Sin & the Fall 2
Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! (Matt.18:7)
You will hear of wars and rumours of wars … Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth-pains … then there will be great distress, unequalled from the beginning of the world until now – and never to be equalled again. ‘If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.
(…taken from Matt.24: 6-22)
When we studied the doctrine of creation in our last Jesus Centred Life term we considered the ‘seen’ and ‘unseen’ creation separately. As we reflect now on sin and the fall, we’ll continue to follow those Creedal categories. In this study we’ll consider the impact of the fall on seen creation; and in our next study, we’ll think through the fall in the context of the unseen dimensions of creation.
It is often said that the Christian doctrine of sin is the only one for which there is empirical evidence. We can see, hear and feel the dynamics and impact of the fall everywhere. From the most intimate insights we gain into our own human sized, human shaped part of creation to the macro-, transnational structures of that same creation, the shadow of sin is universally cast. It is quite staggering that in the face of such an extravagance of evidence to the contrary, so many stubbornly cling to the groundless conviction that they are basically ‘good’.
We’ll come back to look at our own experience of sin in a later study. For now we will simply notice how powerful the doctrine of the’ Fall’ is in explaining the confusion, powerlessness and sense of dislocation that exists throughout every arena of life in this world. Things feel alienated and dysfunctional because they are. So much secular diagnosis is reductionist and superficial at best, and at worst, dangerously inadequate. It is important to understand what is wrong with the world, not only so that we can understand it in itself, but also so that we can understand what Christ has done to deal with it. This in turn will grant us deep insight as to how we can navigate the ongoing reality of sin and death in our own experience and in that of others.
Since the days of the ancient philosophers people have strained to make sense of the complexity of the world. Whether it is the Greek Socrates arguing that the root of moral inadequacy is in ignorance (hence the remedy is education, which is still a guiding principle in western democracy); or the Roman Seneca moralising about how good and evil can be done and undone by the act of human will (we caused the problem by being bad, we can fix it by being good), we have had to both face the fact that something is wrong, and wrestle with the question of how to fix it. But all has proven inadequate - at both theoretical and practical levels.
There are few places where Christianity’s counter-cultural stance is more explicit. We live in a world that believes in its own inexorable progress: at the level of species and society we are evolving. The Bible’s vision of human history is altogether less optimistic. It sees history on a devolutionary trajectory rather than an evolutionary one. We’ll see this worked out in some detail in our ‘Deep Church’ event in a few weeks, but for now we simply acknowledge that according to Jesus, the world is not going to advance with relentless progress until crime, disease, disability, poverty and even death become a thing of the past. Indeed there is a creeping fear, even in the secular mind, that we might not be facing the inescapable development as a culture we once hoped for.
One of the things that intrigues me is the contrasting visions of the future portrayed in science fiction. When Captain James T. Kirk and the crew of the Starship Enterprise set out in 1966 ‘to boldly go where no man has gone before’, poverty and famine were already seen as something that had been eradicated. Unlimited energy and replication technology in the Star Trek vision of the future, meant effectively unlimited resources are available to all those who need them. There will be no need to work, no need for money. Sophisticated medical technology meant the effects of sickness were massively curtailed. Contrast this with the far more pessimistic visions of the future that depict a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and a handful of survivors struggling to navigate anarchy following the destruction of society due to technology gone wrong, war or sickness. This cinematic tension captures the dilemma of secular society’s view of itself and its members. We desperately want to believe we are inevitably evolving, but reality keeps reminding us that we’re simply not…
How much do you look forward to the New Creation? What about it do you anticipate most eagerly? What about this cursed creation are you most looking forward to seeing the back of? How would you help a Christian who said the New Creation held no particular appeal for them?
Do you think the Bible is unduly pessimistic about humans individually and societally? Or do you think these studies are presenting an unfairly biased view of the Bible’s teaching? Do you feel more optimistic about humanity’s prospects? Why / Why not?
Read Gen.3:16-19 & Rom.8:18-25
How does God’s response to the entrance of sin into His creation affect our experience of family life? … and of working life? Do you think the impact of Gen.3:17-19 is limited to agriculture? What difference does being a Christian make in these areas of human experience? How far is our experience of this primeval curse mitigated or reversed by our becoming Christians?
How do you feel about the idea of God subjecting creation to ‘frustration’, and ‘bondage to decay’ against its will (Rom.8:20-21)?
What aspects of creation’s experience do you think Paul is referring to when he talks about it ‘groaning as in the pains of childbirth’ (8:22)?
Paul talks about us groaning inwardly as we wait for our own resurrection (8:23). What aspects of our salvation have we already received (as first fruits of the Spirit), and what aspects do we still ‘hope for’ in the New Creation (v.25)? How does that affect your thinking about …sickness / healing? …overcoming sin? …getting justice? …avoiding suffering and persecution? …fulfilling our ambitions?
How can we better support one another at MIE as we live within the painful realities of this tension?
What do you think is the evangelistic potential of passages such as these?
I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling-place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’
For further reflection:
God’s providence is immensely complex. There is enough of judgement worked out within history to remind us there is a just God, but enough injustice, and outstanding justice to remind us that there is a Day still to come (Pr.11:31). In that context, judgement in this passing age is not simply God letting people live with the consequences of their sin. The Bible often regards consequent sin as punishment for previous ones. ‘The curse of an evil deed is that it must continually give birth to evil’ (see e.g. I Kings 11:11-31; Rom.1:24-28; II Samuel 11-20). In part, the revelation of God’s wrath is in His handing sinful humanity over to the sinful desires of their hearts, and to a depraved mind (Rom.1:18, 24 & 28).
Which means that, unless interrupted or halted by God’s grace, sin progressively renders sinners (and the cultures / societies they produce) more foolish and enslaved, further distanced from God, and more rapidly propelled towards destruction. This process continues until ‘they not only continue to do these very things, but also approve of those who practise them’ (Rom.1:32). One aspect of the curse is that fallen humanity comes to a place where they ‘call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness…’ (Is.5:20).
As the prophet declares; Woe to them. Their experience of judgement in the present day demands only further judgement on that future Day. Against such a backdrop, the idea that we can be educated or incentivised out of sin, or that technological advances will eliminate the effects of the curse seem laughable. Only the radical invasion of the grace and power of God in the Gospel of Christ holds any hope for fallen humanity, and beyond that the hope of a New Creation. Not an old creation improved - but a renewal of all things (Matt.19:28).