Though it’s become a cliché, we hear it all the time. Every time somebody gets too narcissistic, these days, they are put in their place with a caustic, “It’s all about you!” Comedians won’t even use it anymore because it’s become too tired and threadbare. And yet it endures because in many cases it’s still – and always – so spot-on. We are a narcissistic society, and we do think it’s all about us.
Even our theology has been affected by this self-absorption. God has become just like us. It is so all about us that we can only worship a deity exactly like a great, big, super-duper “us.” Our God loves what we love, likes what we like and hates – by all means – everything and everybody we hate.
The concept of Original Sin is an old one. It dates back to the earliest years of the Church. Traditionalists express great concern about keeping their doctrines pure. And they firmly believe that this one has been faithfully transmitted over the centuries without blemish.
One part of the theology that gets left by the wayside is that of humility. That we do not get to judge ourselves, or anyone else. That God – and God alone – will do the judging. What all too often creeps in, instead, is the notion – approved, many times, at the highest ecclesial levels – that at least some of us know how God does “His” judging.
It’s all about some of us, anyway. The “right” some of us, that is.
These people would argue that the Scripture says “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” They would protest that they are, therefore, in no way counting themselves as any more special, or blameless of sin, than anyone else. But every time we make judgments about how God judges, those judgments – even those interpretations of Scripture – are inescapably our own. God has given each of us individual free will. Sometimes we aren’t quite sure we want it, but there it is all the same.
It seems to hang around our shoulders like an albatross. We tend to view it almost as a curse.
That is, in fact, the “Original Sin” we inherit. Our propensity to sin, to go our own way instead of God’s. If Adam and Eve ever existed, the “sin of humanity” ceased to be merely about their decisions the moment their son, Cain, made up his mind to slay his brother Abel.
But whether our own, individual free will is a blessing or a curse is entirely up to us. It is not a decision made by Adam or Eve in some long-ago and faraway Garden, it is a decision each and every one of us can only make for ourselves.
Some people would rather somebody else made it for us. Thus the enduring popularity of the Garden of Eden, of Adam and Eve, and of the whole notion of Original Sin as something passed down to us from our parents, like a hereditary disease. The question that never gets asked is why a God Who loved the world so much “He” gave “His” only-begotten Son to save us could simultaneously be so all-sacrificingly loving, but yet so malicious and vindictive as to saddle every subsequent generation with a mistake made by Adam and Eve.
This characterization of God is nothing short of schizophrenic. But it is our schizophrenia that is reflected here, not God’s. It really is “all about us.” Our view of God, all too often, is hardly about God at all.
There will be a Last Judgment of some sort. We do sin – every one of us who is human – and we will be held accountable, at the end of our lives, for how we have used the freedom God has given us. It’s important to know that, but it’s also important to ask ourselves what sort of a Judgment we will face. To even guess that, we need to focus not on ourselves but on God. Who is God, and what is God like?
Jesus revealed Who God is. This, in a nutshell, is what Christians believe. We may disagree on the particulars, but we all agree on that. The Church must come to terms with the fact that if God is Who Jesus says “He” is, then its vicious obsession with punishing homosexuals, bisexuals and transgenders must end. It is utterly untenable.
With what did God bestow us in the beginning? What is essential to our nature as human beings? This can be guessed only by knowing Who God is. Jesus Christ tells us Who God is: not a vindictive tyrant, not a mad dictator, not a master puppeteer or someone who’s still pouting over some fruit eaten long ago in the Garden of Eden. God is One Who sent “His” only-begotten Son that we might live.
God – as that same Book of Genesis tells us, right at the beginning – made us in “His” own likeness and image, which surely means God gave us the very capacity to know good from evil, and to choose our destiny for ourselves. It really is all about God.
The key to it all may yet be found in that primeval story, at once so familiar and so misunderstood. “You shall be like God,” the serpent told Eve, “knowing good from evil.” This, in story-form, is an explanation for how we got our free will. It is portrayed as a curse because human beings, in our childish desire to return to the innocence of the Garden, so often wish we could give our free will back to God and simply be taken care of forever.
God often does things in ways that make no sense to us. Free will, yes – but why? Some people love those of their own sex and not the other – but why? Some are born one sex on a superficial level, but in their hearts know themselves to be of the other – but why? Some cannot restrict themselves to loving those merely of one sex, but are equally capable of loving those of either – why?
Why is the notion that God would curse us forever, because long ago someone ate an apple, or a pomegranate, or a kumquat they weren’t supposed to, supposed to make more sense than the fact that God gave us free will? Was God so arbitrarily reckless, so firmly in the driver’s seat one moment and get-naked out-of-control the next, that “He” calibrates the movement of every object in the cosmos – from galaxies to atoms – but could not foresee that if “He” plunked us into the middle of a beautiful garden full of delicious fruit, we would want to taste of it from every tree? This made “Him” so angry that “He” chose to curse us throughout all generations to the end of time?
We know the truth. As Jesus said, it has made us free, and we can’t go back to happy ignorance again. Not even if we want to.
Free will, of course, does not give us infinite power – even over ourselves. There are things about ourselves we can’t change. Gays and lesbians can no more change their sexuality than heterosexuals can change theirs. The fact that few of the latter wish to try to change themselves can hardly be taken, in any logical sense, to mean that they could if they tried. God is less concerned about who we love than “He” is about our obligation to share the gift of love with which “He” has blessed us.
We’re less curious about God than we are about the next plot twist in our favorite soap opera. In a nation in which somewhere around 90% say they believe in God, that is insanity. To be so incurious about the Supreme Being we claim to believe in is nothing short of blasphemy. If it really is all about God, should we not think more seriously about Who God is?
God originally blessed us with the capacity to know and love “Him.” To do this, we must know and love the truth. “What is truth?” Pontius Pilate asked Jesus, slyly implying that there was no answer. Had Pilate known the answer, there would have been no crucifixion. That is the meaning of the story.
It is, quite simply, not in character for a God Who sent “His” Son into this world to save us to hold petty grudges in the first place. If we are creatures of free will, then we are responsible only for what we do or fail to do – only for the decisions we make in our own lives. That very principle of individual responsibility holds us blameless for even what our parents have done, much less what Adam and Eve did. Nor will the “God is loving, but God is also just” argument work to justify such a grudge. It is precisely because God is infinitely just that “He” does not hold petty grudges against every individual throughout history for what one or two others have done.
God sent Jesus into our world to give our free will a worthy focus. Jesus taught us, by word and example, what God expects of us. What He clearly defined as sin was not loving “the wrong way,” but not loving at all.
In Jesus, God has given us the ultimate focus for our free will. God sent Him to give us purpose and passion, as well as direction. Thus has God transformed the “curse” of free will into the blessing beyond all blessings.
A self-described “Libertarian Episcopalian lesbian,” freelance writer and the author of Good Clowns, a young adult novel published in 2018, Lori Heine published a blog called Born on 9-11 and was a frequent contributor to the website Liberty Unbound. A native of Phoenix, Ariz., she graduated from Grand Canyon University in 1988 and spent much of her life in the insurance industry before turning full-time to writing as a freelancer, blogger and author.