The Bread of Blessing or the Stone of Original Sin

Who, if your child asks for bread, would give him a stone?

As parents, we are responsible for feeding our children. We are responsible for feeding their bellies and feeding their spirits and feeding their need for affection and security and love. As parents who are also people of faith, we are responsible for feeding them beliefs they can live by, a faith they can walk by, a love they can dwell in.

The spiritual teachings we give our children are ones they will carry for a long time. So it’s worth asking: are we giving them bread, or stones?

From a psychological perspective, experts have said for years that the idea of inherent human badness- what we call in Christian parlance a sin nature- is unhealthy and unhelpful. It creates shame and guilt and can often become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Ironically enough, belief in a sin nature begets sinning.

For fifteen hundred years, the Western Christian church has decided a sin nature is our cross to bear, regardless of psychological evidence to the contrary, because we have falsely believed the Bible tells us so.

But we forget the One who utters these profoundly simple words to us. What parent, Jesus asks, would give a child a stone when she asks for bread? He says it like it’s such an obviously rhetorical question. When we come to God our Parent with our need, God responds not with stones but with bread, and the Bread of Life at that. 

That doesn’t sound like a God who destines us to a sin nature and condemns us all for a fall.

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We are designed to be anchored in God’s love, nestled down in the wings of God’s steadfast goodness. What we need, before anything else, is to know we are loved, just as we are, just because. We are not born with a sinful nature, but a human nature designed for blessing and abundant life, because we are made in the image of a God of blessing and abundant life. That doesn’t mean we don’t live in a world of sin, or even that a world of sin doesn’t reside sometimes in our own hearts and minds. But no sin can uproot the blessing that resides at the center of our being.

We parents of faith are admittedly pretty good about telling our young children God loves them. But when the teen years come around, or when a parenting crisis strikes at any age, we can lose our resolve and start relying on a story far more centered on sin nature instead. Once our children know they have the choice to eat the fruit, all that talk about God’s unconditional love can get upstaged by our own parental anxiety.

Which is why it’s important to remember the words of Jesus. Do we want to give our children stones or bread? Which story of God do we most believe to be true? A story of original sin, or a story of original blessing? And if we can look at our newborn child and confess and profess that he is a child of God made in the image of God unconditionally loved by God, do we really think that ever stops being true?

Do we think that ever stopped being true for us?

When we examine our own spiritual belief backpacks, many of us find we’ve been carrying the heavy stones of original sin, and a mountain of guilt and shame pebbles that pile up day after day, year after year. It is a heavy burden, and an unnecessary one.  And it may be a burden we are condemning our children to carry, too, if we aren’t mindful. But Jesus reminds us that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. Blessing doesn’t weigh us down; it frees us and makes us light of heart. Blessing doesn’t bear down on our shoulders. It fills our belly with good things.

What would it look like for us to drop the story of original sin? Just drop it, like a sack of stones, abandoned by the wayside. What if we stopped to realize the story of God has never told the story of original sin in the first place? What if we recognized that the story scripture has been trying to tell us, page after page after page, is that the basis of our nature is not sin but God’s unwavering love for us?

What if our children were told this so often and so persistently and so passionately that they were able to move through both feats and failures with an anchoring in the One who made them?

Can you imagine what the world could be like if it were filled with people anchored in God’s blessing?

When we read scripture through the lens of blessing, through trust in the One who chooses to give us bread and not stones, we find that the story of blessing has been waiting there for us all along. And that story has the power to change the way we see God, the way we see ourselves, the way we understand sin and salvation and Jesus and our own human foibles. It has the power to transform, like every other story God tells us. The story of blessing is the feast of God for the people of God.

It’s time we stopped gnawing on stones.


 

carter rose_danielle Shroyer headshots0026Danielle Shroyer is the author of the forthcoming Original Blessing: Putting Sin in its Rightful Place (Fortress 2016), as well as Where Jesus Prayed: Illuminations on the Lord’s Prayer in the Holy Land (Paraclete 2015) and The Boundary-Breaking God: An Unfolding Story of Hope and Promise (Jossey-Bass 2009). She served as a pastor for ten years before turning to writing full-time.  Danielle writes and speaks often on matters of faith, culture and theology. You can find her at www.danielleshroyer.com.

 

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  • Jerry Lynch

    For most of my life, well into my forties, shame seemed my primary emotion. There was nothing I could point to directly when I first realized this, but I was raised in the 50s and 60s in parochial schools with very strict and very Catholic parents. Sex was the biggy and as soon as I reached thirteen I was in dire straits. Obedience was paramount along with good manners. Please and thank you were sacraments. Children are to be seen rather than heard was absolute. But what I noticed looking back is that my temperament, whether formed by this environment or not, was shy and introspective, highly introverted. My sister, three years younger, was spirited and happy, seemingly unaffected by it all. I marveled. Easy-going, funny, and bright, very popular, I did not get it. She was Phoebe to my Holden Caulfield. My point is some confusion over how much influence regular caring parents have over their children? And the other side is that she seemed to thrive in a hostile, dysfunctional family.

    Original Sin is not ours but our birthright as human beings. It is systemic of the world we are born into. We are corrupted by it in a thousand subtle ways. We are changed from what we might have been. The effects vary and not all are permanent or impossible to overcome. But they leave their mark, and leave their mark more deeply or lightly by the temperament of the child. This is not blame; it is just a fact, as I see it. In my life, I have seen almost an identical situation with people lead to rage, weeping, laughter, and indifference. The point I am trying to make is that training in being self-aware needs greater emphasis and training. “Know thyself.” This is greater than spiritual belief backpacks, in my view. Why I think there is a bogeyman under my mind ready to eat me is not likely resolved with an esoteric vision of original blessing.

    • Danielle Shroyer

      Hi Jerry,

      Thank you for reading and for your willingness to be open about your own experiences. I’m certainly not an expert on family systems, nor do I understand the deep mystery of how children in the same household have such different reactions to their environment. I agree there are so many factors in raising children, many of which we cannot control. But what we teach our children about God IS one of our sacred duties. It’s something we do control, and something we’re responsible for.

      I completely agree that self-awareness is absolutely key; as a theologian, I happen to believe we cannot have a truly centered sense of self unless we are grounded in the unwavering love of God first. This is one of the main reasons I wanted to write this book, to encourage people to be anchored in God so that they may know themselves and may be able to confront even their worst sins with courage. We can do that without original sin. In fact, it’s the only way we can truly do it well. Sin has the capacity to change us, you’re right- which is why the ways we confront it and talk about it and understand it are so vitally important to our souls.

      Peace to you, and thanks for reading.

    • https://littlegreenleafinthewoods.wordpress.com charlesburchfield

      I like this!
      ‘training in being self-aware needs greater emphasis and training. “Know thyself.” This is greater than spiritual belief backpacks, in my view. Why I think there is a bogeyman under my mind ready to eat me is not likely resolved with an esoteric vision of original blessing.’

      As you are probably aware
      When there is an alcoholic/addict in a family system, the family adapts by playing roles in order to function within the craziness and fear created by the addict.

      the addict takes a long journey and the family goes along for the ride of progressive insanity and eventual hideous death from addiction. The following are roles that family members take in order to survive.
      The Enabler is a family member who steps in and protects the alcoholic/addict from the consequences of their behavior. The enabler’s role is to minimizing the consequences of addiction.
      The Hero’s performance-based behavior helps to block emotional pain and disappointment & draws attention away from the insane alcoholic/addict.
      The Scapegoat creates problems and deflects attention away from the real issue.
      The Lost Child appears to be ignoring the problem completely & spends time alone with books or involved in isolated activities.
      The Mascot will often act out by “clowning around,” cracking jokes or making light of serious situations, keep the peace and serve as a distraction. Many comedians come from dysfunctional homes.

  • Iain Lovejoy

    I read an interesting definition of “(original) sin” in “Unapologetic” a book by Francis Spufford: “The human propensity to f*** things up”. This makes more sense to me than anything else, and it has nothing to do with guilt or shame. “Original sin” in this definition is not a weight round the neck from God but a pronouncement, in a sense, of blessing: “original sin” means this is a flawed world, we are flawed people, we are going to mess things up but God knows this and loves us anyway. We are forgiven because God knows we are human, not despite this. If there were no original sin, if any of us could be or was without fault, how much heavier the burden of knowing our own imperfections would be.

    • Danielle Shroyer

      Hi Iain, Thanks for your thoughts. It’s a common misunderstanding that rejecting original sin means assuming some kind of perfect human nature. So I want to be clear that I’m not trying to argue any human is without fault. I’d be the first to agree that humans can have the propensity to mess things up. We also have the propensity to clean things up, mend things, and beautify things. Where I would disagree is in using the term original sin, only because it creates a lot of unnecessary baggage. If we drop the idea of original sin and just switch to a broader understanding of human nature grounded in original blessing, we find room to confess what I think you mean by sin without handcuffing our own God-given abilities to do anything about it. My subtitle is “putting sin in its rightful place”- I agree we have to talk about it, but putting it at the center of our identity and nature, as original sin does, is not biblical or helpful. If you end up reading the book, I’d love to hear your thoughts about it!

      • Iain Lovejoy

        I would agree that “original sin” is a loaded phrase and might best be avoided, especially as the phrase itself doesn’t appear anywhere in the Bible, as neither does tje concept of “guilt by association” as a sort of hereditary disease as it is sometimes taken to mean.

  • John

    I wouldn’t argue that the phrase “original sin” can carry some erroneous baggage, but it is attempting to describe a change in the relationship between God and man that needed a solution. God has told a long story for us to comprehend that change (the fall in Genesis if you will) and what it would take to address it. I think the phrase is an attempt to identify something that now characterizes us that we cannot overcome in ourselves. I do see it as an important part of the conversation so that we understand what Jesus gave himself for. Still, I agree with you that God relates to us on the basis of love which is clearly more powerful than sin.

    • Danielle Shroyer

      Hi John! Thanks for your comment. One of the sections in my book talks at length about our understanding of Genesis 3. It’s too much to go into here, but I do think we hold some beliefs about that story that aren’t actually present in the text itself. Many of those beliefs are tied to the ways the Western church described the meaning of the cross…so I wrote a section on seeing the cross through the eyes of blessing, too! I do think there is a much better way to see and understand that story, and to understanding our changing relationship with God. I hope you’ll give it a read and see what you think! Thanks again for reading.

  • jekylldoc

    I am pulled in two directions by this topic. I do believe it is important to put original blessing at the center of my theology, and not original sin. We have a fundamental nature prone to empathy and fostering of the self-image of others as well as ourselves (not just capable of it).

    On the other hand, it is not just scarcity-based, anxiety-infused systems which lead people to hurtful behavior. We miss the mark through impulsiveness, sibling rivalry, fascination with comparisons, and a hundred other dysfunctions which have sneaked into our cultures. Pinker’s case that violence is declining suggests that complex society helps to elevate us as much as it adds to our anxiety.

    So for me the issue is not which side is put in the center of our spiritual narrative, but what we use to structure the real-world interpretation of its meaning. Is God leading us to create a more uplifting society, or is God trying to tear us away from our natural selfishness, through the grace shed by an other-worldly redemption? Either can be a saving narrative, but the first is an integrative, sustaining version leading us to see the hand of God in the simple goodness common within others. The second tends to create fear and hostility against others.

  • Tom Torbeyns

    To the author or anyone having read the above article: you might be interested in: https://crosstheology.wordpress.com/augustinian-original-sin/