I am about to step into a reflection on a topic that is fraught with land mines and trip wires. It is a very narrow path, one step either way could be unbalanced. So, angels and saints, and all you theologians out there, keep me from error.
The other day I was reflecting with someone on the implications of In Vitro fertilization. This individual, fully respecting the immorality of the process, wondered what such a condemnation implied for those who were conceived in such a way. Were these children in some way imperfect, a mistake, or even “evil?”
My response led me to reflect that there are many immoral ways that life is conceived. There are those who are conceived in rape, those conceived in adultery, those conceived in fornication, and many other examples. There are many ways that life is conceived through sin, there are many instances where something beautiful was initiated in spite of the sin connected to it. All of these lives are precious.
However, this envelope kept expanding as I thought about it some more. For many years there has been much discussion about “white privilege.” This topic embraces a whole world of topics; colonialism, white suburbs, eugenics, equal employment, proselytizing, and the list could go on. Historians talk about the destruction of the Native Americans, the slavery of the African Americans, The manipulation of the Central American Countries, and so on. There are numerous examples of the way that races of Western Europe have despoiled and raped in order to secure their dominance. In the end we confront the stark reality that every advantage I possess- education, food, health, security, and even my very life- has been won by violence.
It’s not simply white people. Every lineage, every race, has a heritage of sin and violence. There is nothing that we have that is not obtained in some way through sin.
This leads us to the dilemma. We can either say, “There is no sin,” and excuse everything, or we can say, “We are all guilty,” and we are all condemned.
In the beginning of Genesis we have the narrative of Adam and Eve and the fall. Whether or not you agree with this narrative as a historical fact or not is irrelevant for this discussion. What is essential is that the narrative speaks of the primordial innocence that is at the heart of all morality. It says “this is how it should be but sin ruined it.” This is not only a historical reality but a reality each individual understands in their present life. It is a constant reality for every age and every person.
What we are talking about is original sin; the fact that we were all “conceived in rape;” that our life and privilege, every gift and advantage was won through sin.
Often when we talk about forgiveness we stay with sins that we can easily “justify.” We conceive of forgiveness as concerning petty sins that “everyone does.” In the same way, as long as “original sin” remains abstract we can handle it. Real sin, though, like genocide, murder, rape, abuse, etc. . . . , how can you “justify” something like that? Well, we can’t, but boy do we try. We say things like, “it’s not as bad as that group,” or “you would do the same in my shoes,” or we simply denying the truth of the event or its sinfulness.
And yes, we should be afraid, because the wages of sin is death, and, like the blind lady of justice, the angel of death is indiscriminate. All the first born were to be stricken in the land, no one was to be spared by their own merit; because all merit is forfeit by the wages of sin. We have nothing to offer.
This is the message that the scriptures keep giving us; there is nothing that we can say or do to justify ourselves. I have nothing to stand on.
No justification is possible, but for God all things are possible, and that is the beauty of redemption.
So, why are we still trying to justify ourselves; feverishly preparing our defense. A Christian realizes both that no justification is possible and no justification is necessary for those redeemed in Christ. “But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it.” The Christian is the one has faced and continues to face his sin and the sin of his race in the manner of Isaiah “I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips,” but without fear. We are like Jesus before Pilot who gives no response to the accusations because there is no justification that is possible and none that is necessary.
This is why the Christian brings Peace to the world through every act of reconciliation, every act of confession. They do not excuse their sin, the sin of their parents, or the sins of their fellow Christians but courageously confesses the truth and lives in the truth because Christ is our peace. This is the work of redemption, of Baptism and Confession; this is the source of the freedom of the children of God.