The Four Wounds of the Fall – and the Four Healings of the Gospel

There is a long tradition in the church which seeks to explain the depth of our sin nature and the effects of the Fall which were unleashed by the entrance of sin in the world.  As Wesleyans, we are NOT “Pelagian” in our view of sin. In other words, we do not believe that every person is their own “Adam or Eve.”  Rather, we believe that the human race was mortally wounded in the Fall and cannot escape spiritual death apart from God’s prevenient, justifying and sanctifying grace in our lives.  Venerable Bede, the famous English Benedictine Monk (672-735) taught that there are four “Wounds” of the Fall.  This was later picked up by Thomas Aquinas who develops the idea extensively in his summa theologica (Part 2.1, question 85, article 3).  The idea behind identifying “wounds” is to recognize that though there are hundreds of thousands of sins which the human race has committed, they all trace back to four basic “wounds” which are the fountainhead of all the various manifestations of sin.  This helps us to better understand how to address certain sinful tendencies because you are better able to “get to the root” of the problem.  As a pastor, I observed countless times how certain sins tended to hold certain people in their grip, but not on certain others, and vice versa.  This is because sin has different roots and it expresses itself differently in and through people.  Here is a brief overview of the four wounds of the Fall. I will illustrate each wound by references to the book of Ephesians.

The first wound of the Fall is “ignorance” or “spiritual darkness.”  This is the spiritual darkness which shrouds us when we are ignorant of God’s commands, unaware of his redemptive purposes, and without knowledge of the character and nature of God.  Many people are spiritually lost or are living lives ravaged by sin because they have never really heard a credible explanation of the gospel and been given an opportunity to respond.  In Ephesians Paul refers to this wound as being “dead in your trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1).  This is also why Paul says in Eph. 4:17, “you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.  They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them…”

The second wound of the Fall is “malice.”  This gives rise to all kinds of sins of the “will” involving anger, murder, bitterness, etc.  It is the root of all broken relationships.  Paul is referring to this “class” of sins when he says in Eph. 4:31, “let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”

The third wound of the Fall is “weakness.”  This does not refer to any kind of physical weakness, but refers to spiritual weakness.  This is the lack of inner moral fortitude.  We often use the expression, “someone without any backbone” meaning, spiritually speaking, that they lack the necessary courage to stand against evil and offer up a meaningful defense against the advance of wickedness.  This is why Paul commands us in Ephesians 6:10 to be “strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.”  This is why we are commanded to put on the full armor of God so that we may “be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.”  The Christian faith is a form of warfare against the forces of evil and the modern church has become marked by weakness, lacking moral fortitude and, to put it bluntly, being “spiritually spineless.”

The fourth wound of the Fall is “concupiscence” or, to use a more modern phrase, “misdirected desires.”  This not only includes all kinds of sexual sins, but all kinds of disordered desires such as greed or a thirst for fame.  It is anything we long for which is not fulfilled by God himself.  In Ephesians 2:3 Paul talks about how we “once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of humankind.”

It is part of the genius of the Christian gospel that God has provided a “healing” for each of these wounds.  For our ignorance (wound #1) he has given us the Word of God, the holy Scriptures, as his revelation to us to despite darkness and lift us out of our ignorance.  For our malice (wound #2) he has demonstrated for us the power of love which is the greatest power over anger, malice, rage, and so forth.  There was no greater evil in the world than our crucifying God Incarnate on the cross.  Yet, even that greatest symbol of death has become the very power of the gospel to transform the world.  For our weakness (wound #3) he has given us his Holy Spirit to empower us to stand firm against the Devil’s schemes. He has given us his Spirit that we might discern the works of the evil one and the courage to stand firm, rather than to sit down.  Finally, God knows how to re-order our disordered desires (wound #4).  It is in the gospel that God has given us the “re-directed heart” which turns sin from being our “secret lover” to being our “mortal enemy.”  The gospel is about re-ordering all of our desires so that God himself is his own reward in our lives.

So, as we start 2022, let us be mindful of the power of sin and the deep roots of the Fall in the human condition.  We cannot organize our way out of this.  There is no political solution.  There is not a school curriculum for our children which will transform us.  The hiring of police or firing of police will, in the end, not bring us resolution.  These are deep wounds and no cultural band aid will be sufficient.  The only source of healing is the gospel of Jesus Christ.  He alone provides light in darkness, love in our hearts, strength for our courage, and re-directs our hearts so that our whole inner and outer life is harmonized according to his glory.


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