Once upon a time there was a man who was alive.

Location: Hattiesburg, Mississippi, United States
St. Cuthbert and Disciples in a Boat


Thoughts on Creation

The blogger formerly known as The Fearsome Pirate has of late been delving into the rather controversial topic of creation, evolution, and all that good stuff, over at Here We Stand. I am rather sympathetic to his argument- though I am no scientist (I have played one on the internet a few times), from what I have read and observed there are very weighty problems in a strict seven-day recent creation interpretation.

However, there is one major problem theologically that I still see with accepting a belief in an ancient universe as propounded by modern science: the problem of death and chaos in the cosmos, and how exactly it relates to man, sin, and the world's redemption in Christ. It is this problem that I would like to consider. The problem is this: if the world is ancient and existed as science tends to relate, then biological death and chaos existed before the fall of man. Plants and animals died and were turned into rocks in the proccess of earth's geological development; stars were born and died. How can this work into the Scriptural account of death being a product of man's fall- and, perhaps even more importantly, how can it relate to Christ's redemption of not only man but the entire universe? Is such a view of the cosmos compatible with orthodox Christian theology?

Firstly, I think it is important that we do not see the creation account as presenting a world that is in absolute perfection- that is, when the Scriptures speak of Adam in the Garden, while he is morally perfect- ie sinless- he is not eschatologically complete (in a similar way the book of Hebrews speaks of Christ 'becoming perfect'). Adam has something to do and something further to attain to. The Garden- and, by extension, the entire cosmos- is his to develop and bring into its proper maturity and end, which is found in God. The Fathers, beginning with St. Irenaeus, pointed this out: Adam was similar to a child, in that it was his position to grow into maturity, progressing into perfect communion and participation with God. Adam did not exist in an Origenistic stasis, but rather, as St. Maximus established against such ideas, he was first brought into being, then placed in motion, from whence he was intended to enter rest in God. When we read of Adam in the Garden, he is quite clearly a being with motion, and the capacity to incline himself either towards God or away from God. Adam's state is not the same as the state of man in Christ in the Resurrection. Christ did not merely restore us to Adam's condition- which would only put us back where we started!- but instead, He achieved what Adam had failed in: He brought man into eschatological perfection, to communion and participation in God. Christ is the Second Adam, completing what the first failed to do.

So how does this relate to our problem? If the world into which Adam was placed, the world from which he was drawn (the dust of the ground), was not yet eschatologically complete, then perhaps and aspect of the death that he brought into the world was his failure to advance into that completion- and with him, the entire cosmos. Instead of entering into the 'liberty of the sons of God', the world was subjected to sinful man, and an eschatological frustration. It veered from its intended course, the course that God had initiated from the beginning. However, God was not frustrated, and He both corrected the course and completed it in Christ.

What then of death in the world before Adam's fall? I would venture that biological death is perhaps not the same as the death that Adam brought upon creation. Clearly it is an important aspect of man's fall- but it is less clear how it relates to the rest of the world. Did plants die before Adam's sin? Did bacteria? If so, then why not also higher lifeforms? Is death then natural- at least for animals, if not for man? Perhaps death, as related to the cosmos, is not the same as simple biological death. Rather, could it be that creation's bondage lies in its severance from the direction in which God had placed it through man's participation in it? God created man to be over all His works, and as man dwelt in communion with God, and advanced to the eschatological completion, so would the rest of the world. Instead, man rejected God, and plunged himself into death- both spiritual and physical. In so doing, he also carried all the world into death, which would eventually end, not in communion with God, but utter extinction.

Death in biological systems may not neccessarily be evil- obviously, death in plants is not contended to be morally evil by anyone (except maybe the Manichees!), and is clearly an aspect of life on this planet. I would propose that the same may well be true for higher lifeforms- God did not intend for animals to be immortal.

I should note that we must not somehow isolate man's fall from the rest of the cosmos. The Scriptures are quite clear that man has had a malicious impact upon all the world- the question is precisely what is the content of this impact.

Over the next few weeks, I hope to work out these thoughts in more detail, and hopefully arrive at something worthwhile. I don't consider myself commited to any one idea at the present- there are many things to be considered carefully, as our understanding of the origin and development of the universe is intrinsically tied to Christ's recapitualtion and redemption of it: and I do not wish to detract from the content of the Gospel, or undermine the power and signigicance of the Reurrection. Rather, I should hope to find a proper synthesis of science with the truth of Christ, and so percieve both the world and its glorious salvation better.


Blogger Alastair said...

I do not think that we need to look upon the biological death of man as necessarily a bad thing. Biological death for Adam, had he not fallen, would merely have been a liminal state that would lead to a more glorious existence. In many respects, this is what death now is for the Christian. We do not go to Sheol, like the OT saints, but we go to be with Christ, which is far better than our present existence.

The death that Adam introduced was separation from God. Rather than being natural, death became a dangerous enemy, leading to greater separation from God's presence. Prior to the fall there are death/resurrection patterns to be observed in Adam's deep sleep, for example. This is how death would have been apart from the Fall. I believe that the same would hold in the case of the animal kingdom.


6:25 PM  
Blogger Jonathan said...

I would rather doubt that biological death in the sense in which we now experience it could be a good other than in the sense of its "conversion" through the Cross- the "good use" of death that gives death to sin. Such a death obviously would not be needed in a world without sin. That is not to say, however, that a sort of "dying" would not exist for man, so as to bring him into the consumation of man in God.

Death, as the severance of body and soul, seems to me to be a neccessary evil, because it is the disunion of two things that are not to be dissolved. Man is body and soul; not soul with body added as an extra. Our existence in Christ will ultimately be one of body and soul; albiet glorified and very different body and soul. I can see a sort of "death" effecting that in a non-fallen humanity, though it would be more "supra-biological" I think- leading into further glorification. It is quite possible that the "planting of the seed" has always been neccessary, though the means would no doubt have been different.

Animals, on the other hand, are not of the same physical-spiritual "blending" as man. Their existence, I think, is more on the level of "species", of the group, as opposed to man's personal existence. The evil of death as the severance of body and soul and thus the breakdown of their proper existence would not pose a problem.

I very much agree that man's death- and the cosmos as well- is ultimately one of seperation from God, a seperation that, unhindered, would eventually lead to complete and total cosmic death and destruction, rather than the proper end in the Eschaton. Existence becomes "vanity" because it has been unhinged and turned away from its proper goal.

1:04 AM  

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