Original Sin and Original Mercy

posted in: Prayer and Virtue | 6
The Garden of Eden by Lucas Cranach the Elder (Wikimedia Commons).

This is the second in my series of Meditations on Mercy from the Old Testament. Read this post prayerfully and use it as the basis for a conversation with God.

We often hear nonbelievers say that the God of the Old Testament was a tyrant. On the completely opposite side, some speak of the “Original Blessing,” instead of Original Sin. Today I’d like to examine what I call Original Mercy.

Original Mercy

Sometimes we focus too pointedly on sin. Original Sin and personal sin are not the whole story. There is also redemption. God’s mercy is so great that He does not allow sin to get the better of those of good will, ever. He gently leads us back to Himself. He uses all things, even our sin, for our good.

We can see this all-encompassing mercy in the story of the Fall.

God’s mercy was working in the world even before Adam sinned. Nothing comes as a surprise to God. He is the Creator of time. He is not bound by it. God has no Plan B. Everything is Plan A.

Now that does not mean that God actively wills everything that happens. He certainly does not will sin. How could He will for someone to go against His will? That’s makes no logical sense. Rather, God has already figured sin into the equation. He has already provided for our falls and foibles. He always provides a way back, but it is up to us to take it. If we do not at last obtain mercy, we should blame not God but ourselves.

So, at the beginning of man’s story, we read:

 “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.  And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.'” (Gen 2:15-17).

God’s goodness comes through clearly in this short passage. He made a beautiful, fruitful garden and gave it to man. We did not have to plant it or till it, just enjoy the harvest. God provides for everything. Man had no reason to desire anything beyond God’s gifts. But he did. He desired the one thing that was forbidden.

God knew what Adam and Eve would choose. He warned them of the consequences. He did not leave them in ignorance. In fact, our faith tells us that God gave Adam and Eve four special gifts to help and support them. We call them the preternatural gifts:

  • immortality
  • impassibility – freedom from pain and suffering
  • integrity – they had no concupiscence, sin, or disordered attachments
  • infused knowledge  – everything they needed to know to survive without human ancestors to teach them, and most especially, moral and religious knowledge

God gave Adam a wife to be his partner and companion. He promised the two would become “one flesh.”

Tragically, Adam and Eve still chose disobedience. How did God respond? With punishment, but also with the promise of salvation.

I will put enmity between you and the woman,
    and between your seed and her seed;
he shall bruise your head,
    and you shall bruise his heel.” (Gen 3:15)

One day, the serpent would be crushed by a Man.

God did not cause Adam and Eve to die immediately for their sins. He did not destroy the world. He exiled them from the Garden of Eden, but clothed them with His own hand to protect them from the elements and from sin.

Fr. John Hardon writes:

“Creation is the proof of God’s selfless love for mankind. Redemption is the evidence of God’s selfless mercy towards mankind. Remember, the difference between love and mercy—here on the part of God—is that God’s mercy is not only His love, it is His love in spite of not being loved. That is where we stand. Except for God’s mercy we had no more claim on God’s love. If He continues to love us even though we have sinned, it is only because of His undeserved (on our part) mercy.”

This is how man’s story starts, not with sin, but with love.

Adam’s sin was, as St. Augustine put it, a “happy fault,” felix culpa. Had there been no Fall, there would have been no Redeemer. God had planned from all eternity to send us Mercy in His Son.

Questions for Reflection

As you ponder these truths, reflect on the following questions:

  • Do I believe that all things, even my sins, can be used by God for good?
  • What good has He brought out of my past sins?
  • Am I tempted to despair when I fall?
  • Why should I hope instead?
  • How has God shown me His care, even when I have sinned?

Vocal Prayer

Now, pray the first part of Psalm 136, as found in today’s Evening Prayer:

O give thanks to the Lord for he is good,
for his love endures for ever.
Give thanks to the God of gods
for his love endures for ever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
for his love endures for ever;

who alone has wrought marvelous works,
for his love endures for ever;
whose wisdom it was made the skies,
for his love endures for ever;
who fixed the earth firmly on the seas,
for his love endures for ever.

It was he who made the great lights,
for his love endures for ever;
the sun to rule in the day,
for his love endures for ever;
the moon and the stars in the night,
for his love endures for ever…

He gives food to all living things,
for his love endures for ever.
To the God of heaven give thanks,
for his love endures for ever.

May God give you hope that every sin can become a felix culpa if you are open to His mercy.

Connie Rossini

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Hi, I'm a Catholic writer and homeschool mother of four boys. I practice Carmelite spirituality. Check out my Books page for publications to help your whole family grow in holiness.

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6 Responses

    • Connie Rossini

      Hi, Jeanette. Sorry about the printing issue. I recently changed my blog template and have not figured out how to get it to print well. I asked for help, but support didn’t understand my question, and I needed help on so many other things, I gave up on that one. In your place. I would just copy the text and paste it into a Word document to print.

  1. Alyosha

    Do you have a view as to what the “tree of knowledge of good and evil” means? I have read Jewish scholars who express a view that this represents a split into dualism — from an innate state of goodness that is primordially pure.

    This view has resonances with Buddhist view, particularly in the Mahayana. Although I don’t think it is helpful to make easy comparisons, I am interested in places where there might be common ground to have a discussion.

    I know that having this type of discussion isn’t the point of your blog — so, I don’t mind if you view this as off topic and don’t want to discuss it.

    • Connie Rossini

      In Catholic interpretation of Scripture, we always start with what the author actually meant at the time he wrote the words. Very basically, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is an experiential knowledge of sin. Adam and Eve only had a knowledge of goodness before this, They did not even experience sickness and decay. So the Devil persuaded them that they did not really understand life, that they were missing half the understanding of the world. Our belief, of course, is that Lucifer had already introduced evil to the world in the spiritual realm by his rebellion, but no creature on earth had sinned. It’s not about dualism, in the sense that evil is somehow an equal force with good, but an attraction to something other than the goodness of God. (I do think there’s an opening here, in the issue of detachment and a well-ordered life.) They began to desire something other than what God had given them and His plan for them. They wanted to be their own bosses, try things their way, rather than just be obedient. I don’t know if that’s really what you were looking for. 🙂

  2. Alyosha

    Thank you. I am not sure what you mean by “an opening here in the issue of detachment and a well-ordered life.”

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