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.