrysostom famously said "Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours, but theirs." The grace given to me in the form of wealth is in fact a chance to give it away to someone who needs it more. This grace of Jesus is the essence of the Gospel, and grace dies if it is not shared, that is, the Gospel withers in a person if it is not nourished by its proclamation by word and deed.

Money might produce temptation in a drug addict, so if we are fairly certain the person will misuse the funds, then are we justified in not giving? Almost, yet absolutely not. As I said, people in material need rarely take drugs because they are overflowing with cash. It is the rich-though-spiritually-needy who try to fill the holes in the soul with the extravagance of drugs, not the materially needy. So although giving money might produce the temptation which leads to sin – obviously a negative outcome – it is still the lack which ultimately produces the sin. We as Christians are not justified in not giving, now is the moment when we must give the most: now we must give instead our time, energy, mental strength, compassion, and not just our money. For instance, I have at times had the opportunity to go out for lunch and talk – or perhaps just listen – to people who usually get ignored because of the guilt they produce in us.

I, at least, must remember that the added energy that came to the lady after glancing down at my chest came from the hope she saw in the Cross of Christ which I wear around my neck. From there all my hopes come, from there her hope came. I should never disappoint, for I have never been disappointed by God.

[1] My gratitude to Marc who wrote an inspiring piece that I have borrowed in large part and recast as my own here. See his version:

[2] The Caritas Australia financial statement for the financial year ending 2012 can be found starting page 70 here:

[3] For an understanding of why this is the case, see the "Demandingness Objection" - I would have said I was Singerian, though very poorly:

[4] I am, as a university student, not exactly rich anyway, though I have far more than many and my parents provide for all my basic needs. Every so often, though, I do have some spare money in my wallet.

[i] Source for Image:

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Cain and Abel (Genesis 4)

The story of Cain and Abel goes something like this: Adam and Eve have two children, Cain and Abel, who become a farmer of the land and a shepherd respectively. One day, Cain brought some of his harvest to God, and Abel took the firstborn of his flock as well as some of their fat. God was pleased with Abel, but showed no regard for Cain. He got angry and:
The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is couching at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.” (vv. 6-7)

Cain goes out into the field with Abel and kills him. Then:
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” (v. 9)

God gives Cain a curse for killing his brother which involves exile from the land where Abel was killed, hardship in labouring the land, and being a fugitive wandering the earth. Cain says the punishment is too great, that whoever sees him will kill him, and then God says that whoever kills Cain will suffer sevenfold, giving him a mark for such protection. Cain left then and settled in the land of Nod, where he had intercourse with his wife and conceived Enoch in whose name city was built. A string of generations later and Lamech comes along, this time with two gives, who each gave him children. Lamech says:

“Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;
    you wives of Lamech, hearken to what I say:
I have slain a man for wounding me,
    a young man for striking me. 
 If Cain is avenged sevenfold,    truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold.” (vv. 23-24)

Finally, Adam and Eve have another child, Seth, and the chapter ends saying that around this time "people began to call upon the name of the LORD." (v. 26)


Narrative is interesting but difficult to exegete, and stories such as this one are clear examples of the difficulties encountered. Stories do not necessarily have a point to make with everything that happens, their teachings are not explicit and what exactly the major thesis of the story is can be difficult to determine. Allow me, then to comment on the portions I have quoted above in particular.

Cain did a grievous wrong to Abel, that much is clear. This story is not so much about condemning a particular sinful act so much as it is about illustrating the effects of the sinfulness of humankind. God asks Cain a very simple question - Cain is angry, and in the context of the offering given God asks "will you not be accepted if you do the right thing?" This is obviously a rhetorical question to make the point that God is pleased when people do the right thing. Quite simple really. Is that easy to do?

If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is couching at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it. (v. 7)

Sin is always waiting to claim souls. It desires to claim the person, but we are called to master it. Who can truly master sin? Only Jesus, who on the cross conquered it. Yet regardless, Cain is told that he must master it. Is it possible to not sin? In each case one may avoid sin, yes, but I think that ultimately, if sin so crouches at one's door, it will finally get in, and it will finally conquer. It is absolutely crucial to recognize, however, that one struggles with sin on a case by case basis, and that sin is never truly inevitable. One may never complain "God, it was only possible that I sin!" because it is always possible not to sin.

Some mathematics might illustrate this point well: the probability of resisting some temptation is fairly good. How about two temptations? Still alright. But as the number of temptations faced add up, the probability of avoiding all sin becomes smaller and smaller, such that ultimately, it is practically impossible to never have sinned. That, at least, is the idea behind mastering sin. In practice, we are not even very good at resisting a single temptation, even though nonetheless it is strictly speaking possible. St Paul makes this point in the first letter to the Corinthians:

God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it." (1 Cor. 10:13b)

Therefore, no sin is inevitable.


He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” (v. 9b)

I wish to make a comment on this, because Cain seems to think that the answer is no, hence the rhetorical question. In reality, the answer is yes, we are our brothers' keepers. We must therefore take due consideration to care for our brother - obviously not murder him - and look out for him. This is all very well and good, but how does this apply to us? Very simply - one must care for the sin of another. If one's brother indulges the flesh sinfully, why might ask, am I my brother's keeper? Well, yes. So the sin of another is one's own concern.

If Cain is avenged sevenfold,    truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold. (v. 24)

This is pride of a rather interesting sort. First, why is it pride? It is such because Lamech thinks of himself important enough to have eleven times as much "protective vengeance" than Cain, indeed, he boasts to his wives of his superior protection. Second, why is it interesting? The original protection was because Cain practically pleaded with God saying that he was not able to bear his punishment. Now Lamech is saying "if Cain got it, then I get it even more!" without pleading with God at all.

Lamech's logic seems to be that Cain killed his brother out of envy, but he killed out of self-defence (see v. 23). Therefore, he is more worthy of God's protection than Cain. Sadly, I think prides of this type are rampant and often subtle; "I deserve it" and "I'm not as bad as X" both come from this same root of pride. 


"At that time men began to call upon the name of the LORD." (v. 26)

Here is my closing remark: amidst the murder of Abel and the murders committed by Lamech, his pride as well as the wrongdoings that inevitably must have occurred, there is some hope from the line of Seth. He will be our focus when we see that his descendent, Noah, will find favour with God.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

The Effects of the Fall (Genesis 3:7-24)

Before we get to what happened after the first sin, I want to bring to mind something that was said when everything was still perfect:

"And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed"

"Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves."  (3:7 - directly after they eat of the fruit)

Sin is the violation of a command of God, and this is the working definition in the first books of Genesis. But sin and wrongdoing are not identical sets of actions: things can be wrong without being sin, it seems, because although the first thing (as we shall see) that the first pair does when they eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is cover themselves up, because they thought it was wrong, they were naked beforehand. So it cannot be the case that what is wrong is necessarily sin, or it would have been sin to be naked. No no, sin requires there to be a law against it, as St Paul says in his epistle to the Romans (which will be commented on in about seven months).

 "They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ He said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.’ He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’ The man said, ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.’ Then the LORD God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent tricked me, and I ate.’"(vv. 8-13)

This depiction of God is highly anthropomorphic, and I suggest that we are meant to consider this in an allegorical sense because of this - not robbing it of truth, but not sending out archaeologists to try and find "the God footprints" either.

When God asks where the man is, he answers with fear. Why is the man afraid? Part of this anthropomorphic nature of this depiction of God is that he does not strike fear into the hearts of humans, as happens in other sections of the Scriptures. The man was not afraid of God before he ate from the fruit - but now something has changed. Man is is afraid, because now, man is guilty. Man is guilty because now he feels shame at being naked - and this raises the question: "who told you you were naked?", or in other words "how did you find out it was wrong to be naked?" The next question asked by God is not completely rhetorical, in that I think God is asking the man with some degree of sincerity - but the important bit is how then the man responds, and it illustrates one of the more common themes of sin in human history: blaming someone else. In my opinion, there are few things that separate us from God quite as much as our inability to accept that our wrongdoings really are ours. Objections to Christian doctrines that take the form "how can God blame me for this?" or "if God had done this for me, I would not have done that wrong" have root in the same problem, which is our recurring inability to say "I did wrong - and perhaps there were some factors involved that did not help, but I am at fault here."These separate us from God because we cannot be reconciled without forgiveness, and we cannot accept forgiveness unless we admit that we require it.

This "blaming of other" is in its fullest form here, because the man blames God for giving the woman in saying "This woman whom you gave to be with me" (v. 12), and then the woman for being the active cause in saying "she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate." (v. 12). Notice that the man does indeed admit that he ate - but he seems to try and exempt himself from guilt by pointing out that it was brought about by something over which he had no control, and so others are at fault, really. As I said, this lies at the heart of the problems that face us all in reconciliation.

Though that was said of the man, the woman did much the same, so I will not comment on it. Instead, I shall proceed to the more long-lasting consequences of their sin:

The Lord God said to the serpent,

‘Because you have done this,
    cursed are you among all animals
    and among all wild creatures;
upon your belly you shall go,
    and dust you shall eat
    all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike your head,
    and you will strike his heel.’

To the woman he said,
‘I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing;
    in pain you shall bring forth children,
yet your desire shall be for your husband,
    and he shall rule over you.’
And to the man he said,
‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife,
    and have eaten of the tree
about which I commanded you,
    “You shall not eat of it”,
cursed is the ground because of you;
    in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 
 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
    and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
    you shall eat bread
until you return to the ground,
    for out of it you were taken;
you are dust,
    and to dust you shall return.’
(vv. 14-19)

This has been commented on extensively, so I urge you readers to look up a commentary, specially one of a church father. I want to make a few points, but these will be more things to consider:

1. The traditionally Christian interpretation of the serpent as the devil is odd in this section, because in talking about the serpent's descendants, the implication is that the consequences will reach far beyond the death of the serpent. Even if we ignore this clear implication (it's also implied of the woman, which is true enough), then it is still unclear who exactly the descendants of the devil are. Are they demons? How were they conceived? And many more like these. It is furthermore unclear how the curse of going on the belly translates to the devil, as well as a few others.

2. The man's curses come from him listening to his wife. As a practical application, we are therefore divinely advised against this (I am joking on this point). I think this verse should be understood as listening to one's wife above and before God - which is a reasonable thing to be against.

3. These curses, to first degree and broadly speaking, can be thought of as the breakdown of relationships: between woman and nature, between man and nature, between woman and man, and between humans and the divine. There's more to it that that, and the childbearing one does not fit naturally into that categorization, but it is certainly of note that with sin, these relationships are broken.

"The man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all who live. And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them." (vv. 20-21)

The naming is interesting here for a few reasons: man had already been naming things for a while now (it was his first job, whilst he searched for a companion), so it is curious that it took so long to find her a name (a proper name - ie, a personal one). Second, and perhaps to nuance that point, she was named before: "woman", in chapter 2. So why a second naming? Third, she is named mother of all who live, even though St Paul will say millennia later that Adam brought death[1]. This is not a contradiction, of course, but an interesting contrast between the supposed result of sin and the name "Eve", which sounds very similar to the Hebrew word for "living."[2] 
Leaving the issue of the naming, it is also interesting to see God's providence in the clothing of this couple. I may be horribly wrong, but I suspect there is some symbolic meaning to it which eludes me - could it be that "before they were clothed with glory, now they are clothed with skins", as some have said? Is it merely a symbol of God caring for even the banished sinners? I am not sure.

Then the Lord God said, ‘See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever’ (v. 22)

The best I can muster right now to understand this verse, and it seems legitimate, is to say that God could not, in good conscience, give immortality to a flawed moral agent such as this first couple. He will be saving humanity - but he would only be damning humanity to eternal fallen-ness if he let them have life everlasting now.


Overall, I want to make renewed note of how formulaic this sin has been: it had all the key aspects to the temptation, it showcases the effects and it displays the behaviour that follows from the sin (which is similar but not the same as the more general term "effects of sin"). I think this is particularly fitting to how I interpret this passage in light of the whole of Genesis: the writer has to explain why the good world that God has created does not seem good, and the answer he gives is "humans sin". The role of this narrative is to explain why God cannot be blamed for the corruptness of creation, and we will see in weeks to come how other ancient near Eastern stories are going to be adapted to fit this theme, in particular, how Noah's flood explains natural catastrophe in terms of God's just anger with human evil - at least, a particular mega-flood of which there were many legends, many attributing it to capriciousness on behalf of the gods. The point of this section, therefore, is to explain how creation got bad when it was made good by a good God.

And to this effect, noting also how generic and general the committed sin is, I think that this man and woman are really symbols of us. Whether they were real people or not is, at this point, unclear, because the point can be made if they are figureheads of us or actual people. In terms of what the Bible says, how later writers of Scripture use Adam and Eve is going to shed far more light on the issue than this passage here. Nonetheless, we should think of this couple as if they were us, because if this story says anything, it says "the reason we can't have nice things is that humans commit wrongdoings," and insofar as we are humans, it is our fault that the world is the way it is. There is nobody else to blame.

[1] Adam is the word for man in Hebrew - the NRSV translators decided to use "man" throughout Genesis 2-3, but after many centuries this man is going to be spoken of as if he had a personal name "Adam." This usage is similar to saying Eve's name was "Woman."
[2] The writer of Genesis was brilliant both at naming his characters and subtly changing the names so that it only sounded like the thing being punned with.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

The Sin of the Fall (Genesis 3:1-7)

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.” ’ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. (vv. 1-6)

This passage raises a set of questions that is only explained years and years later, and that is, who is this serpent? Does he know what he is doing? Did God make him this way? Although I'm inconsistent with this rule, I'll avoid trying to make speculations right now, because the text does not give this information.

The serpent opens with a simple enough question as to what exactly it was God had commanded. Some translations add "really", and make it sound like this question is made to raise doubt - but although it is possible that this effect is produced, the text does not read that way. The doubt will come from the lie that the serpent tells the woman, enticing her to desire the fruit, since the question really only makes the woman reaffirm what was God said...roughly.

One thing interesting about the woman's response is that it is not quite right. She has given herself a rule that is stricter than what God actually said, as far as we know, that only prohibits eating. A pastoral note can be made from this, in advising people against taking the commands of God beyond their scope, in any way. For instance, though Jesus is clear that lust is equivalent to adultery of the heart, it does not follow that admiring the beauty of another is forbidden. There may be a fine line between admiring and then twisting that admiration to an inordinate desire of a sexual nature, but it is also the fine line between sin and not sin. It must be clear to us that every time one thinks of someone else "woah, they have great eyes!", one is by no means being unfaithful to one's spouse. It is only when one then goes on to desire that person for oneself that it has lustful overtones. This is crucial if we are to avoid despair, and indeed, retain confidence that God's sanctifying grace really is at work.

Even so, the woman's response is roughly correct. Death is to follow from eating of the fruit, and here comes the lie: the serpent coaxes her in saying "there will be no punishment, it is no big deal. In fact, look how desirable it is! What gains it would bring if you ate! God only said that because he does not want the best for you." This mirrors temptation exactly, I think. In essence, we sin because we think that there will be no punishment, or not that big a punishment. We sin because we desire what is forbidden, and we think it will bring us something we lack and need. Finally, and here is the theological aspect to it, we sin because although we know that a good God would find it reprehensible, we become convinced that God is somehow withholding something from us, and that we would be better off disobeying. No sin is ever committed when we truly believe that we will be worse off when we sin, no sin is ever committed for something unappealing. Some have suggested that the essence of sin is mistrust of God, but though this is a useful generalization, these three aspects on which the serpent lie more fully spell out the root of all sin.