prompted by a good friend joe myers’ post on “the root of sin”, as well as the thoughts below about jason clark’s essay concerning “being human“, and my preparation to preach on Jesus as the Logos, here is a little blurb on creation and redemption.
joe asks, “What if the root of sin is good–not evil? What if sin is the excessive and unhealthy ways we express the passion of the soul?” Now this naturally puts sin in the realm of desire and volition, but I don’t want to go there for now because that is the well trodden realm of “where does evil come from?… From our free-will” kind of argument. Rather, I want to trace out more of the creation aspect of it.
My initial comment on his post was, “I absolutely love this. what an affirmation of God’s good creation. our passions and desire are good, just misdirected and excessive. yet, from where does this excess come? from where the misdirection, the “bendness”? It is a lack, a void, a privation of the good, it is good subtracted from…maybe the root of evil is Nothing, the desire for nothing rather than the Something of God’s creation.”
Let’s start with evil as Nothing, or the idea that evil is the privation of Good. One of the earliest proponents of this view is Augustine in his On the Nature of the Good and The Enchiridion. It goes something like this…Creation is good by definition b/c God is Good and is the Creator. Creation derives its existence God. All natural beings are good by nature according to their creation. What we call evil is a corrupted nature, yet due to its continuing existence is still good to an extent. As he says, “No nature is evil so far as it is naturally existent. Nothing is evil in anything save a diminishing of good. If the good is so far diminished as to be utterly consumed, just a there is no good left so there is no existence left.” Therefore, evil is the privation of good, the corruption of good, such that evil really is Nothing, it is the Lack of Something. That’s why I said evil is the desire for Nothing rather than the Something of God’s creation.
Now, moving on to Athanasius, another Church Father… Athanasius organically connects this conception of evil as privation with the doctrine of creation out of nothing, particularly man’s creation. For him, because everything is made out of nothing, called into existence by the Word of God (Christ), everything is therefore mortal, or tending back toward nothing again. It seems that Athanasius didn’t see creation as naturally eternal after creation, but always slipping back toward non-existence (which is an interesting premonition of the laws of thermo-dynamics). Now, concerning man, while by nature mortal, or corruptible, we were granted incorrabptability as the image of God, partaking of the Divine life, as he says, “For because the Word dwelling in them, even their natural corruption did not prevail.” Yet, man rejected God and through their transgression was turning back to his natural state, for “just as they have had their being out of nothing, so also…they might expect their own corruption into nothing.” So, having been granted both a mortal (corruptible) life and a divine (incorruptible) life, man is tending back toward a mortal life, or rather a mortal death. Athanasius’ main point here is that the Word created mankind and gave him a divine life, and that the Fall into Death is not imposed by God as a punishment, rather the Fall into Death is man severing his connection to life, to his very being. Man is now slipping into nothing, the void. Or to reframe the discussion, as Orthodox theologian John Zizioulas would, the question is not that of existence but of communion. In the fall man made his existence (as something) his sole point of reference, neglecting his previous relationship (communion) with God, and so goes the title of his book, “Being as Communion.”
Which brings us to the Incarnation… For Athanasius it is fitting that the Divine Word, through whom all was created out of nothing, through whom man was raised from his natural state, it is fitting that the Divine Word should himself come into creation as a man so that His original creation would not be utterly lost. He came in order to re-create what was turning into nothing. The Word, the creative/revealing principle of God, came into corruptible nature in order to gather back man into incorruptibility through His own body. Which, as Jason was saying, Jesus came to make us truly human again, to re-create us, not as an escape from creation (into heaven) but as the continuing gift of grace, which is creation. From this perspective there is nothing supernatural about redemption/salvation, but eminently natural. Redemption is God’s re-articulation of Something (in the Word) rather than Nothing.
(one caveat concerning this notion…one of the major problems of beginning like this with an idea of evil as privation is that it might quickly end up promoting a lack of engagement with evil. The poor and oppressed might say “If evil is nothing, why do I see it everywhere?” or they might accuse me of creating a doctrine which sustain the status quo of the powerful because “what is is good” which will never lead toward rectifying evil. Which doesn’t mean that “sin as privation” lacks an eschatological perspective, just that I need to explore it more….)
well that is enough for now, what do you all think?