Friday 10 September 2010

Why are we mortal?

I am very much interested in the subjects of sin, death and salvation. There are many false ideas about these three topics, and yet the Orthodox teachings are so beautiful and satisfying. One question that often comes up is why we die if we are not guilty of Adam's sin, and are born sinless? It is certainly the case that the Fathers teach that we are born mortal but not sinful, so how are we subject to mortality if we have not sinned when we are born?

Here is something I wrote on a forum in response to this question. I am rather pleased with the analogy I use, if I am allowed to be pleased. It expresses something of what I believe Orthodoxy teaches us about our experience of mortality.

Sin is only a matter of the will. It has no existence apart from as a wrong choice of the will. It is not a THING that can contaminate us, it is a choice which corrupts us.

An infant does not have a formed will and so cannot sin. Just as a man who is in a vegetative state cannot sin. Just a day or so ago I read one of the Fathers who suggested that a child was not liable for their choices until even 10 years of age.

We are not born mortal because we have sinned but because mortality is the natural state of all created beings. We are born entirely human, and therefore entirely mortal. Adam and Eve were given a gift, the life of the Holy Spirit, which preserved them in immortality. But when they sinned they lost this gift. They did not cease to be entirely human. Rather they, and we as their descendants, living in the world as it is, were left to our own natural and human mortality.

The sting of Adam's sin was that mortality was able to gain its natural authority over all humans. The sting of OUR OWN sins is the second death which we will experience both now if we live in sin and face at the judgement when all of our own sins are made known.

It is the winter and there is a small hut in the woods. The woodsman and his wife are gathered around the fire. All is well. But the woodsman gets up to reach something and spills all of the stew which was cooking over the stove and extinguishes the fire. They have no more matches. And all of the fire is so completely extinguished that there is no possibility of lighting it again. They are too many days journey from the nearest other house. It grows colder. At first the little hut was still warm, even though the fire had gone out. But after a few hours all the heat had gone. That night the woodsman's wife gives birth. The little child is born into the cold winter chill and even though it is wrapped up in many blankets it is clear that the cold is affecting the babies health. The baby didn't extinguish the fire, yet the baby is still born into the cold. The cold is not un-natural. It is what the world is like without the warmth of the fire. The fire was holding the natural state of the world at bay for a while. It was the father who extinguished the fire. It was his fault. But all suffer, especially the little baby, who suffers without innocently, feeling the cold which is natural to his humanity, but entirely lacking the warmth of the fire, which is only a memory.

The 'sting of the woodsman's clumsiness is bitter cold'. But the baby who feels the bitter cold is not guilty of the woodsman's clumsiness. Even though he must bear the consequences of it.