Some Thoughts on Original Sin

Original sin is the teaching that, in some capacity, humans are guilty of sin and have no choice but to sin because of our fallen nature. Having done some thinking, the term “fallen nature” or “sin nature” gives me some problems. The reason is that “nature” is synonymous with “essence.” So if we have a sin nature then our essence is fallen as well; we have no choice but to be guilty in sin from the moment of conception to our point in death. Our very essence is sinful, an affront to God.

This could work except for one point, that point being the Incarnation. We say that Jesus was fully human. Philosophically, this means that Jesus had a human essence and a divine essence (and therein is the mystery). But this is the problem – if Jesus had a human essence, but was sinless and not guilty of sin, then how did He have a human essence? It seems we are left with two choices when we choose to use the term “sin nature.” Choice 1 is that Jesus wasn’t really human, but had humanistic characteristics, but being morally perfect and untainted by sin, He ultimately did not share a human essence with us. Choice 2 is to say that Christ was guilty of sin by having a human essence, thus making Him a sinner like us. Neither choice is Biblical and both are heretical, which is why I’m having difficulty believing that we have a “sin nature.”

Of course, there’s the problem that all humans choose to sin, but Christ did not. So what can we say?

I would put forth the theory that at the point of the fall of humanity, our wills were damaged. The will would be the ability to follow through follow through on a choice, or where to direct our actions. A weak will would allow us to make wrong choices, or at least cause us to lack the ability to go through with what we believe to be right all of the time. A weak will would allow us to deprave ourselves to the point where we desire evil and act on evil. But this does not mean Christ had a weak will; it is entirely possible that His will was perfected. Let me explain:

Tim was born with a deformed leg and therefore cannot run. Johnny was born with properly functioning legs and therefore has no problem running. We can look at Tim and realize that had there not be an external agent of change (something within his genes or development within the womb) he would have grown the ability to actualize his essence. That is to say, both Tim and Johnny have the capacity to run, but an external agent prevented Tim from actualizing his capacity.

Or we can look to Heather and Sally, born in 1900. Heather was killed by a disease at the age of 3. Sally died of old age at the age of 93. In 1901, both Heather and Sally had the capacity to become adults, it was a part of their essence. By 1904, an external agent had taken away Heather’s ability to actualize her capacity for “adultness,” but regardless both Heather and Sally shared the essence of being human. Just because one was given the ability to actualize a part of her essence while the other had an external force negating such an ability does not mean that one was human while the other was not. It simply means that both held the same essence and had the same capacities, but due to certain circumstances, one was able to actualize one’s capacity while the other was not.

Thus we come to Christ. We can say that the human will for most humans (with the exception of Christ) is damaged, thus meaning we are not properly functioning. It is within our capacity as human beings to have a fully functioning will, but we are all born deformed. Through the Incarnation, Christ was the only human ever born who has the ability to actualize His will to perfection. This would mean that human beings are fallen in the sense that their wills are broken, but we still share the essence with Christ. We have the same capacity He did in this regard, but only He was able to actualize His capacity while we are unable to do so.

Anyway, these are just some thoughts and I’m certain my argument lacks clarity. I’m simply throwing this out there for discussion to see if (1) we can really accept the traditional view of original sin and (2) if the alternative offered would be a better view.