The western Christian churches, following the example of Augustine of Hippo, generally begin their understanding of humanity with the fall. If humanity is defined by the fall, then we end up with the concept of original sin, and the guilt of Adam’s sin which is inherited by all of humanity. However, what if humanity is not defined by the fall, but by the creation? What then of Adam’s sin and it’s impact upon humanity?
Humanity was created in the image and likeness of God and, after the creation of humanity (both man and woman together), God announces that the entire creation is now “very good”. Humanity is the capstone of God’s creation. The relationship between the husband and wife, who become “one flesh”, is a similitude of the inner life of the Trinity. We are made for communion with each other, and with God. Moreover, like the animals, man is material; like the angels, man is immaterial. In this manner humanity was meant to be the bridge between the corporeal and the incorporeal. Humanity is the priest of creation, uniting the whole of creation and offering it back to God.
St. Irenaeus of Lyon writes:
For the glory of God is a living man; and the life of man consists in beholding God. For if the manifestation of God which is made by means of the creation, affords life to all living in the earth, much more does that revelation of the Father which comes through the Word, give life to those who see God (Against Heresies, Book 4, 20:7).
Mankind fell: the great deceiver tricked Eve, but Adam sinned willfully — which is why after the fall we are all “in Adam”, and in Adam all die. Both Adam and Eve turned from beholding God, the giver of life, and chose the material world instead, along with all that the material world, apart from the life of God, affords. Lacking the wisdom of God, they chose sin, death, and the devil.
And yet that is not the whole of the story. We must examine the account of the creation and fall very carefully, for it is not true that God cursed humanity. Examining the accounts closely, we see God curse the serpent, yet we merely see God describing the effects of the fall upon humanity and the material world. Thus it is untrue that God decreed that the woman be subservient to the man; that is merely a side effect of the fall. And we see no mention in the Genesis accounts of original sin, or of the Calvinist doctrine of Total Depravity. We see nothing of God’s wrath against Adam and Eve, but instead his providential care for them — both in His clothing them in the skins of animals, and in his promise of a redeemer who will wound the serpent’s head.
The first promise of the redeemer (which in theological terms is called the Protoevangelium, or first Gospel), contains no hint of any substitutionary atonement, no hint of an infinitely offended God defending His honor, or Hisdivine law. Instead, we see the overturning of the curse, and the victory over sin, death, and the devil. And how was this accomplished? Through the birth of the Christ, conceived by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, through whom He became man.
Our Lord was like us in every way. He is consanguineous with us, just as we are consanguineous with each other. Since He is of one blood with us, if we bear the guilt of Adam’s sin, so too did He. And yet He was free from the guilt of Original Sin, for Adam’s guilt is his own. We all bear the guilt of our own sins, and not the sins of another. We bear the burden of Ancestral Sin; our common humanity is infected by sin. As the author of Hebrews says, He “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15).
The point of the Incarnation is not that that the Son of God came to suffer and die the infinite penalty for our sins, but that He came to suffer with us, and die like us, so that He could win the victory over sin, death, and the devil, restoring humanity to its original purpose. The Christ put us back on our original path; once again we are called to be priests of creation, offering the entirety of God’s creation back to Him.