By Richard Rohr
The Genesis story of the Judeo-Christian tradition is really quite extraordinary. It says that we were created in the very “image and likeness” of God, proceeding from free and overflowing love (Genesis 1:26). This flow is rediscovered and re-experienced by various imperfect people throughout the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. This sets us on a positive and hopeful foundation, which cannot be overstated. The Bible illustrates, through various stories, humanity’s objective unity with God, the total gratuity of that love and, unfortunately, our resistance to such an “impossibility.”
Due to a lack of mysticism and contemplative consciousness, I find that many Christians still have no knowledge of the soul’s objective union with God (e.g., 1 John 3:2, 2 Peter 1:4). Such gratuity is too good to be true. Even ministers often fight me on this, quoting Augustine’s “original sin,” Calvin’s “total depravity,” or Luther’s statement, “humans are like piles of manure, covered over by Christ.” I am sure they all meant well, but they also dug a pit so deep that many could never climb out or allow themselves to be lifted out.
How do we ever undo such foundational damnation? Grace can only be trusted by an equally graceful human nature. Our work is merely to till the fertile soil, knowing that the Indwelling Spirit has already been planted within, and She is the One who “teaches you all things and reminds you of all things” (John 14:26). Many Christians have tried to pile a positive theology of salvation on top of a very negative anthropology of the human person, and it just does not work. The human self-image is too damaged and distorted within such a framework.
What we call sins are usually more symptoms of sin. Sin is primarily living outside of union; it is a state of separation—when the part poses as the Whole. It’s the loss of any inner experience of who you are in God. “Sins” often have more to do with ignorance than actual malice. Disconnected people may become malicious, but they did not start there. They began in union, and disunion became their experienced lie.
You can’t accomplish or work up to union with God, because you’ve already got it. “Before the world began you were chosen, chosen in Christ to live through love in his presence” (Ephesians 1:4). You cannot ever become worthy or “perfect” by yourself; you can only reconnect to your Infinite Source. The biblical revelation is about awakening, not accomplishing. It is about realization, not performance. You cannot get there, you can only be there. Only the humble can receive it and surrender to such grace.