Look at the reactions to coronavirus.
The reactions are all over the place. It is the fault of the Chinese. It is the fault of the United States Army. It is the fault of America’s Evangelical Christians. It is a United Nations conspiracy.
Included is the age-old superstition.
There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” [Luke 13:1-5]
Despite what Jesus teaches here, still many react to coronavirus saying, it is a judgment on America’s particular sins, or it is a judgment on the particular sins of other infected nations.
All of these blind reactions happen for one and the same reason: We won’t confess original sin.
The reason for coronavirus is original sin. Because there is so much neglect and confusion about original sin, many will find it difficult to see the connection between it and coronavirus.
The denial of original sin leaves only actual sins, if any. That is why superstition blames calamity like the tower in Siloam or coronavirus in the United States on some actual sin. Having denied original sin, there are no other suspects.
There are two classic and presently abiding ways that we deny original sin:
- First, we refuse its true definition, the true meaning of the term.
- Second, when someone presents the true definition, we deny that it is true.
The first was on parade in the Reformation. When the Lutherans presented the Augsburg Confession, the confessors confessed original sin early, in Article II. The Papists responded in the Confutation. Superficially, by subtleties, they made a show of agreeing. The confessors declined this sleight of hand. In the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, they took pains to delineate how the Confutation, while purporting to confess original sin, denied it. Upon this root of denying original sin so many evil fruits of Papist theology grew, and they still grow wherever the root is found. That root is spread widely in American religion today.
As confessed in the Augsburg Confession and the Apology, this is original sin.
Since the fall of Adam all men begotten in the natural way are born with sin, that is, without the fear of God, without trust in God, and with concupiscence; and that this disease, or vice of origin, is truly sin, even now condemning and bringing eternal death upon those not born again through Baptism and the Holy Ghost.
When translated from the German, [It is further taught that since the Fall of Adam all men who are naturally born are conceived and born in sin, i.e., that they all, from their mother’s womb, are full of evil desire and inclination, and can have by nature no true fear of God, no true faith in God.]
Let’s observe the text. Since the fall of Adam, by nature:
- We are without the fear of God
- We are without trust in God
- We have concupiscence (evil desire, evil inclination, lust)
- Original sin is truly sin
- Original sin is condemning sin
- Without Baptism and the Holy Spirit, it brings eternal death
- We can have no true faith in God
Some contend that original sin is not a depravity or corruption in the nature of man, but only servitude, or a condition of mortality [not an innate evil nature, but only a blemish or imposed load, or burden], which those propagated from Adam bear because of the guilt of another [namely, Adam’s sin], and without any depravity of their own.
From this added text, we add this observation:
- Original sin is my sin. Yes, it is Adam’s sin, and it is my sin.
How did the Papists deny, and how do so many today continue denying, this true definition of original sin?
The writers of the Confutation were deficient not only in judgment, but also in candor. For whereas we, with a simple mind, desired, in passing, to recount those things which original sin embraces, these men, by framing an invidious interpretation, artfully distort a proposition that has in it nothing which of itself is wrong. Thus they say: “To be without the fear of God, to be without faith, is actual guilt;” and therefore they deny that it is original guilt.
See what happened there? What the confessors confessed as part of original sin the Papists removed from original sin and relocated into actual sins. They affirmed that those things are sins and by this pretend to agree, but deny original sin. For the confessors to zero in on this subtlety is the furthest thing from splitting hairs. It is more like distinguishing one continent or ocean from another on a globe of the earth.
The error grows to an enormous degree. It denies that original sin in my sin.
They add that no one is condemned to eternal death on account of original sin, just as those who are born of a bond-woman are slaves, and bear this condition without any natural blemish, but because of the calamity of their mother [while, of themselves, they are born without fault, like other men: thus original sin is not an innate evil, but a defect and burden which we bear since Adam, but we are not on that account personally in sin and inherited disgrace].
With just this much, we can anticipate already one effect of denying original sin on understanding coronavirus. Because original sin is denied and the only sin is actual sins, therefore if sin has anything to do with coronavirus, only actual sins explain coronavirus. There is no original sin, so original sin cannot account for coronavirus. This lands us right in the same superstition about “those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell.” Coronavirus must be happening because of some particular sin we have committed.
Of course, actual sin is truly sin, condemning sin, and brings eternal death. Papists and others can preach against actual sins with such ferocity that hardly anyone would think they are covering up for us. They focus especially on visible sins, the outward sins against the Second Table of the Law. Again, these are truly sin, condemning sin, and bring eternal death, of course. The problem is not in confessing actual sins, sins against the Second Table, or outward sins. The problem is confessing them in such a way as to deny original sin and neglect invisible sin against the First Table of the Law.
There is another consequence of denying original sin and focusing in a predominating way upon outward actual sins. It leads to or supports a notion that it is within our fallen human power to repent or convert ourselves, or at least contribute something to repentance. We need grace not to grant forgiveness of sins and impute righteousness objectively and forensically. We need grace to supply what is lacking in our own powers of repentance. By adding what we do from our own powers together with what grace supplies, the sum of the two together attains righteousness.
Under that notion, not only can Papists and all others holding to the Papist root of denying original sin go on about sin and seem to be really indicting it. They also can go on about grace and seem to really be crediting it. Therein lies the double-barreled error and deception. They credit grace for only part of our salvation.
Look what Papism and all religion having the same root do about the following facets of sin:
- Not fearing God as we ought
- Not loving God as we ought
- Not trusting God as we ought
- Not hungering and thirsting for righteousness
Papism slights God by slighting these as sin which are the soul of sin, so to speak. While making a production about other sins, it neglects the weight of sin at its center: fear, love, and trust of God. Because they deny original sin, they go so far as to teach that we, of our own fallen human nature, have power to love God above all things. The confessors confess the following facets of original sin in the Apology.
We made mention of concupiscence also, and denied to man’s natural strength the fear of God and trust in Him. For we wished to indicate that original sin contains also these diseases, namely, ignorance of God, contempt for God, the being destitute of the fear of God and trust in Him, inability to love God.
Now in the Scriptures, righteousness comprises not only the second table of the Decalog [regarding good works in serving our fellow-man], but the first also, which teaches concerning the fear of God, concerning faith, concerning the love of God. Therefore original righteousness was to embrace not only an even temperament of the bodily qualities [perfect health and, in all respects, pure blood, unimpaired powers of the body, as they contend], but also these gifts, namely, a quite certain knowledge of God, fear of God, confidence in God, or certainly the rectitude and power to yield these affections [but the greatest feature in that noble first creature was a bright light in the heart to know God and His work, etc.].
[Original sin includes] the not being able to believe God, the not being able to fear and love God; and, likewise: the having concupiscence, which seeks carnal things contrary to God’s Word, i.e., seeks not only the pleasure of the body, but also carnal wisdom and righteousness, and, contemning God, trusts in these as good things.
Look at this sin: ignorance of God, contempt for God, destitute of fear and trust in God, and inability to love God.
If human nature have such strength as to be able of itself to love God above all things as the scholastics confidently affirm, what will original sin be? For what will there be need of the grace of Christ if we can be justified by our own righteousness [powers]? For what will there be need of the Holy Ghost if human strength can by itself love God above all things, and fulfil God’s commandments?
Luther confesses original sin in his explanation of the Third Article of the Creed in the Small Catechism.
I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.
Paul confesses original sin. “For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.” By Baptism, he received the gift of the new inward man. The inward man delights in the law of God. But before our resurrection, the Old Adam remains and still gives evidence of original sin persisting in us. Whereas before Baptism, we had only one nature, the sinful Old Adam, after Baptism we have two natures, and they war against each other.
How does this connect to coronavirus? Disease, such as coronavirus, indeed does result from sin. It results from original sin. When Adam fell into sin, God said to him, “Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, And you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread,” (Genesis 3:17-18). To Eve He said, “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; In pain you shall bring forth children.” (Genesis 3:16).
These expressly named calamities of original sin are the epitome. They stand for themselves and for a host of calamities. What farmer should think only the thorns and thistles in his fields are the calamity of original sin, but other calamities, such as hail, drought, locusts, vomitoxin (deoxynivalenol), scab (fusarium head blight), and others are calamities only of his actual sins? Had he the thought that a hail storm must be a judgment of God on some particular sin of his, the farmer would have sunk from Christianity into superstition.
Jesus says, “He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45). “The poor man and the oppressor have this in common: The LORD gives light to the eyes of both.” (Proverbs 29:13)
This is not to say that God has not and could not bring calamity for particular sins. He has and He could. (Jeremiah 5:24-29) Just look at the prayer of Solomon at the dedication of the Temple. (1 Kings 8) But in Scripture, that specific interpretation of specific events is given by prophets. In other words, God gave those interpretations by inspiration. Where God’s inspiration is lacking, where His Word is lacking, we don’t know that any particular sin is the cause of a calamity. There need be no particular sin, because pain in childbearing and thistles in the field continue due to original sin.
For calamity to be an occasion of confession of sin is good when we confess sin rightly. Consider confession as made in the Common Service.
Almighty God, our Maker and Redeemer, we poor sinners confess unto Thee, that we are by nature sinful and unclean, and that we have sinned against thee by thought, word, and deed. Wherefore we flee for refuge to Thine infinite mercy, seeking and imploring Thy grace, for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This, albeit very briefly, confesses both original sin and actual sins.
Perhaps the term “actual” confuses people. In its regular use today outside of religious speech, the word “actual” often means “real” versus potential, phony, or imaginary. So, when we contrast actual sins and original sin, that can give an impression that original sin is not real sin. But the matter is simple. The word original is rooted on the word origin. Original sin is sin in our nature, our origin. The root word of the word actual is act. Actual sins are acts of sin. Before any particular act of sin, we already have the nature of sin in original sin.
When we assign calamity only to actual sins, we miss this confession: Original sin, as our own sin, is iniquitous and enormous enough before and without any actual sins to deserve not only the present calamity, but condemnation and eternal hell. By nature we want to deny this, because if the calamity only could be caused by some voluntary actual sin, that would leave us leverage in the situation. We could bargain with God, placate him, or force him to relent by some self-chosen works. As the cause was our choice, the solution is our choice. If we volunteered our way into the calamity, we imaging we can volunteer our way out of it.
For the Christian, confession has two aspects: the confession of sin, and the confession of the Savior. Our error about the definition of original sin or denying original sin leads us to miss another confession, the confession of faith that God for Jesus’s sake forgives us all our sin. Confession of original sin goes together with confession of Jesus Christ as Savior. My calamity of sin is so deep, so original, so in my nature, as well as in every thought, word, and deed, with even my best works so corrupted by sin as to be worthless and worthy of death, that only the death and resurrection of the Only Begotten Son of God could save me. To use this calamity well, confess sin truly, and with that confession, confess also your Savior.