“If God created us, and we’re born with original sin, didn’t God make evil?” It’s a good question—a fair question. I get it a lot. The problem is that it misunderstands evil. Evil is not a created thing. Evil is a corruption. Original sin isn’t something added to human beings; it’s something lacking. We aren’t what we used to be, not by nature, not after the Fall. We’ve lost something very important, and deep down, we all know it; whether we’re willing to admit it or not. Human history testifies to this in innumerable ways. We have tried to fill the void with movements and philosophies, build-ings and sacrifices, products and platitudes, and yet, all this time later, here we are still wanting. It’s why capitalism thrives. There’s always something more. We’re never full. We want something new and something better. And so we ruin marriages, generations, churches, schools, communities, and nations, asking of them what they can’t give, placing impossible expectations upon them, deify-ing them, so to speak, only to find out that our idols have cracks and problems of their own.
It wasn’t meant to be this way. Have you ever felt like that? Maybe at a bedside in a hospital. Maybe in a hospital bed. Maybe when your marriage was crumbling, maybe when your job disappeared, the list could go on and on. It wasn’t meant to be this way. And it wasn’t. And so Jesus wept when Lazarus died. It’s the shortest verse in the Bible but one of the most powerful. Jesus was about to raise His friend. He was about to demonstrate His power over death, and yet, standing there, faced with it, He wept. It wasn’t meant to be this way. And yet it is. Here we are, in a fallen world, fallen people.
When God spoke the world into existence, He pronounced a verdict upon it. It was good, very good. And it was. This was paradise. This was how it was meant to be. What exactly was it like? Genesis doesn’t tell us too much, so we’re left to speculate about a lot. It was certainly good, though, very good. And Adam and Eve were there in the middle of it, the crown of God’s creation, the apples of His eye. It didn’t last long, though, did it? You probably know the story or at least some of it. The bliss was shattered. How? Unbelief. The serpent had Adam and Eve before they ever ate of the deadly fruit. He had them the moment they ceased taking God at His word, the second they looked at the fruit and thought it was beautiful and good for food. And there’s been no going back. We are children of our first parents, fallen residents of a fallen world. Paradise is the then.
This is the now. It wasn’t meant to be this way, but here we are, and it is. Paul surveys the situation and puts it bluntly:
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
Lest we think of this too abstractly or consider ourselves exempt in any way, he makes clear earlier in the letter that without distinction, “ all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” That means me. That means you. In his work criticizing Luther’s teaching about the bound will (that we don’t have free will in matters of salvation but are lost and condemned creatures in desperate need of God’s help), Erasmus complained that Luther played up original sin too much. It’s a natural complaint. Seriously, it’s our nature to underestimate the Fall and our lost condition. Luther explains in the Smalcald Articles, “This inherited sin has caused such a deep, evil corruption of nature that reason does not comprehend it; rather, it must be believed on the basis of the revelation in the Scriptures.” It’s beyond human reason to comprehend this. It “knows nothing about the nature of this inherited defect.” Like the gospel, original sin must be preached to us. We get that something’s wrong, but we simply cannot wrap our heads around how wrong and how personally. We see the symptoms, but the Good Physician has to expose the disease, and it’s fatal. There is no getting around it, either. We didn’t ask for it, but here we are. Jesus says, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.”
Let’s get back to my original point, though. Original sin doesn’t mean that something has been added to us. No, it means that we are conceived and born without something and that something is what we need more than anything else. This is central to the Christian message and the person and work of Christ. This is what Jesus was after when He rebuked the Bible students of that day who were looking in the right place but for the wrong thing. He told them, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life, and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” Sometimes, I joke with my students, “It’s a terrible thing to go to hell knowing the names of all the kings of Israel.” We know we need something. We even sometimes know where to look for it. What exactly it is, though, we can only know by grace when He sends us a preacher, when He points us to the right place.
This is an excerpt is from Chapter 1 of Let the Bird Fly: Life in a World Given Back to Us written by Wade Johnston (1517 Publishing, 2019 ). pgs 5-7.