Saturday, June 30, 2007

Our Condition in "the Fall"

NOTE: Some Further Comments on Chuck Fager's Response to my Review of "Without Apology" will appear eventually. Meanwhile, I have just finished the following post on an entirely different topic. I had been working on it for some time before Chuck sent me his post.- - Rich A-E

In a comment on my recent post about the Barclay Course at 15th Street Meeting, Marshall Massey says
Rich, I'd have loved to read more details about your Barclay course -- even at the level of my five-part report on the Bible study I led last summer at Baltimore -- so that I too could have learned from the course.
I'm afraid I'm not up to a report that thorough, but I do think that perhaps I can share some of the fruit of our discussions of Barclay's Proposition Number Four "On the Condition of the Man in the Fall". These are the things I brought away from the discussion.

I'll start by mentioning that we used the text of Barclay's own 1678 English translation of the Apology, as published by the Quaker Heritage Press. You can find the text of proposition 4 - and Barclay's Discussion of it - at this link: It may be useful to glance at this whole chapter before reading the rest of the current post, but here is the proposition itself:
All Adam's posterity (or mankind), both Jews and Gentiles, as to the first Adam (or earthly man), is fallen, degenerated, and dead; deprived of the sensation (or feeling) of this inward testimony or seed of God; and is subject unto the power, nature, and seed of the serpent, which he soweth in men's hearts, while they abide in this natural and corrupted estate: from whence it comes that not only their words and deeds but all their imaginations are evil perpetually in the sight of God, as proceeding from this depraved and wicked seed. Man therefore, as he is in this state, can know nothing aright; yea his thoughts and conceptions concerning God and things spiritual, until he be disjoined from this evil seed and united to the Divine Light, are unprofitable both to himself and others. Hence are rejected the Socinian and Pelagian errors in exalting a natural light, as also of the Papists and most of Protestants, who affirm that man without the true grace of God may be a true minister of the Gospel. Nevertheless this seed is not imputed to infants until by transgression they actually join themselves therewith: for they are by nature "the children of wrath" who walk according to the "power of the prince of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience," having their conversation in the lusts of the flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind (Eph. 2)

Now this is not, on first reading, a terribly congenial proposition. Who wants to be told that he or she is "fallen, degenerate and dead", can "know nothing aright", and that not only his or her "words, and deeds, but all their imaginations are perpetually evil in the sight of God"? The language of the proposition reminds many people of the "original sin" idea so prominent in most of non-Quaker Christianity. For many Quakers it is an article of unofficial dogma that "Quakers don't believe in original sin", and some appear not to believe in "sin" at all. The idea of "the Fall" is closely linked in many people's minds to "original sin", so it may well come as a shock to see a discussion of "the Fall" in an early Quaker writer.

Another difficulty for many is that the whole concept of "the Fall" is centered around the Genesis narrative of what happened in the Garden of Eden. In Barclay's day, this narrative was widely understood as literal history. Today we do not understand it in that literal way, or least I do not, those of us who were studying Barclay at 15th Street Meeting do not, and most educated people do not. This being so, we may have more trouble than Barclay's generation did in accepting the reality of the Fall.

If we study Barclay's supporting argument and consult our own experience, however, several points become clear:

First, The doctrine described above is really quite different from the "original sin" doctrine taught by most other Christian Churches in Barclay's day and even in ours. Barclay himself rejected the term "original sin" and pointed out that it is not a scriptural term. He offers the words "death", "body of death", "old Adam" and "old man" as sounder terms taken from the Bible, and his discussion makes plain that these are not just different words, but words for a different spiritual reality. I will say more about this shortly.

Second, It is true that Barclay refers to and appears to accept the historicity of Adam, Eve, and the Garden, but there are hints in his discussion that the "mystical" significance of this story is more important to him than its supposed factuality. And certainly for us it is entirely possible to see a spiritual truth in the story of the Fall without having to accept its situation in a particular place and time.

Third, the key to understanding what Barclay is saying is to notice his distinction between people in the "natural and corrupted estate" which he describes as fallen and people "disjoined from this evil seed and united to the Divine Light". Indeed, this whole proposition cannot be fully understood until it is read in the context of Propositions 5 and 6 which are given the common title "Concerning the Universal Redemption by Christ, and also the Saving and Spiritual Light wherewith every man is enlightened". This dualism is somewhat problematic for modern people but it isn't for that reason necessarily or completely false. In fact, we really need to come to terms with it somehow, as it underlies much of Quaker practice, including our understanding of spirit-led ministry in worship (treated in Propositions 10 "Concerning Ministry" and 11 "Concerning Worship").

Fourth, Barclay's description of humanity in "the Fall" is - - if we are honest with ouselves - - a highly realistic description of humanity as it is. Our "sophistication" about our historical and biological origins are shallow if because of it we can't see the profoundly broken human condition that Barclay and the Bible call "fallen". Without an appreciation of this spiritual brokenness we are not equipped to receive with joy and gratitude the good news that through Christ's Light and Livign Spirit we are offered redemption from this state.

Let me expand on these points one-by-one.

1. The difference between "original sin" and the "old Adam"
In Barclay's proposition, quoted above, the statement that is perhaps least controversial to Friends of today is also the one that appeared most heretical to non-Quaker Christians of Barclay's day.
Nevertheless this seed is not imputed to infants until by transgression they actually join themselves therewith:...
In contrast to this Quaker position, many other Christians of Barclay's day (and all too many of our own) actually believed that infants are born guilty of sin and worthy of eternal punishment unless or until some spiritual sanctuary could be found for them, either through a ceremony like baptism or through a "salvation experience" of accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior. This is a transparently cruel and inhuman doctrine. Where it has actually been accepted it has been a source of horrible fear and anguish to countless generations of loving parents. No doubt some people have been attracted to this doctrine precisely because its horror appealed to a streak of sadism, but others have accepted it reluctantly as an odd but inevitable corollary of a more general understanding of sin that in other respects seemed right, necessary, and implied by Scripture.

Barclay explicitly rejected this view. It's true he had just said that in our "natural state", which is presumably the state of the infant, we are subject to the "power,nature and seed of the serpent". But with his clarification that infants are not guilty of sin "until they join themselves therewith", we see that by "the old Adam" in our nature Barclay doesn't mean an inherited guilt for someone else's sin. He means, rather, an inherited natural disposition to commit sins ourselves. As infants we haven't yet acted on this natural disposition, but we all get our chance eventually. Barclay doesn't spell out at what age actual sins might take place, because this is not his interest. He is trying to focus attention on the reader's own spiritual condition, not on when and how a growing child becomes "of age". Barclay is able to argue the case for this doctrine from scripture, and to refute the scriptural arguments for the more conventional view.

It has always struck me that the "I am guilty of Adam's sin" point of view, while it seems so severe, actually lets the individual off the hook psychologically. It can tempt us to focus on Adam's sin in the past, which we can't do anything about, instead of our own conduct int the present. Barclay, in discussing our fallenness, focuses on what our fallenness causes us to actually do. I think this makes God's justice and our own responsibilities more comprehensible.

2. The real Fall, the mythical Garden
A number of otherwise intelligent people have patiently explained to me over the years that it is now impossible to believe in the Fall of man (and woman) because Darwin has demonstrated that we are in fact descended from other animals, not from ancestors who lived in Paradise. Ironically, the converse argument is sometimes used by Biblical literalists who insist that Darwinism can't be true because if it is then there was no Fall of Adam and no need for Christ. What can we make of this? Does all of Christian theology hang on a literalist reading of the story of the Garden?

The fact is that the Christian understanding of Eden was implicitly taken as at least partly metaphorical or symbolic long before Darwin - possibly as long as the story has been told. Consider, for example, the fact that Eden can't be located anyplace on the map of the known world, much less than in the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers where Genesis puts it. Remember that at the end of the Genesis story the garden isn't destroyed or lifted up to heaven. The man and the woman are expelled from it, angels with a flaming sword are placed at the gate to guard it, but the garden is left right where it is. Yet the "Biblical Literalists" we all presume our ancestors to have been did not go in search of this garden or place it on their maps. George Fox said of a remarkable spiritual experience he had, that he "came up through the flaming sword into the Paradise of God", but he didn't mean that he had travelled to the Middle East and set foot on a particular patch of earth. Barclay himself quotes Genesis about the expulsion of Adam and Eve and has this to say:
The consequence of this fall, besides that which relates to the fruits of the earth, is also expressed (Gen. 3:24), "So he drove out the man, and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden cherubims, and a flaming sword, which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life." Now whatsoever literal signification this may have, we may safely ascribe to this paradise a mystical signification, and truly account it that spiritual communion and fellowship, which the saints obtain with God by Jesus Christ; to whom only these cherubims give way, and unto as many as enter by him, who calls himself the Door. So that, though we do not ascribe any whit of Adam's guilt to men, until they make it theirs by the like acts of disobedience; yet we cannot suppose that men, who are come of Adam naturally, can have any good thing in their nature, as belonging to it; which he, from whom they derive their nature, had not himself to communicate unto them.
We may accept this teaching or not, but whether we do so does not depend on whether we accept the theory of evolution. What the Garden represents to me is a vision of the world God fundamentally and originally intends for us: a world of harmony among all creatures and between them and their Creator. This is difficult for us to see or imagine because the world as it appears to us now is not like that. There are hints within empirical reality of the beaury and harmony that was and is intended, and sometimes this seems very close to realization. But then, somehow, something always happens. The bravest and most hopeful beginnings seem always subject to some flaw or defect. On the social level, utopian experiments go bad, hopeful movements burn out, revolutions are betrayed, good intentions go sour. In family life and individual life a very similar dynamic operates. Neither the vision of harmony nor the manifold disappointments of experience ever go away. The height and the depth are always with us. The distance between them is what I would call the Fall. The vision of Eden (and also the vision of the heavenly Jerusalem at the other end of the story) is our reminder that it is the height more than the depth that most represents God's intent for us. The expulsion from Eden represents the reality that we can't go back there on our own power. There's that flaming sword to get past - a sword that would separate us from the part of ourselves that has really chosen to leave the Garden's harmony. But more of that in point 4. I'm trying to keep to my outline here!

3. Barclay's dualism.
Is Barclay optimistic or pessimistic about human beings? If we read Proposition 4 without Propositions 5 and 6 he sounds pessimistic, with all of his warnings about our condition in the Fall. If we read propositions 5 and 6 without Proposition 4 he sounds optimistic, stressing as he does that there is a saving and Spiritual Light by which every human being is enlightened, and that the Redemption of Christ is a "universal" redemption. The resolution of this apparent contradiction lies in a recognition of Barclay's dualism. On the one hand there is an "evil seed" which is "natural". On the other hand, there is the "Divine Light" which is saving. Understanding this point of view requires a reshuffling of the thought-categories we are used to. In our vocabulary, "natural" is a positive word. We think of it as describing the-world-as-God-made-it. We contrast it to "un-natural" or "artificial", which we think of as the-world-as-people-spoiled-it. This way of dividing up reality has its own validity, but it does not easily map into Barclay's distinction between "natural" and "spiritual". For Barclay, the "natural" was not the world-as-God-made it, but the world that was fallen. And the opposite of this "nature" wasn't technology or art, it was all that proceeded directly from the Spirit. For George Fox this dualism was - if possible - even more pronounced. In his Journal he wrote:
I found that there were two thirsts in me -- the one after the creatures, to get help and strength there, and the other after the Lord, the Creator, and His Son Jesus Christ. I saw all the world could do me no good; if I had had a king's diet, palace, and attendance, all would have been as nothing; for nothing gave me comfort but the Lord by His power.

Barclay's dualism is somewhat problematic for me. But I am not ready to write it off. It is problematic for me because I cannot fix the line as confidently as Barclay seems to between what is "natural" and what is "spiritual". It occurs to me that whatever I experience of the Spirit is mediated to me through the physical, created universe and through my own senses and body. Even my centering down in worship and my release of self-will is in some way a thing that my "self" does. The inward motions that I feel are from God are nevertheless felt in my natural body and recorded by my natural mind. There are times when I can in fact mistake a notion of my own mind for a motion from God's Spirit. And, on the other hand, there is surely something of God's Spirit at work in anything that I might describe as natural. After all, even the "natural gifts" of intelligence, feeling, and appetite are parts of the world that God created. Perhaps this is related to the difficulty, already discussed, of understanding "the Fall" without envisioning it as a specific event in the past. If I don't see Eden as a particular outward place, and I don't see Adam's life and Eve's life in Eden as an event in history then Adam, Eve, and the Garden are all part of present reality and notwithstanding the Fall they are all part of the created world as I find it now.

Yet the distinction between "nature" and "spirit" is surely still a real distinction, even if it isn't always as clear and sharp for me or you as it seemed to Barclay. Moreover, it is a highly important distinction in Quaker practice as well as Quaker theory. Consider, for example, the Friend who speaks in Meeting. We recognize that in one sense it is always a "creature", an individual human being with blood and breath and brain, who stands in a meeting rooms and utters something. Yet we also believe that what that human being utters can only be "ministry" if is also in some sense from the Spirit. We listen to people all week, and in Meeting we want to listen to God. We think that there is a distinction between merely human voices and the voice of God. We disparage a message if we sense it to be solely from "the creature" or from "the ego" or from "the intellect". Barclay makes explicit the connection between this proposition and the Quaker understanding of ministry: "Hence are rejected the Socinian and Pelagian errors in exalting a natural light," he says, "as also of the Papists and most of Protestants, who affirm that man without the true grace of God may be a true minister of the Gospel".

Moreover, I think that by and large we try to be guided by the Spirit - and not by the resources of the creature alone - when we make the truly consequential decisions in our lives. We pray. We wait. We convene "clearness" committees. Why would this be the case if we didn't understand that the creature without the Spirit truly is "Fallen"?

4. "The Fall" as a Realistic Picture of Humanity.
Even after we free it from a literal reading of Genesis, the idea that humanity is fallen will seem to many a hopelessly outmoded idea, one that it is supposedly impossible for enlightened modern people to affirm. But why is it impossible? Do we have new evidence, unavailable in previous centuries, that people by default are as good as God intended us to be? I would argue, on the contrary that the record of war, prejudice, oppression, misery and cruelty has become longer, more incredibly bloody, and harder to explain away. To argue that there is nothing deeply wrong with the heart of humanity seems like an exercise in massive denial and self-deception. We are, of course, a part of the Creation that the God of Genesis looked at and pronounced to be Good. We are also party to the spoiling of that Creation, and we are capable of evil and destructive acts toward one another - often cloaked with sincerely self-righteous justifications. This is not just a technical problem or political problem or even just a moral problem. It is a spiritual affliction.

Our fallenness doesn't make us loathsome to God, nor does it mean that we merit condemnation and punishment. Our fallenness calls forth the compassion of God, the offer of a helping hand, the promise to breathe new life into us. If we are able to see ourselves as we are and accept God's grace, then we can experience the re-birth mentioned in John's Gospel and receive "...the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God." But if we cannot be realistic about ourselves, if we cannot recognize that we are fallen, then we will not accept God's helping hand.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is certainly a very well-thought-out posting. I can see why you were so reluctant to go into the workshop as a whole in any depth in your blog; it takes a lot of hard work to write at this level.

As to the way we read the Adam-and-Eve story; perhaps it's worth bearing in mind current (non-fundamentalist, social-anthropology-influenced) thinking on the matter --

The authors of this story -- who were, in a very real sense, the whole Hebrew people, collectively taught and collectively inspired through generations of listening to their God -- the authors had realized certain basic, powerful truths about the spiritual condition of the human race. The story of the Fall is a story that offers an explanation of how the human race came to be in that "fallen" condition.

No doubt the story "just came to them". We can make of that fact what we please, either saying that it was given by divine inspiration or saying that it was an expression of the universal human instinct to mythologize things. But the important thing, in this non-fundamentalist reading of the Bible, is that the understanding of humanity's "fallen" spiritual condition almost certainly came first; the story of Adam and Eve and their Fall came a bit later, a just-so story that expressed that understanding and made it easily discussable and easily teachable.

If we start, then, with this understanding of the relationship between the story and its underlying truths, then we can see that Barclay (and other early Friends generally) read it in the spirit in which we now think it was written. The underlying truths were what mattered, and that's what Barclay focused on. The story just gave Barclay a handy way to talk about those truths.

Thank you for sharing this essay with us. It was very beneficial to me to sit with it this morning.

7:16 AM, July 04, 2007  
Blogger Paul L said...

Rich -- This is a very cogent and important essay, addressing seriously something that too many Quakers of our day don't take seriously enough.

One thought I had was that we need to remember what it was that actually made Adam & Eve -- and us -- fall: The temptation for which they fell wasn't mere sensual pleasure to tast the fruit. It was to "be as God." The way to satisfy this temptation was to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. In other words, to acknowedge a primary duality, to divide the unified and integrated Life in Paradise, in perfect harmony and relationship with God (though not identical with God -- remember he visits them in the cool of the evening). This would make the sense of "original sin" to be the first sin, which is idoltry, the attempt to be "as God". Everything begins to fall apart from that point on.

Marcus Borg made a similar point in response to a question after his address to FGC last week. Asked about original sin, he began by denouncing the popular understanding of the term as cruel and barberous. But then he acknowledged that, at some point in every human being's life, the child first perceives and experiences itself as a separate being, apart from the rest of the phenomenological (sp?) world, and that this realization places the child at the center of the universe, leading to all of the self-promoting behavior we know as sin. His point seemed to be that while it is undoubtedly true that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, this is not a characteristic of human nature, but merely an observable fact.

There are many humerous illustrations of this basic point. One is a Calvin & Hobbes cartoon where Calvin asks whether Hobbes thinks that human beings are inherently depraved, that every little baby is born sinful. Hobbes says, "No, but I think they're quick learners."

Another is a favorite New Yorker cartoon showing Satan in hell, overlooking vast seas of suffering humanity in flaming pits, smiling and saying proudly to a companion devil, "You know, we do pretty well when you consider that people are basically good."

10:39 AM, July 13, 2007  
Blogger forrest said...

I got good news, and I got bad news...

The bad news is, we're all damned--that is, condemned--by our own, human standards.

The Good News is that those are, in fact, our own human standards. They are not God's standards.

So far as we persist in seeing ourselves by our own distorted lights, we strive for false ideals of perfection, which we can only imagine ourselves fulfilling (though some of us do a highly creditable job of faking it!)

The results, as you point out, are all around us. But our interpretation of those nasty facts is inverted: It's having these standards in the first place, standards which we must inevitably fall short of, which leads to all the mischief.

But they are human standards, that is, standards we must demand of ourselves because it is in our nature, not only to fall short, but to aspire.

Jesus has told us what the truly divine nature, the one we really should aspire to, is like: Our Father does good to all of us, without blame or condemnation.

No standard we might set ourselves is higher than this. And it precludes blaming ourselves for falling short of it. We simply fall short. (As my wife said, "We aren't doing bad, for a bunch of monkeys!") If we remember our true place in the scheme of things, and rely on God, rather than our own efforts, to improve us, we are more likely to see God's nature, rather than our own, manifesting in what we do. And that will be perfectly natural, seeing how unimportant we are, as seen (as if we could be) apart from God.

7:29 AM, July 15, 2007  
Blogger Zach Alexander said...

Rich, thanks for this.

As might be expected, I don't share with all of your assumptions here. For example, it seems evident to me that the difference between good and poor vocal ministry is not a supernatural one, but a human one -- your own descriptors of bad ministry as "intellectual" or "from ego" making up most of it.

But your overall point is an important one, I think -- we are in fact "fallen" or imperfect beings, with a great capacity for big and small evils. I like the way Solzhenitsyn put it: "the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart".

Warm regards,
Zach A / The Seed Lifting Up

5:46 PM, July 15, 2007  
Blogger Johan Maurer said...

Rich, your comments overlapped significantly with my chapter in Jackie Leach Scully's and Ben Pink Dandelion's new book, Good and Evil: Quaker Perspectives. But I had a 5000-word limit to talk about the whole subject of evangelical Quaker perspectives on good and evil, so your coverage of Barclay's theology is much more thorough than mine. The point I'd want to lift up from our efforts: ultimately, utter realism about humanity and Gospel idealism about human possibility really are compatible. What isn't acceptable is the use of theology or piety to oppress others for political or selfish agendas. Equally unacceptable is the denial of reality in order to open up the space for self-gratification.

11:42 PM, July 15, 2007  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

I am grateful for all of the comments on this post so far. It's always gratifying to hear from Marshall Massey and Paul L because I feel so much of a kinship with them based on what I have gained from their blog postings, and because I so often agree with them.

It is satisfying in a different way to see some common ground between Zach A and me on a quasi-theological issue, given that we sometimes have had somehwat different perspectives on the Truth. I am also fond of the Solzhenitsyn statement Zach quotes.

Johann Maurer is another Friend whose writing and speaking I highly value. I have not seen the book "Good and Evil: Quaker Perspectives", nor his article in it, but I look forward to reading it. What Johann lifts up is indeed very important "utter realism about humanity and Gospel idealism about human possibility really are compatible. What isn't acceptable is the use of theology or piety to oppress others for political or selfish agendas. Equally unacceptable is the denial of reality in order to open up the space for self-gratification."

I need to think some more about what Forrest has offered before I respond in full. My first-blush reaction is that while some of the standards I fall short of may be false and self-imposed, I also believe that God has standards for all of us, and we can fall short of those as well.
- - Rich

9:45 AM, July 16, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't personally believe for a moment that we, as humans, will "evolve" out of sin eventually--We aren't, in my estimation, getting better as a race of beings.

There seems to be similarity to Barclay's beliefs and the beliefs of some Methodists, who don't believe that infants will be punished for original sin but who won't deny the effects of Adam's sin on his progeny. Methodist don't mind using the language of "original sin."

As for me, I'm a Friend who believes in original sin. I think the Christian position on this subject best explains a picture of humanity that is in line with reality, both what I see in myself and what I see in others.

It's because of my sin that it's so wonderful that Jesus comes to me as the Supreme Teacher, to show me that His good life covers my bad, that He's redeemed through His Cross, and that His resurrection assures me of an eternity with Him.

Jesus has spoken to my condition, and I'm grateful for His Word of peace.

1:52 PM, July 21, 2007  
Blogger Will T said...

Hi Rich,
You posted this just as I was starting to work on an article on the same subject. So I linked to this instead and then went on on my own thoughts. Thank you so much.


8:54 PM, July 30, 2007  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

I can see that I'm never going to find or make the time to do full justice to the comments which have been posted here ny Forrest and John P, so I'll content myself with some brief responses. I also want to take note of Will T's comment, and to recommend that the reader follow up by looking at Will T's own blog (the thoughts that he "went on on" in his own post were well worth reading, as is his whole series on Barclay).
Forrest, I'm don't think I agree with your formulation of "the bad news and the good news". In particular, it doesn't seem to me that fallenness is just a matter of setting up false standards and failing to meet them, which seems to be what you are saying. While much of what you say seems right to me, you lose me when you say " It's having these standards in the first place, standards which we must inevitably fall short of, which leads to all the mischief."
It's possible that we are talking past each other becauase the terms of the discussion are so abstract, so I'll throw in in an example or two of the kind of "mischief" I had in mind when writing about the Fall. I think you'll agree that these examples have little or nothing to do with setting overly high standards for ourselves.
Example 1 is addiction. Addiction in most forms is at least in part a disease and not primarily a moral failing as moral failings are traditionally understood. Yet addiction is also evidence of "fallenness" as described by Barclay. It is a condition that both causes - and is in turn fed by - various "defects of character". The addiction itself is not chosen, but the indivividual has some feedom, with God's help, to choose how to deal with her/his condition. AA, NA and other similar groups advocate a "12-step" approach to recovering sanity, and the first step is recognizing one's powerlessness over the disease. (Thanks, by the way, to Will T at the above-mentioned blog for citing this example). Perhaps there are other ways to acheive the same result; I would not be qualified to argue that point. However, the point here is not that the alcoholic or gambler or narcotics addict is unreasonably expecting himself/herself to stop drinking, stop gambling, or stop taking drugs. The point is that the drinking, gambling, drug-taking, or other addiction has created havoc in the individual's life, and probably in the lives of everyone around him/her. This is not what we'd usually call divine judgement:it's just a consequence of the disease and the individual's response to the disease. Yet it is surely evidence of fallenness, and evidence that grace is needed for healing.
Example 2 may actually be a sub-set of example 1, but I list it separately because it "feels" like a different issue to most of us: The national lifestyle we are accustomed to has "addicted" us to various comforts and conveniences in the short run that exact a terrible toll on our fellow creatures and on our posterity - a toll in death, disease, social injustice and environmental destruction. We have not consciously chosen to contribute to these evils, yet we do so and don't seem to know how to stop. Again, it's not just that we're failing to live up to some self-imposed standard, it's that we're killing ourselves and each other.
'Nuff said.

John P,
I want to thank you for offering your thoughts here, and also in comments on some other posts. I share your gratitude that Jesus has redeemed us through his cross. I would only add (and I expect you would probably agree) that He redeems us not only from guilt for past sins or from punishment for the same, but from the necessity to keep on sinning. We are able with His guidance and help to "go on toward perfection" if I may borrow a phrase I take to be a favorite of Methodists. Not that perfection itself will likely be our lot, but that there is really no limit on how much better we can do as we let him be our Lord.
- - Rich

12:30 PM, July 31, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Rich, for your thoughts about the importance of striving for perfection.

I agree that we're called to be perfect, and that this must always be our goal. Despite the fact that we have an inward struggle that seems continuous generally, I know that there is progress to be made as we move forward, and am grateful that the Lord helps us to keep the birds from nesting in our hair.

1:58 AM, August 01, 2007  

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