Transformative Christianity (Pt 2): Our Baggage, God's Image

Before we get into our discussion of what the Christian tradition has come to call the Fall, I want to begin with a refresher of last Sunday’s big takeaway. That we, being created in God’s image, are God’s self-portrait to the world and in the world.

I’d like to add something to this before we move on. I John 4 reminds us more than once that God is Love. God is not just loving. God not only loves the world. God is love itself.

This has really wonderful applications. I encourage you sometimes when you’re reading the Bible, insert the word Love with a capital L whenever you see God or Lord or even pronouns for God. It often gives a new, beautiful meaning to the text.  

Here’s an example, Genesis 1:26a, 27.

Then Love said, 

“Let us make humans in our image, according to our likeness…”

    So Love created humans in Love's image,
    in the image of Love were they created;
    male and female Love created them.

If we are created in God’s image, and God is love, then we are created in Divine Love’s image. We are Love’s self-portrait in the world. We are Love’s self-portrait given to the world.  

We see glimmers of this beautiful truth all the time, don’t we? Despite all the bad news shouting at us, a quieter truth of good news can be seen almost everywhere if we really look. With each loving act in the world, we see love’s self-portrait realized. With each example of compassion and care, we see love’s self-portrait lived-out. In a parent’s selflessness, in a friend’s presence, in a stranger’s kindness, we divine love’s self-portrait in real-time.


But here's the conundrum of conundrums. If God is Love and we’re created in Love’s image, why all the hate around us. If God created us in God’s good image and deemed us very good, why all the evil in the world?

Age old question! Christianity gives a pretty standard answer – the Fall.

To use traditional language, the Fall is highlighted as the point in time when sin entered the world’s story.

Let me emphasize, not only was humanity effected by the first humans’ unwise choice. The whole trajectory of the world was changed. The whole reality of the world changed

Climate change is an undeniable truth these days. There continues to be a debate over whether humans have primarily caused or heavily influenced climate change. 90 plus percent of scientists say, yes, human choices are the primary cause of climate change globally.

Well, the first humans’ choice there in the Garden of Eden led to a spiritual climate change on a global scale. According to the Christian understanding, harmony between humanity, God, and the whole of creation ended with those bites of that fruit.

To use Star Wars-ese, a mammoth disturbance in the Force occurred with Adam and Eve’s bad choice. The resulting global imbalance in the Force was the new reality as Adam and Eve left Eden.

As for humanity, according to traditional Christian teaching, we’ve each suffered the consequences of sin ever since. Because of sin, harmony between us and God is no longer a reality. Our connection to God suffered a clear, definite breach, one that would not be easily bridged.

And it is harmony with God, it is connection with God, that we most long for as human beings.

How could this not be our deepest longing? We are created in God’s image. If we are not in harmony with the one whose image we bear, if we are disconnected from our source, a profound discontentment, despair, disharmony, a kind of spiritual dis-ease cannot be avoided.

This disharmony and dis-ease takes shape, takes form, appears in various ways – as violence, as hate, as divisiveness, as cruelty, as apathy,, as greed… as, you know, sin.

Alright, I’m hoping this makes sense. I’d like to turn to something I referenced a few times before, and that is the Western approach versus the Eastern approach to the Fall. What is the difference between them?

Now, I know this is more for the theology nerds out there. I’m learning that there aren’t a whole lot of theology nerds at CCP, but there are some, and it is good for me to feed that intellectual hunger sometimes.

We have St. Augustine mostly to thank for the Western approach. He taught the notion of original sin. The disease of sin is an inherited disease, genetic, passed on to us originally by Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve’s original sin and the guilt of sin became genetic in every, every human thereafter. As I was taught as a kid, we come into this world with a sinful nature and we are due death. As for us being created in God’s image, it is thoroughly corrupted by that sinful nature. God’s image in us is lost the moment we are born. Again, this is the Western view.

But thanks to Christ, we are saved from our sin and from death, God’s image in us restored.

The Eastern approach rejects Augustine’s notion of original sin. We are born with God’s image in us intact. There is no genetic disease passed down. No sinful nature upon birth corrupts that image. The sins of the father and the accompanying guilt for those sins are not passed onto the son.

Yes, we sin in this life and incur the guilt on ourselves. But it is more a disease resulting from our behavior, not genetic. Sort of like getting lung cancer because of smoking instead of getting it because it runs in the family.

Yes, humans have a predisposition toward selfishness, stubbornness, and sin, and so, bad choices and missteps are rather unavoidable. Yes, because Adam and Eve’s bad choice changed the trajectory of Creation, we are predisposed toward sin. But that predisposition does not mean we are diseased by nature, or totally depraved as Calvin put it.

Let’s use the alcoholism example. Alcoholism is not genetic. Thankfully, I didn’t inherit alcoholism biologically. I’m not an alcoholic by nature. But because my grandfather and uncle were alcoholics, I am predisposed to becoming one as well. I never drink more than one beer at a time and do so very occasionally. So, thankfully, I’ve avoided becoming an alcoholic. But if I begin drinking more often and regularly, becoming an alcoholic is very likely. I have a predisposition toward alcoholism.

The Eastern approach says, we have a predisposition toward sin. Sin isn’t a disease passed down to us. We are not sinful by nature. But once we begin sinning, we likely will acquire the disease of sin and suffer the effects.

The Cain and Abel story shows this. Cain let his predisposition toward the disease of sin get the best of him, made bad choices, and it ruined him. The same predisposition toward sin in Abel did not take hold. He trusted God, and God was pleased with him.

Eastern Christianity sees God’s image in us as there from the get-go. That is why Jesus points to children as a model of goodness. God’s image in them has not been corrupted yet by bad choices and missteps. But as we grow up, we do make bad choices, experience missteps, we sin, and that divine image in us becomes covered over and inactive and latent.

Think of each bad choice, misstep, and sin as a bag filled with garbage. This baggage of garbage, we place it on our spirits, spirits created in God’s image. That baggage of garbage begins to accumulate, covering up God’s image in us. Baggage covering God’s image then becomes a condition in need of healing.

But the good news is this: Christ finds us, removes the baggage, the garbage, healing us, allowing us to begin again.

The details of Christ finding us, that is for next week’s discussion.


This week’s takeaway, here it is: we are not without hope. There is hope even for those whose divine image is so baggaged over that that divine image seems lost forever. God’s image in us is still there, waiting to be actualized. Christ will find us and salvage that divine image, will salvage who we really are.

There is hope because there is Christ.   Christ finds us. 

Allow him to find you. Allow Christ to remove all the baggage you’ve placed over that of God in us. Allow Christ to remove your baggage and restore God’s image in you.


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