Living in the Story: Spoiled Creation
A quick review before we start.
We began the series by noting it was important we know the story we’re in: to know both the story of the western worldview which constantly shapes us, often in ways unrealised; and to know the biblical story so that we are shaped by that instead.
Last week we considered the story of creation. We saw that it was a story of God creating his temple, the place of both his presence and rule. We also saw the vocation given to human beings, and how that vocation is the rudder by which we navigate the time between the original creation and the new creation yet to come. Today we’re considering the spoiling of creation—something we know intuitively because we all live with it in the present world.
The Fall and Its Results
(Much of this section is adapted from John Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve.)
Let’s consider how sin entered the world and its results.
The beginning of chapter 3 introduces us to the serpent—who we all assume was Satan, but it doesn’t actually say that! The serpent is described as ‘crafty’, which picks up ideas like sneaky, deceptive, wily, cunning and devious. Based on the writings of the era, John Walton argues that the serpent is best understood as a chaos creature. In ancient culture, chaos creatures were seen as belonging to the divine sphere but weren’t considered to be gods. They were seen as mischievous or destructive and worked through deception and misdirection. Left unchecked, they would cause problems.
The serpent does all of that through his interaction with Eve. He deceives, misdirects and misconstrues what God had actually said, sowing seeds of doubt in her mind as to God’s goodness. She gave into the temptation and ate the fruit, as did Adam.
The presenting symptom was an act of disobedience—God said not to eat the fruit of that particular tree, and they did—but the real issue was something far deeper. As we see in chapter one, God described everything he created as good. It was good in the normal sense in which we might use that word, but even more importantly it was good in the sense that everything functioned as it should; it was all in perfect order and harmony, centred around God’s wisdom, presence and rule. However, Adam and Eve’s giving into temptation and eating the fruit of the tree wasn’t just an act of disobedience, it was more that they were trying to set up a centre of functioning outside of God. In essence they were trying to be him, asserting their independence and seeking to make themselves the centre of harmony, wisdom and order. That action had some horrific outcomes.
In seeking to establish a centre of functioning outside of God, instead of maintaining an order centred in them, disorder was introduced, a disorder that extended to all people of all time, as well as extending to creation itself. As we look around this world and consider our own life within it, it’s very hard not to conclude that something’s broken. Sure, there are many good things and we have many good and life-giving experiences, but within that we can’t help but see a degree of disorder and brokenness that, despite thousands of years of history, people seem powerless to repair.
Verse 8, a very short distance into this part of the story, shows us that one of the major outcomes was alienation from God (and also each other). What was lost was relationship with God which is another way of saying that people lost access to his presence. In fact, from that time on God’s presence was something to be feared not welcomed and enjoyed. It was always God’s creational intention that humanity would be in relationship with him, so for that not to be the case automatically means disorder and disorientation. It also meant that people failed to live out their calling as human beings as set out in Genesis 1 & 2.
(The following section is adapted from Tom Wright, The Day the Revolution Began, 74-106)
At this point I want to go back to something I said earlier and consider it a little further. The presenting symptom was an act of disobedience—God said not to eat the fruit of that particular tree, and they did—but the real issue was something far deeper. The problem is that in trying to understand what happened in the fall and its consequences, we more often than not focus on the symptom and miss the deeper issue.
Sin and Morality
Our common understanding of sin is that it’s the breaking of a moral code. Christianity has had a never ending supply of moral codes right through its history. The elements have changed over the years and they vary from culture to culture, but their nature has pretty much remained the same. Sin is understood as breaking the moral code in terms of things like lying, stealing, gossiping, slander, homosexuality, adultery and any number of other things we might like to add. I heard the other day of someone questioning how a pastor could play cards and drink alcohol! I’m not saying those things are OK; but I am saying the nature of sin goes far deeper than that.
Here’s the common understanding of how it works. God told people to keep a moral code—you can do this, but don’t do that—and staying in the Garden of Eden depended on them keeping that code. Death would be the result of failing to keep it. A similar thing happened with the people of Israel with the moral code of the 10 commandments and the rest of the law. Nothing changed, because people again broke that moral code and so were headed for hell rather than heaven. Eventually Jesus came along and kept the moral code perfectly and he took the penalty of death for every person who believes in him. That means those who believe get to go to heaven, and those who don’t believe don’t.
Sin and Idolatry
The real and deeper issue in regard to sin is not so much failing in terms of keeping a moral code but failing to keep our vocation. Humans were called to subdue and serve the creation, to be the means though which God’s wisdom and character would be present to the world and to care for it in the way he would. When sin entered the world, humans tried to set up a centre apart from him and effectively turned that vocation on its head. Instead of worshipping God by serving him through fulfilling our vocation, people gave worship and allegiance to things within creation itself, including themselves. The deeper nature of sin is that it’s missing the mark, the failure of vocation, and that’s the essence of idolatry.
It isn’t just that we do wrong things and so bring punishment upon ourselves. The larger problem is that when we worship things and forces within creation, we hand over our power to them, including evil forces, who then run rampant. When we choose idolatry, we choose death.
The problem is that humans were made for a particular vocation which they have rejected; that this rejection involves a turning away from the living God to worship idols; that this results in giving to the idols — forces within the creation — a power over humans in the world that was rightfully that of genuine humans; and this leads to a slavery, which is ultimately the rule of death in itself, the corruption and destruction of the good world made by the Creator. (Wright, 86)
A final thought:
Viewing Adam and Eve as priestly representatives in sacred space who brought the alienation of humanity from God’s presence may lead us to frame differently our questions about our current status in the present. It will help us to remind ourselves that salvation is more importantly about what we are saved to (renewed access to the presence of God and relationship with him) than what we are saved from. This point is significant because too many Christians find it too easy to think only that they are saved, forgiven and on their way to heaven instead of taking seriously the idea that we are to be in deepening relationship with God day by day here and now. (Walton, 147)
Summing it all up:
- The human problem is that we have failed in the creational vocation as given us by God.
- Humanity has tried to establish a centre of functioning outside of God and be independent of him.
- The result was disorder instead of order; disharmony instead of harmony.
- Humanity lost access to the presence of God.