I have heard it said that the Catholic Doctrine of original sin is the most obviously true of all its doctrines. Remember what sin is. In its root meaning, the Greek word “hamartia” is a term that comes from the world of sports. It simply means to miss the target. Were I shooting arrows for example, and missed the target, I would say, were I an ancient Greek, “Oh! I’ve sinned!!” (Of course I would say it in ancient Greek.)
The New Testament, I maintain written by the Holy Spirit, gives a moral connotation to a common word. “I have failed.” In the New Testament this means that I have failed morally. Is there a person alive who thinks that it’s all good? Everything we do seems motivated by and riddled with failure. We are not happy. So we make a lot of money. We are still not happy. We are not happy. We go from bed to bed, intimacy to intimacy. We are still not happy. It seems that the best we can do is to keep busy. We keep trying failed strategies; “If only I had a little more money, a little more sex, a little more time, a little more sleep, a little more TV, a better car, a bigger house, nicer furniture….then I would be happy.
I am a history geek. I love to watch videos of war as the war is ending. The end of war is for me the ultimate happy ending; the slave being set free; the tyrant perishing; the veteran returning home; the prisoner surviving the concentration camp. Face it, happy endings aren’t really part of the story.
People of African descent were re-enslaved by the Jim Crow laws; the ousted tyrant is usually replaced by a new tyrant; the veteran returns home and faces alienation from his family and post-traumatic stress disorder; and the few Jews who were released from concentration camps were pretty much abandoned by the world. They returned to their homes and found other people living in them.
I remember the story of a Jew who returned to his old village home only to find a local man occupying it. The local said, "You’re here for money you’ve hidden!”
The survivor said, “No, I don’t want to move back. I just want to see the old home.”
The squatter refused to let the Jew back into his old home. After the Jew went away the man systematically destroyed the house looking for the treasure he was convinced the Jews had hidden in the walls, and ultimately the house was destroyed and abandoned. The Jew was met only with sorrow after his liberation and the squatter was destroyed by wanting more than he had already been able to steal.
We seem designed for unhappiness. We fight horrible injustice only to replace injustice with injustice. St. Paul sums it up pretty well:
“For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want, so I find this law at work. Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law, but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans, 7th Chapter)We are a mess, personally and politically. We want peace, but make war. We want harmony but we argue. We want love but we pick at each other finding fault. The great humor of the current age is that the “tolerant” increasingly lodge civil and even criminal charges against the “intolerant.” We all have a sense of failure in a failed world, and think that if we just tried a little harder, if we just lowered our moral standards a little, if we could just fight the war to end all wars. Remember one of the definitions of insanity: “keep doing what you’ve always done but this time, expect different results.”
Jesus has a completely different approach to the whole matter. “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal.” (John 12:25) This sounds crazy. It’s like the thing about turning the car’s steering wheel in the direction of the skid on an icy road. It sounds crazy. Crazy, but it works if done right. We in the world are already crazy. Maybe we should try Jesus’ advice. What we are doing now doesn’t work.
What can Jesus possibly mean when he tells us to hate our lives so we might gain it? I think C.S. Lewis explains it nicely in the 14th chapter of the Screwtape Letters:
“(God) wants to kill their animal self-love as soon as possible; but it is His long-term policy, I fear, to restore to them a new kind of self-love, a charity and gratitude for all selves, including their own; when they have really learned to love their neighbors as themselves, they will be allowed to love themselves as their neighbors. For we must never forget what is the most repellent and inexplicable trait in our Enemy (God); He really loves the hairless bipeds He has created and always gives back to them with His right hand what He has taken away with His left.”This is what I mean by saying that God doesn’t send us to hell; He finds us there. We are in love with ourselves, and thus unable to love ourselves. There is a wonderful song “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.”
In the beauty of Christ’s love on the cross you can find a happiness that will not go sour.
Next week, more hell.