Who Do You Blame For The Fall?

…so the reason is first the fall, and then free will… why we live in a broken world…

I bit my tongue. First, because it may have been an unintended slip. Second, because it wasn’t the main point of the conversation and I didn’t want to go off on a tangent. Third, and if I’m honest, most pressing, I prefer to avoid conflict. It’s a bit nonsensical sometimes, like on this occasion, when a minor disagreement or correction would hardly lead to world war three, but there it is – I know I need to work on my assertiveness. But the statement gnawed away at me, and so I’ll take this opportunity discuss some of the thoughts I have on the subject.

The first point, which I hope is uncontroversial, is that free will came first. That’s just simple logic. If we didn’t have free will then more or less sixty four and a half books of the Bible would not have been written, and you would have looked at the title of this post and wondered “what fall?”

But that’s not how the world worked out, and so we’re left to contemplate the cause and effects of the fall. And this is where my problems start, because of statements like the following one, which is from the Wikipedia entry on “original sin” but reflects quite a broad understanding:

Original sin, also called ancestral sin, is a Christian belief of the state of sin in which humanity exists since the fall of man, stemming from Adam and Eve’s rebellion in Eden, namely the sin of disobedience in consuming the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The key phrase is “…stemming from Adam and Eve’s rebellion…” It’s just too easy for us to unthinkingly blame Adam and/or Eve for the fall, and hence for every aspect of this broken world. Genesis 3:16-19 seems to provide scriptural support for that view. But let’s be honest about this. If it wasn’t Adam and Eve in the Garden, if it was you, or me, or your favourite preacher or worship leader, whoever was there would have fallen. And if we’re overly generous to ourselves and believe that we would have been smart or strong enough to resist the serpent’s first temptation, we would have fallen for the second, or the third…

Because, lest we forget, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) And we should also remember that the blaming of Eve for the initial transgression has led to untold (and ridiculous) misogyny in the church and the wider world over the millennia.

No, we should not blame Adam, or Eve, but instead reflect on the fact that this is who we are: fallen, and falling, and as Christians we spend our lives trying to gradually fall less often and less far.

This is what I’ve thought for a long time, but I would always find myself troubled when I thought about Romans 5:12-21, where Adam and sin are juxtaposed with Christ and righteousness. I’ve now found peace in this passage, which I can try to explain to you here, but bear in mind that this – like much of Paul’s writing – is packed with meaning, and I’m only scratching at the surface for the purpose of this post. By the way, I’m looking at the NIV. Translations matter when it comes to examining individual words, but for now, until I become a scholar of Biblical Greek, I’ll trust that the NIV gives a fairly sound representation of Paul’s argument.

In verse 12, we are told “…sin entered the world through one man…” At first I thought this contradicted my understanding, until I focused on the word “through” – not “because of” but “through”. As I said above, sin would have inevitably entered the world, sooner rather than later, unless God had chosen to create robots rather than human beings. But no, by His grace we were given free will, and not only did that throw up options of obedience or disobedience, it also made possible all those other wonderful gifts, like surprise, and joy, and love. And yes, the other things too, but they have their place. As one of my favourite sayings goes, “Lands that know only sunshine and no rain become deserts. Life too is like that.”

As I said, there’s plenty to get our teeth into throughout this passage, but I’ll skip ahead to verse 19, where a potential theological hurdle is expressed very clearly. “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”

I have convinced myself that because sin only came “through” the disobedience of Adam, we can’t blame him for our own sin, it’s just a consequence of how we were created. But then how do I reconcile this with righteousness coming “through” the obedience of Jesus Christ? Doesn’t that suggest that we can’t praise or thank Jesus for righteousness? If it didn’t come through Him then would it have come anyway as another consequence of creation?

No, because the man that righteousness came “through” was the “fully human” Jesus, but it came “by” the grace of the “fully divine” Jesus. See verse 15, as well as Hebrews 2:14-18 and Colossians 1:15-20.

So who do you blame for the fall? Who should you blame? The devil, in the form of the serpent? Loathe as I am to let him off the hook, he was also permitted to act as he did, just as he was in the book of Job. So if you want to point the finger somewhere, you might look at versus such as John 1:3 and Isaiah 45:7, and point towards God.  In fact, personally, I think the question of who or what to blame is the wrong one. I think the purpose of Genesis 3, one of its purposes at least, is to hold a mirror up to ourselves and remind us of many things: who we are, what freedom means and what are its consequences, Who sustains and covers us, who deceives us. It’s a deep, rich picture of where we belong in God’s universe, and a reminder of Who we belong to – a humbling and beautiful picture.

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2 thoughts on “Who Do You Blame For The Fall?”

  1. Hi Gavin,

    I quite liked this take:
    https://bulldogcatholic.org/choosing-god-not-blaming-him/

    If we talk about the fall we are ultimately talking about why there is evil.

    The serpent in tempting Eve was evil even before the fall. If we believe that the serpent is the Satan and the fallen Lucifer then the angels must have had free will and rebelled before Adam.

    Therefore the was evil in the cosmos even before Adam.

    I like the mentioned article because it affirms my belief that God is good and cannot create evil.

    Of course this still leaves the open question of why God allows evil…as God foreknows all then he knew the consequences of creating a cosmos with free will.

    The argument that you put forward in this article and the one that mentions Stephen Fry is that basically without evil we can’t appreciate good.

    This is difficult for me to accept as it seems to me that it is saying that God made the ‘intentional ‘flaws”, as you put it, in order to for us to appreciate his goodness or at the very least to bring glory to himself.

    For me this makes God is the ultimate cosmic narcissist.

    In things such as prayer and worship I believe that the benefit is really for us rather than God…He does not need or require our worship or prayers.

    All powerful as he is, he is all about relationship. The trinity is all about relationship…other centered, self-giving love.
    “In the trinitarian community, the Father, Son, and Spirit all enjoy the fullness of one another in endless fellowship. Each member loves the other. That is, the Father and Son both empty themselves and pour themselves into each other through the Spirit.”
    Jesus: A Theography by Sweet and Leonard.

    So, I like to believe that God chose to create humanity with free will in order that we may partake in this devine relationship. Without free will there can be no relationship.

    This doesn’t remove the problem of evil, it is still troubling and still the question “bone cancer in children, what is that about?” is hard to answer.

    But if I lose the belief that God is good then I lose it all.

    Grace and peace,
    John

    1. Hi John,

      Thanks for the reply, you make some good points, and I like the article you linked to, I immediately agree with 95% of what Father Schmitz says there.

      I think maybe any difference of opinion I have with him, and maybe with you too, is a result of us getting hung up on the word “blame”. If I “blame” God for evil, does that mean evil is His “fault”? Does it mean God is evil? No, it only means that God is the Creator of the universe, and He didn’t create it this way by accident. He could have designed it in such a way that evil and suffering couldn’t exist, but that would bring us back to the problem of us all being robots – free will without the option of doing wrong is not free will at all. Without free will, what is love? So the potential for evil is a necessary part of a world where we can choose to love God and each other. And in this sense, although God doesn’t do evil or desire evil, He allows evil, and in the sense that He allows it – because He could choose not to allow it – He is to “blame” for its very existence.

      Of course, individuals who choose to do evil are responsible for their own actions. God is not to blame for the evil acts of people who choose not to live in His love.

      But the point I tried to make at the end of this post, maybe not very articulately, is that playing the “blame game” is actually a distraction, maybe even the enemy’s plan, and there are far more important truths to be found in Genesis about the goodness of God and our purpose in His universe.

      Blessings,
      Gavin

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