First, I would like to thank Bill for his clarification that he does not consider me a Pelagian. Pelagius and I never got along very well. I can see the possibility of my observations being misread–that somehow I was denying the effects of the Fall. Bill accurately surmises that this is not my position and I appreciate his comments so as to avoid an unnecessary sidetrack to our discussion. Indeed once the relationship between God and man was broken, only God himself could repair it. Christ is the essential and only possibility to heal this rupture. On that we agree.
It may not surprise, however, that I have some qualms with what remains of the responses to my original question: “How does Reform theology explain the presence of sin in the world?”
Based on what has been said I gather that, currently, in Reform theology there is no answer to this question or at least not an answer which is comprehensible through human reason.
And if this is this case, I find this to be a major weakness in Reform theology. The question of the presence of sin is fundamental. We have “theology” because people have looked around them and asked questions: Why am I here? What is the meaning of life? Is there a God? Even if we place ourselves in a secular philosophical world for a moment, we find that it is the existence of love that is a mystery, whereas the existence of sin is a plain fact.
There are a great many mysteries in our world. Some mysteries are difficult because of our desire for understanding, but all of the mysteries of God are immensely beautiful. They are like flashes of glory where the strands of faith and reason intertwine.
I do not find the existence of sin to be a mystery.
God created Adam in His image. This does not mean that God has two arms, two legs and a tailbone. It means that God has granted us the capacity to love. In order to love we MUST have freedom. Like Adam before the Fall we have the freedom to choose good or evil, that is, we have the capacity to love. Unlike Adam before the Fall we are now in need of redemption. We cannot redeem ourselves, but we have the freedom to reject God’s redemption. He gives us that choice because He loves us. And the only way we can love Him in return is to have freedom to do so.
If we don’t have freedom, we can’t love. If we can’t love, then literally we haven’t got a chance of heaven. Love MUST be a choice with real possibilities and certain consequences. God’s Love is where our love begins and where our love ends, but in the end it has to be OUR choice with the alternative choice being death. We must, daily, be choosing between these two certainties. In fact the greatest mystery which differentiates us from God is that God, because He IS Love, can ONLY love because it is His Essence. If He doesn’t love then he would not longer be God. So it is love that is the mystery. Sin is prosaic.
Further, the only way to be in God’s presence in heaven is to be fully cleansed of everything but love (hence the theological necessity of a state of purgation from sin, i.e. purgatory) because it would be impossible to be in God’s presence with any stain of sin.
And here’s the kicker (sorry, I live in Texas). This entire idea of pre-Fall Adam being in a position being free to choose good or evil is clearly revealed in the Gospels. Else, how is it that Jesus, the 2nd Adam, born without sin, could be “tempted” in the desert? Else, why does Jesus, free of sin, sweat blood in the Garden of Eden and ask that the cup pass him? The Gospel writers, by including these real events from Jesus’ life, are illustrating quite clearly that the struggle for Jesus was real, that the temptation was real even though he was without sin. That is why Christ’s sacrifice was an act of love. He had the choice, in his human nature, to turn from what was good. And unlike Adam, he chose good.
The two natures of Christ is most certainly a mystery. The first person to be presented with this truth recognized it immediately as a mystery: Mary says, “How can this be?” Like Mary we must accept that this was God’s plan. But not so with sin. Sin is easy: it is a necessity as the opposite of love. Love is the Mystery.