Tuesday, October 21, 2008

On The Fall Of Humankind

Was there a fall?

If so, what was the fall?

From what does humankind need saving?

Your thoughts?


  1. Creation was complete and Good in the first book of Genesis (and the first two verses of the second book) and it was Good. That is my Universe. God holds all in perfection.
    There was no fall! What we term as the fall is our feeble excuse for not recognizing the perfection of God. After all if God is all and God is perfect how could there be anything fallen or less than perfect - except in our own imaginings which are not reat. (Well, you asked) j

  2. Jay, very good. I asked, and I'd like folks to weigh in. If what you say is correct, what then does Jesus save us from?

    I'm sincere in my questions. I'm working out my theology here.

  3. I've always liked Origen's concept of The Fall. He believed that God's first creation was the logika, a collectivity of rational beings. These souls were originally created in close proximity to God with the intent that they should be in endless contemplation of the divine mysteries, but they grew tired of this and fell away from God and into an existence on their own terms, apart from the divine presence and wisdom. The only soul who didn't fall was the soul of Christ. Origen taught that the soul of Christ was no different from that of the rest of the logika, because it possessed the same potential for communion with God as did the other souls, but what saved the Christ soul from falling was that it decided to remain close to God and remain immersed in the divinity.

    So the Christ came to lead the fallen souls back to the Father.

    Origen was also a Universalist and believed that all fallen souls, including Satan, will eventually be redeemed and returned to the Father. Of course, this got him declared a heretic but he's been one of my heros. In fact, the Lovely Mona has been known to say "Shut up about Origen, already!"

  4. Padre Mickey, thank you. My theory of atonement is a combination of Abelard's (a heretic) moral influence and Gustaf Aulén's Christus Victor. Thus, you see that I have no qualms about using the wisdom of the so-called heretics.

    Origen's concept has much appeal, because I believe that God's creation is all good. But God threw in that pesky free will, by which we are permitted to go our own way.

    I'm a universalist, too, thus a heretic.

    How am I a heretic?
    Let me count the ways.

  5. I think the fall is when Human began to see himself as different from his surroundings, as better and thus more deserving than the rest of God's creation. Humankind needs saving from the illusion of non-connectedness.

  6. Hi Maitri. How are you? You make an excellent point, seeing as we now slouch toward the destruction of the planet earth, with perhaps only the cockroaches left alive. And don't we know all about the cockroaches here in south Louisiana?

  7. "From what does humankind need saving?"

    "You shall call his name Jesus [Yah saves], for he will save his people from their sins."

    How are we saved "from our sins"? Perhaps by being taught what is and is not sin, so that we may avoid it. Perhaps, in addition, saving us from the consequences of our sin (judgment, death, hell) by forgiveness.

  8. "Was there a fall?"

    Please forgive the length (even though I've edited it). You are no doubt familiar with this passage from Newman, but perhaps not all your readers are.

    "I look out of myself into the world of men, and there I see a sight which fills me with unspeakable distress. The world seems simply to give the lie to that great truth, of which my whole being is so full [that there is a God]; and the effect upon me is, in consequence, as a matter of necessity, as confusing as if it denied that I am in existence myself. If I looked into a mirror, and did not see my face, I should have the sort of feeling which actually comes upon me, when I look into this living busy world, and see no reflexion of its Creator. This is, to me, one of the great difficulties of this absolute primary truth, to which I referred just now. Were it not for this voice, speaking so clearly in my conscience and my heart, I should be an atheist, or a pantheist, or a polytheist when I looked into the world….

    "To consider the world in its length and breadth, its various history, the many races of man, their starts, their fortunes, their mutual alienation, their conflicts; and then their ways, habits, governments, forms of worship; their enterprises, their aimless courses, their random achievements and acquirements, the impotent conclusion of long-standing facts, the tokens so faint and broken, of a superintending design, the blind evolution of what turn out to be great powers or truths, the progress of things, as if from unreasoning elements, not towards final causes, the greatness and littleness of man, his far-reaching aims, his short duration, the curtain hung over his futurity, the disappointments of life, the defeat of good, the success of evil, physical pain, mental anguish, the prevalence and intensity of sin, the pervading idolatries, the corruptions, the dreary hopeless irreligion, that condition of the whole race, so fearfully yet exactly described in the Apostle's words, "having no hope and without God in the world," —all this is a vision to dizzy and appal; and inflicts upon the mind the sense of a profound mystery, which is absolutely beyond human solution.

    "What shall be said to this heart-piercing, reason-bewildering fact? I can only answer, that either there is no Creator, or this living society of men is in a true sense discarded from His presence….And so I argue about the world;—if there be a God, since there is a God, the human race is implicated in some terrible aboriginal calamity. It is out of joint with the purposes of its Creator."

  9. My father always said that when humankind invented banking, they built a whole new wing on hell. Considering the events of the past month, he may have had a point there.

    When contemplating our fallen state, I've always thought it more useful to look forward rather than to look back. We look toward our destiny in Christ, and realize how far we are from it.

    I've always found it striking that, though one side always accuses the other of minimizing sin, both liberal and conservative points of view emphasize a very fallen world. Conservatives see a world corrupted by lust and sloth. Liberals see a world spoiled by greed and ruined by fear.

  10. Rick, yes, we need saving from our sins.

    I look around the world and ask some of the same questions as Newman. Where is God in all this ugliness? It seems to me that the very essence of Christianity is to hope in the midst of the ugliness, to see the face of God in the horror that surrounds us.

    But that's not really the question that I'm asking. I'm asking how did we get to this place.

  11. I think Jesus saves us from error. Sin is literally "missing the mark" He came to show us how to live and how to relate to God and to our Sisters and brothers - indeed to all of creation. If we live by His example we will come close to hitting the mark. Thus we are saved. Mine is a very simplistic view but it works for me.
    Of course I know it does not explain the great evil we see in the world. But if enough of us try to live the Truth it will, in the end, be the Victor. God is Life, Truth, Love, Principle (of the Universe), Soul, Spirit, (Can you tell I used to be a Christian Scientist?

  12. Counterlight, your father's right. It's the banks!

    I'm all for looking forward, too, to the goal that we seek, which is Christ, and I don't often do theology. But now that I've come to a satisfactory (to me) theory of atonement, I want to know how we came to need saving and what we need saving from.

    With respect to the corrupt world, I quote one of my favorites on what God asks of us:

    He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
    but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?

    And how many times did Jesus say to us, "Do not fear"?

  13. Y'all call THIS an "X-rated, barely legal" site?

    I wants my quarter back.

  14. Jay, your theory is not far from Abelard's, according to James Kiefer, or so it seems to me.

    Whether we call it sin, or error, or missing the mark, or falling short does not matter a great deal to me. Of course, I could be wrong.

  15. Johnieb, you old rascal, you're back! Welcome!

    Y'all call THIS an "X-rated, barely legal" site?

    Sometimes I fall below my standards. Please forgive me, love.

  16. I think my theological problem comes with the existence of evil. If God didn't make it, where did it come from? St.Augustine and his "absence of good" seems to be playing semantics.

  17. DP, that's a whole other question, and it's a biggie. I'm not taking it on, but if anyone else wants to, feel free to weigh in.

    I agree that Augustine's explanation doesn't really work.

  18. Actually I don't think we need "saving" as in having someone die as a sacrifice - more we need saving as in wholeness (salve) - Jesus gives us the life of wholeness (kindom living) - that we can live in right now.

  19. Ann, I ruled out the sacrifice and ransom theories some time ago.

    ...more we need saving as in wholeness (salve)

    Oh, yes. Transformation into a life of wholeness.

  20. Hmmmm...."wholeness" assumes too easily that salvation is about me. The Romantic Conceit, to which even S.K. is (IMHO) all too prone.

    Salvation from sin, yet without knowledge of sin, how can we know salvation? Even Paul doesn't impute sin to the Gentiles, but only to the Jews, for only the Jews know the law. And Acts makes clear God set aside that Law ("Do not call unclean what God has made clean!"), so, as Paul later argues, we need not be circumcised in order to be Xian (the big fight between Peter and Paul was over this question of salvation, and who should get it, and should the Law get in the way.)

    Paul is usually regarded as the Law-bringer to the Gentiles, but that's such a distortion of Paul's teachings that it isn't even Pauline. At best, it's Pseudo-Pauline, which gets us into textual and historical criticism of the Scriptures....

    Ooog. I need a blog post or two to start working this out, Grandmere.

  21. "But that's not really the question that I'm asking. I'm asking how did we get to this place."

    We were born into it.

    Or, as Martin Heidegger might have put it, we were thrown into it.

    Or, as Billy Joel might have put it, we didn't start the fire.

  22. Hmmmm...."wholeness" assumes too easily that salvation is about me.

    Rmj, no, no, no. One can't be made whole if it's "about me". It says so, right in the Gospel. We are not saved alone.

    But please, do write your blog posts. You've taught me much, and I'm trying to find my way here. I have more questions than answers.

  23. We were born into it.

    Rick, how does that square with the concept of imago Dei?

  24. Seems to me, as it did to Newman, that Something Is Wrong. That's when we start to need to find explanations or reasons. I still think the best explanation for "wrong" is the misuse of the drive to self preservation beyond its intended limits; that same need to have and have more and more beyond what sustains, while others go without enough even to live. Whether this is a defect from a perfect earlier state (so the old story has it) or a natural consequence of having a built in need to survive (as a secularist might put it) I am more concerned about the "how do we get out of this mess" part of the story. I don't "need" a "fall story" to explain our present mess as much as I "hope" for a way out -- and I end up as Newman did seeing a need for an intervention from someone who is both outside the system but able to work within it. Hence the Incarnation. What I don't see as necessary is a "fall" to explain our present plight; it could simply be that this is how it was supposed to work -- or had to work. I turn back to Job and am humbled as Job was when God said, essentially, "What makes you think this is all about you...." Perhaps our greatest sin was in taking too great a delight in the imago dei before we were really up to the task?

  25. Perhaps our greatest sin was in taking too great a delight in the imago dei before we were really up to the task?

    Tobias, that makes sense. I don't need a "fall story". In fact, I'd rather not have such a story.

    The questions were nagging at me, so I decided to pass them through the intertubes, and I'm quite pleased with the resulting commentary. I agree that, "Where do we go now?" is the question.

    The post most certainly generated traffic.

  26. "Rick, how does that square with the concept of imago Dei?"

    If we posit the Imago Dei, which is pretty much an article of faith, and the current state of things, which we can hardly deny, it is necessary reconcile both, to get from one to the other, and that transition, whatever its exact nature, is what we call the “fall.” It is the only relationship I can think of between the two terms.

    Fallen is not the same as obliterated. As a directional sort of metaphor it also suggests that its trajectory can be slowed, stopped, reversed. An image—unlike an exact copy—is capable of degrees of likeness and unlikeness. So there is no contradiction, so far as I can see, between the persistence of the divine image and its corruption or impairment. That corruption or impairment, sin, is what we must be saved from.

    Is the fall a collective transition, or an individual one? The notion of original sin posits a universal fall capitulated in the first man. One can, I suppose, get to the same place by seeing a re-capitulation of the fall in each individual. I go with the former as it seems most consonant with the Tradition and the trajectory of the biblical/ecclesiastical story. If the latter is, in fact, universal, it still requires an explanation of that universality, which the former supplies.

  27. Fascinating question and thread of comments.

    At this point all I will say is that I love it all, but especially what Padre Mickey, Ann and Tobias say.

  28. A fall implies that we were either collectively or individually in a higher or purer state or place. Then, we, collectively or individually, came to a lower state or place from birth, or some other way....

    And that's where I venture into the thorny thicket, which is why I prefer the "no fall" option.

  29. I always imagine this story being told at night with the tribe being gathered around the fire--a caveman era story (because that's what it is) --and them trying to figure out the very same questions we are asking.

    So as to the creation, all good, God knows. The "Fall" --trying to answer the question of how come there is evil and wickedness in the world--the source of which seems to be human, plus a little added unknown exterior spice--the opposite of that spirit which inspires us to think and do good. And because of evil and wickedness, what does that say about our relationship to God and to each other?

    Well, God keeps trying to tell us what the relationship is--God loves us no matter what. Forever and forever. But we don't believe it, we think we must earn it or deserve it in some way.

    And to each other? --aye matey, there's the rub. That's were we need the 'salve' (--ation).

    It would be interesting to try to make sense of these big questions without using any religious words, or theological threads. Try to tell the story again in metaphor....

  30. It was a fall away from innocence and into awareness. Whole new ball game, and I am not convinced that it turned out so badly.

    We have to be saved from the hopelessness of that one moment when all seemed lost. It's a process of growing awareness that though the world is now harsh God is still good; God is still here even though the Garden is gone.

    A quickie answer to a most worthy question.

  31. You know, I almost didn't put this post up, but I'm truly glad that I did.

    Well, God keeps trying to tell us what the relationship is--God loves us no matter what. Forever and forever. But we don't believe it....

    Margaret, how true. I love your idea of telling the story around a campfire, without religious words or theology.

    And now that we've thrashed all this out, we look ahead to what we can do to establish the kingdom of God here and now.

    Lindy, it's quite a good quickie answer to the question. When we fall into consciousness, it feels like free-fall at first. But then we land on our feet, and God is still good.

    And, Tobias, if you're still around, I hope that you noted that I never once said, "I'm no theologian, but...." because I know you don't like that.

  32. If I were to be very, very simple about it, I would recently have answered,

    1) Yes
    2) Loss of trust
    3) Fear of death (in all it's literal and metaphorical meaning)

    But I am reading through Brian McLaren's "Everything Must Change", where he addresses your questions (they are excellent, fundamental, and consistent questions always on either the front or back burner throughout the history of a number of religions), so...

    I'm in the midst of reassessing (i.e., I'm being changed, again). I'll get back to you when I've finished the McLaren.


  33. Scott, good. Don't forget to get back. It sounds like a book I'll want to read.

  34. This is how I understand it.

    “The Fall” is a Gnostic or Gnosticist Idea from Ancient times, elder that Christianity (more
    than 2000 years) and the Bible, but most clearly laid out in Romans 1.

    It is the idea of a “fall” of human beings as a race, f r o m (a perceived original) Concept of a
    divine being (The Highest Being, or Brahma, to the Philosophers) to the multiple deities of –
    say Shinto, or the Olympian gods, or the Egyptian ones hinted at in Romans 1:23 (people,
    birds, 4 footers, crocs).

    This Idea of a Fall is, of course, very different from Genesis and the notion that (a personal) God c r e a t e d everything, visible and invisible. And, above all, irreconcilable with Creation being óti kalà; good, as stated repeatedly in Gen 1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25...

    What I don’t understand is how this strange Hellenist Idea of a Fall from the Highest Being can have ended up in Romans 1 (if this passage be authentic and not a later re-working – I don’t earnestly believe that such a mixis of heathen philosophy and Biblical faith was even possible in the 1st century, Paul’s time. Not before Panteneus and Clement at the end of the 2nd, I’d say…).

    Of course, both Hellenist Judaism (such as the “Wisdom of Solomon”, which is often claimed as the typos; the pre-image of a mixis with Hellenism, “wisdom”) and Gnosis itself (Gnosis being a Jewish/Hellenist speculation over the first couple of chapters of Genesis, Archonts and all) are two examples of such a fusion of Heathen and Biblical. Only, I don’t think it could have been just that early.

    The contemporary ideas of Penal Substitution are even later, dependent on Neo Platonist German readings (Anselm’s Satisfactio) as changed during the Renaissance.

    We want to explain – and explain more than we can now! Achieve. That’s the original sin.

    It’s a muddle, “Everyone to his on way”… I think that’s explanation enough. And God’s Righteousness being God’s Grace in Christ. That is all we need to know.

    … and, of course, follow as best we can…

  35. Here is a nice summary from Athanasius' "On the Incarnation:"

    "It was our sorry case that caused the Word to come down, our transgression that called out His love for us, so that He made haste to help us and to appear among us. It is we who were the cause of His taking human form, and for our salvation that in His great love He was both born and manifested in a human body. For God had made man thus (that is, as an embodied spirit), and had willed that he should remain in incorruption. But men, having turned from the contemplation of God to evil of their own devising, had come inevitably under the law of death. Instead of remaining in the state in which God had created them, they were in process of becoming corrupted entirely, and death had them completely under its dominion. For the transgression of the commandment was making them turn back again according to their nature; and as they had at the beginning come into being out of non-existence, so were they now on the way to returning, through corruption, to non-existence again. The presence and love of the Word had called them into being; inevitably, therefore when they lost the knowledge of God, they lost existence with it; for it is God alone Who exists, evil is non-being, the negation and antithesis of good. By nature, of course, man is mortal, since he was made from nothing; but he bears also the Likeness of Him Who is, and if he preserves that Likeness through constant contemplation, then his nature is deprived of its power and he remains incorrupt."

    The entire treatise is certainly worth reading, and it's not terribly long.

    The web version in English from which I lifted the above also has the introduction by C.S. Lewis, which makes the following important point:

    "There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about "isms" and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said. The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism."

    And, pace Goran, if the Letter to the Romans is not Pauline, then we have no idea who Paul was, in any case. Romans is obviously the central theological exposition of the idea of salvation, but of course it lacks the charm and power of stories and parables.

  36. And, pace Goran, if the Letter to the Romans is not Pauline, then we have no idea who Paul was, in any case. Romans is obviously the central theological exposition of the idea of salvation, but of course it lacks the charm and power of stories and parables.

    It is, but then there's the question of how it should be interpreted. Traditional? Neo-orthodox (Barth)? Stendahl?

    So many interpretations, so little time....

  37. Oooohhh! serious theology type stuff.

    I'm not sure that any of the biggie theological arguments work entirely for me and certainly biblical justified ones fall well short. Like DP I stumble at the question of evil and where I am at at the moment is that what we need to be saved from is ourselves and it is our self and our self only that is capable of doing that. Evil for me does not have a seperate existence of it's own ( and certainly not an anthropomorphic personification, but exists in potentia and only comes into existence when we will it. The Fall was not some past event but is an happening now, 'a falling' which carries on somewhere between what might be called sins of volition and the sins of omission. Saving is a rejection of the volition and doing our best to reduce omission.

  38. I just came back to say that I don't usually do quickies. I'm glad you enjoyed it just the same.

  39. Lindy, I'm taking you on first, because yours is the easiest. You are exactly right not to do quickies. They can be bad for you.

  40. We want to explain – and explain more than we can now! Achieve.That’s the original sin.

    Göran, I don't understand all that you say, but I do get the "add-ons" from other cultures references - mostly. I agree with your words which I quoted above.

    And I like these also:

    It’s a muddle, “Everyone to his on way”… I think that’s explanation enough. And God’s Righteousness being God’s Grace in Christ. That is all we need to know.

    … and, of course, follow as best we can…

  41. Rick, Athanasius? No, I don't think so.

    What I take from the words that you quoted is that sin was a good thing, because it caused "the Word to come down", the Incarnation, a wonderful gift, surely. I'm fairly certain that is not what Athanasius means to convey.

  42. Oooohhh! serious theology type stuff.

    TheMe, I'll wager that you didn't think me cabable of such a post.

    ...where I am at at the moment is that what we need to be saved from is ourselves and it is our self and our self only that is capable of doing that.

    I've thought that very thing. I believe that I have even stated it.

    The Fall was not some past event but is an happening now, 'a falling' which carries on somewhere between what might be called sins of volition and the sins of omission. Saving is a rejection of the volition and doing our best to reduce omission.

    That's good, too, TheMe. I see that you can do serious theology, too.

    I find comfort and rest in the words from the penitential rite in the prayer book:

    Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.

  43. Once again, the Holy Spirit works in strange ways, as I mentioned on MP's blog - this is close to the heart of the dialogue occuring these days in my congregation. Some of us are rejecting Anselm's Theology of Atonement - in fact our missioner is writing it completely out of our liturgy and focusing instead on Julian of Norwich. This is causing me great confusion - and here I find this awesome dialogue - just what I'm trying to get started on the anglodeacons yahoo.group. My head is spinning from trying to read and digest all the posts. I don't believe there was a fall, I don't believe Jesus died to save us. That said, I think we FAIL. We fail to live up to the ideal that Jesus mapped out for us. However, I believe that God loves us completely without strings attached. I don't have a good background to defend that stance, I'm still learning. Hopefully the sermon he preached on the subject will be available on our church website soon and I'll direct you to it then, Gram.

    Larry AKA Renz

  44. Larry, isn't this is an amazing thread of comments in response to my questions? I have much to ponder.

    Yes, God loves us completely with no strings. Grace is pure gift, no conditions attached.

    I'm pleased that the post and comments were helpful to you. We don't all think alike, and we won't all come to the same conclusions, but what a wonderful conversation we've had.

    Please let me know when the sermon is posted.

  45. Mimi, what a wonderful post and discussion. I have many thoughts on the topic and related to it but would have to go on at great length but choose not to. I am definitely of the Christus Victor + moral influence school, I do not believe in a fall (though I do believe in our disjointedness - a mix of incompletion, brokenness, and willfulness - call it "fallenness" if you will), and I am a Trinitarian universalist. We are definitely effed up and I absolutely trust in a loving and gracious God in whom is my hope to save us from sin in all its varieties and from many kinds of deaths and hells. The whole vicarious substitution S&M theology I was raised on is, I think, both a crock and a gross slander against God: definitely neither the only explanation nor necessary.

    Great conversation starter - I had to say it once again!

  46. Paul, you didn't go on at great length, which you could have, so far as I am concerned, but, nevertheless, you left a few fine words, which is no small thing.

    Honestly, I had no idea when I posted that my questions would generate such interest and great responses.

  47. I'm surprised no one has answered with Micah by now: "And what does the Lord require of you, but...."

  48. Rmj, please pay attention, my friend. I quoted the whole verse from Micah earlier in the comments.

  49. Rmj, please pay attention, my friend. I quoted the whole verse from Micah earlier in the comments.

    Then what are we still talking about?

  50. TheMe, I'll wager that you didn't think me cabable of such a post.

    Of course I did and moreover am delighted as I feel the whole theology thing is way too important to be left to the ordained.

  51. Then what are we still talking about?

    Rmj, exactly.

    TheMe, agreed. Way too important.

  52. I just copied this all out to a Word file so I can print it out and read like I'm used to with paper between my fingers and room to write myself some notes. Thanks again.

  53. Renz, I pleased that you find it helpful.

  54. Okay, I can see clearly now:

    Was there a fall?


    If so, what was the fall?


    From what does humankind need saving?


  55. Simple answers to simple questions - well short ones, anyway. Thanks, Rmj.

  56. Well, you made me realize I'd wandered off into the weeds, so I decided a pastoral, rather than a theological, answer was warranted.

    Eh, it's theological, too! No reason for theology to be so long-winded, actually.

  57. "From what does humankind need saving?"


    Why are we selfish if created in the image of God?

    Perhaps the f........?


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