Why the Fall Matters?
1) The biblical witness offers a basis for understanding the presence of both good and evil in humanity. Genesis 1-11 describes the potential and pitfalls of women and men as persons created in the image of the Creator God. Humanity was crafted as the pinnacle of the creation and as the center of the myriad of relationship built into the created order by God. Women and men were created to serve as a missional community that reflects God’s character to, for, and in Creation. But now in the aftermath of sin and rebellion, God’s creational intentions for humanity are shattered, but the potential remains. People still intrinsically long to be the people that they were created to be and occasionally women and men commit astonishing acts of goodness and generosity. The biblical story can thus account for the goodness and kindness in our world based on the vestiges of God’s image in humanity as we suggested based on texts such as Ps 8. But the final verdict on humanity is its lostness.
2) Creation itself is marred. Humanity was created to serve as stewards and caretakers of the created world. Post-Gen 3, there now exists an enmity between humanity and the earth it was commanded to keep and fill. One of the hot button issues of our day is concern over the depletion of the earth’s resources and abuse of the environment. These texts call us to remember humanity’s original mandate of dominion over the earth. There is no warrant for the deification of the earth at the expense of humanity as is prevalent in much of the environmental thinking of the political left in the West, but there is likewise no warrant for the abuse of the earth as though this world does not matter. The biblical faith is a worldly one in the sense that the focus of the biblical story is our present world in anticipation of its recreation. Salvation is not an escape from the earth, but rather it is a return to the realities of Eden.
Paul reminds us of God’s intention to redeem even the world in Romans 8:18-23:
18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
3) All life and ministry on this side of the final consummation of history in the creation of a New Heavens and a New Earth will occur within the reality described in Gen 3-11. The biblical narrative assumes this. We lose sight of this reality at our own peril. There is room for a profound optimism because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, but every person has the capacity for the destructive and life-denying patterns witnessed to in Gen 3-11. There is no room for a naïve hope that the “good in people” will have the last word. We can’t simply “be good for goodness sake.”
4) God’s mission recalibrates in response to the rebellion of humanity and brokenness of the “very good” world that God originally created. God’s mission shifts to work for the salvation of a fallen world and of a lost humanity. If there is to be a continuance of God’s mission that began in Creation, God will be the driver. Humanity on its own has shown itself to be incapable of serving as the missional community that God created women and men to be. In these chapters, God sets in motion the initial reverberations of his desire to redeem creation. As we reflect on mission in the 21st century, it is vital to hold together the need to reach lost people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but it is likewise missional to work for the good of the creation as a whole. There is no dichotomy between personal evangelism and social justice. A biblical view of mission does not pull asunder these dimensions. One of the tragedies of 20th century evangelicalism was its surrender of social justice issues to the theologically liberal wings of the Church. The Old Testament affirms the importance of the created world and missional thinking in the 21st century must return to a full orbed understanding of mission. Likewise, we must not make the opposite mistake of emphasizing social justice to the neglect of reaching lost people with the Gospel. Beginning in Genesis 3, God’s mission entails the redemption of humanity in all of its individual and social dimensions and of creation itself.
5) The “good news” of Gen 3-11 is that God the Creator of the “very good” heavens and earth commits to the redemption of creation rather than the option of uncreation. The Flood Story is about partial uncreation and recreation. Even in the judgment on humanity’s sin, God saves Noah, his family, and enough species of animals to replenish the earth post-Flood. The first explicit biblical covenant serves to guarantee the future of Creation presumably regardless of humanity’s ongoing wickedness. The future is secure because God guarantees it. God’s love for humanity and the world that he created is not stated explicitly. But the beginnings of God’s mission to bring salvation adumbrate the ultimate tangible demonstration of God’s love in the sending of the Son into the world.
6) Genesis 3-11 ends with hope that God will indeed achieve his creational aims. The Tower of Babel does not end in the destruction of humanity. Instead, humanity has now filled the earth. This is ironic because humanity on its own terms had chosen to centralize to build a tower to the heavens, but God scattered them around the globe (see Table of Nations in Gen 10). Thus God responds to human sin by partially fulfilling his creational intentions for humanity. God now has creatures created in his image scattered throughout the world. This is good news. But how will humanity ever function as God’s visible and tangible representatives? This will involve the creation of a new human community: the people of God. This lineage will begin with the call of Abram. The missional God of the Scripture is on the move.
What do you think?
© 2009 Brian D. Russell