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Sin

The word sin means lit­er­al­ly “miss­ing the mark.” It means the fail­ure to be what one should be and to do what one should do.

Orig­i­nal­ly man was made to be the cre­at­ed image of God, to live in union with God’s divine life, and to rule over all cre­ation. Man’s fail­ure in this task is his sin which has also been called his fall.

The “fall” of man means that man failed in his God-giv­en voca­tion. This is the mean­ing of Gen 3. Man was seduced by evil (the ser­pent) into believ­ing that he could be “like God” by his own will and effort.

In the Ortho­dox tra­di­tion the eat­ing of the “tree of the knowl­edge of good and evil” is gen­er­al­ly inter­pret­ed as man’s actu­al taste of evil, his lit­er­al expe­ri­ence of evil as such. Some­times, this eat­ing is also inter­pret­ed (as by St. Gre­go­ry the The­olo­gian) as man’s attempt to go beyond what was pos­si­ble for him; his attempt to do that which was not yet with­in his pow­er to real­ize.

What­ev­er the details of the var­i­ous inter­pre­ta­tions of the Gen­e­sis sto­ry, it is the clear doc­trine of Ortho­doxy that man has failed in his orig­i­nal voca­tion. He dis­obeyed God’s com­mand through pride, jeal­ousy and the lack of hum­ble grat­i­tude to God by yield­ing to the temp­ta­tion of Satan. Thus man sinned. He “missed the mark” of his call­ing. He trans­gressed the Law of God (see 1 Jn 3:4). And so he ruined both him­self and the cre­ation which he was giv­en to care for and to cul­ti­vate. By his sin-and his sins—man brings him­self and all cre­ation under the rule of evil and death.

In the Bible and in Ortho­dox the­ol­o­gy these ele­ments always go togeth­er: sin, evil, the dev­il, suf­fer­ing and death. There is nev­er one with­out the oth­er, and all are the com­mon result of man’s rebel­lion against God and his loss of com­mu­nion with Him. This is the pri­ma­ry mean­ing of Gen 3 and the chap­ters which fol­low until the call­ing of Abra­ham. Sin begets still more sin and even greater evil. It brings cos­mic dishar­mo­ny, the ulti­mate cor­rup­tion and death of every­one and every­thing. Man still remains the cre­at­ed image of God—this can­not be changed—but he fails to keep his image pure and to retain the divine like­ness. He defiles his human­i­ty with evil, per­verts it and deforms it so that it can­not be the pure reflec­tion of God that it was meant to be. The world also remains good, indeed “very good,” but it shares the sor­ry con­se­quences of its cre­at­ed master’s sin and suf­fers with him in mor­tal agony and cor­rup­tion. Thus, through man’s sin the whole world falls under the rule of Satan and “lies in wicked­ness” (1 Jn 5:19; see also Rom 5:12).

The Gen­e­sis sto­ry is the divine­ly-inspired descrip­tion in sym­bol­ic terms of man’s pri­mor­dial and orig­i­nal pos­si­bil­i­ties and fail­ures. It reveals that man’s poten­cy for eter­nal growth and devel­op­ment in God was turned instead into man’s mul­ti­pli­ca­tion and cul­ti­va­tion of wicked­ness and his trans­for­ma­tion of cre­ation into the devil’s prince­dom, a cos­mic ceme­tery “groan­ing in tra­vail” until saved once more by God (Rom 8:19–23). All the chil­dren of Adam, i.e. all who belong to the human race, share in this trag­ic fate. Even those born this very minute as images of God into a world essen­tial­ly good are thrown imme­di­ate­ly into a death­bound uni­verse, ruled by the dev­il and filled with the wicked fruit of gen­er­a­tions of his evil ser­vants.

This is the fun­da­men­tal mes­sage: man and the world need to be saved. God gives the promise of sal­va­tion from the very begin­ning, the promise which begins to be ful­filled in his­to­ry in the per­son of Abra­ham, the father of Israel, the fore­fa­ther of Christ.

And the Lord said… to Abram [lat­er named Abra­ham] “I will make you a great nation… and by you all the fam­i­lies of the earth will be blessed (Gen 12:3; also 22:15).

Abra­ham believed God; and from him came the peo­ple of Israel from whom, accord­ing to the flesh, came Jesus Christ the Sav­iour and Lord of Cre­ation (see Lk 1:55, 73; Rom 4; Gal 3).

The entire his­to­ry of the Old Tes­ta­ment finds its ful­fill­ment in Jesus. All that hap­pened to the cho­sen chil­dren of Abra­ham hap­pened in view of the even­tu­al and final destruc­tion of sin and death by Christ. The covenants of God with Abra­ham, Isaac and Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel which means “the one who strug­gles with God); the twelve tribes of Israel; the sto­ry of Joseph; the passover, exo­dus and recep­tion of God’s Law by Moses; the entrance into the promised land by Joshua; the found­ing of Jerusalem and the build­ing of the tem­ple by David and Solomon; the judges, kings, prophets and priests; every­thing in the Old Tes­ta­ment his­to­ry of God’s cho­sen peo­ple finds its final pur­pose and mean­ing in the birth, life, death, res­ur­rec­tion, ascen­sion and glo­ri­fi­ca­tion of God’s only Son Jesus the Mes­si­ah. He is the one who comes from the Father to save the peo­ple from their sins, to open their tombs and to grant eter­nal life to all cre­ation.