Thursday, September 11, 2008

Breathing life...

...then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.

I've always been fascinated by the creation story of Genesis. I'm not sure what it is, but I love reading about and considering the origin of the world. When I think of God creating - out of nothing - everything I see (and don't see) around me... I feel absolute awe at the world and the God who created it. It's a beautiful thing.

Moreover, I find the story of God's creation of Adam particularly interesting because it carries with it a weight and importance beyond that of most portions of scripture. It displays an intimacy with the creator of the heavens as He births the first man out of - oddly enough - dust. Still more beautiful is the description of how God animates this marionette of earth (which is what 'Adam' [adamah] means, "earth/dirt"). He breathes His life into him. This isn't a Polaroid snapshot photo of a child creating figures out of Lego blocks, it is a master painting of the intimacy and communion between man and God Himself. God didn't push a button to make man go. He didn't wind him up or insert batteries. He imparted himself into man in an act that transcends the intimacy even of sexuality. We are, quite literally, his very breath - the emanation of a portion of his essence.

This should tell us something about ourselves. We are not a cosmic accident. We are not the product of a deistic God who simply pressed the "Enter" key and now watches disinterestedly as the chaos ensues. We are his children. We are living brush strokes on the canvas of the heart of God. We are loved. We are of value to Him, because He has expressed himself (literally) through us.

That alone - if you truly understand and believe it - will make your heart sing, will make you want to dive headlong into the mystery of His love. But wait... there's more.

The curse. One tree. One decision. One legacy of corruption and suffering. And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

So often I see spiritual leaders, teachers and authors approaching the subject of redemption and the curse in a three point summary similar to what follows:
  • God created the world perfect.
  • Adam and Eve screwed it up.
  • Through Jesus, God fixed it back to the way it was.
Now, I can't say as I blame them too much. Two thousand years of history goes a long way toward setting something into the global Christian conscience. And after all, that's what I believed too until God - for lack of a better way to say it - allowed me to see something very different. But before you start labeling me a false prophet, and it seems like everybody is a false prophet to somebody these days, let me share with you what I mean.

I think most of us can agree on the first of our three summary points, that God created the world perfect. Considering the fact that God declared his creation "very good" (Genesis 1:31), it seems only reasonable to assume that very good to a perfect God would be... well, perfect. See there, we're already 33% in agreement!

However, we run into a little disagreement on the second point. I hear your skepticism creeping in already. Hang in there, it's just a little disagreement after all. Whether or not Adam and Eve screwed up is a matter of perspective. And we'll get right back to that, but the matter of their screwing "it" up depends on what the "it" is. Obviously their actions had some consequences that affected the whole created world. And if the created world is your "it", then we're going to get along just fine. However, if you let God's plan start to creep into your "it", then you and I are going to have some difficulties for the rest of this discussion. But don't worry, we can share a coffee or a game of pool afterward and all will be well again. After all, you and I are family... and that's what matters.

There are at least two problems with God's plan being your "it". First of all, there's that pesky reference in Revelation 13:8:

And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
(Rev 13:8 KJVA)

We could argue about translation here, but the fact is that either the lamb was slain before the foundation of the world, or our name was written - or not - in the book of life before the foundation of the world. Either way, God's plan for redemption (and I'll have more to say on that in just a bit) has been in place from the "foundation" or, as the word can also be translated, the "conception" of the world.

The second problem is Romans 8:29-30:

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
(Rom 8:29-30 ESV)

Romans 8:29 tells us that God "foreknew" (literally, "to know in advance") everyone who would turn to Him. You can choose how you want to envision that for yourself. As for me, I imagine God (who is outside of time - not bound by it) sitting down like the builder in Luke 14:28 and considering the cost of what He is about to do. Knowing each and every moment of time to its fullest degree, He chose to create knowing what it would cost - determining in advance that the price was worth paying for the beauty of what He was creating.

And what exactly was it that He was creating? I believe His purpose was to create beings who could give and receive love and had freedom of choice, but chose Him instead of their own independence. And we (humanity as a whole) are participating in the process (from our perspective) of that already finished (from God's eternal perspective) work every moment of our lives.

I could go a lot further with all that but for the purpose of defining our "it", the most important thing is to realize that God knew everything in advance and completed everything from the beginning of time. You and I, from our uniquely limited perspective in time, may perceive a great deal of uncertainty. But there was never a time - not a single moment - when God's plan was in jeopardy, or even complicated. If there was an "it" that was screwed up, "it" was only the created order - and even that was part of God's plan.

All of which brings us to a natural conclusion that makes many people very uncomfortable. Adam and Eve's fall was part of God's plan. That may chafe some people, but it's really the only logical conclusion. Either God is in control and the fall was part of His plan, or it was not part His plan... and that leaves us with an even more uncomfortable situation where God is not in control. And that seems very blatantly to go against scripture and God's whole "God-ness".

I know what you're thinking. "You're telling people God is the creator of Evil. That means God is responsible for all the suffering in the world. How in the world can your God be a good God?"

Let's not put the cart before the horse, shall we? Let's take this one step at a time. Recently in the book The Shack, by William P. Young, I came across an interesting premise, one I had heard before but not really considered very carefully. The premise was this: evil doesn't really exist.

Now your response may well be the same as my own first response, "Then we have one hell of a global hallucination. Let's face it, the world sure looks like an awfully evil place. Murder, rape, incest, torture, death, pain, starvation, war, hatred, corruption, compromise... I could go on - in alphabetical order if you like - but the bottom line is that evil sure appears to exist. It seems a hell of a lot easier to objectively prove evil than to objectively prove God. So don't give me any of this nonsense about evil not existing!"

And then I began to think about it. What is darkness after all? It is the absence of light. What is hatred? It's the absence of love. What is evil? It is the absence of good. You see, we talk about evil as if it has its own essence, as though it is a "thing" in and of itself. It is not. It is the absence, to varying degrees, of good. More specifically, it is the denial of good.

So you see, we can't accuse God of creating evil any more than we can accuse Thomas Edison of creating darkness. I suppose we could try to lay on him the responsibility of "allowing" evil - and that might make us feel justified for a few seconds, until harsh reality rushes in. Remember, God's purpose was to create beings who had freedom of choice. To refuse the possibility of evil would be to deny His creation the ability to choose. Why? Because choice, by nature (as we understand it), requires the option to choose against as well as for. And I think choice (or free will) is part of God's image in us, along with the ability to give and receive love in relationship. More importantly, love can't really be love unless it can choose the object of its affections. God "foreknew" the consequences and price of creating beings who could choose, and he chose to do it anyway.

So, with all that said, did Adam and Eve really screw up at all? That's an interesting question. In a very real sense, they did. And they bore the responsibility of that fall in the consequences of the curse. However, I believe there is a sense in which they couldn't have done anything else except fall. Here's the thing, you can't make a choice unless you know at least something about what you're choosing. And I believe that's why the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (the means of taking one's life into one's own hands) was there in the garden in the first place. Adam and Eve had only ever experienced a good relationship with God (but not the perfect relationship, which we will see was to come several thousand years later). Until they were tempted, they had never been exposed to this choice to know good and evil.

My belief is that Satan's actions were known (as are the rest of the works of His creation) to God from the beginning of time. And in that sense, Satan's temptation of mankind was part of God's plan to bring us to the perfect relationship with Him that He intended from the beginning. In my opinion, to believe otherwise is to deny God's all-knowing nature. Likewise, I think it makes little sense to assume that God's plan is to spend all of time trying to get us "back to where we were", which is the message of salvation that is understood by many people and churches (and also the final point in our three point message above).

You see, I think that Adam and Eve's choice of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was also known from the beginning and therefore part of God's plan (not a backup plan, the original plan - God doesn't need backup plans). And His plan didn't start after they ate of the tree, but before. From before the beginning, God wanted to create beings who could choose to love Him. However, to create beings that could choose to love Him meant creating beings who could choose not to love Him. And I am of the opinion that to truly have the ability to choose means that one must have some knowledge of the choices being offered. Once Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they knew it's fruit - both literally and metaphorically. The result of taking one's life and destiny out of God's hands and into one's own hands is death and suffering.

But God's plan didn't end there, nor was there some sort of detour that occurred. God's original plan was that we would all be able to choose Him, and yet He knew that beings with their own unique identity would initially choose themselves. So I believe He set a plan in place that would make it possible for us to choose - of our own free will - to become one with Him (John 17:21). And within our oneness, He is free to choose His will in and through us. And the way that we are made one with Him is by the resurrection of our spirits by His Holy Spirit because of the finished work of Jesus Christ.

Nonetheless, for that choice to be a real choice, we had to know what it meant not to choose Him - and that is what the fall accomplished within God's plan.

"But wait," I hear you saying, "now you are done in by your own words. You have just made God guilty of incorporating evil into His plans."

Yes, that is the natural conclusion of what I'm saying. But let's be very clear on something. Any omniscient, omnipotent God of this current creation in which we find ourselves has to have included evil in His plans. Evil is a part of our world, therefore it has to have been part of His plan. Otherwise He's neither all-knowing nor all-powerful.

And I'll answer your next question before you ask. No, it doesn't make God responsible for evil. And even if He were responsible for it, that wouldn't keep God from being good - if what we call "evil" were a necessary element for the perfect good. But not to worry, I think we'll find that even if we - in our arrogance - were to put Him on trial, we would be hard pressed to find Him guilty of anything.

First of all, remember our earlier discussion. Evil isn't really a thing. It is the absence of (or distance from) a thing - namely goodness - which, by His very nature, God is. Now the question becomes: Is God responsible for being something that His creation can abandon or distance itself from? Or if you would rather have it more personal terms, "Is God wrong for creating beings who can choose their relationship with Him? And further, is He responsible for their choices, since He knew it all in advance and chose to do all this creating anyway?"

I think it's safe to say that none of us would want to be robots. We like our ability to choose, even if we don't like the consequences of our own choices. So, I don't think any of us will be finding God at fault for creating us with freedom. However, it certainly wouldn't bother most of us if He took away the rights of those around us who keep choosing things that cause so much suffering. And therein lies the real problem, God has given us freedom and we don't like what we - and others like us - have done with it. Even natural disasters, it seems, are the result of a choice that our "first parents" (Adam and Eve) made - damaging creation itself.

What we really hate is what we are. And that's a good starting point, but not a good place to finish. Because what we are now is not what we are intended to be. Now we are free to choose. But because of our first choice of independence in the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (because all of humanity is somehow bound up together), we are destined to choose only ourselves. That is, until Jesus enters the picture.

Jesus - in his life, death and resurrection - was the perfect sacrifice that restored the relationship with God that was broken in the garden of Eden. As fully human, just like us, he died in our place (again, humanity is somehow all bound up together) and received the consequence of our sin for us. As fully God, he was able to die for all humanity - an infinite sacrifice. And more than that, by sending the Holy Spirit, he fixed our identity and independence problem forever.

And here is where the beauty of creation is made complete. The word for "spirit" is pneuma or "wind/breath." Do you see it? In the death of Jesus Christ, we die. And by His Spirit, God "breathes" life into us again, resurrecting our spirits with His life - making us one with Him. This isn't figurative speech, it is a literal resurrection... a new creation (2 Cor 5:17). As in creation God breathed his life into non-living dust (adam/adamah), He now breathes life into dead dirt (humanity/Adam's descendants) again! We are given a new spirit. In fact, we are a new person.

Moreover, by Christ's resurrection from the dead we are promised that even the death that still clings to us in our 'flesh' - the one thing that ties us to this cursed and dying world - will be resurrected once the flesh has died. And we will be resurrected with new bodies no longer corrupted by the curse of this world. But that's really just the icing on the cake, because who we really are - our spirit - has already been resurrected in the here and now. We are living men and women walking around with bits of dead flesh and bandages clinging to us - the exact of opposite of Jesus' picture of the Pharisees (Mat 23:27-28). And some day that too will be gone and we will be whole as intended from the beginning.

That also answers a question I've had since I was young, "If, in the new creation, we're just going back to the way things were, what will keep us from screwing it up all over again?" And the answer is this: our spirits have been resurrected in oneness with God, in Christ by His Holy Spirit. Apart from this corrupted flesh in which we still find ourselves, we are incapable of choosing sin. That is the meaning of "saint" (hagios) - "sacred, most holy thing" (1 Cor 6:2 - all believers in Jesus are saints). The plan of God is not and has never been to return us to what we were in Eden, but to fully and finally breathe his life - his very self - into us and make us into something complete, and completely new!

1 comment:

Hocutt said...

Well said.