Original sin, boredom, and the empire of empty desire (Sermon for the First Sunday of Lent, 2023)
The basic outline of the Genesis creation account is quite familiar: six days of creation and a day of rest. But after the first creation account of the six days that you are familiar with from Genesis chapter one, the second chapter of Genesis begins with an entirely different creation account that seems to contradict the first one by beginning with the creation of the first man, Adam, “when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up.”
Now, this does not mean at all that the Scriptures are guilty of the charge of self-contradiction often imputed to them by the apostles of atheism. It means that there is something different that the Holy Spirit wants to teach us through the inspired Word of God, another truth essential for us to know. We see here that man and the garden are created together, that they are meant for one another, that their fates are tied up together.
Why is that important? First, it teaches us about the goodness of work. Often times, we think of work as the consequence of the Fall, of the original sin we also read about. And indeed, the toil and drudgery with which we associate work are a consequence of original sin, but work itself is not. Work is a gift from God to the human person in which we are invited to participate in God’s creating and sustaining the world. God, after all, worked by creating the world and continues to work by sustaining it in existence. Work is good, and good work makes us good as well.
Adam is made for and planted in the Garden of Eden, which is made for him, his wife, Eve, and their family (which is to say, for all of humanity). There is a perfect complementarity in God’s wise design between the man and woman He creates and the work that is entrusted to them. Likewise, you have a garden. God has created a work for you that corresponds in His loving and provident design to the unique person He made you to be. He has planted you in that garden, which is what we know as a “vocation.” For some of us, we might still be trying to figure out what that garden is, and for others it might be obvious. But for all of us, God’s calling and the work entrusted to us are not just something for the future. Right here, and right now, God has planted you in a garden and entrusted its cultivation to you. This is why anything that we do truly well can be done for God’s glory.
Unfortunately, though, we know that this state of original harmony, in which work was done joyfully and readily as a participation in God’s loving and generous act of creation, did not last. Adam and Eve abandon their work to answer the temptation of the serpent – the origin of the mystery of sin. Their original sin is not just an act of laziness, but an act of pride in their attempt to be “like gods,” as the serpent promises.
Nevertheless, we can see this turning aside from the work entrusted to them as a source of our first human parents’ harkening to the voice of temptation. The Lord has given them so much to do in tending the garden, and so much to nourish them in this work. Contrary to the lies sown by the tempting serpent – “Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?” – there is an incredible variety of trees whose fruit they can enjoy, and only one that is prohibited. Yet they turn their backs on the goodness given to them by God for the allurement of the forbidden fruit.
This original sin is not just the ineluctable choice of pleasure over law. It is a boredom with the goodness of the things given to Adam and Eve. They are not mere transgressors of an arbitrary rule, but rejecters of an entire created order. The turn their back not only on the goodness of the tasks given them by God, but on their rootedness in the garden, in their proper home. Rather than the thick good of rooted community, in which we accept the givenness of nature and where and how God has planted us, Adam and Eve choose the thin good of undifferentiated possibility.
And don’t we ultimately do the same? Rather than remaining where we are planted, we lust after all the other possibilities. An article I read last year put it really well: “Late at night, after the dishes have all been cleared and the kids put to bed, most of my friends cast a quick, furtive look around to make sure no one’s watching, grab their phones, and indulge their wildest and most sensuous desires. … They’re on Zillow.” Zillow.com attracts 60 million visitors per month. Are there 60 million people seriously looking to buy a new home in the United States each month? Of course not. But there are 60 million people fantasizing about a different kind of life symbolized by that four-bedroom ranch on 1.3 acres in a good school district, tastefully decorated in international AirBnB style (read: all gray), the possibility of “working remote” from “the lake,” or the “forever home” (a term that should never be used by anyone who professes to believe in eternal life in Heaven, and that perfectly encapsulates the faith of a world that puts its hope in material prosperity). We have exchanged the hard work of home-making for the cheap thrill of house-browsing.
Remember we said that the almost contemporaneous creation of Adam and the garden in Genesis Two reveals a deep connection between the fate of the human person and the fate of the creation entrusted to him. Adam and Eve’s sin breaks the harmony of the whole created order not because of some arbitrary stricture of a God eager to trip us up. A lot of people imagine it that way, the image of God who’s just waiting to catch them in the act – “Aha, you messed up! Now everything is going to be awful for you and everyone else too.”
Original sin breaks the harmony of the whole world because it is essentially a turning away from the order of God’s creation to establish a new order that is based not on the goodness of things created by God, but on the pleasure to be extracted from them by human persons. The consequences of the lack of respect for God’s creation and his created order become more and more obvious to us in the effects of irresponsible human industry upon the earth and upon the most vulnerable in the developing world, parallel to the consequence of the lack of respect for the order of creation in the confusion about human identity.
Most of us want to have our cake and eat it too. We want a world of undifferentiated and limitless possibility, without climate change or gender identity (depending, more or less, upon which side of the political divide you find yourself). But the struggles we see in the world around us are not modernity gone wrong. They are the inevitable consequence of a world that turns its back on the givenness of things ordered according to a loving and wise plan of creation to establish a new world that exists to maximize the possibilities of choice (that is, of a poorly conceived notion of freedom).
The Fathers of the Church and the centuries-long theological reflection upon Adam and Eve’s original sin are clear that this sin is a sin of pride, of seeking to be “like gods.” But the condition of modern men and women and the parallels we see to their original sin make for a strong case that the original sin is tinged with the sin of sloth. In a world obsessed with the maximization of choice, without any vision of which choices are really better for the human person, without a vision of what constitutes the authentic human good except for whatever each person thinks it to be for his or herself, sloth is the vice of our age, the way we are most tempted to follow the voice of the serpent and reject God’s plan. Sloth is not just laziness, but a sorrow in the face of the good – a boredom with what we have and the way things are, and a desire for anything else – total boredom in an empire of desire. Sloth is what motivates our false notion of freedom as my ability to choose whatever I want.
Sin, though, will never be the end of the story. As St. Paul tells us today, “Through one man sin entered the world, and through sin, death. … But the gift is not like the transgression. … For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so, through the obedience of the one, the many will be made righteous.”
Christ invites you today to live in the authentic freedom of the sons and daughters of God. This freedom was given to you in Baptism, when original sin is forgiven and the Christian receives a vocation to holiness. Living in that freedom, though, requires a tutoring in virtue. When Christ appeared to his beloved friend, Mary Magdalene, who was searching to anoint his dead body, she mistook Him for a gardener. That was no accident. The ones entrusted with the garden of Eden turned away from their task for the pursuit of pleasure, but Christ comes to cultivate the good soil of your soul to restore you to authentic freedom.
This is why we are offering a whole Lenten Series on “Overcoming the Vice of Sloth.” In this series, you will learn how the vice of sloth affects your life and take away practical and joyful remedies that you can implement with God’s grace and the support of His Body, the Church. I hope that you will take advantage of this opportunity – each Tuesday evening of Lent, 6 – 7:30 p.m. – to let Christ undo a few more of the effects of that original sloth in your life.
The Rev. Royce V. Gregerson
Parish Church of St. John the Evangelist, Goshen
I Sunday of Lent, A.D. MMXXIII
On house browsing: