Tonight we begin our descent into the Fall. Please read Genesis 2:25-3:7.
Stories like Adam and the Fall which are told and retold, written down, and eventually canonized, continue to have currency over the millennia and throughout different cultures and times because they speak to our common humanity. This is particularly true in our reading for this evening.
In St. Bede’s (673-735) Ecclesiastical History of the English People, he preserves for us a series of letters written from Pope Gregory the Great to Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury (not THE Augustine, but another one). In his Ninth Question, Augustine inquires about “involuntary sin.” Gregory responds with Genesis 3:1-7 as follows:
For all sin is committed in three ways, viz., by suggestion, by delight, and by consent. Suggestion comes from the Devil, delight from the flesh, and consent from the spirit. For the serpent suggested the first offence, and Eve, as flesh, took delight in it, but Adam, as the spirit, consented. And when the mind sits in judgement on itself, it must clearly distinguish between suggestion and delight, and between delight and consent. For when the evil spirit suggests a sin to the mind, if there ensue no delight in the sin, the sin is in no way committed; but when the flesh begins to take delight in it, then sin begins to arise. But if it deliberately consents, then the sin is known to be full-grown. The seed, therefore, of sin is in the suggestion, the nourishment of it in delight, its maturity in the consent.Pope Gregory the Great
Sin requires temptation, desire, and consent, which is what we see in the Garden.
Too often in our discussion of sin, we leave out the issue of temptation. In the modern world, we see the individual person as solely responsible for committing sin and choosing evil. Sin does not exist in the world through our fallen human nature alone but through the temptation of the evil one. This is why we pray every Sunday for deliverance from him. (Matt. 6:13). We have little control over temptation. Therefore, we should not feel guilty or ashamed of the temptations themselves.
The second step in sin is desire. At least in the initial instance, thoughts and desires, in and of themselves, are not necessarily sinful even though we might recognize them as being bad. We have somewhat more control over desires, but not fully. Part of the Christian life, of course, is developing Christian virtue, but bad thoughts and evil desires are not sinful themselves. The woman’s mere desire for the fruit was not disobedient. Desires can come upon us without our consent, and can at times, even cause us to act without our consent. Sin is not fully present in these situations.
As Gregory explains, sin requires a mens rea or a specific intent. A sin, like a secular criminal act, requires the actor to reasonably intend the occurrence. A temptation or a desire that occurs during a dream or psychotic break does not mean that a sin has been committed. Rather, a sinful act requires a sinful consent. However, as we see in our readings, a sinful desire often leads directly to a sinful conduct. In our story, desire (the woman) simply hands the fruit to the will (the man) and he eats without any objection or consideration. Again, part of the Christian life is to develop those virtues which can reject not only temptation but also illicit desire. As the Apostle writes, train yourself “to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world.” Titus 2:12.
As an aside, our Baptismal Liturgy (1979 BCP 302) reflects this same understanding of sin that we see in Genesis 3. In the liturgy, the questions at the presentation of the candidate fall into three categories: (1) Do you renounce Satan and all spiritual forces of wickedness, (2) Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God, and (3) Do you promise to follow and obey Jesus Christ as your Lord? In each of these sections, the candidate or his godparents speak to each element of sin and affirm their renunciation of the first two, and their affirmation of the latter. If you have time, read, reflect, and reaffirm these basic covenants.
Only the Commandment:
A final point, is that we must seek to understand God’s actual commandment. In the story, the woman misquotes and misunderstands the commandment by adding conditions. God says “Do not eat of the fruit of the knowledge of the tree of good and evil.” Gen. 2:17. Whereas, the woman says that God says “Do not eat of the fruit of the knowledge of the tree of good and evil and neither shall you touch it.” Gen. 3:3. In Jewish thought, this human-added additional commandment was how the temptation was completed, because when the woman touched the fruit, nothing bad happened. (Genesis Rabbah 19.3).
In the life of a Christian, this adding to the commandments is the false gospel against which Paul wrote most of his letters. God’s commandment to us is to simply “Love our neighbor as ourself.” Gal. 3:14, Rom. 3:18. When we in the church, like the woman, desire to add things to this basic law, is when we cause ourselves and others to sin. Gal. 4; Rom. 14.
March 1 is Fat Tuesday. We will be having savory waffles and wine and spirits here. There will be no lesson only feasting. Anyone is free to join us. Please RSVP.
For Lent we will be reading the Archbishop of Canterbury’s 2021 Lenten book: Living His Story by The Rev’d Dr Hannah Steele. We will have copies of the book available next Tuesday and on Sunday for $5.
Tonight, dinner is at 6:30. The menu is Hungarian goulash. Discussion about 7:15 followed by Compline.
God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one, but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death.James 1:13b-15