Posted by: Ken Brown | December 10, 2009

Was the Fall Necessary?

Daniel McClellan posted a detailed and well-argued response to John Granger’s article on Mormonism and Twilight. Doug Chaplin then posted his own reflections on the particular issue of whether the fall was necessary. I started writing a comment over on Doug’s blog but it grew too long (that seems to be going around), so I’ll instead post it here. Doug argues:

Essentially the carol and the Exsultet alike proclaim that the state of redeemed humanity is greater than that of created humanity before the Fall. This is also, if I have understood it rightly, the thrust of the Eastern language of divinisation. In union with Christ we are drawn not simply into the presence of God, as in the old story Adam and Eve strolled around the garden with him, but into the very life of the triune God, no longer a little lower than the angels.

In a post a few weeks back, I suggested that the idea of Fall needed significant reinterpretation in the light of modern science concerning both the nature of the cosmos and the role of evolution in relation to human life. It seems to me that that idea of a final status which is creation completed, is also here in the idea of the felix culpa, the necessary sin of Adam. It is not only an ancient Christian idea, but one which is profound and significant for modern re-expressions of our faith.

I find this very interesting, and agree that modern science makes quite unbelievable any notion of a perfect creation fundamentally altered by the actions of the first humans (named “Adam” and “Eve”–Man and Life–or otherwise). As I wrote not long ago:

When we can look out and see galaxies billions of light-years away (not to mention fossils on our own planet from millions of years ago), it is rather difficult to argue that the universe has been fundamentally altered within the last 10,000 years or so. It sure doesn’t look like it has. If, on the other hand, God created the world “very good” (but not perfect), and gave us a role in bringing it to final completion, then our sin did not alter the universe itself, it merely derailed God’s plan for its completion. In that case, Jesus’ death and resurrection can still be seen as the turning point of the universe, not because the universe itself has been changed, but because he has made it possible for humanity to get back on track, so to speak.

But I have serious problems with the notion that the fall was necessary to this goal, regardless of who has promulgated such an idea (though Daniel quotes a line from the Book of Mormon that sure seems to do so: “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy” 2 Nephi 2:25). There are certainly aspects to Genesis’ account of the first sin that are more comic than tragic (see J. William Whedbee’s The Bible and the Comic Vision, esp. pgs 19-63), but the idea that our disobedience was necessary and intended seems to me to make a mockery of the horrendous evil that humanity has actually committed throughout history. I just can’t get past Dostoevsky’s point in The Brothers Karamazov:

A little girl, five years old, is hated by her father and mother, ‘most honorable and official people, educated and well-bred.’…  These educated persons subjected the poor five-year-old girl to every possible torture. They beat her, flogged her, kicked her, not knowing why themselves, until her whole body was nothing but bruises. Finally they attained the height of finesse: in the freezing cold, they locked her all night in the outhouse, because she wouldn’t ask to get up and go in the middle of the night… for that they smeared her face with her excrement and made her eat the excrement, and it was her mother, her mother who made her! And this mother could sleep while her poor little child was moaning all night in that vile place!

Can you understand that a small creature, who cannot even comprehend what is being done to her, in a vile place, in the dark and the cold, beats herself on her strained little chest with her tiny fists and weeps with her anguished, gentle, meek tears for ‘dear God’ to protect her–can you understand such nonsense, my friend and my brother, my godly and humble novice, can you understand why this nonsense is needed and created? Without it, they say, man could not even have lived on earth, for he would not have known good and evil. Who wants to know this damned good and evil at such a price? The whole world of knowledge is not worth the tears of that little child to ‘dear God.’ I’m not talking about the suffering of grown-ups, they ate the apple and to hell with them, let the devil take them all, but these little ones!…

Imagine that you yourself are building the edifice of human destiny with the object of making people happy in the finale, of giving them peace and rest at last, but for that you must inevitably and unavoidably torture just one tiny creature, that same child who was beating her chest with her little fist, and raise your edifice on the foundation of her unrequited tears–would you agree to be the architect on such conditions?*

I certainly would not, and I cannot accept a God that would. Thus, regardless of whether “the fall” is what happened to two particular people or (more likely) a picture of what all of us continue to do–choosing to take for ourselves “the knowledge of good and evil,” despite the enormous consequences for ourselves, our families and our communities–it can only be understood as a tragedy. It is one thing to see comedy amidst the pain, or to say that God brings good out of it in the end. It is better still to say that, in becoming flesh, God suffers with us on the path to redemption. But to suggest that we are better off fallen than we would have been otherwise–that I cannot accept.

Doug mentioned the Orthodox concept of divinization or theosis (an idea also present, I believe, in Mormonism). I actually very much appreciate the notion that we are not merely saved but are being made like God; I think there are good grounds for it within the New Testament, most notably in 2 Peter 1:4 That this is part of our redemption seems entirely plausible to me, and since God is infinite, we can go on becoming more and more like God forever without actually becoming God. But I do not for a second understand why such an idea needs to be tied to the fall. Why can God not have taken us, overgrown apes that we are, and begun us on the process of divinization without the fall? Indeed, would it not have been far, far easier for God to have done so?

To say that our disobedience was “necessary” to our redemption, it seems to me, evidences a profoundly impoverished view of God. How much worse, then, to make the fall not just a “necessary” first step on the road to redemption, but rather the climax and “happily ever after” of a four-book love affair?

_______________________________________________________

*Translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, pgs. 241-42, 245. Paragraph breaks added for easier reading.

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Responses

  1. [...] 2: I’ve got a follow-up post here. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Carmen on TwilightSanctuaryAn Introduction to [...]

  2. Divinization is not part of redemption. To say the fall was necessary for redemption is not the same as saying the fall was necessary for divinization.

    Of course, many people confuse this. Huge swaths of christianity see nothing but “redemption”. Therefore, it makes total sense that they should see the fall to be necessary.

    In my view of Genesis 1-2, the fallen state of creation wasn’t necessary. Inevitable, perhaps, but not (necessarily) absolutely necessary.

    • That’s a good clarification, Bill.

    • Bill

      You said, “Divination is not part of redemption.”

      Can you elaborate more on this? I connect the two in the sense that when one is being redeemed, one is being divinized. I’ve only encountered divinization in the past year and haven’t done much reading on it since then.

      • Hey, JohnDave. All I know is that to redeem is to buy back. Whatever God has plans for us afterward, that’s above and beyond buying us back.

        Adam & Eve had not yet eaten from Life when they fell.

        Feel free to stretch the meaning of “redemption” (after all, many do) but I was just using Ken’s words to make a point that there is much more to one’s christian life than becoming saved and sanctified. We are also growing into our spiritual union with God.

        Btw, “divination” is like witchcraft. The word was “divinization”. ;-)

      • Hi Bill,

        Thanks for the response. So I am assuming that you’re referring to divinization when you say, “Whatever God has plans for us afterward, that’s above and beyond buying us back”? I can go with that.

        Thanks also for catching my misspelling. :-)

  3. What would be the implications of “the fall” being turned on its head–is it really a fall, or an inverse stage of development, bringing humanity into maturation. Divinity can be added theologically, but the syllogism of Genesis is philosophically rooted without it.

  4. Can God create a perfect world in which his creatures can also freely love God and each other?

    If – as I think – the answer is “no” then “fall” – some alienation, imperfection, estrangement, need for evolution, maturation, redemption or whatever – is in some sense “necessary”.

  5. There’s a difference between intended and very-likely-but-not-ideal. It is inevitable that my kids will screw up, but my love of them does not depend on their failure, nor do I intend them to fail.

  6. Loving this discussion, and doug’s thoughts on his blog.

    I recall reading an essay by George Murphy regarding the ‘fall’ event. The suggestion that God needed a Plan B, and that that plan gave us the incarnation is a little strange to Mr. Murphy. He suggests that the incarnation was part of the plan right from the outset.

    There’s a whole lot of theologising to be done in this area. . .

  7. That’s an interesting point, but does the fall have to be intended to be anticipated and planned for?

  8. The incarnation was not purely about redemption. The Son of God, Son of Man, was living Unto God for over three decades before he paid for our sins with his blood. Jesus of Nazareth was fulfilling the law, pleasing His Father, doing what Adam & Eve failed to do. The incarnation was about a second Adam, living on a fallen earth as if he were in in Eden.

    Redemption is merely the patch that fixed the program’s flaws. The program had always been LIFE.

    • This might be just a semantic distinction, but when I use the term “redemption” I mean far more than just atonement. It is about restoring all of life and recreating us as we are meant to be, all that you noted and the whole long journey into God on which we are only beginning.

      • I was responding to Phil’s point. In agreement, I think. (Though I wasn’t 100% sure at the time.)

        Thanks for the clarification anyway. I’ve heard the term “redemption” get used like you mean here. I just don’t find that usage to be helpful. An awful lot of christendom gets “saved” and then talks as if the only other thing we have to do is get other people saved too. Thus, my personal preference would be to stop using the expansive use of “redemption”.

        There’s “restoration” (as you say) and there’s “recreating” (as you say). Maybe it was just my experience (though I don’t think so), but it seems to me evangelical christendom went to seed (long ago) on that first emphasis w/o putting much emphasis on the second. (And I don’t just mean behavioral sanctification; I mean entering into a higher way of Living.)

        I figure, using two different words couldn’t hurt in an effort to right that balance somewhat. Guess I do it now by habit. Didn’t mean to be dense.

  9. Ken

    Was the Fall Necessary?

    Fall – In the Bible…
    Where and/or who said it was a fall? Or, they fell?

    Fell from what?

    Why use the term “fall?”

    Not familiar with “neccessary.”

    How about “planned?”
    Or, “purposed?”
    Or, “Just God?”
    Only He knows, and He just ain’t tellin. ;-)

    1Pe 1:19-20
    But with the precious blood of Christ,
    as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:
    Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world,

    The blood of Jesus.
    Why would it be “foreordained”“before” the foundation?
    Did God just know something? Or did He purpose it?

    And “good?”
    All things work together for…

    If God knows,
    the natual mind is not subject to the law of God.
    Romans 8:7

    And, The strength of sin is the law.
    1 Cor 15:56

    And God told Adam “don’t eat.”

    Is that the first law to man?

    What was God expecting?

    Was this command a set up? Hmmm?

    Notice the word “up.”

    Adam and Eve didn’t know good and evil.
    Just knew God.

    Up sounds good or God?
    Fall sounds bad?

  10. Ephesians 2:10 suggests God’s intentions for creation, that before the beginning he had already prepared a path of good (righteous living, perhaps) for us to walk in. That tells me that the fall was not part of God’s plan, but a possible consequence of free will. Adam and his descendants might have, and could have, chosen obedience. The little girl’s parents could have chosen love rather than torture. Jesus was not particularly special as an example of humanity except that he chose to empty himself, humbled himself, and lived in obedience to his Father, even including death on a cross. (Phil 2:7,8)

    As to the question, why go forward with this particular plan for creation knowing the risks, knowing that disobedience would create evil and evil would create suffering? I don’t know, but I suspect the answer is somehow wrapped up in the nature of God’s love, and his eternal perspective vs our history-bound perspective.

    A mother willingly endures months of discomfort and a few hours of awful pain for the hope of a lifetime of joy with a child. Is there some similar calculus at work in the story of creation and its redemption?

    Good post, Ken. Glad you’re back to writing again.

  11. Charlie

    “knowing that disobedience would create evil and evil would create suffering?”

    Can you explain “create evil?”

    Thought all things were created by Jesus?

    Col 1:16
    For by him were all things created,
    that are in heaven, and that are in earth,
    visible and invisible, whether they be thrones,
    or dominions, or principalities, or powers:
    all things were created by him, and for him…

    And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold:
    them also I must bring, and they shall hear “my voice;”
    and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.
    John 10:16

    One Fold – One Shepherd – One Voice.
    If Not Now, When?

    In His Service. By His Grace

  12. Paul is referring to the beginning, when God created all the universe, the angels, and us. However, there are a great many things created by man that were not created by Jesus, because we are made in God’s image and have the ability to create just as he does.

    For instance, we created disobedience to and alienation from God (arguably Satan invented those and transported them to the Garden, but they were not creations of Jesus); disbelief in God, and all manner of specific evils such as torture, technologies designed to bring death such as nuclear weapons.

    God in his omniscience imagined these things, foresaw these things, but did not create them, in my view. Hope that helps clarify what I was thinking.

  13. Charlie

    Thanks for the excellent explanation.

    Especially when reading – Jesus didn’t create these…

    “disbelief in God, and all manner of specific evils such as torture,
    technologies designed to bring death such as nuclear weapons.”

    I don’t know how to understand or believe this because
    the next statement causes questions to come to mind.

    “God in his omniscience imagined these things,
    foresaw these things, but did not create them”

    Why didn’t he stop man’s created evil?
    Why does He allow man’s created evil to continue?
    Isn’t that also evil? Not stopping evil when it is in your power?

    If we knew someone was abusing a child
    aren’t we responsible for helping or reporting it?

    Then there are some scriptures that seem to say that God does create evil.

    Proverbs 16:4
    The LORD hath made all [things] for himself:
    yea, even the wicked for the day of evil.

    Job 5:17
    Behold, happy [is] the man whom God correcteth:
    therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty:
    For he maketh sore, and bindeth up:
    he woundeth, and his hands make whole.

    Hosea 6:1
    Come, and let us return unto the LORD:
    for he hath torn, and he will heal us;
    he hath smitten, and he will bind us up.

    Psalm 51:8
    Make me to hear joy and gladness;
    that the bones [which] thou hast broken may rejoice.

    Psalm 39:10
    Remove thy stroke ( plague ) away from me:
    I am consumed by the blow of thine hand.

    Deuteronomy 32:39 See now that I, [even] I, [am] he,
    and [there is] no god with me:
    I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal:
    neither [is there any] that can deliver out of my hand.

    1 Samuel 2:6
    The LORD killeth, and maketh alive:
    he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up.
    The LORD maketh poor, and maketh rich: he bringeth low, and lifteth up.

    Isaiah 45:7
    I form the light, and create darkness:
    I make peace, and create evil:
    I the LORD do all these [things].

    How do we understand or explain a God,
    when the Bible says about God,

    “I make peace and create evil?”

    Peace…

    • Hi Amos. Lots of good questions. Many of these are what this post is about. Your questions about “why does God permit evil” have been wrestled with since the beginning of Christianity. Others may have a different take, but I believe that the possibility of evil is a necessary result of God granting us free will. If God stepped in and stopped us from committing evil, the world would be a more peaceful place, but people would probably resent being straight-jacketed and muzzled. For some reason, God prefers us to freely choose obedience, goodness, love, rather than forcing it on us.

      Some of the language of Psalms is poetic. Much of it refers to God chastening us when we stray. Often that is experienced practically by his withholding his blessings, rather than actively punishing us. We find ourselves separated from God’s blessing and so we suffer. However, the Biblical concept of suffering is much more complex.

      The Isaiah passage is probably mistranslated in the KJV. Though the Hebrew word can mean evil, it is more likely to mean “calamity” or “disaster” here. Which again suggests blessing and the withholding of blessing. God is good, and therefore he would not create moral evil. God did not create darkness. He created a universe that was dark at first, but then he created light and stars to give light. We may choose to step out of the light into darkness, but the darkness is simply a blocking or withholding of the light. In the same way, God’s goodness and blessing, when withheld or when rebelled against, opens the way for calamity and/or evil.

  14. I don’t want to disrupt this excellent discussion, but I wanted to point out a few other posts that get at these questions from other angles: An Introduction to Job, Science Fiction, Fantasy and an Interventionist God, Divine Invisibility and especially Traffic and the Fall.

    Now I return to my PhD application cave.

  15. Charlie

    Enjoying the communion, the fellowship.
    Thanks for taking the time.

    “God’s goodness and blessing, when withheld or when rebelled against,
    opens the way for calamity and/or evil.”

    Did the first born of Egypt rebel or do evil?

    Did David’s son, born out of wedlock, rebel or do evil?

    Did the 2yr olds and under, who died at the hands of Herod,
    rebel or do evil?

    Adam and Eve only knew God.

    Did not God tell Adam
    NOT to eat from the tree of the knowlege of good and evil?

    Why do we?

    Was the crucifixion of Jesus “Good” or “Evil?”

    P.S.

    Romans 9:13
    As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I “hated.”

    Judges 9:23
    Then God sent an “evil spirit” between Abimelech and the men of Shechem…

    1Samuel 16:14
    But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul,
    and an “evil spirit” from the LORD troubled him.

    Isaiah 19:14
    The LORD hath mingled “a perverse spirit” in the midst thereof…

    Isaiah 53:10
    Yet it pleased the LORD “to bruise him;”
    he hath put him to grief:

    Jesus loves me and forgives me all my sin.

  16. Ken

    Thanks for the links.

    Did I notice a little bit of self promotion? ;-)

  17. I wouldn’t have a blog at all if I wasn’t a closet narcissist, right? ;)

  18. “narcissist”

    Is that like a daffodil or something?;-)

  19. ;-)

    missed the smily face on the last one.

  20. Taking what ‘modern science’ “says” as truth is always a mistake; ‘modern science’ isn’t even about truth.

  21. It’s only an expression. I’ve spent quite a lot of time looking at the evidence for the age of the earth and it is about as convincing as anything about the past can be. The young earth creationist responses to that evidence (and I’ve read quite a lot of those as well) are uniformly bad and misleading.

  22. @ Anyone

    Adam and Eve only knew God.

    Did not God tell Adam
    NOT to eat from the tree
    of the knowlege of good and evil?

    Why do we?

    Was the crucifixion of Jesus “Good” or “Evil?”


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