Sunday, September 23, 2012

Broken Or Whole? A Sunday Rumination

The Christian doctrine of Man the Fallen is one of the most difficult to accept. The concept originates in the story of Adam and Eve, and their weakness before the temptation presented by the Tree of Knowledge. According to that allegory, Man was entirely in God's good graces before that event, and ever since has had to earn his way back.

Yes, the story of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden is an allegory. Think about it for a moment. Who was around to record it? Who stood witness? Our oldest written records date from Moses, who included quite a bit of Hebraic oral tradition in his five books of the Old Testament. Though it's a colorful and instructive story, there is no reason to believe it's factually exact.

That goes for the part about the Tree of Knowledge, as well.


Yet we are sinful, we human beings. We suffer daily and hourly temptations to depart from the path Christ taught us, and the virtues He commended to us. Few are those among us who never yield to them.

This "fallen" business is the tough part. We generally admit that we're morally vulnerable, that resisting all the temptations we suffer is a chancy undertaking. Most of us are aware of our particular failings, our special weaknesses, and the occasions we must avoid to stay within the circle of grace. What we're uncomfortable with is the notion that the sins of our ancestors somehow taint our present-day souls.

Well, they don't. The thing is impossible, for a just God would not permit it, and God is just. What I take "fallen" to mean, theologically, is that susceptibility to temptation we all suffer. In other words, our "fallenness" is really our moral, ethical, and spiritual fallibility.

In its secular applications, fallibility is about incomplete knowledge or faulty reasoning. That's appropriate to dealings under the veil of Time. Mistakes are not sins; they're actions that proceed from poor premises or errors in logic. But equally, sins are not mistakes: they require what the lawyers call mens rea: the will to transgress that distinguishes a punishable crime from a remediable tort.

Much of the sloppiness that's marred Christian preaching arises from omitting this requirement.

We sin when we will that we shall sin. We must be aware that what we are contemplating is a sinful deed -- that is, either a violation of the rights or well-being of others, or a blasphemy or rejection of God -- and nevertheless resolve to go through with it. Thus, you cannot sin by ignorance or incapacity, as your will is not engaged in these things. However, you can sin by resolving on a sinful course and being thwarted in the deed itself; your conscious intention to transgress is all that's required.

Spiritual fallibility is the failure to discipline one's will.


Free will is absolutely essential to sound Christian thought. There's no way it could endure the determinism that corrupts Calvinism and Presbyterianism. Without free will, Man would be no more capable of sin than any of the lower orders of life.

In one of the great ironies of our time, the majority of the secular preachers of determinism have as a high-priority agenda item the quashing of the Christian conception of guilt. Guilt proceeds from the admission that not only has one done wrong, but that one intended to do so. No free will -- no guilt. And so, in an implicit but stunning admission of the utter fatuity of their project, the determinists exhort us to do whatever we please!

Cthulhu, call your office! If you hear in this an echo of the "society is responsible" anti-gospel of the moral relativists, you're not alone. The denial of individual responsibility for our decisions and actions can have only one outcome, regardless of to what alternate source we attempt to shunt that responsibility. It ends in savagery unbounded, the war of each against all, the law of the jungle. Chaos.

Determinism is damnation by default. We must choose. And one of the things we must choose is whether we shall rule our spiritual fallibility, or it shall rule us.

Which brings me to the title dichotomy.


One of the contemporary alternate terms for human spiritual fallibility, heard from far too many clerics at far too many pulpits, is brokenness. This, too, is misleading, perhaps even more so than "fallen." A broken thing is flawed, partially or wholly unsuitable for its role, not entirely what its designers and makers intended. If humans are "broken," then there are only two sensible things to be done with us. One of them is unpleasant to contemplate. What of the other one?

He who sets out to fix a broken thing must grasp its purpose and its design, He must contemplate the ways in which its current condition diverges from that purpose and that design, and fix upon a plan by which to restore it to its intended state and function. He must then execute that plan, and test the result against the appropriate "specifications" to determine whether more thought and more work are required.

It is my contention that if Man were broken, in the usual sense of the word, it would not be within our power to do anything much about it. We aren't allowed to know enough about ourselves, or about the purposes for which we're intended by our Designer. We aren't equipped with the necessary capabilities or tools to make trustworthy changes in ourselves, whether individually or as a species. Our episodes of presumptuousness in this matter has given rise to some of the worst of Man's excesses.

But Man is not "broken." Man is exactly what his Maker intended him to be, including the free will that allows him to choose to sin.

In On Broken Wings, I put it thus:

    Schliemann sighed. "Theologians have regretted the use of the word 'omnipotence' since the founding of the Church. A much better term would be 'control over natural law.' That's reasonable, since natural law is only a thought in the mind of God, as is all the rest of the natural world it governs. But it has no relevance to supernatural law, which binds both God and man."
    Louis raised an eyebrow. "Supernatural law?"
    "Yes, Louis, the supreme law, the law that transcends law. The law that says that a statement cannot be both true and false. The law that says that each thing is what it is, and nothing else. Man is free, because God made him so. It is Man's nature to be free. The Almighty Himself could not impose faith upon you, not with all His force. Not without making you something less than a man."

Our free will is part of God's gift of life...the part that makes us whole.


Are there creatures we would recognize as human, but whose possession of free will we would dispute? Possibly; there are gray areas around all important categories, including that of Mankind. Categories, after all, are human creations, and Man's creations are necessarily imperfect. But no one capable of reading and understanding the essays here at Liberty's Torch would be a "gray area" specimen.

Free will, as it happens, is one half of a mated pair of human attributes. The other half is conscience. You cannot have one yet lack the other.

Allow me another citation from one of my novels:

     “Christine, I’m a priest. I have to work from certain postulates. According to those postulates, the soul is the seat of conscience, of an individual’s real and unalterable identity. Creatures without souls are also without moral choice. They act strictly from innate drives, motivations built right into their flesh. You can’t have a moral nature, the ability to know right from wrong, unless you have a soul. You can’t love, or be grateful, or understand loyalty or duty or justice. So either those postulates are wrong, or your soul is as real and valuable as mine.”
    An intensity Ray hadn’t felt since his ordination flowed into him and through him. He pressed her hands together between his own and chafed them gently. “A very wise man once said, ‘You do not have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.’ The soul is the individual, the only part of you that really matters. Let’s imagine for a moment that your maker—Evoy?—didn’t possess God’s power to make souls. Actually, that’s a good assumption: the soul eventually returns to God, so it would make sense that it must be from God, not from any lesser source. All the same, God gave Evoy the power to make you. Can you really believe that once Evoy was done designing your flesh, God wouldn’t step right in and take care of the rest? Would a God Who sent His only begotten Son to suffer and die for our sakes—Who allows us to exist at all—be so cruel?”

We may sin, but we do not "break." Nor do we start out "broken." The soul, the seat of free will and conscience both, is inherently whole. There's nothing broken about it.

May God bless and keep you all.


Ron Olson said...

I greatly enjoy your writing, no buts. I think man is broken in a way you have not expressed and that is the doubt about whether I am a created being or ..... This is the forbidden fruit we all inherit. I can't say if Adam did this "to" us but God has given us a bridge to himself." I am" is and Yeshua is that bridge. Getting the concept of being created is the problem and living with that knowledge is the hardest thing any free soul can do. Any sin flows from the failure to grasp that and we all face that evil everyday. No easy outs here. No one and dones exist. Thanks for your writing and thinking.

pdwalker said...

Your ruminations are so incredibly lucid that I cannot help but be swayed by them.

You have quite a gift.

Weetabix said...

If I understand it correctly the concept of "fallen" is intended to explain the origin of our concupiscence.

Do I understand by:
But Man is not "broken." Man is exactly what his Maker intended him to be, including the free will that allows him to choose to sin.
you mean that God built in our propensity to sin so that, using our free will, we could choose the right?

Just so I don't make you think I disagree where I don't, let me say that I agree that free will is an incredible gift and that it may be the ultimate source of human dignity.

Discovering the source of something tends to set the course for the ultimate choice of action, and that choice of action can either be very good or very bad, but sometimes I can't help but think that we're carrying the thinking too far (not criticizing, just discussing). A great many of the beliefs and actions that Christ commands are pretty clearly laid out in the Gospels. A deduction of a source of a propensity that does not lead to the confirmation of Christ's commandments must be faulty.

I can't decide sometimes whether it were hubris or legalism that led Luther to his heresies, including the "sin boldly" statement. I think that one led to the determinism you mentioned.

I join pdwalker in appreciating your ruminations. They facilitate and, indeed, accelerate my thinking. Thank you.