The Effects of the Ancestral Sin

This is the 20th blog in this series which began with Adam & Sin, Paradise and Fasting.  The previous blog is Garments of Skin in St. Gregory of Nyssa.

The Eastern Patristic theologians frequently put a positive spin on the consequences of the Fall: even the garments of skin and death itself reveal God’s mercy towards the humans as they all serve corrective purposes for humans.  All are the means God is using to heal the human and to stop the human spiraling even further away from God.

“Neither corruptibility nor death… are punishments from God; they are instead consequences of our alienation from the source of life.”  (Dumitru Staniloae,  THE TEACHING OF MODERN CHRISTIANITY, p 697)

Thus God is not portrayed as vengeful or even judgmental, but of being love and acting according to the Triune divine nature.  God is not portrayed as being only just or of being wrathful.  God ever continues to love the creatures He has made, and His actions toward us continue to be for our salvation.

Nevertheless the effects of the Fall are real, and humans must live and struggle with them.

“With the fall of Adam, both humanity and the entire cosmos were affected.  Illness, therefore, is not the root problem, but only a symptom.  The far more significant consequence of the fall was the rupture of the communion between God and humanity, between humans among themselves, and between humanity and the rest of creation.  For Christians, sickness and death are not the real problem: rather, it is alienation from God, and the resulting spiritual death, which are the real tragedy.”  (Paul Meyendorff, THE ANOINTING OF THE SICK, p 84)

The cause and the effect of the Fall are the disrupted relationship between humans and their Creator.  Separation from God is what allows the humans to choose disobedience, and further separation from God is the result of choosing to live away from God.  This separation from God is the real problem of humanity.  It is not sin as such, which is a symptom of the problem.  This separation from God then disrupts the human relationship to and role in the rest of creation.

“By being himself focused on God, man was to heal the divisions within the created order and unite it with it Creator.  But man failed to be centered on God and thus became a force for division instead of unity.  This is how Maximus understands the cosmic effects of the Fall: it is not the shattering of a golden age, but a failure to take creation forward to its appointed goal.” (Elizabeth Theokritoff in THE CAMBRIDGE COMPANION TO ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY, p 95)

God placed in humanity the potential for perfection and free will; humans have to choose which direction they want to move: toward God and perfection, or away from God following their own sinful passions.

Some modern writers have expressed a disappointment with the Patristic writers that they did not do more to connect the effects of the Fall with the world as we experience it, instead they focused more on a theological understanding of the world.  A few modern Christian writers however have tried to close that gap.  Physicist John Polkinghorne is one.   Here is one comment he made about the Fall:

Bonobos

“It is interesting that the powerful story of Genesis 3 depicts the fall as a fall upwards:  the gaining of the knowledge of good and evil!  At some point in hominid evolution, self-consciousness – a deep self-awareness and the power to project our thought far into the future – dawned on our ancestors.  At the same time, I believe that a new form of God-consciousness also dawned for them.  The fall was the process by which they turned away from God into the self, an error of which we are all the heirs.  This did not bring biological death into the world, since that had been there for many millions of years, but it brought what one might call mortality, human sadness at the transience of life.  Because our ancestors were self-conscious, they knew that eventually they would die.  Because they had alienated themselves from the One whose faithfulness is the sole (and sufficient) ground of the hope of destiny beyond death, this knowledge became a source of deep sadness.”  (QUESTIONS OF TRUTH: FIFTY-ONE RESPONSES TO QUESTIONS ABOUT GOD, SCIENCE AND BELIEF)

Death becomes for humans the ultimate in separation from God.  Death is not part of God’s plan for humans and humans come to death through their own willful disobedience of God’s commands.  God however works His plan of salvation to destroy death through the crucifixion and resurrection of His incarnate Son Jesus Christ.

Next:  Ancestral Sin and the Loss of Communion with God

The Prodigal Son’s Father

Then the Lord Jesus told this parable: “A certain man had two sons.  And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood.  And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living.  But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want.  Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.  And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.  But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!  I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son.  Make me like one of your hired servants.’  And he arose and came to his father.  But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’  But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet.  And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.  Now his older son was in the field.  And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing.  So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant.  And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’  But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him.  So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends.  ‘But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’  And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.  It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.'”  (Luke 15:11-32)

 THE REALITY OF THE FATHER’S LOVE: 

“Very often sufferings do not draw the soul towards God but rather depress it in a sterile manner and become meaningless.  Why were the sufferings of the prodigal son a means of salvation?  Why “having retired into himself”, did he discover the path of salvation?  Because he remembered “the house of his father”, because he was firmly convinced of its reality, because he loved it, because—and let us here discard the language of symbolism—that sinner believed in God.  This is the saving power of suffering.  This is what opens the gates of God’s house—the only gates at which it is worthwhile to knock.”   (Fr Alexander Yelchaninov in  G P Fedotov, A Treasury of Russian Spirituality, pg 482-483)

 

GOD AS FATHER: 

Love does not depend on time, and the power of love continues always.  There are some who believe that the Lord suffered death for love of man but because they do not attain to this love in their own souls, it seems to them an old story of bygone days.  But when the soul knows the love of God through the Holy Spirit, she feels without a shadow of a doubt that the Lord is our Father the closest and dearest of fathers, and there is no greater happiness than to love God with all our mind, with all our heart and with all our soul, according to the Lord’s commandment, and our neighbour as ourself.  And when this love is in the soul, everything rejoices her, but when it is lost sight of, man cannot find peace, and is troubled, and blames others as if they had done him an injury, and does not realize that he himself is at fault:  he has lost his love for God and has accused or conceived a hatred for his brother.

 Grace proceeds from brotherly love, and brotherly love is grace preserved; but if we do not love our brother, then the grace of God will not come into our souls.     (Archimandrite Sophrony, St Silouan the Athonite , pg 372)

 

Publican and Pharisee (1994)

   Sermon Notes:     PUBLICAN AND PHARISEE            February 20, 1994

Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:  “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men; extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.  ‘I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’  “And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’  “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”   (Luke 18:9-15)

For those of us Orthodox who have travelled many years on the road to God’s Kingdom, the Parable of the Publican & Pharisee is as familiar as the most common street sign. This is one reading we hear every year as we prepare ourselves to enter in to the Great Fast. We know the message of the Parable – God does accept those who repent and those who are humble. And in turn God turns a deaf ear to those pride filled persons who give themselves high marks for every deed and who harshly judge their neighbors. We are asked to remember this message, not just so we can be better people, but because we believe the goal of all behavior is salvation itself.

The Parables of Jesus give us a glimpse into the very mind of God, a God of judgement and mercy, of righteousness and forgiveness, of perfection and love. This is the God who says, (Isaiah 55:8) “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD.

As shocking as anything in the parable is the presence of the Tax collector in the temple – the people of Jesus’ day would assume him to be an unclean sinner, not a temple goer. Not only would they assume that he did not go to the temple, but they would assume it quite proper for him to stay out of the temple. He is after all a sinner, and God is a God of rigtheousness. And the temple is the place of the Holy – the Holy God and God’s holy people. Surely a sinful tax gatherer has not place in the holy temple. Those listening to the Lord would indeed be surprised that such a sinner would dare come into the temple.

But this is part of the spiritual problem that God’s people are often tempted with. Apparently, God’s people at the time of Christ, expected the Messiah to come in order to usher in a new age of righteousness, where God would condemn sinners and judge the ungodly, and destroy all that is not in agreement with their commonly held views of what is good. They looked to God and the Messiah to be the executioners of pure justice on the world. And they saw themselves as being spared this justice and judgement as if any faults they had were merely the results of themselves being victims of the evils of the world.

But the view of many of these people was mistaken. For in their rejection of the world around them, in their hatred for all that was wrong with the world, in their righteous anger against sin and sinners, they forgot that God is love.

There is a truth about the God of love which is paradoxical.

The justice of God is based upon love and mercy. The justice of God can accept the unjust and the ungodly and can judge the virtuous.

Justice is not the highest good. Love is the highest good. Love is God’s greatest strength. In love He is willing to set aside justice in order to forgive, to show mercy, to be patient, to be kind, and even to suffer for us.

The Righteous Man in the Parable is the Pharisee. He rightfully can boast about not sinning, of praying, fasting and tithing. All the people who heard Jesus would have known this. But his righteousness is born out of a harsh judgementalism of himself and his neighbor. Because He believes in the God of justice and judgment, He harshly condemns himself for his own faults. And so feels he can also properly condemn everyone else who does not live up to his standard of piety. He comes to believe He speaks with the authority of God Himself in judging his neighbor.

The unholy and ugly man of the Parable is the Publican, that tax collector who does not even apologize for his sins or offer to make reparations for the wrongs he has done as Zacchaeus did. He stands afar off and calls himself a sinner and begs God’s mercy. And rightfully so, because he doesn’t stand a chance in you know what of laying any claim to heaven. He is a rotten sinner, a theiving, cheating, tax collector, who has gotten rich at the expense and suffering of others. And as St. John Chrysostom says, there is no particular virtue in his calling himself a sinner when in fact he is one!

So if he is such a sinner, which he himself admits, and if he is overly bold to dare to show up in the temple, kind of like Howard Stern showing up at Liturgy one day, how come the Lord says this man is the one whom God accepts?

I believe Archbishop Anthony Bloom got it quite right in his book, BEGINNING TO PRAY, when he said that unlike the harsh Pharisee, the Publican understood mercy. As a man who continually took money from others, and no doubt saw many beg him for mercy, as a man who thrived in a world of competition, cruelty, and heartlessness, he also knew what it was to unexplanably pardon a debtor, to show compassion to a desparate person, to unexpectedly and completely illogically extend a kindness to some poor, hopeless wretch. He the tax gather knew what it is to collect debts, he understood what it was to be in the power of someone else and to have nothing left to do but beg mercy. It is that man, that tax collecting sinner, who could believe in and hope for a God who is merciful, kind, and forgiving. A God who for no deserved reason, pardons all debts, purely because He is love. It is the man who understands mercy because he has granted it to some undeserving wretch, who is able to believe in the God of the Bible. Such a man can understand the great power wielded by one who is able to forgive a debt. Such a person is able to pray to God, and to go forth and show love and mercy to others because he knows God loves and forgives him for no deserving reason.

My friends, let us flee the pride of the Pharisee and let us embrace the tears and humility of the Publican. Let us truly love one another. Remember, Prayer is not an optional exercise in piety. Prayer is your relationship with God. How you pray and what you pray for reveals that relationship. If prayer is merely self assertion before God, then one is not in need of God’s mercy, grace, salvation. If one does not need anything from God, there is nothing to be received.

There are others who need your love and forgiveness even though they don’t deserve it. You need to give your love and forgiveness to them in order to open yourselves to God. As we move toward the celebration of Pascha and the complete forgiveness of our sins, the cancelling of all of our debts, the removal of all punishment for wrong doing, let us understand the great mercy and love of God, and so let us go forth and love and forgive each other, and show mercy to every person we meet. Amen.

Orthodoxy in the World: Teachings (C)

This is the 11th blog in this introductory series to the Orthodox Faith.  The First blog is  Orthodoxy in the World & Light to the World. This blog continues the section on basic teachings of Orthodoxy, the previous blog is Orthodoxy in the World:  Teachings (B).

 Humans are created in the image and likeness of God.   But what do we know about this God?    The Orthodox believe the basic revelation about God is a self revelation –  it is what God has chosen to reveal to us, and while what can be known about God is revealed in creation itself, it is made most clear through the scriptures, but specifically the scriptures as revealed in and through Jesus Christ.

            The most basic claim of the Orthodox is that God is love.   Since, in Orthodoxy love always is other oriented, it is natural that God should also be Creator.  God calls into existence others whom He can love.  But since God is love, the Orthodox believe this basically means God is not a monad.  God does not engage in self-love, but always is love.   How is it possible for God to be love if He existed before there was anything else to love?    The answer to this question is found, so the Orthodox believe, in what Jesus Christ revealed about God, namely, God is a Trinity of co-equal divine Persons (thus “God is love” means God is a relational being).   Orthodoxy believes the witness of Christ and the scriptures is that God (divinity) exists as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.   Officially in theological terms there is one divine nature (monotheism) which exists in the three persons of the Trinity.     Each of the persons of the Trinity completely shares in the divine nature of love.  Whatever makes the Father God also makes the Son and Sprit to be God.   The three persons of the Trinity are true personal beings and relate to each other and to creation.  

            Each of the persons of the Trinity is unique and not confused with the others.   The Father is the source of all things including the divine nature.  The Son is begotten by the Father and the Spirit proceeds from the Father.   God the Son has the unique role of becoming incarnate.  He became flesh (not just indwelling in it, but actually becoming flesh).    This is the witness of the Gospel of John which says “the word became flesh.”    This is exactly what the Christians argued and debated in the first several hundred years of the Church’s existence:  Who is Christ?   What is the implication of the answer to this question for our understanding of God and humanity?

            Jesus Christ is understood in Orthodoxy as being the Word of God.  Thus in Him is found the true understanding of scriptures and God’s revelation.    And what God has revealed in Christ is that God is Trinity and God is love.  What has also been revealed is that humanity – creation itself – is fully capable of union with God.   Whatever role sin played in separating humans from God, that separation has been overcome in Jesus Christ.  Whatever role death has in separating humans from God or each other, this too has been overcome in Jesus Christ.   In whatever way God became unknowable to humans, Jesus Christ has overcome that division both revealing God to us and reuniting us to God.

Next:  Orthodoxy in the World:  Teachings (D)

Original Sin: The Allure of Death

This is the second blog in a series based upon my reading of Alan Jacobs’ book, ORIGINAL SIN.    The first blog is How Original Sin Impacts Christianity.  In that blog, we see Genesis not teaching “original sin” as some inherited sin and guilt which controls human.  Rather, God finds Himself having to deal with a humans whose hearts are inclined to wickedness: no explanation is offered as to why, it is an accepted given.  God attempts to drown wickedness out of humanity in the Flood story, but this effort fails, so a new plan of action is adopted by the Lord.

God gives His chosen people Torah, as a means for them to choose and embrace goodness themselves.   This too does not rid the people of wickedness or of disbelief.  In fact, the history of the Jews as recorded in scriptures is a fairly dismal history of failure to keep the Law by the leadership and by the people.  The miracle is that despite all failure, they kept a sense of being a people, and of being a people of the Law.

Then God sends His Son into the world, which comes as a surprise to all.  The incarnate God takes on the human heart, inclined toward wickedness, and the human body with its mortal nature.  God brings about a new union between Divinity and humanity.

This is what stops the Pharisee Saul in his tracks, resulting in him rethinking the whole relationship of himself and the chosen people to God.  Maybe it is not mere obedience that God is demanding from us.  The issue is to be faithful to God, directed toward God, even when our hearts incline toward wickedness constantly.  God is not demanding that we be robots perfectly grinding out each predetermined motion.  God wants us to work on our hearts, to love, to resist the ways in which mortality and sin pull us away from Him.  It is almost as if we are attracted to mortality, as if it has a power to draw us away from God, and in that distorted sense we use our free will to prove our freedom by showing God we are not His automatons and we can act freely and independently of Him.  Bizarrely, the logic is that death proves we are free beings – freed of the domination of God. Thus by a strange rationalization, death causes us to sin, as the sure means to exert our freedom from God’s dominion: if we die it proves we are free from God’s control!

“This is how many Greek theologians read Paul’s Greek (in Romans 5:12):  ‘As sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, so death spread to all men; and because of death, all men have sinned.” (p 55, note)

While all of this makes sense of Adam, and of Christ, it really is a description of the human condition rather than a prescription.    There still is at work in humanity, deep in our hearts, an attraction toward wickedness, which is acknowledged by the incarnate Son of God.  For Jesus taught:

“For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:21-23).

It is the Orthodox interpretation of Paul in Romans 5:12, “that because of death, all men have sinned,” which leads the Orthodox especially to see the final enemy of humankind as death, not sin.  It is death, mortality, which has lured humanity into its grasp, and which holds humanity captive.  Satan’s deception is in telling Eve that disobeying God will not lead to death, but it does.  The humans are willing to deceive themselves into believing that disobedience to God is freedom and will not lead to mortality. Death is our captor and jailor.  It is Christ who sets us free from this imprisonment to sin, death, and self.

The problem with some of the thinking on “original sin” is that first it reduces sin to a juridical failure to keep the law, whereas the original problem is that humans chose death over God.  Our ancestral sin is not mere disobeying a commandment but making a choice between God and death, and choosing death as the preferred path.   The lesson of Adam and Eve is their, and as prototypes of humanity, thus our willfully choosing something other than God.  Not only do we not choose something good or beautiful, but something destructive and evil: it is a total failure for humans to love and to be in the image of the Trinity of Beings which is the God who is love.

Jacobs’ book is no doubt a fair assessment of how Western Christianity came to allow a particular interpretation of “original sin” not just to be an explanation of what causes human behavior, but to dominate our thinking about what it is to be human.  The history of Western Christian thinking as shaped by “original sin” can be seen in three sample quotes from the book:

“If we cannot understand how humanity got from innocence to experience, from obedience to rebellion, from fellowship with God to alienation from him, we certainly cannot imagine our way back into that aboriginal state.”  (p 44)

 “From time to time in Western history, a vision of the greatness of human moral potential emerges or arises, only to find an immediate counter in an equally potent and vivid picture of human bondage to the sin we all inherit from Adam.” (p 127)

“What remains – and this is the chief task of his (Jonathan Edwards)  long book—is to argue that ‘the great Christian doctrine of original sin’ is the best explanation for this ‘apparent and acknowledged  fact’ of human ‘ruin.’”  (p138)

Next:  Freeing the Theological Mind from the Effects of Original Sin

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 11:10-32 (b)

See: God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 11:10-32 (a)

Genesis 11:10 These are the descendants of Shem. When Shem was a hundred years old, he became the father of Arpach’shad two years after the flood; 11 and Shem lived after the birth of Arpach’shad five hundred years, and had other sons and daughters. 12 When Arpach’shad had lived thirty-five years, he became the father of Shelah; 13 and Arpach’shad lived after the birth of Shelah four hundred and three years, and had other sons and daughters. 14 When Shelah had lived thirty years, he became the father of Eber; 15 and Shelah lived after the birth of Eber four hundred and three years, and had other sons and daughters. 16 When Eber had lived thirty-four years, he became the father of Peleg; 17 and Eber lived after the birth of Peleg four hundred and thirty years, and had other sons and daughters. 18 When Peleg had lived thirty years, he became the father of Re’u; 19 and Peleg lived after the birth of Re’u two hundred and nine years, and had other sons and daughters. 20 When Re’u had lived thirty-two years, he became the father of Serug; 21 and Re’u lived after the birth of Serug two hundred and seven years, and had other sons and daughters. 22 When Serug had lived thirty years, he became the father of Nahor; 23 and Serug lived after the birth of Nahor two hundred years, and had other sons and daughters. 24 When Nahor had lived twenty-nine years, he became the father of Terah; 25 and Nahor lived after the birth of Terah a hundred and nineteen years, and had other sons and daughters. 26 When Terah had lived seventy years, he became the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran. 27 Now these are the descendants of Terah. Terah was the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran was the father of Lot. 28 Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his birth, in Ur of the Chalde’ans. 29 And Abram and Nahor took wives; the name of Abram’s wife was Sar’ai, and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and Iscah. 30 Now Sar’ai was barren; she had no child. 31 Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sar’ai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife, and they went forth together from Ur of the Chalde’ans to go into the land of Canaan; but when they came to Haran, they settled there. 32 The days of Terah were two hundred and five years; and Terah died in Haran.

When we read the genealogy in the Gospel According to St. Matthew (1:1-25) on the Sunday before Christmas, we might be tempted as Christians to say that in that whole list of births, there is only one birth that really matters – the Nativity of Jesus Christ. That narrow thinking would certainly miss the point of the scriptural text.  The very reason all those names are preserved in Scripture is to show that all the births mattered, even those of nefarious characters, because they each were an essential birth in the history of humanity that led to the nativity of the Savior.  In fact all the births are of the utmost importance as the birth of Christ would not have occurred without this exact history unfolding as it did.  Of course in Orthodoxy, though Matthew’s genealogy traces Joseph’s ancestors, it really is the genealogy of Mary the Theotokos which is of genetic and human significance for the incarnate Word of God.  All the births in the Scriptural genealogies are thus essential and matter for the salvation of the world.  Furthermore in Christian thinking, the birth of every human since the time of Christ also is significant for the life of the world.  No human ever conceived is inconsequential to the world, every single human conceived and ever human who is born matters to God and to the people of God.

Genealogies remind us that each of us, every human being is born into a world which already exists, and is born in relationship to other human beings.  We are by nature relational beings.  Genealogies place each human in the context of humanity; giving each person a history and a place in the social order.  They also serve the purpose of reminding us that in biblical terms, as relational beings, we are beings of love (where love is always directed toward the “other” and is not directed toward self interest).   The Scriptures testify that God is love (1 John 4:8,16).  For Christians this also refers directly to the fact that God is Trinity – a Trinity of Persons who dwell in love and whose relationship with one another is love.  For humans true love then is not an emotion but an encounter with God (and in Orthodoxy we always encounter one of the Persons of the Trinity, never God-in-general).   God as Trinity is a relational being and we who are created in His image and likeness are created as relational beings, created to be in God’s image, created to love.  Genealogies remind us of these truths that we are born into and experience the world through interrelationships with all other human beings, but especially with specific humans, normally our parents and family.  We are by our births given context in the world, given a story, given a shared human nature and story.

Next:  God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 11:10-32 (c)

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 6:6-7 (a)

See:  God Questions His Creation: Genesis 6:5 (b)

Genesis 6:6 And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7 So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the ground, man and beast and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.”

“it grieved him to his heart.”    He who loves much suffers much or so one adage says.  God’s grieving heart is being contrasted with the human heart in the previous verse, “every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5).  God’s thoughts are on grief, human thoughts on how to do evil.  The extent of the fall is obvious – for now in what way is the human in God’s image and likeness?  Certainly the human heart has become ‘unlike’ God’s.   Thus says the Lord “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.  A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances” (Ezekiel 36:25-27).

St. John the Forerunner“…it grieved him to his heart…”   A most profound theological thought:  the sins of humans touch the very heart of God!   We often excuse our sinful behavior by saying, “It’s between me and God.”  This may be true, but the text also points out that our sins cause God pain and grief!   God is not merely a transcendent being untouched by His creation.  He is a very immanent and loving Creator whose inner being is touched and affected by what we, His creatures, do.  The incarnation does not result from God’s distance from us, but rather from His connectedness to us – from the fact that He is touched by our sin.  His response to this pain is to take on Himself our sin by assuming our flesh.   St. John the Baptist “saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’” (John 1:29).

“So the LORD said,…”    To whom is God speaking?  To whom does God share His sorrow and grief? In Christianity this is another sign of the existence of the Three Persons of the Trinity.  God is not a soliloquist; for after all this is all about revelation!   The thoughts of God are shared by the Three Persons of the Trinity and revealed to those inspired by God to record His thoughts in the Scriptures.  We do not know all that God thinks, but we do need to know all that He thinks to reveal!

Long-suffering Job

What kind of God do we worship?  Not only One who is creator and judge, but also the God of love who grieves in His heart when humans sin.  He is a God of compassion and feeling.  The image of the angry God who judges the ungodly which some like to preach, may misrepresent God because they ignore the foundational thoughts in God’s heart: love and painful sorrow.  When we fail to understand the compassionate nature of the God who is love, we reduce God in rationalistic terms to a God who is logic.  Genesis reminds us that God is not just mind, He also experiences life deeply through His heart.   We would do well to remember the words of God to Job’s totally rational interlocutors:  “After the LORD had spoken these words to Job, the LORD said to Eli’phaz the Te’manite: ‘My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.  Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7-8)

God who saw the goodness in humanity and creation in the beginning, now regrets what He sees on earth.  What had God intended for humans?   What went wrong?  Had God not foreseen this turn of events?  Prior to this the only time God saw that His creation was not good was when He recognized the loneness of the first human.  But at that time God formed the plan to create another human who would be able to procreate with the first man.  Now God sees way beyond the world being imperfect to recognizing the evil in humanity.

St. Augustine not willing to concede that humans were created with “a defect” (or that the perfect God would create something defective), speculated that Satan has such a powerful influence over humans that humans cannot choose the good without the help of God.  He did believe humans had free will but he concluded that they were so influenced by Satan that they could only freely choose evil.  Humans in his thinking no longer were capable of choosing the good without God’s grace.  He formulated his ideas on predestination, a speculation that actually was rejected by the Church in the Christian West in his own day.  The later Medieval Roman Church will embrace his ideas despite their having been rejected by the early Church.  The radical reformers such as the 16th Century’s John Calvin took these predestination ideas to the extreme and declared humans as incapable of any free choice with lives totally pre-determined by God.   Such ideas of total predestination were never embraced by Biblical Judaism nor by early Christianity or even by later Orthodoxy which have always upheld human free will and responsibility. 

Apostle Peter

Such pessimistic ideas about humanity certainly are challenged by many sayings in the Scriptures themselves.  Such as, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you”  (James 4:7) or First Peter’s more cautionary comment, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:8-9).  The New Testament exhorts us to resist Satan, not fear him; and certainly the New Testament authors seem to assume we can resist the Evil One.    Satan, according to our pre-baptismal exorcism does not even have power over swine.  We renounce him in the exorcism and spit on him – we claim to not only resist him, but to despise him, and to trample him beneath our feet.   Evil is pervasive in the fallen world, but its powers are limited.  We have the full power from God to resist evil and to overcome it. 

Next:   God Questions His Creation: Genesis 6:6-7 (b)

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 4

Expulsion of Adam & Eve from Paradise

See:  God Questions His Creation: Introduction

In the chapter 2 of Genesis God forewarned Adam that if he ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, on that day he would die.  Despite the impending threat of death, Eve took the initiative and the forbidden fruit and ate it, then gave it to the passive Adam who followed her lead and ate the fruit.

As the story unfolded there was not instant death, or even death on that day they ate the fruit.  Eve and Adam’s eyes are opened, as the serpent foretold, but what they see is their own nakedness and so they attempt to cover themselves with leaves and then hide from God.

Still very much alive, Eve and Adam are confronted by God who does not use the threatened capital punishment against them, but rather formulates some other curses involving suffering in childbirth and imposing on them the difficulties we encounter in the world in attempting to raise crops to feed ourselves.  God reconfirms that the humans are now to be mortal beings and will return to the earth from which they were taken – but not yet.

For God puts into play a different plan for the humans, expelling them from His Garden of Paradise, and from His presence.  God puts them into the world to fend for themselves, but he leaves them very much alive.  Later, in Genesis 6:3 God announces that His Breath/Spirit will not abide in humans forever either, for now humans will live only to be 120 years old before death will take them.

Eve and Adam will not die on the day they sinned, nor will they even be the first humans to die, for they will live through the nightmare of every parent – the murder of their son, Abel.  Abel is the first human reported to have died despite the fact that no sin was recorded against him.  Adam goes on to live to be a reported 930 years old before he dies.  Eve vanishes into history as her death is not even recorded.  Adam, however lives far beyond the threatened day of his death, and past the 120 year limit as well.

The story of Genesis puts the biblical literalist to the test in coming up with an explanation to account for the facts of the story.  Some will posit that Eve and Adam suffering some form of “spiritual” death rather than a physical one.  Others understand the story metaphorically or need ideas beyond the text to account for what the text literally says. 

Another possibility is that the story isn’t meant to be read literally.  Perhaps the text is giving us a theological clue as to the nature of this God of love.  God is not governed by karma or pure justice, but is a living personal being who has lordly power even over justice; the Lord can rule in forgiving love.  For instead of immediately striking down Eve and Adam, God is shown to be merciful, to be a God who does not desire the death of a sinner (Ezekiel 18:23, 33:11), not even a sinful one who defiantly sins knowing death is supposed to be the wages for sin (Romans 6:23).

Interestingly, God showed Himself to be merciful to Eve and Adam, clothing them to cover their nakedness rather than killing them (Genesis 3:21), and allowing them to reproduce (though with increased pain in childbirth) to continue the human race rather than allowing them to die into extinction.   God loves His creatures despite their sinful rebellion and provides for them, even though changing His relationship with them and denying them access to the garden He planted for them.  Humans will have to work hard to survive in the world, but God will let them live, something He reaffirms when He repents of having tried to drown the wicked and the wickedness of humans during the Great Flood (see Genesis 8:21 where God vows never again to destroy all of humanity by a flood.  God accepts the fact that humans are ever drawn to sin and always conceive evil in their hearts – He will let them live anyway and work out His plan of salvation despite what the humans might do).

The biblical story of the continuation of the human race once expelled from Paradise, is the story of the merciful God who is love.  Judgment and justice demand God to act against His human creatures; Satan (the Adversary) uses this very logic to incite God against the blessed Job because basically Satan tells God ‘humans are no damn good’ (Job 1:11, 2:4-5).   God remains steadfast in His love for His humans.   Genesis is not the story of the judgment of God on humanity, but of God’s forgiving and merciful love for humankind. There is no mention of hell or eternal punishment in the Genesis account of the Fall.  The vision of God presented in the first chapters of Genesis through and after the sin of Eve and Adam find their culmination in the Gospels:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him”  (John 3:16-17).

Despite human sinfulness and rebellion, despite humans conceiving evil in their hearts, God shows Himself to be the God of love in allowing the story He began with Adam and Eve to continue.  God shows humans are redeemable, for humanity is able to produce Mary, the Theotokos, who finds favor in God’s eyes.  Through her, God takes on human nature – the Word of God becomes flesh.  God puts his plan for humanity into action in spite of the human proclivity toward sin.

Christ, and the forgiveness He offers by taking upon Himself the sin of the world, is God’s final response to sin and death.   God uses death which humans had brought into the world (Romans 5:12) to destroy death and all evil.

Next:  Genesis 4:1-2

The All Powerful Self-emptying God

The question gets asked as to why if God is omniscient (all knowing) and omnipotent (all powerful) is there evil?

At least a partial answer is offered by John Polkinghorne  in his  THE FAITH OF A PHYSICIST):

“I have suggested from a theological point of view the roles of chance and necessity should be seen as reflections of the twin gifts of freedom and reliability, bestowed on his creation by One who is both loving and faithful.   … God’s gift of ‘freedom’ to his creation is conveyed by his respect for the integrity of these processes.   …   The act of creation involves divine acceptance of the risk of the existence of the other, and there is a consequent kenosis of God’s omnipotence.  This curtailment of divine power is, of course, through self-limitation on his part … It arises from the logic of love, which requires the freedom of the beloved.”

What I get from Polkinghorne is specifically that God giving free will and freedom to His human creatures means God does accept a degree of chance in His creation.  Humans really do have choices to make with real consequences, and so what humans think, say and do, matters for all; we are shaping our future in the same way that the universe is expanding and forming its own boundaries.   God is not predetermining or predestining every decisions and action of every human being, and is allowing human decisions to shape history.  Humans are thus influencing the space time continuum. 

God gives humans freedom and free will and then freely chooses to circumscribe His own powers to relate to and work with the humans in His creation.  The incarnation is the main story of God’s self emptying (kenotic) love.  The Virgin Mary is Theotokos containing the uncontainable God in Her womb in an inexplicable mystery. 

Freedom and free will are the corollaries of love – you cannot have one without the other.  Thus for love and forgiveness to exist in the world, there has to be free will, and if there is free will there is the potential for evil.  This is the strange manner in which the self emptying and self limiting love of God allows evil to exist.  It is not that God wishes evil to exist, but His love is such that He allows His creatures to reject Him and to practice evil rather than destroying His creatures.  This is the mystery of the phrase, God is love.