The Red Couch: Original Blessing Discussion

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red couch - original blessing - discussion

“The gospel is not a story of us being separated by sin from God. It’s the story of a God who is so faithfully for us and intent on being with us that God became human to help us embody the wholeness and fullness of life we’ve been made for. It’s not a story of separation. It’s a story of invitation and participation” (p x).

With this idea, Danielle Shroyer both introduces and summarizes her book, Original Blessing: Putting Sin in Its Rightful Place. In the remainder of the book, she explains the concept of original blessing, outlines a history of how the doctrine of original sin came to be, deconstructs the idea of original sin, re-visits the person of Jesus and his purpose for coming to earth, and explores how seeing ourselves as first and foremost blessed impacts our lives.

When I first picked up the book, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to follow a theological discussion such as this, but I found Original Blessing to be an accessible read. I was glad for the analogies scattered throughout the book. For example, in explaining the concept of original blessing, Shroyer uses the analogy of a glass half full/empty. She writes, “Our relationship with God is not in the glass. It IS the glass. So it’s not a matter of half full or half empty. God’s relationship to us is not in question” (p. 9). Our relationship to God might fluctuate, but God’s fidelity and love toward us never wavers – that is original blessing.

One chapter that I particularly appreciated was “A Tale of Two Boxes and a Golden Thread.” I found it very helpful to read about the history of the Christian church and how the Eastern traditions saw the main problem as death, whereas the Western traditions began to emphasize sin as the main issue. “When we ask how we got here, the theological switch between and focus on death to sin is the first major shift” (p. 50). The idea of critiquing original sin felt rather bold when I first read about it, so it was reassuring to read that the early Church and Eastern Church did not see humanity as depraved. I had also done a little exploration of the Orthodox Church (particularly Celtic Christianity) and I had sensed that their theology had a greater emphasis on goodness and life, but reading Shroyer’s explanation helped me articulate the difference.

I also loved the illustration of the golden thread, borrowed from George MacDonald’s story, The Princess and the Goblin. In that story, the princess finds her way back to safety by following a golden thread woven by her great-great-grandmother. Shroyer writes, “We are not born fallen. We are born tethered to God with golden thread. It is a thread that can never be broken. And that thread will always, always lead us to life” (p. 56). What a reassuring thought!

Another section that I found fascinating was Shroyer’s treatment of Genesis 3, particularly her interpretation of it as a coming-of-age narrative:

“When we see Genesis 3 as a coming-of-age story, we can affirm what we most need to know about ourselves, which is that we are children of God who often pull away from God, and to great consequence. Our life is in God and with God, and when we disconnect from God, we only find disharmony and degradation…We are not evil villains but wayward children. We do not have a sin nature but a human nature, which includes both intimacy and isolation, communion and rebellion” (p. 109).

Seeing the story through this lens is more compassionate and less fatalistic than the original sin perspective. It also strikes me as more congruent with the God I am coming to know.

One final section that moved me deeply was the chapter, “Why the Cross is a Blessing.” On page 183, Shroyer writes,

“There’s something about the cross that calls us to open our eyes to the radical notion that all of life is blessing, and we should once and for all put away our report cards, righteousness charts, and faithfulness exams. We have all failed, not only because we have sinned, but because we have thought it wise to keep tabs at all.”

This chapter blew my performance-oriented, perfectionist, “am I good enough” nature out of the water. I’d never seen Jesus that way before – that he who lived a perfect life still came to an unjust and cruel death – as the ultimate illustration that it’s not about how “good” we are or what we can merit for ourselves.

The main takeaways for me after reading Original Blessing are that God’s unconditional love pursues me regardless of my choices; and, as a human with a human nature, I always have a choice to turn toward death or life. Remembering Whose I am brings me to a place of greater freedom, compassion, and grace – qualities that move me toward Life.

Discussion Questions:

  1. “Blessing is the home, and sin is the stranger” (p. 123). When we have this perspective, how does it affect how we view ourselves? How does it affect how we view others – particularly those we find hard to love?
  1. “…Original blessing carries a far greater opportunity to respect and value our bodies, rather than contribute to a culture of shame, self-denial, self-abasement, and negative body image” (p 156). How has the doctrine of original sin affected your view of your body? How does original blessing affect your view of your body?
  1. “When our goal is an integrated life of faith, everything counts as practice” (p. 195). How does this perspective shape or shift how you see your sins, failures, and short-comings?
  1. “Every object in the universe has a center of gravity, and yours, dear blessed child of God, is the ever-faithful love of God” (p. 209). Have you found your center? When you lose it, how do you re-find it?

We’ll be reading Shalom Sistas: Living Wholeheartedly in a Broken-Hearted World by Osheta Moore for our “off-month” book. Join our Facebook group for discussions! We’ll see you back here in March for Mujerista Theology by Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz.

Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.

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Olive Chan
Olive is a friendly introvert and recovering perfectionist. In an ideal day, she would paint, eat chocolate croissants and take lots of naps. But she’s primarily occupied these days with her two lovely little ladies, Alena and Kayla and making sure her husband, Tim, does not have to eat McDonald’s too often. She has co-written two books with Tim and takes breaks from the little people by building websites with their small company, Coracle Marketing. She aspires to be a conduit of grace, rest and beauty in this hurried and chaotic world.
Olive Chan
  • I have not been reading Danielle’s book (which may disqualify me from this conversation?), but I have been carefully reading the discussion posts, and find myself becoming alarmed at some of her conclusions. I’m not a theologian, and some of my most fruitful reading from Scripture lately has been at a child’s level: Sally Lloyd Jones’s The Jesus Storybook Bible. She describes the day things went wrong in Eden as an effort to “make themselves happy without God” and a belief in the terrible lie that God did not want them to be happy. Their decision to run away and hide in the dark set off a chain reaction that could be broken only by reconciliation. This family connection is MacDonald’s beautiful golden cord, but first there had to be a “red cord” to repair the rift. If we separate human nature from fallen nature (even if others, historically, have lost their way on this), aren’t we forgetting that every single part of creation is also broken and off the rails? Don’t we run the risk of de-valuing the beauty of God’s huge rescue plan? My concern is mainly that before we can become whole, we must first realize all the ways in which we are broken — not with a goal of feeling ultimately condemned, but so we can know the joy of unconditional love.

    • Absolutely, Michele, I agree. God’s desire to bless us is not in question. His terms require admission of the Rift of sin and acceptance of the terms of a blood sacrifice. Cain disregarded this to his own hurt. Insisted on his own terms. He was the one who spent the rest of his life in a Shame God never intended. Christ’s blood sacrifice, laying down His life for the restoration of our relationship with our Creator, is the only true release from guilt and Shame. God’s word, not church history, must be our reference point for truth. Man often gets it wrong. God,never.

      • Yes – I think we can get so bogged down in a shame that God never dreamed for us or put on us. How do we live blessed and strong because of God’s pursuit?

        • My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

    • Lisa Sands Scandrette

      Michele, I don’t read Danielle as saying that sin doesn’t matter. It’s more a matter of order. In our house, we’ve said, “The truest thing about you is not that you are broken, but that you are beloved.” Our blessedness is deeper than our brokenness. Yet we are more easily aware of our brokenness than we are of our belovedness, don’t you think?

      • Sadly, yes.
        And it’s crucial that women find the one and only Way of living blessed. When I settle for substitute “fillers” I always come up emptier than when I started.

    • We were reading “God Makes a Way” in the Jesus Storybook Bible last nigh. It’s the story of the parting of the Red Sea. I think what Shroyer (and Jones) do so well is reframing this idea that we are bad and have sinned to we have lost our way and God is helping us find it again. We are good; we continually miss the mark; God loves us so much that instead of damning all of humanity, God is helping us find the way. I find this so hopeful!

    • I would encourage you to read Original Blessing Michele. I think you will find a thoughtful, well-researched discussion that is not easy to present in a couple of posts or through comments. I understand that it is discomfiting – I’m still processing parts of it and not sure I accept all the implications. But the biggest shift for me has been healing the shame that original sin introduced (unknowingly) in me – God is not separated for us, He is for us and with us. This is what Danielle shows over and over. As to the cross or “the red cord”, I find it more beautifully complex than ever. It seems we have made it very pat and formulaic in our current Christian culture when it has historically had much more complex meaning (Christus Victor). Danielle’s discussion of the cross provides nuance and stunning beauty (and in no way makes salvation any less valuable).

  • Lisa Sands Scandrette

    So many thoughts…I love the analogy of the rocks and finding our center of gravity in blessing. I find it easier to be aware of my brokenness, and have a harder time embracing my belovedness. And I find the fact that nothing can separate us from the love of God to be deeply transforming and empowering. I am tempted to believe in a performative view of my relationship with God–that I can somehow earn favor. What a place to rest, knowing that I am blessed. When I remember my belatedness, I have the courage to look at some of those broken places and unpack the lies that lead me there, and begin to change what I believe and what I do to participate in God’s healing.

    • I find it so interesting, too that I find infinite reasons and examples of my brokenness but forget my belovedness. Over and over again, the Bible reminds us that we are loved by God and God calls us children. It would break my heart if my kids didn’t know that, above all, I loved them. Why do I redefine God’s love?

      • Lisa Sands Scandrette

        Over Christmas, our kids (now young adults) watched home videos with their grandparents of when they were babies. On the drive home, they said to us “Wow! You guys really loved us–I mean you were REALLY into us.” They almost seemed surprised. We did and still do think they are just the best and overflow with love for them regardless of anything they do. If this is just a portion of God’s love for us–wow! I really think it is a lifelong journey to embrace over and over the love God has for us.

  • Thank you for this thoughtful discussion Olive! In regards to question #4 (staying centered on God’s ever-faithful love) – I first really felt that love was true as I read Original Blessing. And I’ve read it again and again to return to that reality. I recently started another book that has pulled me to that center too, “Abba’s Child” by Brennan Manning. While it is not about original blessing vs. original sin, it is absolutely about our belovedness and the ever-faithful love of God which frames every angle of Danielle’s book. It is also worth reading!

    • I love that you have found texts that help you re-center. I read Brennan Manning’s “Ragamuffin Gospel” many years ago and found it so life-giving. I shall add “Abba’s Child” to my list!

  • I thought it a shame that so many words were expended in this book to make it seem that the concept of Original Blessing and Original Sin are at odds with each other. The sin in the garden did not stop God’s love and original intention to bless. It did however require that there be a Redeemer to restore mankind to the position of Original Blessing. Only through the Cross, the laying down of the Son’s life, and the subsequent reception of the Spirit by faith is God’s love again poured out in our hearts (Romans 5:5) and shame forever erased, with assurance that we are now God’s children and heirs of all that the Original Blessing intended. It is not a ‘done deal’ apart from repentance for our sinful condition and faith in Jesus to cover that sin nature with His own perfection.

  • “…since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through HIM we have also obtained access by FAITH into this grace (this Original Blessing!) in which we stand and we rejoice in hope fo the glory of God…hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

    The cessation of shame and the assurance of God’s love is reserved for those who have trusted Christ as their personal Saviour and received His Spirit as God’s gift in re-creating them according to their Original design. Only in this way is the Original Blessing restored. Shroyer seems to have overlooked this point in her determination to re-write the doctrine of original sin.