In his “Readings in St. John’s Gospel” William Temple says the following (in his commentary on John 1:29-34):  “The Sin of the World.  How utterly modern is this conception!  It is not “sins”, as by a natural early corruption of the text [we] were led to suppose, but “sin”.  For there is only one sin, and it is characteristic of the whole world.  It is the self-will which prefers “my” way to God’s – which puts “me” in the centre where only God is in place.”

This passage came to mind this morning while I was reading an excerpt from St. Augustine’s “The City of God” (In “Readings for the Daily Office from the Early Church” by J. Robert Wright):  “[God] foreknew that some of the angels, in their pride, would wish to be self-sufficient for their own felicity, and hence would forsake their true good; and yet [God] did not deprive them of this power, judging it an act of greater power and greater goodness to bring good even out of evil than to exclude the existence of evil.  There would not, in fact, have been any evil at all, had not that nature which was capable of change (although good and created by the supreme God who is also the changeless good, who made all things good) produced evil for itself by sinning.”

The passage from Temple really was foundational for me in my understanding of what it means to sin (and in how a baby, who has no ill intent, but who is focused on self need – as is fully appropriate – can be guilty of “original sin.”)  The passage from Augustine connects well with this.  And it fits in with my (already established) beginning to the question of evil (If God is good, “Why does bad stuff happen in God’s world?”):  a lot of the evil in the world comes from choices we make for ourselves, apart from God – choices that all of us must live with (whether we are the ones who made those choices or not).

But, of course, that is only the beginning of an answer.  Because it doesn’t answer the question of why there are things like natural disasters and (this is really the big one) why people die (including “Why do people get sick?”).  All I have here is a leading, really, which I believe came (at least in part) from Tolkien.  In any case, someone was speculating on the nature of elves (who never die, and thus have all the time in the world, theoretically, to make changes – if they should choose to change at all).  I believe they went on to suggest that, if God’s goal in creating us is for us to grow, spiritually, and freely become more fully like God (as we were created to be) in becoming more fully ourselves, we probably need a sense of urgency (provided by a looming time limit).

And that sense of why we were created probably comes (for me, originally) from a class I took, back in college, from James Pike.  It was a class focused, from a philosophical point of view, on the problem of evil.  In it he suggested that a “soul builder” defense, the idea that God wanted to create something good (in us) that outweighed the price of evil (that we must live with in our lives) probably scraped by.  It was, at least, defensible.

I think he was probably right:  this idea probably scrapes by.  Though for me these days, this is less a rigorous philosophical question than it is a question lived out in an ongoing relationship with a God whom I have learned, over the course of my life, to trust.

I do believe that God is calling me, in the course of my lifetime, to become more fully the person I was created to be, formed in God’s image, loved by God, loving God’s creation and, in particular, God’s people (with whom I live in community).

And I also know that I function best, or at least get the most done, when I’m working under an impending deadline.

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