"Send out Your light and Your truth, that they may lead me, and bring me to Your holy hill and to Your dwelling." Psalm 43:3

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Redeemable Me (or, Not Totally Depraved, After All)

Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen
Collect for the Season after Pentecost, Proper 23 

I was thinking about the Incarnation, and about its implications for the way we view the stuff of this earth, particularly our very selves.  In the Incarnation, God has embraced us, His earthy creatures, and this has profound implications for the way we view all manner of things, from our physical bodies to our approach to worship (I blogged about this previously  here).  As I was reflecting over this, I was reminded of something my priest said in a homily a while back.  She spoke of God as viewing humanity (and all creation) as good, at least enough so that we are 'redeemable'.  This is evidenced by the Incarnation, the ultimate and total embracing by God of His creation in Christ.

A further thought then occurred to me.  I don't consider myself a Calvinist, and I should note that I haven't done a lot of deep, scholarly study of Calvin and his theology.  Alright, actually, I can remember TULIP (my powers of information retention are impressive, are they not?).  And what does the 'T' stand for? Total Depravity!  That's pretty strong language, if you ask me.  If 'total' means 'entire', 'absolute', 'through and through', and 'depravity' means, well, 'depravity', then what does it mean to speak of God first loving us, 'while we were yet sinners'?  If we sinners beloved of God are truly and absolutely rotten to the core, sin-saturated beyond even any semblance of good,  then wouldn't we be correct to speak of God as loving that which is depraved?  And is that not a kind of perversion in itself, to love the perverse?  

Now, don't misunderstand me.  I certainly acknowledge that we all (that's right, I'm not just going to politely speak for myself) are beset by sin; we make choices that cause pain for ourselves and others and separate us from each other and from God.  I'm not down with a bland 'I'm o.k., you're o.k.' theology.  I would also say that we are ultimately dependent upon God for all good, for He is the source of every and all good.  But as regards how far we've fallen, I think I would have to draw the line somewhere before we get to 'total depravity.'  I would rather say that we are out of joint, mixed up, not right; as C.S. Lewis put it, 'something has gone wrong'.  But not totally.  God did not leave us entirely without the capacity for good (that should be obvious enough), but created us free, with the ability to choose the good or the evil.  That is not the same as the ability to unite ourselves to God through our own unaided efforts.  But, rather than conceiving of God as loving someone (or something, really) so totally and sickeningly depraved that we may well question the rightness of such love, it makes more sense to me to understand God as loving me, despite my sins, knowing the purposes for which He intended me, and able yet to see the potential my soul retains, however deeply buried it may be.  In the Incarnation, God says 'yes' to that buried good within each human soul.  We are not so far gone as to be beyond redemption.

I'm aware that the great minds and mystics of the Church have wrestled with such questions down through the centuries, plumbing the depths of both mind and spirit in the process (I'm also aware that I am not nearly so well-acquainted with the fruit of their labor as I should be), and so my thinking out loud here may just be so much pretentious rambling.  But, seeing as how I've plodded along this far, I may as well wrap up with a little flirtation with heresy.  I read a statement once (can't remember the source now) along the lines of there being a streak of Pelagianism that runs all through the history of Anglican spirituality.  Well, maybe so.  But then, maybe Pelagius was misrepresented, after all.  Maybe this is what he was getting at.            

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