“A house divided against itself falleth”
In the course of these little considerations of the big theme of “original sin”, I have tried to locate our reflections in the propers for the Sundays in Lent. The Third Sunday in Lent would seem to offer a particularly dismal view of our humanity that complements perfectly the negativity, as some would see it, of the doctrine of original sin. To the contrary, I would hope to argue, since the doctrine of original sin is really part and parcel of the good news of human redemption. Without the honest appreciation of the sin-wracked nature of our humanity, it is pretty hard to make sense of human experience and the grace of Christ crucified.
In other words, the honest recognition of how compromised we are by the habits of sin is really the entry point to the transformative power of God’s grace that leads us as Dante puts it, “from misery to felicity.” It does so by working on our hearts and minds. We are drawn into the drama of our redemption. The doctrine of original sin belongs to that drama.
We are, in the words of the gospel, radically divided within ourselves. The many divisions and tensions and contradictions within the institutions that drive our social and political lives are really a further extension of the idea and the doctrine of original sin.
The doctrine of original sin is the necessary counter to a variety of social and political viewpoints in our world and day. It is the counter to the ideology of progress, the idea that things are always going forward, that our humanity is constantly on the march towards the more and the better, the better, of course, always measured in terms of the more. It is the counter to the idea that the future is ever brighter and the past always a yawning abyss, the proverbial dark ages. The doctrine of original sin reminds us instead of the perennial darkness of the human heart, the much more persuasive concept of “the heart of darkness,” to borrow Joseph Conrad’s title.