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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Swimming Against The Tide

I recall an afternoon several years ago. As with most of my long-term memories the circumstances, themes and emotions are vivid, while the details totally escape me.

The afternoon in question I was driving some friends home after church, and there was a conversation that went in a direction I thought was inappropriate, and I said so. One of my friends responded with words to the effect of “Why are you being so holier than thou?”

I wasn’t trying to give that impression, I was only speaking honestly according to the prompting of my conscience.

This vignette was brought back to my recollection yesterday while reflecting on another incident, which had just occurred.

A dear friend had invited me to attend a presentation about a business opportunity. As I watched and listened it became clear to me that I was being sold a pyramid scheme. I told my friend I couldn’t deal with this company, and that she should walk away too, explaining that the business model was unethical and possibly illegal, and if she made money out of it, it would be at the expense of people joining the scheme later.

I told her that while there was nothing wrong with making money, as long as it doesn’t involve the abuse of other people,

For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?
Matthew 16:26a

As a God-fearing woman I thought she would find my argument completely persuasive, but in fact she couldn’t understand or accept what I was saying. She didn’t accuse me of sanctimony, but all we could do was agree to disagree.

These situations remind me that even when we think we’re on the same page, we’re not always reading it from the same viewpoint, and our differences can reveal themselves at unexpected times.

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), but while we have this in common, our sins are not necessarily the same. One man may be generous with his money but fall easily into lustful thoughts. Another might show kindness to strangers but speak crudely and cruelly to his friends.

And our different weaknesses affect our interactions with each other in different ways. Perhaps we find it easier to notice (and judge) those sins that we feel immune to ourselves. Or maybe our awareness of our own faults make us more sensitive to those same faults in others

But even when we refrain from judgment, and just make known our moral position in a particular situation, we can cause discomfort or offence, often unintentionally.

It’s easy to see how a person of faith, who values God’s moral law above society’s, can often swim against the tide of popular opinion. We see it in the news regularly.

But it’s also true that scripture has so many nuances and possible interpretations – through which God speaks to so many unique individuals – that we can also find ourselves swimming against the tide of accepted wisdom: of our local church, of our denomination, or even of the worldwide Christian faith. This is how churches split, and it can also be how we as individuals become separated from our closest brothers and sisters in Christ.

Confessions of a Hypocrite

“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”

Romans 3:23

How true! There are a number of sins that I would guess every one of us is guilty of on a regular basis. Pride for example, which is probably at the root of so many others.

But one that I am particularly aware of in my own life is hypocrisy. I don’t like it. In fact I hate it, and when I see it in myself I berate myself immediately and forcefully and pray that I won’t fail that way again.

But I do. It’s too easy. There are too many opportunities. As soon as get myself right in one respect I find myself failing in another.

And the one place where I find myself failing on a daily basis is on the road.

In The Car
http://www.freeimages.com/photographer/kasko-29347

I’m sure that I am far from unique in this respect. When I’m driving I become the worst of all hypocrites. I condemn fellow road users in my mind or out loud for driving too fast or too slow, for aggressively overtaking, for tailgating, for poor lane discipline, dangerous parking, unnecessary horn-blowing, queue-jumping and any other bad driving habit you can name.

And every time I do so, I immediately remember that I have been guilty of every one of those transgressions myself. Some I have managed to put behind me, some I only succumb to every now and then, but one or two seem to be ingrained. I can train them out of myself, but sooner or later they creep back in.

I know I need to improve. I recognise that I’m worse when my mood is low. I see that I’m better when I have a passenger, or worse when I’m in a hurry. And when I drive badly I don’t hide it from myself. I acknowledge it and tell myself to try harder next time.

I want to be a better driver, and if I really put my mind to it I’m sure I could keep improving for as long as I’m fit to sit behind a steering wheel. But what I want even more is to show grace in my response to others who are just like me – who may be having a bad day, or who are unfamiliar with a particular road layout, or who just made an honest mistake, or who have any number of other reasons why they did what I myself did yesterday or will do tomorrow.

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 7:12

Self-Imposed Exile

It’s far too easy to become self-obsessed. It’s a trap I’ve fallen into recently. It’s not that I’ve withdrawn from the world, or that I’m thinking only of myself, but that I’m too much a part of everything that concerns me. My prayers are too much about getting my life in order, oh and by the way, Lord, please look after these people too.

Anyone who knows anything about salvation can tell you that it’s pointless waiting until you’re good enough for Christ to save you – the whole point is that none of us are ever good enough (mostly due to our selfishness and pride), but we receive our salvation as a free gift, by God’s grace, if we choose to accept it.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23-24)

But in a similar way I want God now to fix all my weaknesses and the issues in my life, because somehow I have this crazy idea that I can’t be any use to anyone until I’m made perfect. What nonsense! God has given me all the gifts I need, all the qualities and all the abilities. No, I can’t do everything, and I can’t help everyone. But I can do my part, and each day God is giving me opportunities to make a difference, and to do what he is calling me to do.

Maybe when I start taking those opportunities instead of worrying about my inadequacies, I’ll find some of those weaknesses and issues start to melt away.

The truth is that when you worry too much about yourself you not only exile yourself from people who love you, and people who need your love, but you cut yourself off from God. You might be praying constantly to Him but you’re not hearing His reply, or seeing it all around you.