Creation, Fall and Reversal


It has been said that Genesis is the book of beginnings, and as an individual who is embarking on a new beginning I would like to use the word – serendipity to describe how timely the study of the book was for me as I start my life as a theology student at Asian Theological Seminary.

I have always believed that I already know the book --after all, I could no longer count how many times I have finished reading and hearing about it, and how many times I have studied it at church. After all –most of the Bible lessons that I’ve heard as a kid or have watched in Superbook are there: Adam and Eve; Cain and Abel; Noah’s ark; Abraham sacrificing Isaac; Rebecca’s marriage with Isaac; Jacob and Esau; Joseph the dreamer etc.

Re-reading Genesis has jolted me out of my ‘born again Christian’ complacency, that has been borne out of my belief that I already know all that there us to be learned from the book as I have already studied it a number of times at church. But as I have said earlier, reading it again in light of its original context has opened my eyes to God’s story that seems to be intricately related to me and how I live my life as a human being, especially if I were to relate it to its overarching theme that I consider as: creation, fall and reversal.

Creation

In the beginning God…” The Book of Genesis began with these four words that initiated the narrative of God’s self-revelation, which started with the first seven days of God’s creative inception of the cosmos. It is interesting to note that this statement is far more than a mere introduction to the story of our creation. It reveals that it is God who has taken the initiative to make Himself known to us, and a paramount statement that discloses both --His nature and will.

And God saw that it was good…” Is the recurring refrain that God uttered after creating the heavens, the sea, the earth and all that it contains, including man and woman. Adam and Eve’s call to share in the unfolding of the Lord’s plan of creation brought into play the traits which distinguishes humans from the rest of creation, while at the same time establishes a fixed relationship between mankind and the rest of creation. We are made in the image and likeness of God, Adam and Eve were to have put into effect their dominion over the earth that is to: image, reflect or represent God who has put all things into motion.

Fall

And you will be like God…” This statement sums up the undoing of the seven days of God’s creative inception that happened in a single act pride that led to disobedience that resulted to the Fall. Where death –that is: physical, moral, spiritual, social, psychological and ecological death enters creation and initiated our implication into the web of human evil that tainted all the facets of life, even in the midst of human advancement.

As I reflect on this episode of Genesis I am forced to confront the truth about myself –that is in spite of all the things that I consider good in me: my life, my faith in God, my family, my relationships, my acts of piety, my involvement with social and environmental activism -I am still tainted with a deeply rooted selfishness that spoils even my best intentions. Moreover, it has made me see the link of my personal sinfulness to the tragedy of human life. Relating the story of Genesis to life introduces me to the tragic condition of man, while at the same time it also reminds me of the hope that we have in a God who is not distant or enmeshed in nature, rather who is actively present and involved with the plight of His creation which can be seen in His later dealings with man in the story of human families that unfolded in the latter chapters of Genesis.

The story of Genesis exposes the entirety of the human condition after the Fall as it was seen in the story of Cain and Abel; of the sons of Lamech’s sons; the builders of Babel; and the cycles of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Apart from God we do not know anything and we cannot do anything. However as the story of Genesis reveals we can be certain that even after the Fall God still dealt with us in love.

Reversal

Genesis ends with Joseph’s consoling words to his brothers who sold him to slavery in Egypt: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Through Genesis we know that in the narrative of God’s dealings with human families we can be confident that He can bring about good from evil. Because it is here that we find the story of a young man from broken family that became a channel of blessing to a world that was faced with famine.

Genesis shows us that God frees us from the fetters that bind our present to the past. In fact, one of the themes of Genesis is reversal –a reversal of plights, or values and of lives. From the garments of skin that God clothed Adam and Eve with; to Noah’s rainbow; to the toppling of Babel –a tower that signified man’s arrogance; to Hagar‘s story of empowerment which demonstrated that survival is possible even under harshest conditions for God is with her.

Another aspect that we could look at is that these are reversals that were brought about by God-encounters that resulted with reconciliation, which can be seen in the story of Jacob and Esau; Joseph and his brothers. Genesis reminds us that true reconciliation occurs only after an encounter with God that results in good relationship with others.

In all of such stories we are exposed with the reality of a God who dealt with men who are like all of us, imperfect and sinful men and women.

Jürgen Moltmann once said:
"It is only when human beings see themselves simply as human beings, no longer as gods, that they are in a position to perceive the wholly other nature of God. It is only when we cease to be unhappy supermen and pathetic mini-gods and permit ourselves to become human beings through and through again that we let God be God."1

Reading Genesis again, has made me identify with the Bible characters, as human beings that are pretty much like me or anybody else –frail and imperfect, but nevertheless was still used by God to accomplish His divine will. Genesis reminds me of the importance of being human for being human means accepting that I do not know everything and admitting that I cannot do everything. The story of Genesis is an invitation for us to be humans; and a challenge for us to let God orchestrate our lives according to His good purpose. It is an invitation to a journey to tread the path of people like Abraham, Noah, Jacob and Joseph to a personal encounter with God who is our all in all.

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1 Moltmann, Jürgen - God for a Secular Society: The Public Relevance of Theology, trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999) p.144

9 comments:

claude said...

". . . in spite of all the things that I consider good in me: my life, my faith in God, my family, my relationships, my acts of piety, my involvement with social and environmental activism -I am still tainted with a deeply rooted selfishness that spoils even my best intentions"

Sir, do you believe that selfishness is innate in people? Do you agree with Ayn Rand's value of selfishness? Honestly, I experienced a moral conflict regarding my aspirations for altruism when a friend recommended that I read some of Rand's works. I realized that most of my motivations might seem selfless but when I dug deeper into the roots of these motivations, they came out to be selfish (subconsciously, I suppose). I guess, I'd like to hear your views about selfishness.

chuck said...

hi claude,
Thanks for taking time to read. to answer your question, yes I believe that selfishness is innate in the sense that it is a consequence of The Fall as articulated in Genesis 3. But what's interesting is the precedent to the Fall which is the sin of pride (Hebrew ga`avah).

It was the sin of pride which first led Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit. In Genesis we read, "Then the serpent said to the woman, 'You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.'

Augustine puts it this way: “Pride is the commencement of all sin' because it was this which overthrew the devil, from whom arose the origin of sin; and afterwards, when his malice and envy pursued man, who was yet standing in his uprightness, it subverted him in the same way in which he himself fell. For the serpent, in fact, only sought for the door of pride whereby to enter when he said, 'Ye shall be as gods.'"

I believe that like all people I am prone to look at myself most of the time as the God of my life –that is ‘sin’ it is our deeply rooted selfishness which taints all our best intentions. It is in sin that I believe we turn our backs on God. No one can deny the fact we all tend to look out for ourselves more than anything else.

Thankfully, what seems as bad news was made right in Christ’s death and in His humanity where He identified Himself with us in all conditions of human life making our plight sympathetically His own and in doing so He even went to the point of satisfying the demanded justice for our sins: as Romans 5:8 puts it – ‘While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’
Another interesting take on pride as sin can be found in the person of Karl Barth who thinks about sin in ways that most of us don't. Like everything, Barth sees sin through lens of Christ. For Barth, sin is everything Christ is not. So from this vantage point, Barth appeals to of Philippians 2 as the basis for understanding sin as being the opposite of Christ. In Philippians. 2, Christ is depicted as emptying and humbling himself and being diligently obedient to the point of death. For Barth, Christ is, among other things, humble and diligent. So for Barth, a good way to think about sin is in opposite concepts from what Christ is shown to be. Instead of humble, sin is defined by pride. Pride is the opposition to the humble condescending movement of Christ out of the heavenly realms and into a world of darkness taking on human flesh.
As far as Ayn Rand is concerned I know her only through our discussions on objectivism in college philosophy where she defines objectivism as: "the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute."

Anyways I can’t really give a fair assessment of Rand’s thought. I hope I was able to answer your question ;)

kuya chuck

claude said...

Yes, Sir, you did enlighten me there. Honestly, the book of Genesis has always posed numerous questions with regard to its authorship, translation, and meaning.

Sorry, I know I shouldn't be bothering you with these common questions about the Bible but I have always wondered who wrote the book. Is it really God Himself? If He did, how assured are we that it was translated accurately knowing how complex language is? With regards to meaning, God forbade Adam and Eve to eat the fruit in the Tree of Knowledge, did He plan for us to be ignorant of evil and be limited to what is good? If that's the case, is He still forbidding us to "learn more" at this present time?

I'm asking all these 'cause personally I'm struggling between enhancing my knowledge and faith. It seems to me that the more I learn and read, the more skeptic I become about my religion and faith. Then Genesis would always remind of God's forbidden tree. He apparently does not want us to learn the truth before so why bother learn it now? I'm not sure if I'm babbling now but it really gets frustrating sometimes.

I have always discussed this with Lance and Me-an. We always end up arguing or just agreeing that whatever God's answers are, they won't make sense to us, humans, anyway. Still, it gets really frustrating at times.

chuck said...

Hi again Claude,

Apologies for the late response I was out the entire day and I’ve just read your comment. Anyways I’m glad you’re asking probing questions about God and the Bible, and so now I’ll try my best to answer your questions, but I cannot guarantee they would be satisfactory after all I’m no C.S. Lewis but I hope my responses would contribute to your search for answers.

(note that I will be answering your questions in parts as the comment system of blogger allows only around 3k characters and I think I exceeded that limit...

chuck said...

The Bible and Divine revelation

Reading your question reminded me of this discussion in my Bible Introduction class a couple of weeks ago, where in our lecture on the Book of Genesis our professor lamented that: “had the Bible ended in the 4th chapter of Genesis we’re all screwed!” I believe this statement might be helpful in looking at the Bible in it’s entirety as the Bible does not indeed end in Genesis, however the Genesis is helpful as it discloses something that is very unique about the Judeo-Christian God –that is self-revelation, it is in the Bible that we find the cosmic narrative of a God who chooses to disclose Himself as well as His will and not to mention that this God also invites us to a communion with Him.

So as a starting point always in terms of approaching the Bible we must first come to grips with the conviction that as far as anything relating to the Christian God goes we must come to grips with the reality that we are faced with a God who discloses Himself to us in the natural world, in the history of Israel and ultimately in Christ and this revelation of God in history is testified to by the Scripture as in the Bible.
So to start everything begins with a revelation this revelation is God who is testified to by the entire Bible and it is safe to say that When God reveals to humanity truth that we would not otherwise know it is called “revelation.” Human reason or intuition could never know these truths – they can only be revealed by God Himself. The purpose for our existence, and the plan of God for our salvation, can only be known through divine revelation. More on this can be found on this link to something that I wrote about on Divine Revelation sometime last year http://faithseekingknowledge.wordpress.com/2008/04/27/divine-revelation/

chuck said...

Authorship of Genesis

As for the book of Genesis’ authorship Biblical scholarship and Judaistic tradition attributes Moses as the author of the first 5 books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deutoronomy). The process upon which Moses was able to write down God’s revelation in history is called –inspiration which functions as a means for God to produce a written record of His manifestation/revelation in the past.

The Fall

As for the Fall to answer your question I would like to borrow from an 2nd century Christian theologian named Iraneus who insists that God inaugurate the world and has been overseeing it ever since this creative act; everything that has happened is part of God’s plan for humanity. The heart of this plan is maturation: Irenaeus believes that humanity was created immature, and God intended his creatures to take a long time to grow into or assume the divine likeness. Thus, Adam and Eve were created as children. Their Fall was a consequence of their desire to grow up before their time and have everything with immediacy.

All that has happened since has therefore been planned by God to help humanity overcome this initial mishap and achieve spiritual maturity. The world has been intentionally designed by God as a difficult place, where human beings are forced to make moral decisions, as only in this way can they mature as moral agents –whose fulfilment came in the humanity of Christ.

Another way at looking at it is from the perspective of Eastern Orthodoxy where Orthodox Christians assert that the key to understanding sin and salvation is related to the concept of man created “in the image of God.”

This concept represents an interesting contrast to Roman Catholicism and Protestants as the great theme of Orthodox theology is the incarnation of God and the re-creation of man. According to Orthodoxy when man sins he does not violate the divinely established legal relationship between God and man; he reduces the divine likeness –he inflicts a wound in the original image of God.

Salvation, therefore consists of the restoration of the full image. Christ, the incarnate God, came to earth to restore the icon of God in man.

chuck said...

Bible translation, manuscripts and accuracy

If we read the Bible at face value, without a preconceived bias for finding errors, we will find it to be a coherent, consistent, and relatively easy-to-understand book. Yes, there are difficult passages. Yes, there are verses that appear to contradict each other. We must remember that the Bible was written by approximately 40 different authors over a period of around 1500 years. Each writer wrote with a different style, from a different perspective, to a different audience, for a different purpose. We should expect some minor differences. However, a difference is not a contradiction. It is only an error if there is absolutely no conceivable way the verses or passages can be reconciled. Even if an answer is not available right now, that does not mean an answer does not exist. Many have found a supposed error in the Bible in relation to history or geography only to find out that the Bible is correct once further archaeological evidence is discovered.

What’s astounding is the fact that there still exists a manuscript of Scripture in its original language that is Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic. What’s more interesting about it is that the Scripture in its original language is universally accepted among all expressions of Christianity (Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant) but also in Judaism.

chuck said...

I’m pretty sure this answers are probably unsatisfactory but I hope they did help. As for responding to Divine Revelation I can only offer something that I learned from Blaise Pascal who suggested that even though the existence of God or the reliability of His will cannot be determined through reason, a person should wager as though God exists, and His self-revelation suffices because living life accordingly to that which is being revealed has everything to gain, and nothing to lose.

cheers,
kuya chuck

x.s. you might want to check the following videos on this channel they're quite insightful
http://www.youtube.com/user/Danni4815162342#g/c/7DC25FDA8E8C12C6

claude said...

Wow, Sir, that's really some extensive explanation! You have no idea how you helped us out here, skeptics.

You're actually right. Everytime I attempt to read the Bible, I have this "preconceived bias for finding errors". I think that's probably because I'm merely using logic to comprehend it. I remember asking Ma'am Jen before how I can make sure that the Bible interpretation that I know is the right one. I mean, with so many religions and interpretations, it is possible to make a mistake. She told me that I should read the Bible with guidance from Bible scholars. Although, sometimes Lance and I read several chapters a night and ask his father (a lay minister and CFC member) about the Catholic Church's teachings about that particular chapter. We sort of stopped doing that out of frustration, I guess. Apparently, we need more patience.

That's why I'm really thankful that you spent some time to answer some of our questions. We've got loads left and still collecting more... Hehehe just kidding. It inspired us again to read the Bible. Thanks for the link, Sir. You really made us see Genesis in a deeper light. 'Got to share this to Me-an. :-)