Sin and Mortality
An interesting concept which has struck me as of late is that of “existential despair,” which was investigated by Kierkegaard in “The Sickness Unto Death,” and evidently in many other works and literature too exhaustive to contemplate, though Paul Tillich’s “The Eternal Now” posits some interesting examinations on the subject. Although I lack the expertise in philosophy and theology to approach this type of work with the same dynamic of thought the professionals would, I am nonetheless intrigued by the idea that despair of mortality is something which plagues every human being. That some might object to the strong assertation that they are in “despair” seems to be of little to no relevance as far as these seasoned philosophers are concerned. The person only becomes aware of their own despair upon being awakened to it.
I can certainly see parallels between this kind of despair and the Christian idea of “Sin” (perhaps the intention of the authors). After all, it’s only Christians (and of course other adherents to other variants of Abrhamic faith) who are aware that they and every other human being struggle with Sin. It makes no sense for an unbeliever to recognise that the suffer from the condition of Sin; the concept has no meaning to them, and can only be adequately grasped in a framework which incorporates God at its centre. Sin, it would seem, is so subtle a sickness that it is like the insidiously gnawing cancer of which we only become aware once we have seen a physician.
For this reason, I often like to express the condition of Sin in more universal terms; not necessarily in the postmodern sense of relativist ideals, but rather so that someone from the outside looking in might understand more clearly the concern we have as Christians for the state of humanity and the world at large. From our perspective, if not God’s, “Sin” may constitute the state of mortality and finitude which chains each and everyone one of us to slavery. We do not see it as slavery when we are without perceptive understanding of the great cosmic battle unfolding between God and darkness, but when exposed to it we then understand that our mortality laid bare before the omniscient eyes of Almighty God is nothing less than Sinfulness.
What do we mean when we talk of Sin, capital S? I use this to refer to the source of sins, or perhaps what we might call “sinfulness.” Popular definitions include a capacity to commit evil, disobedience to God, so on and so forth. It probably can be sufficiently filed under those descriptions, though I suspect that there is a close connection between Sin and human mortality. Our mortality, which is the ultimate consequence of finitude, stands in opposition to God who Himself is infinite. This is probably what Kierkegaard meant when he described self as being a synthesis of the finite and the infinite. Genesis 1 tells us that each human being is made in the image of God; the capacity to love, to hate, to create, to destroy, to invent, to conceptualise, etc. All the qualities God has in perfection and accords in a perfect context, She has bestowed upon us in the hope that we would seek Him out and form a relationship with Him. When we ignore the infinite part of our self nature, we become an unknowing slave to the finitude that binds us. In this sense, Jesus Himself embodied the reconciliation that God desires for humanity; that is, being fully human and fully God, Jesus is the ultimate representation of the harmony between the finite and the eternal. Exactly what God desires to have with humanity, He expressed perfectly in the person of Jesus Christ.
In our finitude, we are separated not only from God, but also from one another. We can surround ourselves in each other’s company, make friends, form relationships, but nonetheless there is an unpassable bridge of separation between one human being and the next, a separation which also carves out the gulf between God and humanity. When we acknowledge our finitude and fail to see the infinite nature God has bestowed upon us, then we do not relate to it, and ultimately we do not relate to Him. We remain blind to the higher reality that exists beyond the limited sphere of our own immediate perception, and in that mortal coil lies the state of sinfulness.
An important part of Christian doctrine is that when we become awakened to the nature of God within us, and receive the salvation She has provided through Jesus, we do continue to sin but we are no longer a slave to Sin itself. I would imagine this applies to the other facets of human mortality, such as pain, sickness, depression, anxiety, conflict, despair, loneliness, and even death itself. Our freedom from all of these symptoms of finitude is assured, but not meant to be effected in the here and now. That Christ took upon Himself all of these aspects of the human condition and defeated them through His resurrection is imperative to our assurance of freedom. And though we do not know freedom in the present age, we live as people who nonetheless are free, yet knowing that what we see now is only a dim reflection of the life to come.
The study Paul performs in 1 Corinthians 15 is encouragement for us to know that our faith and how we live it foreshadow the glorious resurrection of the dead, of which we have our assurance since Christ Himself is risen. Even our existential despair, our supreme loneliness, will be crushed in this coming age. “When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subjected to the One who put all things in subjection under Him, so that God may be all in all.” (Verse 28) THIS is reconciliation, that every enemy of God is defeated and draws to Himself those who belong to Him. The afterlife, our resurrection, isn’t some far-off reality to which we ascend in spiritual form; rather, this reality is transformed, freed from death and decay, and brought into a new epoch of God being “all in all.” No longer will we be separated, no longer despairing, no longer even mortal, but ressurected and reconciled to the Living God.