I was asked recently why it is that God has punished us for the original sin, which was committed by Adam and Eve. This person felt that it was unfair and inconceivable that a just God would choose to punish us, even though we did not personally commit the original sin.
What one needs to realise is that God did not take away from any of us anything that is ours by right as human beings. What Adam and Eve lost were the preternatural and supernatural gifts that God had bestowed on them. Those natural qualities that God gave to human beings when they were created were not taken away at all. Human beings have continued to be human beings in the full sense of the word, just as God had originally created human beings. God did not in anyway diminish or change what is natural to human beings.
So what are and were the preternatural and supernatural gifts that Adam and Eve lost?
Preternatural gifts are those gifts to which human beings do not have a natural right. They are not part of the essential qualities that make us human beings. They are called preternatural, not supernatural, because, though they are not natural to human beings, they are also not entirely beyond the capacity of human beings.
Among the preternatural gifts which Adam and Eve were given, was a flawless knowledge of God and the world. This was knowledge that would normally only ever be possible for human beings following a period of really extensive study and research. They also received extraordinary levels of self-control and will power, which enabled Adam and Eve to easily master their passions and senses. On a physical level, Adam and Eve had also received freedom from the pain and suffering that is a normal natural part of what makes us human beings.
The preternatural gifts were not however the greatest gift which God had given to Adam and Eve. The greatest gift was the supernatural gift of sanctifying grace, which God had bestowed on Adam and Eve. It is supernatural, not preternatural, because it is simply impossible for human beings to ever achieve this by any natural means. This supernatural gift gave Adam and Eve, not only a natural happiness in this physical world, it also meant that they would share in the eternal happiness of both knowing and seeing God face to face after their life in this physical world came to an end.
When Adam and Eve sinned, God removed from them all these special gifts, which God had bestowed on them. These were gifts which Adam and Eve could have passed on to their descendants, but which they squandered.
Another way of understanding this loss of the preternatural and supernatural gifts is to consider them in light of a son who has a millionaire father. If the father is wise with his money, it is entirely possible that the son would inherit this wealth and be a millionaire as well. However, if the son’s father was careless and lost all his money through gambling, the son would not inherit anything. This loss of the millions would not change who the son is at all. He would still be his father’s son and heir.
Of course no one would consider that the son had been personally punished because of this loss of his fathers millions. It would be seen as a merely sad and tragic event.
Original sin is a tragic event that has caused us not to inherit the preternatural and supernatural gifts that God had bestowed on Adam and Eve. But it is not a punishment inflicted on us by God.