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Chapter 20: The Relationship between God and Sinful Humankind

Question F: How does human sin affect the relationship of revelation and faith?

1. The relationship of revelation and faith is deeply affected by sin and God’s redemptive work in overcoming it. Once sin has been committed, the human race is desperately in need of redemption. This need is experienced as misery, a misery which intensifies the human desire for fulfillment. On their own, however, human beings seem only to make their situation worse. An act of restoration and renewal by God is needed (see S.t., 1–2, q. 109, aa. 2–3, 8).

2. Sin and its effects, precisely as evil, are privations. Privations are real in that they are objective facts, but not real as are the things God creates (5‑A). Evils are real absences of perfections which should be present.

3. This understanding of evil shapes the whole Jewish and Christian attitude toward sin and redemption. Since evil is not a mere illusion but a reality contrary to God’s good will, he cannot ignore it. But neither can he annihilate it, as if it were a positive power opposed to himself. Rather, because evil is privation, it must be overcome by restoring wholeness, making good what is lacking.

4. Sinful humankind exists in a self-mutilated condition. Only God can redeem by a radical restoration, a work of re-creation, which salvages all the good of creation, including that distorted by sin, while leaving behind only the privation of evil and those who resolutely cling to it even as the new heavens and new earth are being created (see Is 26.18–19; Rv 21.1–8). The work of redemption is exemplified by the creation of a new heart in the sinner and by the resurrection of the body, dead as a consequence of sin.

5. Even without sin, there would have been a discontinuity between time and eternity, this life and the next life. But with sin, the present heavens and earth affected by evil will pass away, to be succeeded by a re-creation which brings redemption to completion. In this restoration by God, everything good will be harmoniously integrated in Jesus, while radical evil will be excluded.

6. God’s revelation is thus received in the fallen human condition as an offer of reconciliation extended only for a limited time. Faith in this revelation is conversion toward God; friendship with God begins by the justification—the straightening out—of the sinner. For us, the healing of sin and elevation to divine life are inseparable (see S.t., 1–2, q. 113, aa. 1–4).

A good which suffers evil is not in its residual, positive, good reality what it would be if evil were not in it (5‑A). But all the positive reality of human persons and their world, to the extent that it remains, is good, even in its distorted condition. God cannot simply demolish this good. The will of the sinner and even the act of sin, insofar as it is an expression of intelligence and freedom, are goods. God cannot eliminate them without annihilating what he made, without hating something which shares in his own life. This is impossible. And so God cannot simply make a fresh start, as if sin never existed.

God neither ignores evil as if it were illusory nor seeks to annihilate it as if it were a positive power opposed to himself (see Wis 11.23–26). Evil must be overcome by restoring wholeness, by making good what is lacking, because it is privation. To try to segregate oneself from evil or destroy it is not to overcome evil. Thus God saves by Jesus, in whom he personally meets evil and by undergoing it draws the wounded good back to the fullness of being the Father intended it to enjoy when he created it.

The great hostility of the Pharisees to Jesus lies in the fact that they do not accept his strategy for salvation. Rather, they seek to keep clear of evil by strict observance of the law. Today no one holds the concept of ritual purity. However, its contemporary equivalent is present in every effort to identify evil with some things as against other things, instead of identifying it with a defective and sinful attitude toward things. Every modern ideology which ignores the reality of sin and seeks to overcome evil by economic, technological, military, or some other kind of power implicitly conflicts with the Christian conception of evil as privation and of redemption as restoration to wholeness.