The total depravity of man – it’s one of the five points of Calvinism. The doctrine that hammers home the point that man has no inherent goodness, no inherent value in thought, word, or deed, and that left to his own devices, man is incapable of saving himself. The emphasis is on man’s “natural condition,” his fallen state, born into and a slave to sin; in so doing this points to God’s divine grace in saving us. It’s a Gospel message that begins with “the Fall,” but I can’t help but wonder that if the story begins with humans as sinners, it fails to deal with the “why would God care about us?”
Maybe the problem begins with the fact that the story doesn’t begin with “the Fall” but with “Creation.”
Instead of seeing humans first and foremost as sinners, we need to see them as Eikons of God, created to relate to God, to relate to others, and to govern the world as Eikons. The Fall affects each of the previous: our relation to God, our relation to others, and our relation to the world. Humans, then, are cracked Eikons. There is all the difference in the world in depicting humans as simply sinners and seeing sinfulness as the condition and behavior of a cracked Eikon. Humans sin, but their sin is the sin of an Eikon. They can’t be defined by their sin until they are seen as Eikons.
It’s hard to have a discussion about the Gospel message without eventually touching on the issue of sin. And though sin is a word often tossed about, sometimes I wonder if whenever any two people talk about “sin” they are even talking about the same thing. I’ve heard definitions ranging from “the evil that men do” to “missing the mark”.
The Gospel message has been reduced to a legal transaction (Christ’s sacrifice balancing the scales of cosmic justice) or sparing us from the hands of an angry God (leading to a get your own butt into heaven, save yourself sort of salvation). If sin is just about any imperfection, any falling short, what does that project onto God? “Oops, you missed. It’s smitin’ time!”
Sin is a religious term within a religious construct, only having meaning in connection to the Divine. It’s a turning away from the life of God, an apathy or transgression of the will of God. That’s one way of looking at it. Removing the word from its doctrinal connotations, we can look at it another way. We can think of it as human error, a failure to fulfill human potential (and thus sin becomes that which dehumanizes us).
“Sin is a failure to be, we wonder, what or who have we failed to be? To answer this question, we must return to the image of God…God created us to be his image-bearers. And at the heart of the imago dei is God’s desire that we show forth the divine character. “Sin,” therefore, is the failure to reflect the image of God.” –Stanley Grenz (Created for Community, 89-90)
Now, one brief comment as I end this post today: sin itself is more than judicial failings and more than offense against the Law. Sin is the disruption of the relationship of loving God, loving others, and governing our world. Which means, the gospel is designed to heal our love for God, our love for others, and our relationship to the world.
We start the story of our faith with creation. With humanity created in the image of God and declared “good”. As image-bearers, we have inherent worth. The Fall becomes about not living up to that potential, what we were created to be. This impacts our view of the Gospel, as it attains a more holistic dimension. It becomes about seeking wholeness, humans to be restored in all the dimensions of humanity, being fully human. However, it doesn’t stop there. The inward journey leads to outward love. All grace should move us to outward expression. The Kingdom of God is now and ours becomes a ministry of reconciliation, of restoration. Transformation of everything about our world, from our societal values, to our economic structures/priorities, to our cultural identity.
We’re more than just sinners.