It was a perfect place, filled with perfect beauty, and inhabited with perfect people, two of them. That is the picture that we have of the beginning of humanity. We gain that picture from story of Adam and Eve in Genesis. There is a flow to the story. It starts with this concept of the perfect scenario, inhabited by perfect people. Into this perfection comes the presence of evil. Humanity, in the form of Eve first and then Adam, accept the lies of the evil one and “fall”. They are removed from the garden – condemned to live out the rest of their existence in the guilt that resulted from their sin. That guilt is passed on to all of humanity. And because we are born with that pre-existing guilt condition we will all sin. There has been considerable debate across the millennia as to how that happens, but generally accepted that it does. The guilt of sin brings with it its consequence and that consequence is death. Christ enters into the world with his primary focus being to embrace the condition of humanity, pay the price for our sin, and in rising from the grave make way for all the possibility of forgiveness of sin and entry into the kingdom of God. While this is pretty much the way that most Christians see our predicament and the remedy to it, it is not the only way to see this situation.
Into the history of the early church came a political division. The church was divided primarily over who was ultimately in authority over the church. As a result there came into being the Western Church, which became the Roman Catholic Church, from which flowed the Protestant movement as a response to what was perceived as the excesses of the church. On the other side of the divide was the Eastern Church also known as the Orthodox Church. While the split had much to do with authority there was some significant theological and philosophical disagreements as well. One of those differences has been over the emphasis of the original story. For those in the Eastern Church there was not quite the same understanding regarding the perfection of the beginning point. They understood humanity as being less than perfect. They saw that humanity was created for a dynamic relationship with God that would grow and develop as understanding grew. There was more to come for the original couple than met them at the moment of their creation. And this indeed does make sense when you consider that it is said that God looked at his first human creation and saw him as incomplete without a partner. Humanity needs relationship in order to be fulfilled. It is this continuous need for relationship that creates the context for growth. The “fall” was less about the bringing of guilt resulting in death but more about the bringing about a diseased condition that included death. For the Eastern Church there is no inherited guilt, but an inherited corrupted condition that leads to personal guilt.
John Wesley, very much a product of his Western tradition, saw something in this view that was very appealing. The problem for humanity is not simply that we are guilty and need forgiveness, but that we are diseased and need healing. He brought these two themes together when he started exploring the healing power of love and by so doing created a very different model for understanding grace. He did not discard the Western traditions, nor should he as there is clear evidence of its veracity, but he extended his understanding to see salvation in terms of healing not simply a two dimensional view that the guilt and forgiveness perspective can become.
For my thesis this perspective is very informative. John Wesley understands that it is possible to be filled with love and to live guided by love. It is my understanding that the story of the first couple goes a long way to showing us the power and impact of shame. God’s grace does so much more than simply offer us forgiveness. His grace does do that, but there is so much more. The power of God’s grace in our lives is transformational. That which is taken away by being born with a shamed perspective on life is being restored constantly as we allow grace to continually work in our life.