Wednesday, October 25, 2006


I find myself with a couple of minutes on hand before I go to lead our study of God of Our Mothers by M.R. Ritley (Morehouse Publishing, 2006). As I prepared for it I was reflecting on some of the things that have come up in previous studies. I though that since I hadn’t posted anything new for a while, I might share some of my recent “ramblings” with you.

Rambling 1

Why is knowledge of good and evil such a bad thing? I don’t know how many of you took the Sayers course and studied the play based on Faust. That question comes up there when Faustus asked to be returned to the state of innocence before the eating of the fruit. All hell breaks loose. So why is the knowledge of good and evil such a bad thing if such knowledge can prevent us doing evil. A few things came up.

Shawn, I think it was you a few years back, that suggested that maybe the reason Adam and Eve were not to eat of the fruit was that it was not yet ripe. That although there was the knowledge, there wasn’t the wisdom that would come with maturity (of the fruit).

Someone else has suggested that prior to the eating of the fruit, evil did not exist, that it was in disobedience that it began. But if it doesn’t exist, why have knowledge of it.

There is the idea of Adam and Eve’s awareness of their nakedness (is this why we have such a problem with the human body which is wonderful gift from God). But is this awareness not part of maturing?

In it all is my question – Did God really plan for us to remain as children?

Rambling 2

I have always struggled with the idea of original sin – probably natural considering my Pelagian tendencies. I found an interesting thought on Father Jake’s blog where he based his understanding on the writings of Irenaeus of Lyons. (Sorry, I still haven’t figured out the link thingy yet). This idea of human progress really resonates with me. I got so excited about this that I looked up Against Heresies on the internet. Now I wish I had the time to read and understand it. But it doesn’t fit into my study schedule this year.

Is there really a valid base for Original Sin or is the idea a result of the influence of Augustine's life style before becoming a Christian? - and then grasped as a mechanism of control by the powers that be? This is a rambling I have been going over and over for a number of years - considering that some of the ideas that have resulted based on this concept did serious damage to my spirituality.

Rambling 3

The phrase, the God of our Fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob occurs a number of times (or phrases meaning that). I have always questioned Isaac being in there. He doesn’t seem to have much of a story – and indeed when we read the texts we see that Rebekah is the real strength.

Ritley brings up the interesting question of Isaac’s relationship with God, Abraham, and Sarah. I have always wondered how Isaac would have felt about nearly being sacrificed. How did that affect future relationships? When reading the text – Isaac seems to have a very close relationship with Sarah but not Abraham – I’m not sure I would get over my father’s willingness to sacrifice me either. And then, although the translation is not quite clear there are the couple of times that God is described as the “Fear of Isaac.” That makes complete sense to me. I wouldn’t exactly be comfortable around a god that wanted to test someone through bringing me to the point of being a sacrificial offering.

What I found interesting about the whole sacrifice story was that it was so out of place. Ritley suggests that it is from early sources. Why it is placed in there is anyone’s guess. I go with the idea that it’s a reminder to us, after Abraham’s relationship with God as a friend, that God cannot be tamed or pegged or contained. The story is jarring in that it does not really reflect a loving and compassionate God. But that very jarring serves to remind us not to take God for granted. It restores the balance between immanence and transcendence.

Well, I now used up most of my time so I best quit writing and focus on today’s study which is Leah and Rachel. I haven't had a lot of time to proof-read so I hope this isn't a case of post in haste, repent in leisure.


shawn said...

Hi Anne Marie,
Thank you for your ramblings! While all three give me pause for reflection, it is "rambling #2" to which I want to respond. (Of course, #2 is closely linked with #1, but only if we consider the "fall" to be a result more of a grasping, greedy attitude which can tolerate no limits, rather than a desire specifically for knowledge. The liberation theologians often speak of original sin in terms of greed rather than pride. But I digress...
Original sin, in my mind, has suffered many abuses as a doctrine, and I think that that is why you and many others react so strongly against it. And rightly so, if by "original" we mean that it takes (ontological) precedence over the original goodness of God's intended creation.
However, I still tend to believe that the doctrine of original sin is an irreplaceable facet of the good news (we need the bad news first before we can really hear and experience the radical depths of the gospel).
I think part of the problem is that we keep thinking of original sin solely, or primarily, in the context of individual persons. And in many ways, that doesn't make sense, at least as a starting point. When we look at an infant undergoing the sacred rite of baptism, it is tricky to reconcile the obvious blessing of this tiny gift of life, with the liturgical words proclaiming a transfer from the kingdom of darkness to the realm of light. This just doesn't make sense, when we gaze at the individual child.
But I think we would do well to reclaim the ancients' ability to think in terms of microcosm and macrocosm. That tiny baby, in the ritual of baptism, is not just herself, but she "is" (not just "represents" - its stronger than that), she "is" at some level all of humanity, and the entire creation. She "is" the Adam, the very same Adam whom is created through, recapitulated by, and redeemed in the Christ.
That, of course, is on the mystical level (which is, of course, the most Real). On a sociological level however, I find that the micro/macrocosmic understanding translates well into the category of human solidarity. There is a solidarity of blessedness and strength. But there is also a solidarity of sin and destruction. I cannot stand back and tell myself that the sin of Hitler has nothing to do with me. Or, on a more day to day level, that I am free from responsibility for the massive oppressions and violences committed against the whole earth and all her children, especially the most vulnerable. We are all in it together, linked not only by the Word and Spirit of the Creator, but also by the bondage of Sin and Death, incarnate in the multitude of powers and principalities wreaking havoc with God's good creation.
As I am an unabashed universalist when it comes to creation and salvation, I can be no less when it comes to my understanding of sin. For me, this is the mystery of Paul's reflections in his letter to the Romans, that "God has consigned all to disobedience that [S]he might show mercy to all" (11:32). If, in the Adam we have all died, so in the Christ we shall all find life. For me, that is the essence both of original sin and universal salvation. But somehow, I find that I can't have one without the other!
Well, that's enough rambling for the day - I hope it didn't sound like a lecture!
Thanks again for your wonderful reflections Ann Marie - lets keep it up!
(Just so you know, I check your blog almost every day - I can't always respond quickly, but I'm always watching for what you might have to say!)
Shawn +

joseph said...

On the topic of "knowing evil" and eating the fruit, I think a part of this is our misunderstanding of what we mean by "knowing good and evil". God knows what good and evil are, and we know what good and evil are, but in two different ways. Calling back to the experiential sense of "knowing", for us to know evil by taking the fruit is like knwoing evil experientially - not by suffering it by by participating in it. I suggest this is part of the Hebrew meaning of knowing. I see the taking of the fruit not as the gaining of a theoretical knowledge of evil ("I know what it is") but rather a particpatory knowing ("I know what it is because I'm doing it).

I think that the "ripeness" is really our own ripeness to be able to understand the difference between good and evil without having to be evil as such. Sort of like two ways of knwoing that the stove is hot: either by understanding that this is how the stove works, or by choosing to touch the hot stove for ourselves.

shawn said...

Hi Joseph,
Have you ever read any Charles Williams? Some of your reflections on knowledge resonate with Williams'understanding...
Shawn +

joseph said...

No Charles Williams, but lots of Dante, upon whom I believe Williams drew some of his ideas.