Discussing sin as being a part of our humanity is very prevalent. We find it in secular media as well as in the church. For example, when someone is horrified by a mass shooting, they might talk about the horrors of “human nature,” but this language itself implies that evil is the natural tendency of humans. The question is: Are sin and human evil actually natural? A part of what it means to be human? Are “human” and “evil” synonyms? Or could it be that sin is actually quite unnatural?
Recently I heard a military leader comment on the nature of war. He said that to give oneself up for their comrade is an unnatural thing to do. He then said that some acts of war are so gruesome and speak into the reality of human evil and human nature. But what if this is backwards? What if to be selfless and sacrificial and compassionate is part and parcel what it means to be human? What if ‘human nature’ and ‘sinfulness’ are not synonyms?
Humanity & Sin
Adam and Eve prior to the Fall represent what it means to be truly human: they were in good standing with one another, with creation, and with God. If this is true–and I think it is–then our language of sin as “natural” is unbiblical. If sin is anything, it is unnatural, representative not of creation but of a sort of uncreation–a tragic tyranny of the highest order.
Adam and Eve in sinning departed from what it means to be human and participated in uncreation, which is anything but natural. When we participate in sin as Adam and Eve did, we are abandoning our humanity. To be made in God’s image is to be like God, and when we sin we are not like God.
Adam and Eve after the Fall are not representative of humanity but of uncreation.
They represent a departure of what it means to be human. They, a part of creation, tried to assume the role of Creator (which they are not), the clay trying to usurp the unique role of the Potter.
Where Does Jesus Fit Into This?
To follow Jesus is to return to and affirm our humanity. What then are we to make of the call to deny ourselves?
To deny oneself does not mean to deny one’s humanity. Rather it means to deny one’s false and fallen self. Sin may attach itself to our humanity but that does not make it representative of what it means to be human. Sin represents uncreation, a departure from what it means to be human.
In Stephen King’s IT, the monster is an entity which is revealed to have origins outside of the world, wholly unnatural. Sin similarly is also foreign to the earth, foreign to creation itself, and foreign to what it means to be human. When we think of sin as “natural,” we give sin a power it would otherwise not have. Sin is not natural but rather can be likened to an entity which does not belong here, as in foreign matter. “Sin is a rogue element in creation” write Christopher Morgan with Robert Peterson in their recent Christian Theology.
In this Psalm, David labels his sin as rebellion, guilt, sin, and evil, confessing his radical departure to and acceptance/affirmation of uncreation. In other words, sin carries monstrous connotations. It is foreign to creation and foreign to what it means to be human.
In our personal war with sin we do not need to deny our humanity as if to be human is to sin. It’s actually the opposite: to sin is to unnaturally deny one’s humanity and identity as beings made in God’s image. Now we can get so accustomed to sin that we think of it as natural, but that does not make it natural: it simply means we’ve grown accustomed and at-home with the unnatural and with uncreation itself.
Adam and Eve denied their humanity in the garden. We are called to deny uncreation which clings itself to us, deceiving us as to what is natural and what is not. Growing accustomed to something unnatural does not make it natural, and just because there are evil desires within the human heart does not mean that such desires are tied to our human identity. When a tape worm is inside an animal, do we begin saying that the tapeworm and animal are one? We do not. Similarly, sin attaches itself to us and is inside us, but it is not intrinsically “us.” It is an invader even if we tend to welcome it.
To sin is to depart from and deny your humanity and true identity. This ends up having disastrous affects on your relationship with other humans, with non-human creation, and with God himself.
In Between Two Trees, Shane J. Wood helpfully articulates that sin is not a “prerequisite to being human” and that more often than not “we embrace the lie that sin is essential to [our] humanity.”
“True self-denial (the denial of our false, fallen self) is not the road to self-destruction, but the road to self-discovery.” John Stott, Christ the Cornerstone.
“Lacking sin…doesn’t make Jesus less human, but more human than you or I have ever been. … To sin is to be less than human.” Shane Wood, Between Two Trees.
“Though never our essential nature, sin is our quasi-nature.” Christopher Morgan with Robert Peterson, Christian Theology: The Biblical Story & Our Faith.
Stay tuned for Let’s Talk About Sin: What Exactly Is The Flesh?