Death before the Fall: an exploration

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Was there death before the Fall?

Assuming the biblical record of creation in my thinking, the answer – at least as it relates to human beings – has to be no.  If Adam and Eve – the pinacle of God’s creation and made in His image – are in fact the first people (and i think they are) then clearly, no one dies before the Fall.

But that, of course, is not really the question i want to explore.  The question is: Could they have died before the Fall?  Or, even more to the point: Did God create human beings immortal (unable to die) and then they became mortal (able to die) after rebelling against God and bringing sin into the world?

I want to look at a few notable passages of Scripture and then draw a few conclusions.  The answer is by no means settled in my mind, however, hence the title of this post.

When it comes to answering in the negative, viz. that human beings could not have died before the Fall, two of the big-daddy Scriptures that seem to close the case are Gen. 2:16-17  and Rom. 5:12.  Here we see clearly that God promises death to Adam if/when he should eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Then later, in Romans 5, the apostle Paul – referring to the event when Adam and Eve did in fact sin in this way as a literal, historical event – says that because of Adam’s sin death entered into the world and it spread to all mankind.

Clearly, Scripture is revealing to us that physical death is a consequence of the Fall which, by necessity, implies that before the Fall, death did not – nay, could not – occur.

Or is it ….?

I want to quickly look at three interesting Scriptures that – for me anyways – at least make me want to look further and longer.

1. But they don’t die!  Ok, maybe this one should be obvious, but after clearly warning Adam (and then Eve through Adam) that if they eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they will “surely die”, most of my life hearing this story i have been constantly bothered by the fact that when Adam and Eve eat of that fruit and disobey that one, simple command … they don’t die!  I always expected the fruit to be like poison in their mouths and they just drop dead then and there, and God is like, “SEE!!!!  I told you you would die of you ate the fruit!  Ugh!!”  I don’t think we need to belabour the point, but it stands to reason that, right away, we should at least consider other possible definitions if God says they will surely die if they eat the fruit and then they eat it and don’t die.  We know God isn’t lying to them or tricking them, and so it could be possible that He meant something other than physical death.  Of course, it could be argued that then they do later die and so what God really meant was that they would then experience the decay of sin and eventual physical death as we do now.  But for the moment, let’s just put a post-it note by “it could be an option that God did not mean physical death” and that humans always could die before the Fall.

2. Paul’s shifting definition of death in Romans 5.  What’s interesting about Romans 5 is that after hammering the whole “Adam’s sin = death” thing for verses 12-15,17 (and even then he never says physical death), he then goes on with the same description/comparison about the first and second Adams, but he starts substituting the terms “death” and “died” with “condemnation” and “made sinners” (ESV) [this starts to sound very much like Romans 8 now].  So he switches from a death-life comparison to a condemnation/made sinners-imputed righteousness of Christ/justification comparison.  To me, that adds yet another question mark to the cut and dry case of physical death being a consequence of the Fall.  Beyond this even, we know that even those who have received the free gift of grace from Christ still physically die.  Of course, we have life eternal, but that leans more towards the conclusion i am considering presently, viz. that the “death” God promises to punish Adam with (and all mankind after him) is spiritual and not physical.  This would also line up with Paul’s letter to the Ephesians in 2:1-6 which describes us as “dead in our sins” even though, physically, we are still very much alive.

3. The tree of life in Gen. 3:22-24 and Rev. 2:7, 22:2.  This is the other piece that, as long as i have heard this history of Adam and Eve, has brought up questions.  And yet it is so easy to pass over!  In Gen.3:22 after cursing the serpent, Eve and Adam for their sin, in an act of grace and mercy to His now sin-stained creation God says,

” ‘Behold the man has become like one if us in knowing good and evil.  Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever –‘ therefore the LORD God sent him out of the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.  He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden He placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.”

Now, this is the same tree of life that is mentioned in Gen. 2:9b that God had made, and the implication of Gen. 3:22-24 is that God does not want mankind to live in this eternal state of sinfulness forever.  And so, to keep them from living forever He keeps them from eating of the tree of life in the garden ever again.  The obvious implication is that it is in eating of the tree of life that this (living forever) would be possible.

Even more intriguing is the fact that we are told in the book of the Revelation, that this same tree of life is now in Heaven (Rev. 2:7, 22:2).  The implication then being that we will truly have eternal physical life (in our glorified bodies) because we will always be able to eat from the tree of life forever as well as drink from its water which flows from the tree throughout Heaven.  This should also gives us a new slant by which to view Christ’s command to abide in Him like a branch connected to a Vine in John 15.

So where does that leave us?  A good case could be argued from these passages above that physical death was the result of sin for all mankind because we were bared from the garden  of Eden where the tree of life was located at that time.  Fine.  Granted.  But it still leaves the question of the mortality of mankind apart from eating of the tree of life before the Fall open in my mind. For it seems that God’s gracious kindness to mankind is to bar them from the tree of life so that they can die,  thereby freeing them from eternal captivity to the consequences of their sin.  But that the source of that eternal life was eating from the tree of life, not that they were made immortal before the Fall.

For me, the Revelation 2:7, 22:2 piece along with the John 15 (cf. Eph. 2:1-6) piece make an all the more compelling case for the idea that spiritual death, not physical death, was the primary consequence implied by God’s command in Gen. 2:16,17.  The separation of mankind from God because of sin is  the cause of spiritual death and ultimate, eternal death – though we are currently physically alive – apart from the saving work of Christ, in Whom we again partake of spiritual Food/Life, Cf. John 6:53-56, 15:4-7, Rev. 2:7.

Seven days that divide the world: book review

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“Do you believe in the bible or science? Creation or evolution?”  

This has been the framework i have operated from for the majority of my Christian life: that one had to choose between one or the other.  And there are, surely, voices on both sides of the debate that would say the framework was sound and absolutely right.  And yet that particular “box checking” has never sat entirely well with me.

Enter, John C Lennox – Professor of mathematics at Oxford as well as Fellow in Mathematics and the philosophy of science + pastoral advisor at Green Temple college, Oxford – who has written a book that pushed over a number of cardboard walls in my mind and at least posed the question that maybe – just maybe – the choice is not quite as simple as all that.  If, for no other reason than this, i am grateful for this book.

In his opening chapter of the book, “But does it move? A lesson from history” Dr. Lennox brings us back to the 16th century when Copernicus and Galileo (scientists who themselves operated from a Christian worldview) who challenged both the science and the biblical understanding of their day by suggesting that the earth was not, in fact, the centre of the universe, and proposed a heliocentric universe.  Their ideas were condemned both by science and by the church in their day. And yet … without a moment’s thought there is no one today who would even blink at saying that both science and the church were wrong at that time in saying that the earth was fixed and the universe revolved around it.  One would look foolish today to argue against such things, for we can now clearly see the truth of the matter.

And, in so doing, Dr. Lennox creates a compellingly reasonable doubt – or at the very least, the necessity of humility –  when suggesting that neither Dawkins nor the hardcore “six 24-hour-day creation” guys have it completely right.

I think Lennox rightly points out, right from the start of his book, that as evangelical Christians we are all really Creationists.  That term has been recently dominated by the six 24-hour day guys; but from the neo-atheist side, we are all Creationists – and so we are.  We would all say – unequivocally and without reservation – that we believe that God (through Jesus) made the heavens and the earth and all that exists within them.

And it is only the how of creation that we disagree over.

But in the same way that i might disagree theologically with an Arminian or an Egalitarian, i may struggle with the “six 24-hour day” position, but i would not for a moment question the reality of conversion, the love of Jesus, or the commitment to the authority of Scripture of anyone who held those positions.

Dr. Lennox outlines his own position in the bulk of the book which – as best as i can understand it – is that God is the author of the “Big Bang” from which He created the universe (much as science has maintained) and that God then specially created mankind upon the earth He designed for us to be abel to live on (as the Scriptures testify).  In summary, you could say he purports an old earth (4.6 billion years old) but with a literal Adam and Eve. Or even, as he says early on in his introduction,

We think that, since God is the author of both His Word the Bible and of the universe, that there must ultimately be harmony between correct interpretation  of the biblical data and correct interpretation of the scientific data.”

After this, he goes on, in appendices, to interact with both the “Cosmic temple” view of Genesis 1 and 2 as well as the “theistic evolution” view, which i think he deals with quite adequately in this short book while still doing justice to them.

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The sum of it all is this: If you are convinced that the science of geology, biology and cosmology are correct, and that religion is nuts, i recommend this book to you unreservedly.  If you are convinced that the bible is plain about how God made the earth and that science is “pagan” and only out to disprove God, i would recommend this book to you unreservedly.  And, all you other lot in between, i recommend it to you as well.

The point is this: whether you accept or agree with Dr. Lennox’s conclusions or not, reading this book will surely be time well spent.  One of the chief benefits of which, being shown that we can hold a deep love and trust in the authority of the Scriptures and the truth of God’s creation, w/o having to ignore or somehow demonize scientific research.

Mistaken identity: a rare political rant

I remember a classic moment in Canucks history last season when Kevin Beiksa was mistakenly identified as Ryan Kellser by a news-radio station in LA, and he (Bieksa) then went on to give a hilarious interview pretending to be Ryan Kessler (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AjOHQwbLBlo).

That particular instance was funny, but there are literally millions of examples of mistaken identity today that are not funny at all, but rather, tragic.

I had some of my ‘buttons’ pushed today when i read a blog post that suggested that, as Christians, the well-worn axiom “love the sinner, hate the sin”, was somehow not so easily applied when dealing with the issue of homosexuality.  The reasoning implied was that homosexuality is so closely tied to the identity  of homosexuals – nay, is their identity – that by hating their sin we are actually, in fact, hating them.

Is that a correct view?  Without being overly simplistic or crass about it, does who i desire sexually define who i am as a person at my core?  It’s all well and good to retort that homosexuality is more complex than sexual desire and practice, but then we immediately move from the definition of something, into cultural or ethnic concerns.  Homosexuality is, by definition, sexual desire towards – including practice with – someone of the same sex, just as heterosexuality is defined in the exact same way only towards someone of the opposite sex.  Desires for companionship and deep relationship then don’t fit neatly, in my view, with either of these views, but are rather a separate category unto themselves (though related) which reflects the Trinitarian, relational Imago Dei in all of us, and, thus, cannot be ‘claimed’ by either side.

So where does that leave us as confessing evangelical Christians? Must i abandon the idea of ‘loving the sinner but hating the sin’, in this one, specific case?  Am i truly hating who a person “is” by claiming that their sexual practice is sinful?  I would like to suggest the answer is ‘no’.  Furthermore, i would like to suggest that even using the term homosexual as anything other than a categorical distinction, is misguided.

To illustrate, consider the grapes pictured above. There is a single grape in this cluster that stands out for at least two obvious, categorical reasons: a) it is a different colour than the others b) it is slightly larger than the others.  The question that must be asked in light of what has been said to this point, however, is, ‘Is it still a grape?’  Look at the picture once again now and, considering the distinctions we just mentioned, add to that green grape now a personified voice which might say, perhaps, ‘I am not a grape at all, but an apple.  I know this because i am green, tart, and – while most others who look just like me enjoy making grape juice – i like making apple juice.’

With the personification added especially, we could rightfully place this green grape in a different category than the others, both for it’s appearance’s sake as well as its stated desires.  But at the end of the day, it is still biologically and functionally a grape.

Bringing the discussion back to the realm of sexual desire, consider someone who’s committed adultery, someone who has committed pedophilia, and someone who’d committed necrophilia.  What is one obvious common denominator in each of these?  They’re all people!  Human beings with various degrees of sexual dysfunction, but still people.  And so while we may categorize these people in different ways, even calling them ‘Adulterer’ or ‘Pedophile’ or ‘Necrophile’, no one loses the distinction in their minds that these are still just messed up people with dis-ordered desires.

So where’s the disconnect?  Why in this specific instance of homosexuality has all the world (even the Christian world to some degree) bought into this idea that category distinctions define personhood?  That if i’m a guy who sexually desires another guy, i’m not just ‘a guy who sexually desires another guy'(adjective) but rather a ‘Homosexual‘ (noun)? Huh?!?  Is there anywhere else in the world where this works?  No, because – even just in each of the three earlier examples (Adultery, pedophilia, necrophilia) – we see a person behind the sexual desire.  Looking back historically, slavery was finally seen as wrong (on a human level) because we finally stopped looking at African-Americans (for instance) as categories – like skin colour – and saw instead a person worthy of equal rights and dignity.  Women were finally allowed to vote and get better jobs because (on a human level) we stopped seeing them as categories as well, and saw them, rather, as fellow human beings with inherent worth and dignity.

But now we’re all being asked to change the rules (just this once) and go back to defining people by categories again?!? The message often presented: DON’T see me as just another fellow human being with differing opinions and values and desires than you – see me, and define me, by who i like to sleep with.  That’s who i am.  And if you disagree with that or are uncomfortable with that, you don’t just dislike what i do, you dislike ME.

When we passively allow categories to be made into persons and adjectives into nouns, it stands to make ‘bigots’ and ‘slave-traders’ of all who won’t toe the line, even though their only ‘crime’ is seeking to stem the tide of this mis-guided thinking and pernicious nationalism.

In contrast, one of the flashing neon signposts found in Scripture, that speaks to this issue plainly, is the doctrine of man.  That a loving, Creator God formed man out of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.” (Gen. 2:7) That we reflect, as human beings, the very image of God. (Gen. 1:27)  And the refrain after each day of creation and thing that was created was a resounding, “And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” (Gen. 1:31)  Later, Psalm 139:14 tells more: that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and that God himself “knit us together in our mother’s womb.”

The implication of Scripture is this: that you are not what you eat or don’t eat (‘Vegan’ or ‘Meat eater’); that you are not who you do, or do not, sleep with (‘Homo’ or ‘Hetero’ sexual); and no (despite all the marketing to the contrary) we are not “all Canucks”.  What you are at the very core of your being is God’s special creation, made in His image, to display His glory, to worship Him alone, and to have dominion over the rest of His creation.  That is your identity and the source of your great value and worth.

Everything else beyond that is just category.

So … what ARE we doing here?

The question that often scratches at the soul – if and when we can slow down enough and quiet the noise of life enough to even consider it – is this: ‘What are we doing here?’ or ‘Why are we here?’  It’s a more specific question i think than the generic, ‘What’s the meaning of life?’, which has all but become cliche now.  It’s the soul’s search for purpose in a world where philosophers wax eloquent but leave only fog and mist to cling to, and the strong voices of evolutionary science cry out, ‘Nothing!  You have no ultimate purpose!’

The problem is that how you answer that question will shape your entire life.  If you begin with the ‘fog and mist’ of philosophy and Oprah-isms, you chase after a lot of nice sounding, lofty ideals that end up not satisfying.  And if you begin with the meaningless existence of evolution, life becomes about me alone and how much i can consume and enjoy before i die.  Ironically, many who would espouse an evolutionary world view, live out a hypocritical existence of denying that life has any purpose, while at the same time campaigning against things like world hunger and oppressive regimes. If life truly has no purpose, doesn’t it then beg the question: why help anyone?

There is another answer to the question however, that is both life giving and able to live up to it’s promises.  Life giving, because it tells us we absolutely have a purpose in life, and able to live up to it’s promises, because it is given by the Creator of life Himself.  The shorter Westminster Catechism answers the question: What is the chief end of man? (viz. Why are we here?) with these words, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  So, according to this historic collection, we were created to glorify God and also to find joy/happiness/meaning in Him forever.  A few Scriptures to back that up.  Romans 11:36 states, “For from Him [God] and through Him and to Him are all things.  To Him be glory forever.”, and in Revelation 4:11 we read, “Worthy are You, our Lord and God, to receive  glory and honour and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they existed and were created.”  In Psalm 16:11 David writes, “You make know to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”  This ‘purpose’ for our creation could be fleshed out to a much larger degree of course, but we can infer (at least) from these Scriptures that any such popular notions today of God creating us because He a) needed us or because b) He was lonely, are completely false.

We learn further in the creation account in Genesis, that we were created as image bearers of God – both male and female (Gen. 1:27).  This means then that we were both created for a purpose and that we have inherent dignity and value because – unlike anything else in creation – we carry the image of God.  We (the human race) were also given dominion over the earth and told to care for it and fill it with more people (Gen. 1:28-30) so we have a ‘job’ to do as well; a ‘direction’ if you will.

Much (if not all) of this way of thinking flies in the face of our modern age that says we either set our own purpose, or we have no purpose at all.  Beyond that, our rebellious, finite hearts are provoked by the idea that we were created for the glory of someone other than ourselves, and people end up making a lot of foolish sounding statements about God being ego-centric; ignoring the whole time that we have no issue at all with everything being about us!But when at last we see the goodness of God’s purpose for us, and consider the second half of His purpose for us as well – to find our life/purpose/joy/happiness in Him forever – we see that God is absolutely FOR us and has created us with our joy in mind.  He didn’t create a choir to sing songs to Him or slaves to dote on Him.  2 Cor. 3:17 tells us that where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom, and in Galatians 5:1 we read that “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”  God’s purpose for our lives is good because God knows that when we submit to Him and give glory to Him, we realign ourselves with the way He created the universe to work and life to work best.  Beyond that, we see the goodness of God’s purpose because we are not alone in this life; left to wander and figure it all out for ourselves.  Instead we have a loving Father who made us, gave us value and dignity, who set His love on us and redeemed us at great cost to Himself, and gave us a purpose that is about our ultimate joy.