Mon 5 Nov 2007
THE MYSTERY OF SIN by Arthur Swan
On a superficial level, one could be surprised at the suggestion of any mystery at all – we all know what is right or wrong, at least, most of the time, and we usually try to keep our transgressions from being noticed by others. In my early years, I can remember wondering why the Creator, the All Mighty, allowed it to happen. After all, if He did create everything that is, then obviously He must have created him who is said to lead us into sin – Satan – and if this really is so, then why did God do so? This very question did worry earlier generations, and medieval scholars gave their answer which, translated from the Latin was “The Devil is God upside down”. This may seem suspiciously like answering a problem with a riddle, but actually it is a very clever answer and quite easily understood. We all know that the elements of creation are:- Earth – representing dense inert matter Water - “ the material emotions, with their capacity To surge and be rough Air – “ the mental processes Fire - “ spirit From time immemorial, man had noticed that, when the sun shone on a body of water that was perfectly calm, the reflection of the sun on the water would be perfect to, but that, the more disturbed the water, the more disfigured would be the image of the sun. By a process of analogy, which is almost a lost art nowadays, these scholars likened the sun to Divinity and postulated that when we imagine seeing an evil influence, what we really see is the face of God terribly disfigured by the error with which we surround ourselves. One is reminded of the 53rd chapter of Isaiah “ —-he hath no form nor comeliness – — that we would desire him” and of the prayer of the Psalmist”— lead us beside the still waters—“. There is obviously a great truth here, so it would seem that my early thoughts were on the right track. The great religions of mankind show some fundamental differences in their attitude to sin. For example, in Buddhism, which once comprised nearly half of all the people in the world, the notion of sin is not stressed as it is in Christianity. Buddhism does not regard man as inherently evil, but it does recognise that he will stray from the “noble” path. This straying, it says, is due to error or ignorance, which can only be overcome by leading him to divine wisdom. The Mohamedan religion also does not regard man as inherently evil, but it has a very comprehensive and rather rigid code, for breaches of which, in some countries even today, the penalties can be really severe. It had its rise among the Arabs, who trace their descent back to the Old Testament prophet Abraham, so it has been influenced by the later Jewish prophets. However, even in the 12th century A.D., the Sufi poet Omar Khayyam complained about the “jarring sects” – 72 of them, and this applies to some extent still, seemingly indicating a fundamentalist outlook which does not look like helping us in our search for the Mystery of Sin. Christianity, of course, arose out of Judaism and, indeed, Augustine, the “father” of Christian theology, wrote that Christianity really originated when God spoke to Adam the first man, but that it was not called Christianity until after Jesus Christ came. While it is certainly true that Christians have always used the Old Testament, a Jewish book, as their guide to the centuries B.C., the similarity between the two faiths, which Augustine described as applying before his time, certainly did not continue afterwards, and both have made big changes within themselves in the nearly two thousand years since. It does not take much reading of the Old Testament to realise that the life of the Jew of those days was ordered in great detail, and there is no doubt that laws announced by Moses are still observed today. Christianity took up this mantle, and there is reason to believe that, in translating books intended for its New Testament, some of the interpreters had their eyes on Old Testament prophecy, to make sure “that it was fulfilled”. Christianity added new rules of its own, even declaring that each of us is born in sin and is inherently evil until saved. This rather beclouds the question, making it difficult to determine which “sins” really should be avoided, and which are only man-made. The latter are caused by poor scholarship misreading ancient writings, and it is one of the big tragedies of western civilization that one cannot get the best out of the Bible without going outside the Church for the keys. One of the most profound and cryptic of the Bible stories is that of The Prodigal Son. You will recall that a man had two sons, and the younger went to a far country where, after some riotous living, he had to live among the pigs. Realising that his true place was in his father’s house, he returned home and was welcomed joyously by his father, who killed the fatted calf by way of celebration. The elder brother reproached his father that a fatted calf had never been killed for him, even though he had loyally worked for the father all along. The father dismissed the complaint, insisting that the return of the son who had gone away was reason for great rejoicing. It would be hard today to find a father and sons who would act in the way described in this story, and we can even feel some sympathy for the complaint of the elder son, but one cannot help but ask why a simple homely story like this has come down to us through nearly two thousand years. After all, of the Prodigal who returned from the far country, where he had “wasted his substance with riotous living” (Luke 15/13), one could say that his return was simply forced upon him by the pressing need for basic food and shelter – hardly an edifying motive – and this parable if too often judged by its superficial meaning and therefore found lacking. In search of a clue to a likely deeper meaning, let us turn to another story about Jesus, not a parable but ostensible history. John the Baptist had been preaching the immanent coming of One “whose shoes I am not worthy to bear” (Matt. 3/11), and Jesus presented himself for baptism by John, who claimed that he was not worthy to do so, but Jesus insisted “for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness” (Matt. 3/15) This scene by the River Jordan is most instructive. We have first the natural man, John, representing each one of us when we start life on the material plane, and we have the spiritual man, Jesus, representing what each of us can, and will eventually, become, and the spiritual man insists on being baptised by the natural man, “to fulfil all righteousness”. It is obvious that Jesus wanted to be baptised by John, so we must make the equally obvious inference that the physical world is actually necessary for development of the full potential of divinity. There is an interesting parallel to this in our own experience. We all know that the rays of our sun give the light and heat which are essential for all life. When the astronaut goes out into space, however, even in the direction of the sun, he finds a cold, black void, proving that the sun’s rays can give their blessings only with the cooperation of Mother Earth. With the help of analogy again, (as above, as below), we can now see that Jesus knew that divinity could reach its full potential only after a successful partnership with matter. It also follows therefore that the father of the Prodigal Son wanted his son to go to the far country (which is our life in the physical body), and, indeed, we have come close to discovering why the Creator created the physical world at all. Indeed, the Bible says repeatedly “god so loved the world” that the attitude of so many Christians, even today, that everything is sinful, is unconvincing. In the book of Job, which is one of the oldest in the Old Testament, and which is often regarded as being an account of initiation, we find the Lord and Satan appearing to confer as to what test should be given to Job. This calls to mind the work of G. de Purucker in his STUDIES IN OCCULT PHILOSOPHY (p.71) “—coming into incarnation involves a downward arc into material spheres, which is an essential step in evolution, but it is not the physical body which sins. Sins are committed by wrong choices of the mind—“ On the same theme, H. P. Blavatsky in ISIS UNVEILED (2,480), writes about sin “—the dark side of nature, the shadow of the Light — a force antagonistic to but essential for the vitality, evolution and vigour of good. Just as plants need night to alternate with day to give them healthy growth, so goodness would not flourish if it were not alternated by its opposite. In human nature, evil denotes the antagonism of matter to the spiritual, and each is purified accordingly —“ We know from everyday experience that, if good results are to be achieved in any activity, be it business, health, marriage, career, garden, hobby, etc., there is no royal road – we must provide the necessary work, planning, skill, etc. The athlete in the gymnasium would not be able to increase his muscles if the equipment did not resist his push or pull. Likewise, we too would be effete if we did not bestir ourselves and manfully face the challenges which will confront us from time to time. They are, so to say, the tools of our evolution, which may be likened to a spiral staircase. On some curves of it, we will see sights which tempt us, but if we can pass them by, the next time they appear to us, we will be on a higher curve of the spiral and therefore better able to resist temptation. Therefore, let us not fret that we were born in sin, nor that there is an evil entity out there, variously called Satan, the Prince of Darkness and other titles, who has power over us. The only Sin which exists is due to our very own error, and our divine destiny is assured, so that when we are eventually called to account in some judgement hall, we can confidently say, in the words of the Orphic poem of ancient Greece “I am a child of Earth and Starry Heaven, but my Race is of Heaven alone.”
This is the text of a lecture given by the author at a public meeting of the Theosophical Society (Pasadena) in Melbourne,
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