By: Richard Rohr OFM
The humiliation that you and I carry and that most people refuse to accept is that we humans are a mass of contradictions. We are first of all a blessing, but everyone knows we are also a mixed blessing. Some called this quality of human existence the state of “original sin,” a term and doctrine that many do not like. Maybe original “shame” would have described it better. All I know is that most humans have a sense of being inadequate or even broken. Yet shame is inferiority projected by others. It is never inherent.
For most humans, it often feels like there is a tragic flaw somewhere near our core. Greek and Shakespearean drama attest to this, as does Paul in heart-wrenching fashion (see Romans 7:14-25). And who of us have not had days when we feel worthless and miserable? We do all we can to cover it up or overcome it.
Unfortunately, the word “sin” in our vocabulary implies culpability or personal fault. In fact, the precise meaning of original sin is that we are not personally culpable for it, but it was somehow passed on to us and all people share in it. The supposed “doctrine” of original sin was actually meant to be a consolation; because if we know our own self as a mixed blessing, and that each of us is filled with contradictions and is a mystery to self, then we won’t pretend that we can totally eliminate or even hide all that we consider unworthy or inferior within. This provides a program for human humility. As Jesus said in the parable of the weeds and the wheat, we can even “let them both grow together until the harvest” (Matthew 13:30). Let God decide what is truly good and what is really bad, because even our judgments are infected with “original sin.”
It seems all God wants are useable instruments who will carry the mystery, the weight of glory and the burden of sin simultaneously, who can bear the darkness and the light, who can hold the paradox of incarnation—flesh and spirit, human and divine, joy and suffering—at the same time, just as Jesus did.
Jesus himself says, “God alone is good” (Mark 10:18), implying all else is merely a partial good. Such a text gives humans an honest, wonderful, but non ego-inflating agenda. There is no appeal to the ego here, only to our deep, deep need and desire for union—with our own selves and with God. And, remember, union is a very different goal than private perfection.