In The Soul Comes First, in assessing the crippling effects of the heresy of Original Sin, I conclude:
The more serious fault […] is the conclusion that Humanity is a flaw in Creation. This is completely in opposition to the actual truth. Humanity is an essential and valued part of Creation, an element that is [be]held with the most tender concern and honored regard in recognition of the difficulty and importance of the work that we must perform, the pain and sacrifice involved in accomplishment of that work, and the joyous consequences of its eventual completion.
When I wandered with the Boy Scouts on backpacking trips, I would feel this shouted at me from the wilderness – the trees, birds and animals begging for relief from drought. When I paused to bless the land, raising my hands to remind the heavens that they suffered, one of the fathers snapped “Would you stop doing that?”
In my dialogs with those of conventional faith – once principally dogmatic Christians, but today including atheists – I am often dismayed by the energy they invest in running from the truth offered in that opening excerpt. I have come to understand that their rejection is rooted in the privilege of flesh that resists the primacy of spirit. For it is the flesh that suffers, and the spirit that reaps the joy.
Even Jesus struggled with that paradox, testifying at Gethsemane:
The sprit is willing, but the flesh is weak. [NIV Matt. 26:41]
This comment, at the end of his long journey of surrender to the limitations of his age, was prefaced by:
My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will. [NIV Matt. 26:39]
In that moment of weakness, with Simon Peter dosing nearby, I wonder if Jesus heard the echoes of the apostle’s complaint on the lake of Gennesaret. The fisherman, weary from his fruitless night and irked by Jesus’ commandeering of his boat as a podium, grudgingly responds to an encouragement to lower his nets in the deep water:
Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets. [NIV Luke 5:5]
And thus unfolds the little charade that Jesus had organized with the fishes, those quiet denizens of the waters that wait so patiently for us to assume our stewardship of the earth. Recognizing the Man that had come to show us the way, they spent the night lurking in the depths of the lake, teasing the fisherman. When the net enters the water at Jesus’ command, they surged exuberantly upwards, each calling to his fellows: “Come! Leap into the net! Show these fishermen his glory!”
But did Simon follow? No, condemned by religious teaching to believe that the sinner eclipses the saint, Simon falls to his knees and begs:
Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man! [NIV Luke 5:8]
This is the second great obstacle to faith: the conviction that we are unworthy to serve love.
Simon Peter, by nature extravagant in all things, expresses this with physical extravagance. Again at the temple, he cannot just deny Jesus once and then depart; he must amplify his shame by lurking in the shadows, watching impotently so that he may deny Jesus twice more. What would have happened if, recalling the fish, he had stepped forward brazenly to cast his arm around Jesus’ shoulders and proclaimed, “Look at the dignity of this man! How could he not be God?”
Instead, Jesus went to the cross, bearing the weight of the dependence of all flesh upon sin, and caught Humanity in the net of his heart. Some still fight to escape that embrace, but I for one hunger for the company of those that leap exuberantly into faith.