Original sin (part 2): a cause of suffering

Original sin (part 2): a cause of suffering February 8, 2023

Original sin is a doctrine that, for me, used to be set in stone. Today I understand it, not as a truth from on high, but as a manmade idea based on cherry-picked verses from the Bible. Last time, we looked at passages that seem to support the doctrine, as well as passages that clearly refute it.

Debating doctrines can be an interesting pastime, but it is much more than just an academic exercise. Doctrines have price tags: our beliefs cause us to act (or not act) in certain ways. If a belief causes us to become more Christlike – basically, to love our neighbors – it is probably scriptural. If it doesn’t, then we have missed the heart of God.

What I’d like to address today is the fact that original sin can be the cause of irresponsibility and great human suffering.

Quick recap

Augustine (whom I discussed in a previous post) considered original sin a sort of “primeval catastrophe,” that explains how God could be good, yet the world could be so corrupt. He theorized that all humanity, en masse, participates in this catastrophe. In other words, we all were told not to eat of the fruit, and we all ate of it.

Pelagius (also discussed previously) would not consign us to such a fatalistic position. He taught that every one of us humans can do good – including those who don’t “know Jesus as their personal lord and savior.”

That is, we’re not a single, hopeless mass of humanity, but a huge number of individual humans, each with the capacity to bless others and to participate in evil.

That’s right, we can be some of each, every day. Pelagius believed that Adam’s sin affected Adam (and made him a bad influence on his kids), but did not make us all sinners by default.

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The doctrine of original sin tells us that from the get-go, we are hopeless. Every human has inherited Adam’s sinful nature, and our every move and thought is selfish and evil.

Put a few billion such humans together on a planet, and that’s a lot of evil. Of course Earth is going to hell in a hand basket.

Proponents of original sin explain that hey, we are all sinful, and we have brought this on ourselves, collectively. No one here is completely innocent. Some people may suffer more than others from this evil (usually it’s people of color), but we all deserve it.

This is how many Christians explain away natural disasters, including the recent series of earthquakes in Turkey and Syria. Imagine walking up to a Turkish woman who just lost everything, and telling her, “This happened to you because the world is a sinful place, and you are a sinner.”

But much, much more egregious is when we explain away manmade disasters as “just the result of sin in the world.”

Mass starvation in Africa?

Mass shootings in America? (read here and here and here about gun violence)

Unrest and war?

And (if I may go where angels fear to tread), climate change?

“You know how it is: sin is everywhere and we can’t stop it. We live in a fallen world. Tsk tsk tsk. God will rescue us someday.”

(Coming attractions: more to follow on interpreting “pro-original sin” Bible passages. Subscribe to my newsletter so you don’t miss anything.)


Christians are willing to get involved in some issues. We are ready to force change when it comes to abortion (have you ever heard a Christian say, “there’s nothing we can do about abortion – we live in a sinful world”?).

We have lots of advice for the poor and unhoused around us (we want them to stop taking “our money,” pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and get a job).

And when a crime is committed by someone with a beard or a strange-sounding name, we are ready to point a finger at religion (“Islam is a violent religion,” “the Qur’an teaches Muslims to kill,” “they hate us because we’re free”).

“Praying for peace”

Those who have been with me for a while know the issue dearest to my heart is Palestine. I could go on and on about this, but I’ll try to keep it brief.

When Christians blame a generalized “fallen world” or Satan for the injustice in the Holy Land, we’re completely missing the boat.

When we spiritualized this very human tragedy, and assume it is a “God problem,” we’re the priest and the Levite, passing by on the other side.

When we say, “I pray for peace in the Holy Land,” but refuse to even learn the most basic facts about what’s going on there (or worse, we know the facts but refuse to acknowledge them), I believe that is a complete waste of our prayer time. We’re telling God that it’s up to him to clean up that mess? That mess is manmade, and it’s within our power to fix it, if we have the resolve.

But the doctrine of original sin enables Christians to shrug our shoulders and stay outside the issue. That’s how, when I recently posted an article about Israel’s steady killing of Palestinians with impunity, someone told me:

“The Bible says when God’s people take over a land, they should kill all the people there. They didn’t. and now both sides suffer the consequences.”

She was referring to passages like

“However, you must not let any living thing survive among the cities of these people the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance. You must completely destroy them – the Hethite, Amorite, Canaanite, Perizzite, Hivite, and Jebusite ….” (Deut. 20:16-18)

“Now go and attack the Amalekites and completely destroy everything they have. Do not spare them. Kill men and women, infants and nursing babies, oxen and sheep, camels and donkeys.” (1 Sam 15:3)

Let’s think about this for a moment. God is punishing Palestinians right now because 3,000 years ago, the Israelites flubbed a massacre or two? (Also remind me, which religion were we calling “violent”?)

This is the kind of ridiculousness we get locked into when we refuse to hold people (including ourselves) responsible for evil deeds.

Taking on the burden

Instead of being fatalistic about the state of our world – which perpetuates suffering – we need to repent of our indifference, roll up our sleeves, and get involved.

These are undeniable truths that should move us:

  • Through history, powerful humans have made some really bad choices that have affected many innocent people – the marginalized in the world are largely victims of evil, not perpetrators.
  • There have been moments when humans could have changed the course of history for the better.
  • One of those moments is right now. If I get involved, I can help reduce human suffering.
  • It is worth the effort to make people’s earthly lives better.

(If you are energized by challenges to the evangelical status quo like this, you’d enjoy my blog. Sign up for my free newsletter here! If you would like to comment, please pop over to my Facebook page. All of my posts are there and open to constructive comment! I welcome your thoughts.)


Examining the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy

Examining the doctrine of original sin (part 1)

The trap of being an A+ Christian (and how to escape)

Will the “unreached” go to heaven? – Part One, an evangelical answer 

Silly thoughts about demons, hard questions about prayer

FEATURED IMAGE: Photo by Nick on Unsplash

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