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The Human Condition, by Bishop David Horsman

As human beings, we live in a perpetual conflict between what we know to be right and what we believe will profit us or give us pleasure. Our consciences, except when very badly formed, or so hardened by neglect as to become silenced, still "bear witness."(Rom 2: 14-16)

Still, though we usually know what we should do, we often do the opposite. Why? The Bible explains this conflict with a story of a primal act of disobedience. It is found in the third chapter of Genesis. Man was created for fellowship with God and therefore was created good. But, Mother Eve choose, quite deliberately to go for the "enjoyable. -- "When the woman saw the tree was good for food and that it was pleasant to the eyes,"-- and the profitable-"and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof and did eat." (Gen3:1-6)

Of course, she wanted to share. So she talked her husband Father Adam ( Adam is Hebrew for Man) into trying the pretty fruit too and well, you know the rest of the story. Saint Paul spoke for all of us: "The good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do." (Rom7:16-25)

This choice is justified by us quite easily because evil is not something with its own reality; it is really a lesser good, either a privation or an exaggeration of a greater good. In the case of Eve in the Genesis story, although, she was disobeying a specific command of God, not to eat of that particular tree, her prudential care for her enjoyment of the good taste and the promised wisdom became exaggerated to the point of coveting that which she had been specifically commanded not to eat. The (lesser) good she wanted became the evil of disobedience.

As a consequence of this primal disobedience, we are all of us born with a bent, a proneness toward lesser goods: sin or evil as we shall call it. " I was shapen in wickedness, and in sin hath my mother conceived me," King David cried. (Psalm 51:5) Thus, it is called original sin and to this original sin of our parents, we each and all add our own actual sins. But inclination to lesser goods is only one of its consequences; disease and death and the loss of fellowship with God are also part of the pandora's box, opened by Mother Eve. This loss of fellowship is depicted in the story in Genesis as "The expulsion from Paradise."

Michaelangelo's fresco from the Sistine Chapel

But, just as in the Greek myth, there is at the bottom of the box, a remedy:it is called hope.

"We are saved by hope," St Paul tells us. But hope in what? Well, by disobedience, we have turned our backs on God who is the author of that still small voice we call conscience, the voice that tells us when we are doing wrong. We have turned our backs on the God who created us that we might enjoy his fellowship. The problem then is how do we get back this lost relationship.

O God, who didst make us for thyself, grant us the will to seek thee and the grace that in seeking, we may be found by thee.

How do we regain the fellowship with God that our primal ancestors lost through disobedience? How do we make peace with our conscience, the voice of God within us, that warns us when we do wrong? There is an answer that we hear on every hand today. It premises that this voice inside us does not point to anything external to ourselves, except perhaps the upbringing we had from our parents. It is, perhaps, some tell us, the voice of our "better selves." God is, they imply or sometimes even say straight-out, the total of all the "better selves" or even of everything that is the world.

Identification of God with the world of our senses, is a form of paganism. If the focus is inward, on our instincts and feelings, on "doing what comes naturally," it is Dionysian paganism ( after the god of wine, fertility and revels); if the focus is outward on "the splendor of heavenly bodies, the quiet flow of a brook, the fury of the sea, the grandeur of a mountain peak or the beauty of the human body and inventions of the human mind, then it is Apollonian paganism ( after the god of order, prophesy, rational thought ).

The moral upshot of this pagan idea of God is what we might call self-help or self-actualization. It is the implicit creed of many so called "motivational speakers:" You can be better; you can do it; pull yourself up by your bootstraps-yes you can! OUR perceptions, OUR efforts and OUR achievements are seen as the center of reality and "value." Unfortunately, it is also the, sometimes unconscious, creed of some who call themselves Christian preachers and teachers. The traditions handed down by our forefathers are rejected for a morality of human achievement.

This morality is not new; it was confronted by St. Augustine and condemned by the Church in the fourth century. The leading exponent was a British monk named Pelagius. So we call this notion that we can save ourselves, Pelagianism .

All the philosophies of social engineering from Marx to Dewey, from the French Revolution to liberation "theology," to Millennial Globalization are merely Pelagianism as macrocosm. If you have tried this do-it-yourself salvation, and many of us have, you already know that it does not work. And that for two reasons: first because it does not take original sin seriously. Pelagianism reduces guilt to "feelings of inadequacy," "poor self -image," improper education or social lag.

But sin is not a matter of feeling; it is a matter of fact. Neither is it some social problem that can be "fixed." It is a fact that goes to the very core of our being. The Bible term for this is the "heart". We still use expressions such as "the heart of the matter." Well Jesus said: "out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness." (Mark 7:21 )And the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah observed: "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (Jer 17:9) So much is sin a part of the core of our being that we are unable to free ourselves from it. And this state of bondage is universal; no one is so good as to be free sin: "For ALL have sinned and come short of the glory of God." (Romans3:23 )

Note that phrase: "all have . . . come short of the glory of God." We are prone to say with the pharisee: "I thank thee that I am not as other men." Luke 18:11) We compare ourselves to other men and say, well I am better than he is. Jesus, however, said that this man who exalted himself was not justified, but that justification was found by the one who cried out: "God be merciful to me a sinner!"

Rembrandt's "Return of the Prodigal Son"

The other reason why Pelagianism does not work is because it does not take God seriously. The reduction of God to the world of the senses does not resonate with what we know from conscience. Conscience does not seem like the creation of ourselves or our authority figures or our society. Indeed, it often forbids us to commit acts winked at by all of these. Conscience carries with it a sense of obligation. It seems to stand over against all, as a voice of transcendent judgment.

In the passage from Jeremiah quoted above, the prophet goes on to say: "I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins [ the seat of our passions ] even to give to every man according to the fruit of his doings." ( v 10 ) We feel intuitively in the depths of our consciences that there is a judgement made of our doings and that we are obligated and responsible to a transcendent power.

This power is, of course, the Living and holy God, of whom Jeremiah speaks. Isaiah records his vision of God's Glory, seen in the temple: I saw the LORD sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up and his train filled the temple; above it stood the seraphim: each one has six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried to another, and said, Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD OF HOSTS: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried and the house was filled with smoke. Then said I, Woe is me! For I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: For mine eyes have seen the King the LORD OF HOSTS. (Is 6:1-5)

This vision dramatically illustrates the separation from God that is the lot of fallen man. We are sinful; he is all holiness itself. The do-it-yourself salvation of Pelaganism reduces sin to "bad feelings," and God to an abstraction from nature, our own or that of other creatures of God. But it will not save us, this God of our own devising. Once we respond to the voice of conscience within us and see God as who he is, then we will begin to see ourselves for the sinners we are, separated from God in his beauty and his holiness and we will cry out with all our souls: "Woe is me for I am undone; I am a man of unclean lips!" We will pray God be merciful to me a sinner! And then, we will then remember that God is not only our judge but also our Father, whose property is always to have mercy.

Almighty and most merciful Father; we have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done and we have done those things which we ought not to have done, and there is no health in us, But thou O Lord have mercy upon us, miserable offenders, Spare thou those , O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou those who are penitent

Let's look again at this story of the primal Fall, in Genesis, Chapter three. The first thing we notice is that Eve knew she was disobeying the voice of God. When the Devil, under the guise of a Serpent, tempted her, she said to him: "Of the tree which is in the midst of the garden God hath said, ye shall not eat of it." (V3) Pretty clear. But, when the Devil promised her, If you eat this forbidden fruit,"Ye shall be as gods," (v5) she chose deliberately to respond to the Devil's temptation rather than to God's command: "She took of the fruit thereof and did eat." So her disobedience was knowing and deliberate. Second, she wanted to share: "She gave also unto her husband, with her and he did eat." ( v6) Sin is contagious.

Next, after they had disobeyed God, both Eve and Adam felt guilty and tried to hide from God. "I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself," cried Adam. (vv 8-108). And so cry we all: we are naked before the God who looks into our hearts. This attempt to hide from God was and always is, unsuccessful. (Vv 9-14 ) The disobedience resulted in separation from God (v24) and death. (vv 22). But where is the hope? Notice Verse 15; God is speaking to the Devil in his guise as a serpent: "I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed. It shall bruise thy head and thou shalt bruise his heal." This prophesy was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. How? Where is the hope?

Saint Paul answers this question in his Letter to the Romans: "Hope," he says maketh not ashamed. Because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us." (Romans5:5) Thus the primal shame engendered by Adam's and our own subsequent disobedience is removed, so that we no longer have to hide. It is removed, not by something we do, but by something GIVEN to us: the Holy Ghost, shedding abroad in our hearts God's love. So we see the glimmer of hope and the way out of our dilemma: we must return to God, reversing the primal disobedience and yet we have not the strength to do this. We know we should, but we cannot. So the return comes about by God's gift, not by our strength. Saint Paul continues, "for when we were yet without strength, in due time, Christ died for the ungodly." ( v6 ) "God commendeth his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (V.8) "As by one man, sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and death passed upon all man, for that all have sinned . . .( v12 ) Therefore as by the offense of one, judgement came upon all men to condemnation . . . ( v 18 ) for as by one man's DISOBEDIENCE, many were made sinners so by the OBEDIENCE of one shall many be made righteous." (V.19)

Well, there you have it. Christ fulfilled the prophesy of the seed of woman crushing the Serpent's head. "We," says Saint Paul in another place, "were in bondage under the elements of the world," That is we were tied up in lesser goods, striving to satisfy our notions of how to get along in the world, enthraled by its superficial beauties and bewitched by its temporary pleasures.

"But, " he continues," when the fulness of time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a women made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law," ( Galatians 4:3-5) So in order for Jesus to reconcile us to the Father, he had to redeem us from the bondage generated by disobedience. This he did by his life of obedience culminating in his obedient death; thus was achieved our at-one-ment with our heavenly Father. Jesus' death was the bruised heal, the price for our redemption, for the crushing of the devil's head.

Look at the temptation, after Christ was baptized by John. This same devil that trapped Eve, and through her, trapped also Adam, tried his wiles on Christ. He took him up to a high place and showed him, "all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them: and saith unto him, all these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me." But, unlike Adam and Eve, Christ did not fall for the lesser good. "Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence Satan, for it is written, thou shalt worship the Lord thy God and him only shalt thou serve. And the devil leaveth him." (Matthew 4: 8-11)

True the "leaving" was only for a season; yet, it is well to learn from Jesus' method here and to practice it ourselves when under temptation: Tell Satan to be gone and remind him that you owe worship and obedience to God!

Go to the garden where Christ went to pray before his great trial: " He kneeled down and prayed, saying Father if thou be willing, remove this cup from me." In his humanity, he would avoid the death, that he knew he must soon face. But he added, "Nevertheless, not thy will but mine be done." Luke 22: 41-42 )He had earlier taught his disciples, to pray, and, through them, teaches us to pray: "Thy will be done." (Matthew 6: 10 )But here indeed is the test: So, as the writer to the Hebrews says, of Our Lord: " Though he were a Son, yet learned he OBEDIENCE by the things which he suffered. And being made perfect he became the author of eternal salvation, unto them that OBEY him." (Hebrews 5: 8-9) Thus, he reversed the DISOBEDIENCE of Adam.

And we are exhorted by St. Paul: "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself and became OBEDIENT unto death, even the death of the Cross." (Philippians 2: 5-8 )

In the Gospel of John, Christ tells his Apostles: " I am the way the truth and the life, no man cometh unto the Father but by me." (14:6) This way is, of course, the way of obedience, the way of the Cross.

El Greco's Crucifixion

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified, mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find therein forgiveness for our sins, and hope for our salvation , through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy ghost, one God now and forever, Amen

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