"The joyous shouting of children often irritates us because it interferes with our depression" - Ronald Rolheiser
During our summer sabbatical we took our kids (12,10, 8) on an extended road trip around the country. We hiked the Bad Lands of South Dakota, drove through a herd of buffalo in Custer State Park, climbed the approach to Devil’s Tower, watched Old Faithful erupt in Yellowstone, white-water rafted in Wyoming, jet skied lake Okoboji in Iowa, journeyed Cuyahoga Falls in Ohio, walked the National Mall in Washington DC, and camped in Pennsylvania!
To experience all of this beauty is, in itself, remarkable; but to experience it through the eyes of a child is extraordinary. A waterfall is lovely, but nothing compared to the joy of a child beholding a waterfall for her very first time. The grandeur of the mountains is breathtaking, but nothing like the awe and wonder on a child’s face when he first sees the mountains appearing on the horizon.
There is so much to be learned through the boundless energy, playful inquisitiveness and simple faith of a child.
When I am with my children I remember what it was like to be fully alive with the freedom to laugh too loudly in restaurants, to sing at the top of your lungs in minivans and to jump on every bed in every hotel room across the midwest. With my children I feel a true sense of love and belonging. Their love is unconditional. I don't have to pretend to be anything or anyone but their dad. With my children I remember what it was like to be constantly captivated by the beauty of God’s world.
Where does the joy and delight of a child come from?
There is an unfortunate doctrine in the church called “original sin.” This is the belief that in our natural state, every part of every human person is so infected by sin that he or she is utterly helpless to connect with God.
John Calvin wrote that because of the fall of Adam “the whole [of every] man is overwhelmed—as by a deluge—from head to foot, so that no part is immune from sin and all that proceeds from him is to be imputed to sin.” In other words, human beings are born with this corrupt nature but are nevertheless fully responsible for the sins they cannot avoid because of this condition.
The problem with the doctrine of “original sin” is that sin - while serious, universal and deadly - is not a part of the original story. The book of Genesis begins with six clear statements of “original blessing” or inherent goodness (Genesis 1:10-31). It is not until Genesis 3 that sin enters the picture.
Scripture clearly teaches that sin has infected everyone and everything since the Fall. However, it is also clear that we were “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139); created in the very “image of God” (Genesis 1:27); our souls formed for eternal glory and greatness (Romans 8:18-21).
“The glory of God is man fully alive” - St. Iraneus
In her new book entitled Original Blessing: Putting Sin in Its Rightful Place Danielle Shroyer writes, "Original blessing is the idea that God has chosen to be in a relationship with us, and God has chosen to stay faithful to that relationship no matter what."
"Before anything else is true about us—before we can talk about what we are good at or what we are bad at, what we loathe and what we favor, before we can talk about gifts or struggles, virtues or vices, before we can even begin to talk about what it might mean for us to be saved—what is true is that we are in a relationship with God, and God started it. And God is sticking with it.” - Danielle Shroyer
At some point the Church became so preoccupied with “original sin” that we forgot about “original blessing”. As a result, discipleship became a process where scripture, doctrine and church authority were applied to the deformed soul in order to conform it to the shape of correct theology. But what would discipleship look like if we started with “original blessing” instead?
“True spiritual formation flows from the belief that we are born with souls in perfect form. As time goes on, we are subject to powers of deformation, from within as well as without, that twist us into shapes alien to the shape of the soul. But the soul never loses its original form and never stops calling us back to our birthright integrity.” - Richard Rohr
In other words, change happens as we call the soul, our true self, out of hiding. Christian discipleship is not a call to become someone I am not, it is a call to be the person I was created to be. To fulfill the original selfhood given to me at birth by God.
- What if instead of beating people into a life of submission with “original sin”, we called them into a life of freedom with “original blessing”?
- What if God isn't trying to reveal the total depravity of man, but the inherit worth and beauty of human beings created in His image? A beauty which has been marred, but not completely destroyed, by the consequences of sin.
- What if Jesus didn’t come just to solve our sin problem, but to reveal the very heart and image of God buried within us?
- What if the Holy Spirit isn’t here just to convict us of sin, but to call us back to our original shimmering self? To reunite us with our inner child, with all of its wonder, joy and delight?
According to Bernard of Clairvaux (AD 1090-1153) the highest degree of love is simply that we love ourselves the way God loves us; in the same degree, in the same manner, and with the very same love. Discipleship, then, is learning to love our true self, the essential image and likeness of God within us. To call our inner child out of hiding and into His wonderful light.
"Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." - Jesus (Mt 19:14)
- Pastor Paul