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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Use It or Lose It

When my shower gel most recently ran out, I decided not to buy another bottle.

No, I wasn’t embarking on a pungent new ‘back to basics’ personal hygiene routine. Instead I started using the many mini-bottles of shower gel that I’ve picked up from hotels over the years.

The purpose of this post isn’t to discuss the morality of taking home ‘consumables’ from hotel rooms – that question has been dealt with quite thoroughly already, right here. The simple fact is that I had a lot of spare toiletries that I was holding onto ostensibly for an ‘emergency’, but in reality they were just taking up storage space.

I’ve always had a weakness for hoarding. In my teens I subscribed to news magazines like Time, Newsweek and The Economist, and I held on to back issues. I thought that one day the articles in there would provide fantastic background material for my creative pursuits – writing songs, short stories or novels. This was before the Internet made research rather less challenging than it used to be.

Well a time came when I moved house and didn’t have room for all those magazines, so I reluctantly took them to the city’s waste disposal centre. I don’t think they even had recycling facilities back then, so hundreds of magazines probably ended up as landfill.

I’ve had similar clear-outs over the years – a lot of CDs, a few clothes, and many little gadgets, tools and so on that might have one day come in useful. That day never came.

Every time I’ve disposed of, or given away, something I’ve hoarded, there’s been a small pang of regret just beforehand, and quite a heavy sigh of relief immediately afterwards. Almost like I’ve been released from invisible chains.

I could tell you a similar story about money, but that’s an interesting one that deserves its own post, so for now I’ll keep a hold on it. (Or is it keeping a hold on me?)

This morning after I’d finished my shower I thought about Job’s words (in Job 1:21),

Naked came I out of my mother’s womb,
and naked shall I return thither:
the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away;
blessed be the name of the Lord.

And it’s true that everything we hold on to physically can be taken away, by theft, by accident, or by natural disaster. And even if we hold on to it for the whole of our lives, as the saying goes “You can’t take it with you.”

As Paul wrote to Timothy (1 Timothy 6:6-10),

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

The other scripture that came to mind as I was contemplating the shower gel was Jesus’ famous instruction in the sermon on the mount (Matthew 6:19-21),

‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

It can be very difficult sometimes to let go of things, even when you’ve convinced yourself they have no real value. Whether it’s selfishness, or fear, or some other emotion or lie that has you bound, the pull can be powerfully persuasive, and the consequences terribly destructive.

I know I haven’t completely conquered my hoarding habit yet, but as in so many areas of weakness, I keep striving to improve. One day at a time. One step at a time. That’s the journey.