February 23, 2009
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
The time before the sin of Adam was a time of bliss. St. Paul does not talk about this era. But from what he does write, it is reasonable to conclude that the main characteristic of life in Eden was harmony. Not only harmony between people and God, but also harmony among people and harmony between humanity and nature.
We know that because of what Paul does say about life after the sin of Adam and what he says about the effects of Christ's redemption.
Harmonious unity was the natural state of God's creation. That unity was shattered by the sin of Adam, a sin that introduced division throughout the natural world. Because of that sin, the very ground was cursed and the earth began to give forth thorns and thistles (Genesis 3.17-18). All of creation is in "bondage to decay" because of Adam's sin (Romans 8.21).
Because of Christ's death and resurrection, we see the future. We see that God has "a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth" (Ephesians 1.10). We see that all creation, not just humanity, waits in "eager longing" for "the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Romans 8.19, 18).
CHAOS OF NATURE
We don't know what the state of original blessing was like. But the sin of Adam not only ruptured relations between God and humanity, it introduced chaos into nature itself.
God's covenant with Abraham was a first attempt at restoring lost communion. But it was when the Son of God became human, suffered, died and rose to new life that unity truly began to be restored.
Baptism is our incorporation into the Body of Christ, into the blessing with which God filled creation. The Body of Christ is not just a nice image. It is a reality. Christ and his Church are inseparable just as a head and body are inseparable.
The members of the body are inseparable from each other. At a deep level, the actions of each member are the actions of the whole body. All of us are implicated in the deeds of others even if we don't bear direct personal responsibility for them.
CNS PHOTO|GREGORY SHEMTZ
This stained glass depicts Christ's baptism by John the Baptist at the Jordan River.
When part of the body is sick, the whole body is sick; when the body is healthy, all of its members are healthy.
"If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together" (1 Corinthians 12.26).
UNITY IN THE CHURCH
The Body of Christ is a central idea in Paul's writing. He is deeply concerned about the unity of the Church.
In 1 Corinthians 5, for example, he expresses shock about a case of incest between a member of the Church and his father's wife. Paul sees this immorality as polluting the entire Church.
"Do you not know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough?" he asks. Excommunicate the man, he orders, so that the purity of the loaf is preserved.
This emphasis on the corporate effects of both sin and blessing must be remembered when we reflect on the effects of original sin. Especially in our individualistic age, the human mind recoils from the notion that the sin of another should sever my relationship with God. Why should I carry the burden of another person's actions?
But just as we are the Body of Christ, we are also the Body of Adam. Just as Christ is the second Adam – the Adam who reintegrates us into the original harmony the first Adam shattered – so there is a sense in which the Body of Christ is the Body of Adam restored to wholeness.
We are all implicated in the sin of Adam because of the unity of the human race.
The effects of original sin are ultimately a mystery beyond our understanding. So is the fullness of life that God gave humanity at creation and that Christ has restored through the paschal sacrifice.
BONDAGE OF DECAY
The Body of Adam is a sick body. It is filled with cancer, a cancer no member of the body can escape. Unlike the Body of Christ, the body of Adam does not grow towards unity, towards fullness of life. It is in bondage to decay. It is sick and all of its members are sick.
We may complain that we should not be blamed for Adam's sin. Based on our responsibility for our own actions, that is true. But also based on our own individual responsibility, we cannot expect salvation. We have done nothing to earn a place in the glorious home God has prepared for us. That home is God's gift to us, not our entitlement.
Our call is to grow together, in every way, into the Body of Christ. This body is "joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped." Each member of the body is working properly to the extent that "it promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love" (Ephesians 4.15-16).
Humanity is not in full harmony yet. We are in the place of tension between the salvation already received and the salvation yet to come. But thanks to Jesus Christ, full harmony is in sight. And it is a harmony that will affect all creation, not just us as individuals.
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