The Red Couch: Original Blessing Discussion


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.

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