“The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.” —Genesis 6:5
Imagine sitting on an examination table, and in comes Dr. John Wesley with a clipboard in hand. “Give it to me straight,” you tell him. “What is the diagnosis?” He says, “I have some good news and bad news. The good news is that you have been made in the image of God; your human dignity and potential is still in-tact. The bad news is that a disease called ‘Original Sin’ has distorted this image. It’s hereditary, passed down from generation to generation since the day it was spawned by the disobedience of your distant grandparents, Adam and Eve.” According to Dr. Wesley, the right diagnosis constitutes the right cure.
Historically, not everyone has agreed with this diagnosis. Some in Wesley’s day insisted that a recovery of the innate virtues would happen once humanity “freed” itself from the “bondage” of superstitious religious doctrines like “original sin.” It perturbed him even more when professed Christians offered the same ridicule.1 In his estimation, if humans are not fallen creatures, then there is no need for a remedy. Besides, this was a far cry from the picture Scripture paints, in which every “inclination, affection, passion… [and] thought” is continually evil. Still others insisted that the diagnosis is so bleak that humanity just had to learn to live with the disease. The Imago Dei had become so obliterated, in their estimation, that sin became synonymous with what it meant to be human. It was Wesley’s diagnosis that bridged the gap between depravity and human potential by describing sin as a disease. This offered a cure instead of a suppressant.
“Are you sure, doc?” you ask him. “Your symptoms are obvious,” he says, “idolatry, pride, and self-will.” With a sigh you ask, “Is there a cure?” He smiles, “Yes, God can ‘heal all our atheism’ and restore our corrupted nature. You just have to apply the ‘sovereign remedy’ in repentance. ‘Know your disease! Know your cure! You were born in sin, therefor you must be born again, born of God.”
Where shall we find a cure to the problems that ail humanity?
Every generation seeks a solution to its societal ills, like a chemist seeking a cure in a lab. The symptoms are obvious: gossip, slander, hatred, strife, division, sexual immorality, envy, and the list goes on. Is it possible that we have relegated “original sin” to nothing more than an outdated, superstitious doctrine that is no longer needed in our age? Perhaps this attitude only encourages us to seek “solutions” that numb the pain but never solve the problem? Have we become so pessimistic that we no longer see our God-given human potential in the imago Dei? Do we still believe that God’s grace is capable of renewing us, “until [our] whole sickness [is] healed”? The diagnosis is the key to finding some solutions.
H. Gordon Smith III is senior pastor at Frankfort First Church of the Nazarene in Frankfort, Indiana, USA.
1. Albert C. Outler, “An Introductory Comment,” The Works of John Wesley - The Bicentennial Edition (Nashville: Abingdon, 1984), 2:170.
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Written for Coffee Break.