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The Ten Commandments Are for Beginners; Faith Demands More

This week’s standard readings are, quite obviously, all about sin and redemption. Adam and Eve in the Garden, the psalmist acknowledging his sin, Paul explaining how all sins are made redeemable by Christ, and Jesus resisting Satan in the wilderness. All involve (either explicitly or impliedly) the issues of temptation, recognition of the same and either resistance to it or a succumbing to it, and the questions of why and when and how atonement can be made.

It’s worth noting that for many of us, the story of Eden is troubling theologically and logically, and also fails to resonate emotionally. Among the dozen or more questions that naturally arise: Why would God create the conditions for the “fall of man” in the first place? Why plant the tree if He didn’t want us to eat its fruit? Why provide the temptation He knew we were unlikely to resist? And why – according to most traditionalist theology – should the “punishment” for that “original sin” be visited upon humankind for all eternity? The whole “sins of that father being visited upon the sons” seems patently unfair, senseless, and counterproductive.

Saint Paul, as usual, tries to redirect our focus. The point, he says, is not that we sin, and not whether the original sin is justly imputed to us. (Paul says we all sin enough on our own, again and again, completely apart from Adam’s legacy.) Instead, he says, the point is how God responds to our sin: with compassion, forgiveness, and the hope of redemption through faith in His grace.

Paul reminds us that it isn’t cheap grace, either. It is grace brought via one man’s suffering, sacrifice, and obedience until death. It is a grace offered through the one ultimate act, designed to expiate not one act of sin but a long and continuing history of transgressions.

“For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification,” Paul wrote.

Note, though, that the grace is not cheap on either side. Not only is the grace awarded via the greatest and hardest act of all, the self-sacrifice of the innocent Christ, but it also must be accepted by us, in the spirit both of thanks and contrition.

Psalm 32 shows that the entire tradition of Jesus’ Jewish faith was based on this idea that the covenantal relationship between men and God works both ways in an ongoing interplay. Wrote the psalmist:

“I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity,” I said. “I will confess my transgressions to the lord,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin.