Restored Nature
Friday of Pentecost 5
14 July 2017
"Where does evil come from? I mean, if God created all things, then didn't God create evil?" This was a question addressed to me by one of my church members immediately before a church business meeting. Rightly, the business should have been ignored and the question answered to the enlightenment of all present. But my priorities were all wrong. I glibly answered, "Augustine says that evil is 'nothing.' It is a lack of being." I was only partly right both about evil and Augustine.
 
For Augustine evil was a negation that had detrimental effects on the beings created by God. The negation of evil debased or devalued the original created nature of that which had been pronounced to be good by God (Gn 1). So, God's creation maintained a nature that was good because it was created by Him, but was marred by sin to the detriment of nature. In so far as creation still reflected God's creating hand and His supreme nature, it was still good. The fall does not mean that humans cease to be human. They take no other nature. Adam and Eve did not take on natures different from the ones with which they had originally been created, as though they became spiritual transformers. Perfect humans they were. Fallen humans they became, but still humans. Their nature does not change, but is marred.
 
Christ Himself takes up our own human nature in His conception of Mary, but a nature un-marred by sin. Sin was not essential to humanity, although all humanity is marred by it. He was the sole exception. The goal of His incarnation was to restore to us humans an unmarred humanity. It is ours by imputation now. Although we are full of marring sin, yet the Lord calls us whole and restores our integrity in Christ. It will be ours in fullness at the consummation of the age after the body of sin has been done away with. Therefore, to live by faith now is to live with the image of Christ's unmarred humanity as our constant vision. To see His humanity is to see our restored humanity.
 
Sometimes Augustine is understood to imply that human nature is whole and integral after the fall except for an external marring. Perhaps his views about the voluntary nature of sin have been more abused than properly understood. Nonetheless, such a view, whether or not it is the view of the Bishop of Hippo, would treat sin as though it is merely dust on a table top, which is easily cleaned off. The Bible's view of sin is not so light. The cost of redemption was too great to understand the vitiation of our nature to be so inconsequential. We are marred unto death. Only when Christ takes our nature can that weakness unto death be redeemed and our right nature fully restored to us.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Augustine of Hippo

"Since God is the supreme existence, that is to say, supremely is, and is therefore unchangeable, the things that He made He empowered to be, like Himself, but not to be supremely. To some He communicated a more ample, to others a more limited existence, and thus arranged the natures of beings in ranks.... Consequently, to that nature which supremely is, and which created all else that exists, no nature is contrary save that which does not exist. For non-entity is the contrary of that which is. And thus there is no being contrary to God, the supreme Being, and author of all beings whatsoever."
 
"In Scripture they are called God's enemies who oppose His rule, not by nature, but by vice; having no power to hurt Him, but only themselves. For they are His enemies, not through their power to hurt, but by their will to oppose Him. For God is unchangeable, and unable to be injured. Therefore the vice which makes those who are called His enemies resist Him, is an evil not to God, but to themselves. And to them it is an evil, solely because it corrupts the good of their nature. It is not nature, therefore, but vice, which is contrary to God. For that which is evil is contrary to the good. And who will deny that God is the supreme good? Vice, therefore, is contrary to God, as evil to good."
 
"Further, the nature it vitiates is a good, and therefore to this good also it is contrary. But while it is contrary to God only as evil to good, it is contrary to the nature it vitiates, both as evil and as hurtful. For to God no evils are hurtful; but only to natures mutable and corruptible, though, by the testimony of the vices themselves, originally good. For were they not good, vices could not hurt them. For how do they hurt them but by depriving them of integrity, beauty, welfare, virtue, and, in short, whatever natural good vice is wont to diminish or destroy? But if there be no good to take away, then no injury can be done, and consequently there can be no vice. For it is impossible that there should be a harmless vice. From this we gather, that though vice cannot injure the unchangeable good, it can injure nothing but good; because it does not exist where it does not injure. This, then, may be thus formulated: Vice cannot be in the highest good, and cannot be except in some good. Things solely good, therefore, can in some circumstances exist; things solely evil, never; for even those natures which are vitiated by an evil will, so far indeed as they are vitiated, are evil, but in so far as they are natures they are good. And when a vitiated nature is punished, besides the good it has in being a nature, it has this also, that it is not unpunished. For this is just, and certainly everything just is a good. For no one is punished for natural, but for voluntary vices. For even the vice which by the force of habit and long continuance has become a second nature, had its origin in the will. For at present we are speaking of the vices of the nature, which has a mental capacity for that enlightenment which discriminates between what is just and what is unjust."

Augustine, The City of God, 12.2-3
2 Peter 1:1-12

Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
 
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.  Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.  For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. 
(ESV)
Prayer
Lord Christ, You took my nature, but without sin, to restore to me a nature unmarred by vice. Let me live by faith in that restoration, that I might fully experience that restoration at the consummation of the age. As I feel within me the power of vice unto death, give me the patience that accepts death as sin's temporal penalty. Amen.
 
For all the members of Memorial Lutheran Church, that they might be steadfast in their confession and faith until they die
 
For all those who suffer from alcoholism, that they might be strengthened by God the Lord as they fight the power of addiction
 
For all those whose marriages are rent by conflict, that husbands and wives would make their lives havens of love where the divine attributes are put into practice
Art: Albrecht DURER,  The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
smurray@mlchouston.org
http://www.mlchouston.org
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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