Monday, December 12, 2005

On the Episcopal Catechism, Pt. II

I. Readings from the Catechism
How does the Catechism picture our predicament, the human condition? The sections on Human Nature and Sin fill in some detail (putting sections I shall refer to in boldface):

Human Nature
Q. What are we by nature?
A. We are part of God’s creation, made in the image of
Q. What does it mean to be created in the image of God?
A. It means that we are free to make choices
: to love, to
create, to reason, and to live in harmony with creation
and with God.
Q. Why then do we live apart from God and out of
harmony with creation
A. From the beginning, human beings have misused their
freedom and made wrong choices.
Q. Why do we not use our freedom as we should?
A. Because we rebel against God, and we put ourselves in
the place of God.

Q. What help is there for us?
A. Our help is in God.
Q. How did God first help us?
A. God first helped us by revealing himself and his will,
through nature and history, through many seers and saints,

and especially through the prophets of Israel.

Sin and Redemption
Q. What is sin?
A. Sin is the seeking of our own will instead of the will of
God, thus distorting our relationship
with God, with other
people, and with all creation.
Q. How does sin have power over us?
A. Sin has power over us because we lose our liberty when
our relationship with God is distorted
Q. What is redemption?
A. Redemption is the act of God which sets us free from the
power of evil, sin, and death
Q. How did God prepare us for redemption?
A. God sent the prophets to call us back to himself, to
show us our need for redemption, and to announce the
coming of the Messiah.
Q. What is meant by the Messiah?
A. The Messiah is one sent by God to free us from the
power of sin, so that with the help of God we may live in
with God, within ourselves, with our neighbors,
and with all creation.
Q. Who do we believe is the Messiah?
A. The Messiah, or Christ, is Jesus of Nazareth, the only
Son of God

We are creatures created in God's image, in that "we are free to make choices," including the choice about whether to misuse our freedom by rebelling against God. The basic mark of being human is being free, or better, being condemned to choose: misuse your freedom or not--you simply must choose. There is no avoiding this choice for any of us about how we shall use our freedom.

But, alas, we are not reading the Catechism from a neutral standpoint, from which merely proper use of our freedom is still open to us. The Catechism presumes that we already "live apart from God and out of harmony with creation." That basic datum--we are each caught in a cacophony of disharmonious relationships--seems too obvious to belabor. Still, why? Why do we find ourselves in such a state?

"From the beginning human beings have misused their freedom" because "we rebel against God and we put ourselves in the place of God." And there is our fundamental problem: a type of psychological egoism; we are self-centered, choosing to do our own will for ourselves rather than God's will for ourselves. The Catechism does not mention "original sin;" it seems neutral on whether there is such an item. But it clearly implies we already find ourselves having misused our freedom while in the grips of egoism.

As we seek "our own will instead of the will of God" we sin. We will inevitably introduce disharmony into our relationships with God and the world, but we also give sin power over us. For in misusing our freedom by sinning, "we lose our liberty...." Sin disfigures our humanity, what is distinctive of our being human, that by which we are in the image of God: our freedom. Having sinned, we have dug a whole for ourselves that we cannot get ourselves out of--we are simply in too deep. Thus, we may address the evil in our lives in various ways, but we will be unable to simply eliminate the disharmony that we introduced; evil will always be there in some form.

Perhaps I can say more without departing too far from the letter. We are under sin's power having lost our liberty in that we are no longer free to simply do good once we have sinned. Maybe this means that whatever we do, our actions will continue to invite evil into our relationships and the world. For instance, one may quite rightly remedy a violent marriage with divorce, bu the choice of that remedy, however correct, introduces another disharmony and another set of problems to deal with. Such situations are endemic to our lives here below. Clearly, we need help.

"Our help is in God." We need to be redeemed, set free "from the power of evil, sin, and death" but cannot simply set ourselves free; we depend on an act of an entirely different sort, an act of God. First God must "show us our need for redemption"--we are so pathetic in our condition, under sin's power, that we do not even recognize our need to be set free. Perhaps we take our condition to be natural or necessary, and have no hope of being set free.

To break the grip of our ignorance, God reveals himself--not only in the Bible, but more broadly "through nature and history;" God's work to redeem us is universal in scope, going beyond even the confines of Scripture. He reveals a person--himself--primarily; second, he reveals his will. The content of his will is secondary, I infer, from the revelation of his person.

One part of divine will revealed by God to us: our redemption will be accomplished by a person, the Messiah, Jesus. God's help does not come merely through acts of raw power and mighty fiat. He prefers to act through personal relationships--we are to receive revelation concerning God and the Messiah, and this revelation of divine personhood is essential to the help God wishes to give.


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