Weblog of a Christian philosophy student

Weblog of a Christian philosophy student. Please feel free to comment. All of my posts are public domain. Subscribe to posts [Atom]. Email me at countaltair [at] yahoo.com.au. I also run a Chinese to English translation business at www.willfanyi.com.

Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Original sin and God's terrible compromise

Introduction: God's terrible compromise

In a nutshell, where does our moral badness and suffering come from?

It's a result of what you might call the 'great compromise' (or terrible compromise) that God had to make to create beings that were something like Him.

Think about this: can God make another God? Can God make another being fully equal to Himself?

The answer seems to be no. God cannot make another God.


Because whatever God is, it's a 'possessive' kind of thing. Only God gets to be God, in other words. No one else can be God.

So right away, we know that to make beings in His image, God will need to make some kind of compromise. God will never be able to make beings with all the great things that He has. Other beings can never be all of what God is.

So God cannot make another God. But can He make a 'half-god', as it were? Can God make something like Himself, without making another full God?

The answer would seem to be yes. God is a possessive kind of thing that doesn't allow for another God (that's the idea behind monotheism). But He should be able to make 'half-gods', things sharing in Godness to some degree.

That's what we basically are: half-gods. We share in the 'possessive' kind of thing that God is, without being another 'full' God.

The terrible compromise that God had to make, is that the stuff making us 'half-gods' rather than a 'full' God is totally alien, totally different to God. Otherwise there'd be stuff lying around the place that is as great as God that isn't God or connected to God. So God had to make humans using stuff that has literally nothing in common with Him, because we're 'half-gods'. And that leads to problems.

Which parts of us come from God - are 'Godlike' - and which parts of us are different to God - 'less-than-God'?

We can tell what parts of humans are 'Godlike' and which parts are 'less-than-God' by comparing ourselves with the idea of a perfect, personal God.

Our reasoning and knowledge is 'less-than-God', clearly, because we don't know everything that God knows.

Our body is 'less-than-God' because we're not everywhere like God is.

Our moral sense, free will and consciousness are 'Godlike', exactly like what God has, because we are held to God's moral standard, we have free will like God, and we are self-aware like God.

Our love and other emotions are 'Godlike' because God is loving (and feels other emotions).

So our reasoning, knowledge and body have to be made out of something totally alien to God, in keeping with the idea that we're 'half-gods'. But not our moral sense, free will, consciousness, love and other emotions, that come from God (and are 'Godlike').

If the former things are in the 'less-than-God' category, and the latter things in the 'Godlike' category, then does this present any problems?

This view predicts that reason should have a quirky and uncomfortable relationship with morality, free will, consciousness, and emotions, because our reason is from the 'less-than-God' category while those other things are from the 'Godlike' category.

That's true indeed. Reason views emotion as irrational; it views free will and consciousness as a mystery; and it can just barely work out a moral system through reason by appealing to self-interest. But as self-interest is a product of irrational emotion (self-love) then even there, reason doesn't have anything to say about morality by itself.

Specifically, one of the side-effects of 'less-than-God' reason is that our reason doesn't support what our moral sense says. Our 'Godlike' moral sense says that we should always do the right thing, but our 'less-than-God' reason, in the specific way shown above, has no relationship with morality.

So our mind is pulled in different directions. On the one hand, our 'Godlike' moral sense pulls us in the direction of always doing the right thing, and our 'less-than-God' reason pulls us into passivity or to ignore our moral sense. The arbiter of which side wins out is our free will, which is in the 'Godlike' category.

But we won't pick the 'moral' side over millions of contests. So we fail (sin) frequently.

'Sin' is essentially committing a category mistake. It's treating humans as an object when we should be treating others as 'half-gods'. It's putting humans in the wrong category: 'less-than-God' rather than 'half-god'.

Our moral sense tells us what the appropriate conduct towards 'half-gods' is. The problem is that any part of our thinking that comes from the 'less-than-God' will tend to pull us away from the 'Godlike', because it's totally alien to the 'Godlike'.

It's because of sin that the 'Godlike' parts of humans have to be pushed away from God. Sin essentially corrupts the stuff we get from God, and that means that the stuff we get from God (the soul) can't be closely connected to God, which causes suffering.

So in this analysis, all of our moral failings and suffering is the result of a great and terrible compromise that God had to make to create beings in His image. Because we cannot be full Gods we must be half-gods. All of our sin is made possible by the 'less-than-God' aspect of us, which exerts a constant force to make us trip up, and not follow the moral standard of the 'God' part of us. This unfortunately prevents us from having true happiness, because our 'corrupted' God part must then be disconnected from God.

What does this have to do with original sin?

We have to be 'half-gods' - that cannot be different. But God can protect us from the 'gravity-like' pull towards making a category mistake that comes from our 'less-than-God' aspect. That's the idea behind the Garden of Eden and Adam and Eve.

The idea of the Garden of Eden is a state where God protects humans from our 'less-than-God' bits by helping us only think good thoughts. That's how Adam and Eve can live with God near the 'tree of life' and not feel ashamed which arguably wasn't necessary for them to feel (shame symbolises awareness of other people's condemnation, and therefore a loss of complete innocence).

Because God didn't want to mentally enslave us, He allowed us to 'opt-out' of this system at any time, and this is what the Fall symbolises. In the Fall, humans chose to 'opt-out' of receiving God's help, which protected us from the 'less-than-God' in humans. That is, Adam and Eve symbolically exercised their free will to make it through life without help; to make choices without God's protection.

That's why Genesis says 'On the day that you, Adam, eat of this tree you shall surely die' (referring to spiritual death, which is disconnection from God). What God is referring to is that there's no way that 'half-gods' cannot sin without God protecting our thoughts, because the 'less-than-God' exerts an extremely strong force on us to get us to make 'less-than-God' choices. Without God's protection, some degree of sin is inevitable.

So on this interpretation, the tree of knowledge of good and evil didn't make us morally responsible, because Adam and Eve already were morally responsible and, up until they fell, were morally faultless. The knowledge of good and evil they received was knowledge of good and evil of their own selves rather than knowledge of good and evil controlled, moderated and mediated by God. Independent rather than dependent knowledge of good and evil (which meant that they would surely make moral mistakes, and get disconnected from God).

So if people had a 'Fall' then why didn't God just reset everything after the Fall happened?

I think the reason is that without experiencing a Fall, and knowing what God is protecting us from, everyone chooses to Fall. That's why it wouldn't have accomplished anything for God to make another Adam, because eventually, everyone chooses to Fall. So God ended up persevering with a world where people start off Fallen.

And God didn't reset Adam to a non-Fallen state because He wanted to honour Adam's choice to have God not protect Adam's thoughts.

We all share in Adam's sin in the sense that a) God foreknows that everyone would choose to Fall if *we* had been in the Garden and not Adam, and b) God honours that hypothetical choice by letting us experiencing morally wrong thoughts (lacking God's protection) to begin with.

That's the sense in which we all share in Adam's sin. Not in a direct way, but in a roundabout, indirect way.

Having a 'Fall' and losing God's protection for our moral choices isn't a completely bad thing, because afterwards people can find themselves in a non-Fallen state on much more solid ground. Why? Because experiencing sin and making a strong decision to go to a non-Fallen state puts your decision to have God protect your thoughts above any possible temptation to Fall. After experiencing sin and evil for ourselves, we know how bad it is for God not to protect humans' thoughts. That's why the people who choose to go back to a non-Fallen state, after experiencing suffering and sin, will last in a non-Fallen state forever.

In Christ, God will once again protect us from making category mistakes (sins) through grace, by the Holy Spirit working within people.

The period after original sin, and the period before the Kingdom of God, is an interregnum period. In this middle period God doesn't do anything to protect us from being pulled into sin by the 'less-than-God' in us. We need to choose to have this protective cover reinstated before it is restored, because it's very important to God that we freely choose to have it (for the sake of preserving freedom).

[Added] What about angels?

Come to think of it, there are actually beings who never choose to 'Fall' in a sense and reject God. What about the angels who never sin?

I think that angels possibly have a different kind of free will to humans. It's long thought that when an angel makes a choice, somehow the choice is 'forever'. So whereas humans constantly make choices that make them better or worse people, angels possibly only make one choice - to never sin or to sin - and then they stick with it forever. So angels somehow have the ability to 'stick' to a choice never to sin forever that humans can't do. It's because the choice to follow God comes up again and again that ensures we would all have fallen in the Garden of Eden (in my interpretation).

So why don't we all have 'angel style' free will where we make choices forever?

I think possibly for two reasons. a) The same proportion of angels disobey God as all humans reject God, so it doesn't save more people, and, b) It increases God's glory to have people constantly choose to be good over being evil, rather than only evaluate the decision once and in only one decision choose to be good over evil.

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