What Is Original Sin?

Sometimes Original Sin gets simplified into the eating of an apple. Actually an apple is not mentioned. It is fruit surely but what fruit we do not know. But what’s the big deal about eating an apple or piece of fruit? OK, maybe they shouldn’t have eaten it. But really, did an apple lead to all the pain and grief we experience today?

As you may have guessed, No, it was not an apple or fruit  per se that led to all this. What was the Original Sin, what did it consist of? Consider that Original Sin was actually of cluster of sins: pride, disobedience, ingratitude, lack of trust, and a complete disregard for the wisdom and love of God. I am struck by how the Catechism describes Original Sin:

Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. This is what man’s first sin consisted of.  All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness. In that sin man preferred himself to God and by that very act scorned him. He chose himself over and against God…Seduced by the devil, he wanted to “be like God”, but “without God, before God, and not in accordance with God” (CCC #s 397-398)

Notice the cascading effect that begins with a lack of trust. How did Adam and Eve (and all of us) fail to trust God? Simply in this, God had warned them of a certain tree, the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Pure and simple he warned they stay away from it for it would bring death to their souls. Now to “know” in the Bible always means more than intellectual knowing. To “know” in the Bible means to have deep intimate and personal experience of the the thing or person known. Hence it is clear that God did not want Adam and Eve ever to have to experience the horrible reality of evil. He sought to protect them from its devastating effects. So God’s forbidding was made in protective love. We were called simply to trust God that evil is dreadful and we shouldn’t insist on knowing  that for ourselves, just trust God.

But the Devil tempted us in this sort of way:

“You can’t trust God! He is holding something back from you. Sure he gave this nice garden and all but that is just to placate you. He knows that if you eat that fruit you will become like gods and begin to rival him. No! God is trying to keep you from your true destiny, to rule and even to tell him what to do! Do not trust Him or what he is telling you. it is only to keep you down, he isn’t really good at all. Listen to me. I promise you will not die, you will become like gods!

So there it is Adam and Eve. Who are you going to trust? God who gave you everything or the Devil who has given you nothing but promises something on the other side of the sin? Who will it be?

Sadly, you know the rest of the story. And Adam and Eve’s temptation is repeated in every sin we are tempted to commit.

 “Come on” says the Devil, “God is trying to limit your freedom, keep you down and doesn’t want you to be happy! His demands are unreasonable, he is trying to take away your fun and fulfillment. Sin will make you happy. God’s way is restrictive. Do as you please. Don’t let anyone tell you what to do!”

And so often we buy into it. And are we happy? Maybe for a moment, but the misery of sin is too clear to be denied. The Devil is a liar. But what do we do when we sin? We trust him over God. In so doing the Catechism says we abuse our freedom. How? Because freedom for a Christian is “the capacity to obey God.” We are free when when are able to carry out what God says. Now the world and the Devil say that freedom is about doing whatever you please. No, not if it is sin because sin never leads to freedom, it leads to bondage. Jesus says, “Whoever sins is a slave to sin.” (Jn 8:34)  Look at the world today and try to tell me that sin leads to freedom. Look at the addiction to drugs, alcohol, sex, anger, revenge and greed and tell me that sin leads to freedom. No, sin is never freedom, it is bondage and many get so stuck in destructive behaviors that they don’t know how to stop. The video below powerfully illustrates the horror and bondage of sin, it shows its awful reality. It is not freedom at all, it is sorrow, bondage and humiliation.

In sin, we choose ourselves over God as the text from the Catechism says. We think we will become like gods, but in reality we sink lower than the animals and do things to each other and ourselves that even animals don’t do. God wants to raise us to share in his nature to be sure but we insist that we can do it ourselves. We cannot. Look at our grandiose attempts and tell me if you think we have been successful.

The following video does a pretty good job of depicting where Satan’s promises to Adam and Eve led. Watch it if you dare and remember that the Devil is a liar.


9 Replies to “What Is Original Sin?”

  1. “Because freedom for a Christian is “the capacity to obey God.” We are free when when are able to carry out what God says.”

    This ties into what Bender talked about in the comments regarding obedience. So in the beginning, Adam and Eve and all the angels and other creatures were free and happy and in perfection communion with God. Why was a tree of knowledge planted in the garden if God didn’t want us to eat of it? He created us, and he knew we would eat it because God knows everything.

    This scenario plays over and over again in stories and cultures where a “benevolent dictator” says I will give you perfect security but people reject it for freedom because they want to choose their own destiny. It is our nature to choose and of course we have arrived at our destination when we can choose to obey God. That is the journey. So perhaps the serpent is necessary for human growth because we have to keep rejecting him at every turn.

  2. I am also curious about what will happen at the end of time. We shall all be with God in harmony. But what happens to Satan — annihilation? Because if evil exists, he’ll always try to make trouble, right? At some point, God will have to say, enough is enough and get rid of him, right?

    1. “Satan, the fallen angels, and the damned will not trouble the blessed; for all the elect will enjoy the beatitude and security of Heaven. (Remember, the rich man could no longer trouble Lazarus)”

      Thank you. I had forgotten.

      But for the first time, I am beginning to feel the enormity of hell and feel pity for the poor souls who choose to say no to God. How do we know that they cannot say yes to God at some point after death?

    2. I like what you I hear from non-muslims here.

      Just to provide the Islamic perspective.

      satan was nto an angel, but from another race called “Jin” or “Demon”. He ruled Angels.
      Angles cannot disobey,a s they have no free will.

      Satan will end up in Hell fire, and so will his followers.
      People who find the right path will enter paradise forever, and there will be no temptaion. Everyone will say “Salam, Salam” .. “Peace, Peace”.

    3. “When the door has been shut you will cry, Lord let us in…but I will say depart you sinners, for I do not know you.”

      I have read many times about the “gnashing of teeth” and sometimes I even found it funny, but I no longer find it amusing at all. If a sinner repents, won’t God show mercy? But it looks like even God’s mercy has a limit. Because after a taste of hell we can cry out and He will not save us. As a parent, this sounds terribly unparental …

      I do not fear for myself (at the risk of sounding like the Pharisee) but there are some I love and many others whom I do not know at all … and now I am beginning to understand why we must work to change the hearts of the living, right here and right now.

      Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge — not just you, but so many others on this blog.

      Grace and peace of our Lord be always with you.

  3. In sin, we choose ourselves over God

    And what is God?

    God is Love. God is Truth. God is Life itself.

    In sin, we vainly choose our own truth, a prime example of which is the vaunted “freedom of choice,” i.e. abortion, which is made morally acceptable because a woman can choose her own truth of whether the entity in her womb is alive or not, human or not, a person or not — it is merely a blob of tissue, a parasite, a tumor, if she so chooses, or it is a baby, if she chooses.

    In sin, we make our own truth, we make our own ideas of what is right and what is wrong. Even Hitler, in all his objective evil, did not believe that what he did was wrong — on the contrary, Hitler’s twisted heart thought that exterminating Jews was good, a moral imperative.

    But in choosing against God, in setting ourselves against Love and Truth, we necessarily choose against Life, and thereby, by the very consequence of our choice, suffer eternal death.

    We have two choices, the same two choices that the man and the woman had in the Garden — we are all offered that Fruit — and we can choose Life or we can choose against Life, that is, we can choose death.

    Pope Benedict, in his first year at the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (2005), gave the best explanation of Original Sin I’ve ever read, which fits in nicely with what Msgr. Pope has written above —

    If we set ourselves with the believing and praying Church to listen to this text, then we can begin to understand what original sin, inherited sin, is and also what the protection against this inherited sin is, what redemption is.

    What picture does this passage show us? The human being does not trust God. Tempted by the serpent, he harbours the suspicion that in the end, God takes something away from his life, that God is a rival who curtails our freedom and that we will be fully human only when we have cast him aside; in brief, that only in this way can we fully achieve our freedom.

    The human being lives in the suspicion that God’s love creates a dependence and that he must rid himself of this dependency if he is to be fully himself. Man does not want to receive his existence and the fullness of his life from God.

    He himself wants to obtain from the tree of knowledge the power to shape the world, to make himself a god, raising himself to God’s level, and to overcome death and darkness with his own efforts. He does not want to rely on love that to him seems untrustworthy; he relies solely on his own knowledge since it confers power upon him. Rather than on love, he sets his sights on power, with which he desires to take his own life autonomously in hand. And in doing so, he trusts in deceit rather than in truth and thereby sinks with his life into emptiness, into death.

    Love is not dependence but a gift that makes us live. The freedom of a human being is the freedom of a limited being, and therefore is itself limited. We can possess it only as a shared freedom, in the communion of freedom: only if we live in the right way, with one another and for one another, can freedom develop.

    We live in the right way if we live in accordance with the truth of our being, and that is, in accordance with God’s will. For God’s will is not a law for the human being imposed from the outside and that constrains him, but the intrinsic measure of his nature, a measure that is engraved within him and makes him the image of God, hence, a free creature.

    If we live in opposition to love and against the truth – in opposition to God – then we destroy one another and destroy the world. Then we do not find life but act in the interests of death. All this is recounted with immortal images in the history of the original fall of man and the expulsion of man from the earthly Paradise.

    Dear brothers and sisters, if we sincerely reflect about ourselves and our history, we have to say that with this narrative is described not only the history of the beginning but the history of all times, and that we all carry within us a drop of the poison of that way of thinking, illustrated by the images in the Book of Genesis.

    We call this drop of poison “original sin”. Precisely on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, we have a lurking suspicion that a person who does not sin must really be basically boring and that something is missing from his life: the dramatic dimension of being autonomous; that the freedom to say no, to descend into the shadows of sin and to want to do things on one’s own is part of being truly human; that only then can we make the most of all the vastness and depth of our being men and women, of being truly ourselves; that we should put this freedom to the test, even in opposition to God, in order to become, in reality, fully ourselves.

    In a word, we think that evil is basically good, we think that we need it, at least a little, in order to experience the fullness of being. We think that Mephistopheles – the tempter – is right when he says he is the power “that always wants evil and always does good” (J.W. von Goethe, Faust I, 3). We think that a little bargaining with evil, keeping for oneself a little freedom against God, is basically a good thing, perhaps even necessary.

    If we look, however, at the world that surrounds us we can see that this is not so; in other words, that evil is always poisonous, does not uplift human beings but degrades and humiliates them. It does not make them any the greater, purer or wealthier, but harms and belittles them.

    This is something we should indeed learn on the day of the Immaculate Conception: the person who abandons himself totally in God’s hands does not become God’s puppet, a boring “yes man”; he does not lose his freedom. Only the person who entrusts himself totally to God finds true freedom, the great, creative immensity of the freedom of good.

    The person who turns to God does not become smaller but greater, for through God and with God he becomes great, he becomes divine, he becomes truly himself. The person who puts himself in God’s hands does not distance himself from others, withdrawing into his private salvation; on the contrary, it is only then that his heart truly awakens and he becomes a sensitive, hence, benevolent and open person.

  4. the choice our parents had in the garden is not quite the same choice we have. For they were created in grace

    Yes, it is a little more difficult for us to choose wisely. But God says clearly, on more than a few occasions (although I forget where in scripture) — “choose life!”

  5. Hi Sir, Loved the article. I very much liked the illustration you used with tv in the apple. Are you able to tell me where you acquired it? I would like to use it for my student media ministry? Any help will be greatly appreciated. Blessings to you! Jay

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