Does Anyone Believe Anything Anymore?
Fallen and Can't Get Up?
January 28, 2001
Selections from Genesis 1,2, & 3 The Rev. Carol DiBiasio-Snyder
Introduction to the Scripture:
Many of us don't realize there are two creation stories in Genesis. The one that takes up chapter one is poetic with flowing lines, repeated phrases and sweeping images. Written later than the story that appears in chapter 2, this chapter 1 story was probably used in worship settings. You know the lines: "and God said . . . ," "and there was morning and there was evening a first day, second day . . ., " and "and God said it was good." Paula is going to read just a few lines from the chapter 1 story that tell of the creation of humans. You've heard it a million times so I challenge you to listen as though you've never heard it before.
Our second creation story, much older and more primitive than the story in chapter one, also is terribly familiar to us. And yet, I believe we have really heard interpretations of the story more times than we've heard the story itself. It is almost impossible for us to rid ourselves of those interpretations and just hear the story. We have incorporated them so much into our thinking that we have come to believe they are the story. Listen anew and you'll hear there is no apple, just a generic kind of fruit. Listen anew and you'll hear that it is quite possible that our storyteller wants us to picture Adam standing silently by as Eve converses with the serpent. And speaking of the serpent, notice it is not called a snake and listen hard as you can and still you will not hear any connection of Satan with the serpent.
You might also notice as you listen how very human this God is in the
story. You'll hear how very anthropomorphic our storyteller makes God.
We see God as a potter, squatting on the ground forming Adam out of dust
and then cradling him as he breathes his own life into Adam's nostrils.
We see God as a surgeon, removing a rib and creating a woman. We see God
strolling in the garden and unable to even find Adam and Eve. We see God
angry, cursing his creatures, and we see God as a tanner and seamstress,
fashioning clothes. Then in the end of the story, notice why God sends
them out of the garden. I bet you thought it was because they messed up.
But listen to the text! Sounds like God was afraid of what they might do
next! I challenge you again to pretend you've never heard this story
before and listen with unprejudiced ears.
Selections from Genesis 1,2, & 3
The creation story is a Medieval or Renaissance painter's delight! The setting, a veritable garden of Eden, no less. Here's a chance to paint lush, exotic plants, colorful, flamboyant flowers with unusual shapes and fantastic fruits and vegetables. Here's a chance to paint wild creatures in all their primal glory including that slithering serpent. (How shall I paint that crafty face?) Here's a chance to paint magnificent naked bodies. And to top it all off, the subject is religious! For a painter it just doesn't get any better than this! Surely the interpretations of hundreds of great works of the masters have influenced our understanding of the creation story as well.
Down through the ages, painters, poets, playwrights, authors, musicians, theologians and every day people have retold and reinterpreted this ancient story that is commonly called Creation and The Fall. Who and what has formed your understanding of this story. What do you believe about the nature of humans?
Certainly this familiar quotation from Paul's letter to the Romans has influenced how we think about our nature: "Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned." (Romans 2:12) Paul's powerful influence shaped the earliest Christian thought.
Next to influence the developing stream of thought about our nature was the formidable St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo. (By the way, just as a side note, did you know that he is the patron saint of beer brewers? This was on account of the wild life he led before converting! Just thought I'd throw this little fact in!) Augustine is the person we have to thank for the concept of Original Sin. Writing, arguing and preaching in the late 3rd and early 4th centuries Augustine said that our nature is totally depraved. We are so fallen, so darkened in our heart, mind and will by sin that we are unable to turn from sin and embrace the truth of the Gospel and obey God's commandments. He called humanity a massa peccati, that is, a "mess of sin." For Augustine, we are so depraved and sinful, even any desire we have to turn to God for salvation comes from God. Augustine's thoughts continue to be a major factor in many people's understanding of the nature of humans today.
He had a nemesis, however in Pelagius. Contradicting Augustine's view, Pelagius categorically denied the doctrine of original sin, arguing that Adam's sin affected Adam alone and that infants at birth are in the same state as Adam was before the Fall. As such, he insisted that the nature of humanity is indestructibly good. Pelagius recoiled in horror at the idea that a divine gift (grace) is necessary to perform what God commands. For Pelagius and his followers responsibility always implies ability. If humans have the moral responsibility to obey the law of God, they must also have the moral ability to do it. Pelagius did not fare well with the church leaders and those leaders in Rome declared him a heretic.
The debate was not really over and through the centuries Christians have struggled to understand our human nature. We read the story of creation in which humans are the glorious crown of creation, made in the very image of God. And we read the story of Adam and Eve and see our foolishness. We look at centuries of history with wars, murders, rapes, racism, sexism, and discrimination and corruption of all kinds with the likes of Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin and Idi Amin and we wonder who we humans are and we marvel at our ability to do such evil. And we look at centuries of history with high achievement in dazzling art, soaring music, complex science, amazing technology, medical miracles, compassionate acts with the likes of Leonard Da Vinci, Bach, Mother Theresa, Ghandi, Albert Schweitzer and St Francis, and we marvel at our ability to do such good. How complex our nature is!
So the debate continued about this paradox of good and evil, the paradox that we are at once both wretch and wonder. If you were raised Lutheran, you might have learned some of the answers to the 129 questions of the 1563 Heidelberg Catechism, a series of questions and answers used to teach those new to the faith about right doctrine. I will share a few of them pertaining to our subject. 5. Q. Can you keep all this [law] perfectly? A. No, I am inclined by nature to hate God and my neighbor.
7. Q. From where, then, did man's depraved nature come? A. From the fall and disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in Paradise, for there our nature became so corrupt that we are all conceived and born in sin.
8. Q. But are we so corrupt that we are totally unable to do any good and inclined to all evil? A. Yes, unless we are regenerated by the Spirit of God.
9. Q. Is God, then, not unjust by requiring in His law what man cannot do? A. No, for God so created man that he was able to do it. But man, at the instigation of the devil, in deliberate disobedience robbed himself and all his descendants of these gifts.
10. Q. Will God allow such disobedience and apostasy to go unpunished? A. Certainly not. He is terribly displeased with our original sin as well as our actual sins. Therefore He will punish them by a just judgment both now and eternally, as He has declared: Cursed be every one who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, and do them.
Strong language, isn't it?! The Heidelberg Catechism, by the way, was written by a pair of young scholars fresh out of seminary, which may in part explain its zealous passion and bold confidence as to what is most certainly true! The same strong language shows up in 1647 in the Westminster Catechism, for those of you who were raised Presbyterian!
Question 25: Wherein consists the sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell? Answer: The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consists in the guilt of Adam's first sin, the want of that righteousness wherein he was created, and the corruption of his nature, whereby he is utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite unto all that is spiritually good, and wholly inclined to all evil, and that continually; which is commonly called original sin, and from which do proceed all actual transgressions.
Yikes! A bit pessimistic, wouldn't you say? Of course these Catechisms don't leave us there, dangling over the pit of hell. There are, naturally, questions and answers about the redemptive work of Christ through his death which brings life to the believer.
So what are we? Glory of creation or hopeless corrupt sinner? Are we by nature good or evil? I look back at our creation story and I am caught by the phrase, "in the image of God, God created them." The image of God. Imago Dei in theological terms. What does that mean about our nature? None of us would claim that is a physical image. In her book, The Mind of the Maker, Dorothy L. Sayers writes the following provocative thoughts about what it means to be made in God's image:
How can man be said to resemble God? Is it his immortal soul, his rationality, his self-consciousness, his free-will, or what, that gives him a claim to this rather startling distinction? She then suggests we look to the creation story to see how God is described. What does the writer say about the original upon which the image' was modeled? We find only the single assertion, "God created." The characteristic common to God and man is apparently that: the desire and the ability to make things.
It will come as no surprise to you that I like this idea. We were created good, we were created in the beautiful world and we were created in the image of the Great Creator, created to be creative, created to be co-creators. It will come as no surprise either, that I have been intrigued by a concept called Creation-Centered Spirituality as well. It has been popularized recently by Matthew Fox. (Okay, here is another side note, Fox is a Catholic priest who expressed ideas considered so radical to the Church that they silenced him for a year! Now that is a credential that makes me sit up and take notice!) Anyway, I can only do injustice by summarizing so briefly his ideas, but his plea is for us to move from what he calls Redemption-Centered Spirituality, one that focuses on the sinfulness of our nature and our need for redemption, to a spirituality that focuses on the goodness in which we were and are created. Rather than Original Sin, he wants us to talk about Original Blessing. (Kind of catchy, isn't it?) I like that!
Original Blessing. Psalm 8 dares to declare, "[God,] you have made [humans] a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor." Original Blessing. That draws us back to the garden, back to Eden, back to paradise. Inevitably drawing us back not only to the story of the original blessing of that place, but also to the story of the serpent and choices that led to expulsion. Oh, we are a complex mix in our nature, we human creatures -- both wonder and wretch, glorious and fools, capable of immense good and capable of extreme evil. For when God created us in God's image, we also received the terrifying gift of free-will. We see in the creation story that from the very beginning we used that gift to make both good and poor choices. So what does this mean? Is it all up to us to struggle and try our best to make good choices? What part does Jesus play? Sorry, but we're out of time. You'll have to wait until next week and see what Ralph has to say! Amen.