It’s been said that the history of the world can be told with three apples:
The apple Adam ate, the apple that fell on Newton’s head and the Apple Steve Jobs gave us. Of course, that’s not quite true as nothing in the biblical text suggests that it was an apple Adam ate! The apple is a good image for what happened.
…And then there was sin.
One thing is certain sin has tarnished, disrupted and distorted God's good creation.
Because of the "apple" humanity, God and the world are estranged (Gen 3:17; 9:2). This decisive biblical event is well described by Walther Eichrodt:
This event has the character of a "Fall", that of a falling out of line of the development willed by God.
The fall is a falling out of line of the development willed by God. It’s not the way it’s supposed to be. As Romans 8 has it the creation is now groaning. God’s intention in creation was for humans to fill and subdue the earth, to till and to keep it: in other words to build civilisation. When we think of creation we think of solar systems, sun, sea, sky, sharks, starfish and spiders. But creation is more than that; within the creation order there is culture and civilisation. Humans were to develop and help the whole of creation to flourish. This unfolding of creation was to result in institution such as government, education, farming, art and music, business, science and technology.
However, Adam and Eve disobeyed God. They didn’t want to do things God’s way, they wanted to be their own bosses. That is the essence of sin – it wasn’t just what they did it was about the heart, an act of the will, an act of defiance. In essence it’s: We don’t want to be ruled by God we want to rule ourselves.
It might seem odd to suggest that science, technology, government, work and so on were part of creation. But look at the activities that Adam was doing before the fall.
Genesis 2: 19
God bought the animals to Adam – and Adam had to name them. He would have to distinguish between each animal, numbering them – the start of mathematics, he had to name them, observation and classification, the start of science. We could go on.
Genesis 2: 5
There was no man to work the ground – so humans were created. We were created to work! We don’t work to get money, we work as part of our God-given creational task.
So what went wrong? There was a falling out of line of the development willed by God. It’s not the way it’s supposed to be!
God placed humans in a garden. The Bible ends in a city, the new Jerusalem. That involves development and the production of culture and civilisation. But then came the fall – a falling out of line. That, fortunately, is not the end of the story. God is in the business of redemption.
Structure and direction
The distinction between structure and direction is important here. Structure refers to the form in which things have been created; direction refers to the pull of sin or grace on that structure. The fall means that it is the direction not the structure of the world that has altered.
In Genesis 1:28 we were given what has been called the cultural mandate; it has not been annulled because of the fall.
Be fruitful and increase in number
Fill the earth
Rule over the animals
Genesis 2: 15
Placed in the garden of Eden to
Work it and
Take care of it
That is still our task and our calling.
What has happened, though through the fall, is that it has been made all the more difficult.
Genesis 2: 16
Filling the earth is made all the more painful as childbearing pains are increased.
Rulership becomes deformed: "the husband shall rule over the wife".
Subduing is made all the more difficult as work in the garden will be a "painful toil".
Most initiatives of the development of creation such as cities, music and technology (metal working) arise out of the line of Cain (in Genesis 4). The development of clothes also comes as a result of the fall (Gen 3:7, 21). Were humans intended merely to remain in a pristine garden?
If we take the example of cities we cannot declare them inherently evil, because the new heavens and earth are pictured as a city in Revelation. To see all human post-fall development as evil is to confuse the structure and direction of creation. Cities, music, fashion, science, technology, art ... all have a creational structure, the fall has not affected this but has changed their direction of these God-given aspects have been distorted and mis-directed. They can be developed obediently or disobediently to creational norms.
The task of civilisation, however is rooted in the creation narrative. When God created the heavens and the earth he first formed it and then began to fill it. It is this task that humans have to continue. This is what civilisation is about; it is part of the human task to be the image bearers of God.
Ironically it seems that it is a step of rebellion that leads to a development of "civilisation". God works all things together for good. God wasn't taken by surprise.
No area of life is left untainted by sin. Sin affects every area of life.
All relationships are broken: with God, with the world, with other humans and with ourselves.
Adam and Eve are banished from the garden. It appears that out of defiant rebellion God is working out his purposes for the fulfilment of the cultural mandate. Adam's expulsion from the garden means that the rest of the world can be "civilised"; similarly with the tower of Babel it means that humanity is scattered throughout the globe and as they are they take the image of God with them.
We may live in a world that is not the way it’s supposed to be, a world that has fallen out of line of the development willed by God. But God is working on that. The expulsion from the garden is the beginning of redemption. The remainder of the Bible is the story of God redeeming, through Christ, his good but fallen creation.
As sin has affected every area and aspect of life, so too does redemption.
And that’s the story that will be unfolded in the next few weeks.