Sin, Maximus the Confessor (d. 662 A. D.) tells us, is wanting the things of God without God, or before God gives them. And this is impossible. Sin is impossible, or at least the set up is. It’s wanting a good thing in the only way that is sure to deny our enjoyment of it. It’s like loving marshmallows so much that we eat 20 and vomit. My son did that once.
Theosis Gone Wrong
That archetypal story of sin in the Bible, Adam and Eve and the fruit, is a story of wanting the things of God without God. I call it an archetypal story because that’s the way it reads to me. It’s the whole human pattern, told by ancient Israel as if it happened to one man, named “The Man,” and one woman, named “Life.” Every other story of sin in the Bible retells that story: the story of wanting the things of God without God’s help.
Eden is a story of false theosis, the Greek word for becoming Godlike. Becoming Godlike is the whole reason God made creatures. God made us in God’s image, for God’s likeness. God enjoys being God so much that God made others who could also enjoy it.
But we were made to enjoy it at a human speed. To enjoy our walks with God in the garden each evening, and so become a little more loving, a little more wise, and possibly even a little funnier like God is funny, each day. I’m thinking about they way I become a little more like my closest friends when I say that. I think that’s not wrong—I imagine life with God must be something like life with a really good friend. If also in some ways very different.
Wanting to become like God made Eve and Adam susceptible to the serpent’s temptation: what if you could achieve theosis immediately, without all the struggle, all the humanly appropriate waiting? What an odd temptation: it’s like the temptation to sneak down to open your Christmas presents before Christmas. This of course ruins the actual moment of Christmas. I did that once.
How Vampires Love
My wife and I recently finished the Hulu limited series Nine Perfect Strangers. The show played on this same theme. What if a 10 day retreat could fix us? Give us all the answers? Make us new? People desperate to change their lives, lost in meaninglessness, grief, failure, drug-addiction, depression, came looking for a new start. There is even a death and resurrection scene, where they dig their own graves and climb out of them.
I won’t spoil the show for you. I’ll just say that the set up itself is evidence that we are still telling the Eden story. We want the abundant lives God wants us to have. And we want them now. The original sin, Irenaeus said, is impatience. Original and only, I’d add.
The Eden story never actually tells us that sin is even “something.” They don’t want an evil apple, they want theosis. It’s a right desire that’s come wrongly ordered. That is why the entire classical theological tradition says that sin is not a thing, it’s a lack. It’s not even clear that we can want an evil thing. We can only want good things badly. Even vampire’s can love, as the very creepy Drusilla from Buffy once put it. They just do it very poorly. They get so close that they end up consuming the life they love.
Sin, Sociopathy, and the Devil
Psychologist Martha Stout, in her series The Sociopath Next Door (stop it—do I judge your night stand reading stack?), explains that sociopathy, as a recognized personality disorder, is not actually the presence of some wickedness in a person. It’s not a thing, but a lack. A lack of capacity for human connection. For empathy. And that lack makes a person behave monstrously.
Stout actually makes a very perceptive theological claim, and her only mistake is thinking that she’s arguing against the theological tradition. She assumes that theology teaches sin as the presence of a wickedness put into people by Satan. She’s not read much theology, clearly. And she’s forgotten that Satan himself is a fallen angel. Angels were made to worship the good God, and Satan desired to do so by becoming God himself. He tried to become Godlike in a non-angelic way. This is just as impossible for angels as it is for us to become Godlike in a nonhuman way. His good desire was missing something. Satan is a kind of celestial sociopath.
For us humans, that means that all we can ever want are divine things. Love, faithfulness, peace. Just treatment. Acknowledgment. At our best, we learn from one another the disciplines of patience and trust that will allow us to live into these divine things in a human way. At our worst we refuse to wait, and wind up spoiling Christmas.