Ancient Answers

Thank God for the Fall

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My Logos Bible software posts a Bible verse every day as a color slide. I use this daily verse to compose my own reflection on it. So when I logged into my Logos account early this morning, I found today’s highlighted verse is one that I referred to yesterday when I reflected on Jesus as the icon/image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). Today’s verse draws a sharp contrast between Adam and Christ. As any mention of Adam needs some explaining, it is incumbent for me to do so here. Just like yesterday, the discussion has to be a bit on the theological side, as necessitated by the verse itself.

Adam was, according to Genesis chapters 1 & 2 the first human being created by God. And Eve was created from Adam’s rib, according to Genesis 2. Male and female God made humanity; in his image and likeness he made them (Genesis 1:27). The story of origins culminates in Genesis 3, the story of the fall, where Adam and Eve transgress against God’s commandment and are sent out from the garden where they were created. The most crucial result of the fall was that human beings became subject to death. Presumably there would have been no death if they had not transgressed, and they would have remained in the garden.

The story, of course, is archetypal and no one who has gone to school and knows anything about science can accept the story as anything more than a poetic explanation for death and sin. I have never taken the story literally. It is simply impossible for me as a former scientist to accept the story of Adam and Eve literally. It’s a powerful metaphor of human sin and mortality, but impossible as fact. Sorry if that offends any literalists. And Paul, of course, takes the story literally and states the obvious: Death came through Adam, but resurrection and eternal life comes through Christ. The Fathers of the Church (why are there no Mothers of the Church when we talk about theologians?) were inspired by such statements in the New Testament and were motivated to call Jesus the “Second Adam”, in the sense that Jesus undid the fall and reversed the sentence of death that fell upon humanity. As I said, powerful stuff – regardless of whether you take the story literally or not.

But here is a conundrum that arises in my mind. Let’s for the sake of argument take the story as factual history. Some of the Fathers of the Church saw dimensions in the story that Paul did not appreciate or conceive. Some of the Latin Fathers saw the fall as a felix culpa, a “happy fault”. Among the Greek Fathers, Irenaeus of Lyon saw Adam and Eve as childishly immature in the garden, before the Fall – with potential for growth, to be sure, but immature nevertheless. Here is my question. If Adam and Eve had not fallen and had remained in the Garden, would there have been any civilization? Would there have been a Homer or Socrates? Would there have been a Parthenon or the pyramids of Giza? or the Sistine Chapel? Would there have been a Shakespeare? a Beethoven or Mozart? a Tolstoy? Ella Fitzgerald or the Beatles? Sorry if I’m so eurocentric in my examples. I’m not one of these new folks who put down the achievements of western civilization.

Without the felix culpa, we would have none of the great achievements of human civilization – nor, of course, any of the evils, like the Holocaust or 9/11. We accept the evils as manifestations of the dark side in human coexistence, because the manifestations of light and beauty are so much grater and more enduring. This is the great tradeoff of human history. But the greatest gift of the fall is that it made possible the coming of Christ in our midst. We look at Christ and we can’t imagine life without him. And I prefer to focus on the felix culpa version of the Fall. Because it gave us civilization in all its great achievements. And it gave us Christ, who brings gifts and promises greater than anything Adam and Eve received in the proverbial Garden. We’re not in the Garden. Thank God for that. If we were still in the Garden we might still be Irenaeus’ immature children. We’re in a magnificent place called Planet Earth! Can we start treating it as a garden of delight and take better care of it? That would be another glorious result of the felix culpa.

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