Me? No, I’m from Canada.

So, Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden, forced to live east of Eden. And, everyone who has come after them has been born east of Eden as well—separated from God, cut off from the source of life, dead in our sins. We all fell together.

Now, I can almost hear the objections forming in your mind. They’re in mine as well. How can this be fair? We didn’t choose to break that commandment. Why are we being punished?

The simplest answer is to point out that although we didn’t break that commandment, we’ve broken plenty since. Just like Adam and Eve, we’ve made our own choices—deciding to focus on our own plans and desires, rather than pursuing and manifesting God’s glory in the world. So, even if we set aside Adam and Eve’s sin, we’re far from blameless.

But, there’s a deeper answer as well. From the Bible’s perspective, we’re all in this together.

When I lived in Scotland, I learned a couple of interesting facts. First, it’s sometimes a bit awkward to be American in a place where American policies are not terribly popular. And, second, Canadians do not like it when people think they they’re American.

The first point became clear because we lived in Scotland during the Bush/Kerry election, a time when Scottish frustration with the war in Iraq was high. So, American politics and policies were on everyone’s mind. And, people quickly noticed that I was American. You’d think it would be hard to pick out the American in a room full of Scots. But, apparently it’s not. Several times complete strangers walked up and asked me about how I was going to vote in the upcoming election and whether I supported the war. On two different occasions, I got trapped in pretty intense political “conversations”—i.e., the other person vented about the evils of American foreign policy while I scanned the room for a window large enough for both me and my backpack.

Was it fair for these people to associate me with the actions and policies of my country? After all, I didn’t create any of these policies, and I certainly wasn’t involved in any of those actions. I’ve never even been to Iraq. None of this was my fault. I wasn’t responsible.

But I was.

I wasn’t directly responsible, of course. It’s not like I was in the Oval Office making the decisions. But, I am an American. I am a part of the whole. I enjoy the many blessings that come from being a part of that whole, and I also bear some responsibility for the actions of the whole. Even if I thought that a particular decision or action was a bad idea, even if I voted against those who were making the decisions, I’m still a part of that greater whole that we call America. Consequently, I bear some responsibility for what America does. And, I certainly share in any consequences that result. I may not always like it, but there is a real sense in which we’re all in this together.

All of this can be really annoying if you’re Canadian. The second thing I learned in Scotland is that although Europeans have an easy time identifying if you’re American, they have a really hard time telling Americans and Canadians apart. So, if you’re Canadian, people tend just to assume that you’re American. And, then you have to put up with all the grief that being American can bring where American policies are unpopular.

Of course, Canadians have an advantage. They can simply point out that they’re not American. People apologize, and the harassment ends.

Eyeing a window that is clearly too small for both me and my backpack, I consider taking the cheap way out. “Me? No, I’m from Canada.”

But, of course, I’m not. I’m American. And, although I like being American, it does come with some drawbacks at times. Because we’re all in this together.

[Okay, I’m looking for some feedback here. I’m in the part of the Gospel book that deals with the fact that after the Garden sin spreads everywhere (kind of like Justin Bieber – see my post on The Saturday Morning Syrup Monster). And, I want to deal with the objection that it’s not fair for us to experience the consequences of sin when we didn’t do anything. And, I want to introduce the idea that there is a corporate dynamic at work. I don’t want to get into details, but I want to expose people to the idea that “we’re all in this together.” Let me know what you think.]


About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on October 4, 2011, in Gospel, Sin and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. Nicely put, and I am fully sympathetic to your desire to find windows to jump through. I was once asked by a stranger if it was true that Americans often die from playing Twister. Twister!?

    I have one small qualm with your argument here. There seems to be at least two discrepancies between the relation you have with America and all humanity has with Adam. First, they are different in their causal relation. Your responsibility (and mine) for being American is grounded in our concurrent existence with those in power and the fact that we are causally connected to them through democratic, economic, and social ways. They are in power because we, as it were, allow for them to be. This is true, though perhaps to a lesser extent, with those in dictatorships. We, of course, have no causal influence on Adam and Eve. They made their decision on their own without our consent, approval, or consultation. Second, they are different in ‘genre’. I put that in inverted commas cause I’m not sure how to state this relation. You and I and every American is related to the current president in the same way we are related to all actual facts. Our relation to Adam and Eve is different, unless you hold to a historical first couple (pun intended). Whatever the dynamic of the relationship it is certainly one that will be different, not to say any less important, than the one we have with Obama. That is not to say that the relation wont include moral, spiritual or some other dimension, but it is to say that it is different. These two differences suggest to me that this is an analogy that doesn’t work.

  2. I had a chuckle at this. I actually am Canadian and have lived in Europe. In Ireland and England I actually had people buy me a pint after I informed them I was indeed a Canadian and was not American.

  3. Marc: Of course everyone of us is “Adam”, who is theologically the Federal Head of the race. Your analogy breaks down for me, I am a Brit, born in Ireland and later educated in England, as too theologically, so I am something Anglo-Irish. But also I was a Royal Marine Commando, and involved in Spl. Op’s. And also attached to the American Marine Force Recon, at one time. And my Irish younger brother, now an American, and one time American Marine also. Btw, I am simply amazed, at the political ignorance, to my mind at least, with N.T. Wright, who likes to comment about American politics, and of course theology. So neither Wright, nor the majority of the Brits speak for me!

  4. Perhaps, to avoid issues of causality, it would be better to think in terms of Old Testament exile. Certainly there were children born and raised in exile. They had nothing to do with the reasons why they lived there, and yet they did. Fair or not, they lived out a punishment for actions they did not commit.

    I can’t think, though, of any really good illustrations from our modern world, perhaps because of the way we approach today issues of justice, intent, and individuality. However, if we could bracket out the obvious problems with our sin causing ‘natural disasters’, what about the idea that the sin of a few people did cause a great earthquake. Many people would have to live with the consequences of this disaster, perhaps dying from it.

    Again, I don’t necessarily believe that this is a good example—yet I find it strange that we are more ready to question the goodness of God’s justice than to question our modern notions of corporate responsibility…

  5. @Josh – Great questions. And, I would agree that the ‘genre’ issue is a challenge. Part of the reason I don’t want to go into any more detail than I have here is because I don’t want to try and offer a specific theory of how we’re connected to Adam and Eve (e.g. the Federal Headship idea mentioned by Fr. Robert). For my purposes, it’s enough to establish that there is a connection. And you’re right that the nation-state analogy will definitely breakdown in places because, like all analogies, it’s not perfect.

    But, I think I’ll have to push back a bit on your comments regarding causality and concurrence. If you’re right, then I have no real involvement in or responsibility for anything America did before I was born. It’s almost like America starts over with every generation, bearing no responsibility for its own history. I just don’t see it that way. Although the nature of the involvement and corresponding responsibility changes, my status as a part of the corporate whole means that I’m involved in the whole story of that corporate body, even that part of the story that preceded my direct, personal involvement. (Actually, the whole idea of the corporate analogy is to try and press us beyond the idea that I can only be held responsible for things that I was “directly” involved in.)

  6. @Mokus – You’re absolutely right that it’s hard coming up with a good, modern analogy for corporate responsibility. We just don’t think that way, at least not in my part of the world. So, every analogy I could come up with broke down at key points.

  7. I attempted to deal with a similar issue by using the example of Socrates. If I understand him correctly he allowed himself to be “unjustly” sentenced and killed because he was a part of the system that was punishing him. In the past he had every right to leave and join another society, but he did not. He contributed to that society and implicitly affirmed the society’s “justice” by living there and receiving all of the benefits that same “justice” bestowed on him his entire life. In his mind, if he could receive all the benefits of the justice of his society it would be unjust to reject that same justice when it came for him.
    I am sure I totally botched that explanation, but at least in my life it did help me get over a traffic ticket I “unjustly” received, and it has helped me to see that by participating in society I share the responsibility with that society on more levels than one would normally admit. If I benefit from and accept America’s good I am also partially responsible for the bad. One cannot alleviate their responsibility as a member of a society or country by being passive and not directly participating in the evil. Unless one rejects the benefits that society offers they will share in its blame.
    Does this speak to our shared humanity and shared guilt? Not sure.

    • That’s another interesting way of looking at it. And, I have to admit that I don’t this this really explains “shared humanity and shared guilt.” It’s more a matter of trying to help people think more corporately about guilt and responsibility. That doesn’t erase all the challenges associated with understanding our corporate connection, but I do think it makes it a little easier to wrap our minds around it (i.e. if it makes sense over here, then maybe it makes sense over there as well).

  8. Truly, the Federal Headship representation of the Covenant/covenants is seen in certain Church Fathers, for example both Irenaneus and Augustine, as also seen and taken fully in/from St. Paul and a Pauline theology of Imputation. This is certainly the emphasis of the Protestant Reformation, and the Reformers, etc. The loss of Pauline Imputation is theologically the loss of classic Reformational and Reformed Theology. It is simply biblical & theological mainstay! As we can see in R.C. Sproul’s link:

    And we should note also that the theology of Pope Benedict/Ratzinger is a Catholic Augustinianism, (see Scott Hahn’s book: Covenant and Communion, The Biblical Theology of Pope Benedict XVI).

    This simply “must” be seen in any Western Judeo-Christian theology!

  9. I agree with the above comment, and yet many faithful, bible-believing churches utterly refuse any such notions as federal headship and Original Sin.

    While I believe these modern [semi-]pelagians could be shown the paradoxes within their own position, I don’t believe that they will follow our reasoning if we are simply asking them to hold this idea a priori, as a lens by which to read all scripture through. The individuals I know that refuse these ideas say that they are not scriptural, and they have answers for every verse you could through at them. It is a battle of paradigms—and one in which the other side doesn’t even believe in paradigms…

    • Sorry, this got hung up in my spam filter for a while. But, you’re right. A quick analogy like this is not likely to convince someone who thinks that this way of understanding the biblical narrative is simply wrong-headed. But, to be honest, they’re not my main target with this post. Although many Christians rejected Federal Headship as an adequate explanation of original sin, the majority of Christian traditions affirm some notion of original sin (i.e. we are connected in some way in Adam/Eve’s action) even if they prefer not to use that phrase (e.g., many Armninians), or if that concept plays a smaller role in their theology (e.g. Orthodoxy theology), or if they simply misunderstand what “original sin” actually means (which I see in some of the posts that you’ve linked). So, I’ve chosen with this analogy to focus on how to make this idea more understandable to those who already accept the basic premise. That will certainly fail to satisfy those who think this is just the wrong approach, but I’d have to write a very different post to address their concerns.

    • Indeed the EO, or Orthodox, take a whole different approach, incarnational and ontological. And thus here are God’s uncreated energies, and created being, etc.

  10. Very helpful thoughts everyone. I’m wondering if we could do the reverse side of the Adam-Christ federal headship parallel. If we affirm that all human beings are ‘implicated’ in the first Adam’s sins, may we also say that all human beings are ‘implicated’ in the Last Adam’s righteousness? That is, everyone is by status objectively justified in Christ.

    • Absolutely. One of my biggest concerns for those who reject our corporate connection with Adam is the implications that this has for how we understand our connection with Jesus. I just didn’t deal with that in this post, because it comes later in the story.

  11. In all my travels, I have yet to meet anyone who dislikes Canadians. There just so nice and NOT from the States. Back in 1999 I believe it was, I happened to be visiting in China and was in Beijing when the US mistakenly bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. There was great anti-American sentiment and rocks were hurtled at the US embassy. I pretty much wanted to call myself Canadian at that point and slink away (figuring it was kind of true since I am of French-Canadian heritage).

  12. Robert Hagedorn

    Saint Augustine couldn’t do it, but can someone else explain what kind of fruit Adam and Eve ate in the story? After 6000+ years I think we are all due an intelligent explanation. No guesses, opinions, or beliefs, please–just the facts that we know from the story. But first, do an Internet search: First Scandal.

  13. Thank you Marc for your answer. Sorry I failed to follow up on the conversation due to internet failure here for several days.

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