I sat in on a bible study yesterday which was working through Genesis 3, and I began thinking about some deeply held theological beliefs which stream largely from this passage, but sometimes bother me. Whether people believe in the historical veracity of the events of Genesis or not, the typical conclusion is that Genesis 3 points out that mankind’s sinfulness has severed the relationship between us and God. As the discussion progressed we got into a little bit of original sin, and total depravity and all that fun stuff. But the conclusion of many of the saints is that the relationship with God is broken by sin, and only in Jesus are people able to have a relationship with God.
But part of me wonders, wait, Cain and Abel were still able to commune with God, as were all the Old Testament saints. If the relationship was broken in such a way that only in Jesus can we connect, then the Old Testament ceases to make sense. Does sin have catastrophic effects? Absolutely. But, at the risk of sounding like a heretic, the relationship is not severed as a direct consequence of sin. Those who have no relationship are in that state not because original sin prevents them, but because the sinfulness leads them to ignore the possibilities they have. Total depravity does not mean that mankind is completely cut off, but that all of mankind is affected and tainted by sin.
Salvation, I am proposing is not an issue of sinful man being “blocked” from God by sinfulness. Why would “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Ex. 34:6-7a) allow sin to blockade man away from himself. The chasm between God and man has to do with man’s preference for ignorance than an actual inherited effect of the first sin of mankind. People choose to ignore God, even though he is always available.
Salvation, then, is something bigger, deeper, and more wonderful than just a removal of sin so we can relate to God (while sin does indeed hinder us in our pursuit of God, and in Christ we have atonement and forgiveness- I don’t deny this). Salvation is a total transformation of creation. A new relationship, not just bringing back the old. It is bringing a shared life between God and mankind. It is the Kingdom of God penetrating people’s hearts and minds to free them from the ignorance they once held so close. Salvation is about freedom; not just from from something, but also freedom for something- “that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10, ESV) or as The Message renders it, “so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.”
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)