So How about That Fall (not the season)?

I’ve been thinking about the Christian doctrine of “The Fall” off and on again since my post on the problem of evil. As I grew up, Jack Chick (remember those comic book style evangelistic tracts?) had a pretty big influence on my 10 year old budding theology. According to him, and many others, evil entered the world after Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden. Through that act, the universally human propensity to sin, humanity’s total depravity from birth, the corruption of creation, the relational strife between all people, etc. came into being. I’d like to hone in on the corruption of creation. Maybe another question might help clear up this corruption nuance: why is “Mother” nature such a raging bitch?

For the sake of discussion, I’m laying out how I see my former Evangelicalism portraying the corruption of creation, and then list some questions I have for it. We are told in the Genesis account that there was no death before Adam’s and Eve’s disobedience. We are told that God saw his creation as good. Humankind, the apex of God’s creation and the last entity created, was called “very good.” Supposedly (this is never explicitly stated, but a pretty safe assumption based on what’s said in Genesis), every creature was vegetarian, because there was no death.

Now, once disobedience entered the world, evil did, too. Death and decay entered in the wake of perfection. The favorite verse of misogynists states that there would be pain for women in childbearing. Man was cursed to work the ground by the sweat of his brow (some have attempted to work out a theology of work pre-fall. You can look it up. I have no desire to spell that out here, and I find it terribly unconvincing). There would be gender wars, wars between family members, clothing had to be made by butchering animals (hehe, or fig leaves if you prefer). Now the following is never stated in the Genesis or other accounts, but I have heard it promulgated in enough places to consider it an Evangelical/Christian belief: all natural evil stems from the Fall. By natural evil, I mean natural disasters, sickness/disease, survival of the fittest among animals, and other unnecessary pain that is part of nature.

Here’s a bit of a detour. What is evil? I have heard it said by Augustine that evil is the privation of good. That probably applies most easily to moral evils. Theft would be the privation of the good of ownership. Murder would be the privation of the good of life. Dishonesty would be the privation of honesty. Allegedly, that makes evil a nonentity so that God is absolved from creating evil, given that he is the creator of all that exists. But what does that definition do to the very real entity of natural evil, like boiling hot magma enveloping the city of Pompeii? Let’s say God isn’t involved in every natural disaster that happened, but just lets it happen because that’s just the way things are after the Fall; does that indicate that he deprived his earlier creation of its intrinsic goodness? Or to put it another way, did tornados/earthquakes/volcanoes/floods/hurricanes/famines exist before or after the Fall? Did the very good creation contain those natural disasters intrinsically? Did God create these phenomena afterward to teach humanity a lesson, so that there were actually two creations, one very good and the other also very good, but good at being bad?

Some, like John Hick (soul-making theodicy [defense of God’s justice in the face of evil] here), have brought up the fact that gravity most certainly existed before the Fall. And if cliffs just happened to exist, and there was hard ground 200 feet below them, a tumble might take its toll on one’s self-actualization. The potentiality of toe-stubbing also probably existed pre-Fall, too (I don’t recall if these are his exact examples, but if not, booyah). But again, such instances have to do with someone’s clumsiness or obliviousness. Let’s say Adam and Eve built a shanty on the edge of the Nile. Would it be destroyed by the yearly flood cycles, or would floods simply not have existed yet in a perfect world?

What I’m aiming at is did God create natural evil (I guess before or after doesn’t really matter), or does the notion of natural “evil” tend to speak against the existence of God as we understand him—all powerful, knowledgeable, and benevolent? To put it ambiguously clearly, should we change “God” to “god”? Or a third option, does he put it there to test people? Or does he have some unstated purpose in this, and we just have to float through life making up meaning as we go? Or is he not all that benevolent? When I had a kid, I wanted to make the world the best I can for him. That world I speak of is limited to my sphere of influence, in that I can only do so much toward it, by providing an income, sagely advice (hehe, we’ll see how sagely I am when I have to deal with his probably hellion ways), loving acceptance, direction, and just being there. Enter my broken record: where’s the all powerful, wise, and good God in this world that extends beyond the one I control? Do I need to redefine things as they pertain to God? For that matter, is God even extra-linguistic, have an existence outside language games?

I discussed the existence of tornados with one of my friends, and asked him if they came from creation or after the fall. He said they aren’t really considered evil until human beings start getting (enter my putting words in his mouth) impaled by foreign objects. I’ll grant that. Let’s say all natural disasters existed before the Fall, floods, volcanoes, earthquakes, blizzards, tsunamis, what have you. Adam and Eve simply didn’t care because none of those (save maybe floods) would have touched their existence in the Ancient Near East. But what about the carnivorousness that seems intrinsic to lions, and the herbivoreness that seems intrinsic to gazelles; why were the poor latter created with nerve endings? It honestly serves no purpose than to give them horrendous feeling while they’re being eviscerated by the former. Did pain receptors only magically appear after said Fall? What about cognitive bias? What about the ability to drown? Were lions intrinsically motivated not to eat our only human parents alive at the time? In fact, if carnivorousness existed from creation, and God created all the species that exist now (which isn’t the case), how many species died per day after creation? Shouldn’t there have been a pretty quick mass extinction through food shortage? And why the hell were mosquitoes created? There’s no way they weren’t annoying everything in existence before the Fall. If God exists, at best he has a sense of humor at others’ expense. I’ll admit, it’s pretty funny to witness someone swatting at “nothing” as they walk through cobwebs and attempt to fling good Charlotte from her body, but why do such insidious beasts exist at all in a very good creation? Maybe evolution is a result of the fall, and that’s where all the annoying and terrible creatures came from!

There are a few possible answers to all of these questions. One of the possibilities would be adjusting our definitions of the Western concept of God from being all good, powerful, and wise, to not being all or some of those to the nth degree. Process theism has done this to some degree. Another option is that he exists, but chooses to hide very convincingly. Another option is that our senses and everything derived from them (i.e., science) are misleading. Another possibility could be admitting ignorance/agnosticism, and not engage in conjecture about things which are unseen from those that are. Perhaps God will, as Robert M. Price has stated it (I forgot if it was here or here), put on a seminar on the other side about how and why things really are, particularly for those curious jokerpantses like me.

As always, if you got something to say drop a line in the comments section or my email at ilostmyprayerhanky AT mail to the g DOT com. I like conversing. I don’t gots all the answers. You probably don’t either. If you do, I’ll save you some time: you’re a moron and there is no point in us shouting each other down, or each of us bending over to have a pooping contest to see who gets stained first. However, in dialogue, we get more than we had before. It’s like steak and beans, but better.

4 thoughts on “So How about That Fall (not the season)?”

  1. (“Why, I Autumn…” –Moe Howard.)
    Natural disasters kill. It would be boring if we all died of the same thing. Fewer people would watch the evening news if we all died of the “87-year-old mortal syndrome disease.” And how boring it must have been for Shem and Ham to sit around the campfire at night: “Your great uncle Jezu, he drowned, and so did your aunt Leba…”
    This may sound stupid at first and even tomorrow, but there are other possible answers than a “few possible answers”: The question is not a real question. The question is self-defeating. The question is unanswerable with our available knowledge. And so on. I’m not saying that’s so, just want to offer more options.
    I’ve never thought God to be benevolent, although at times I’ve noticed that he is. It’s not a word used in the bible to describe him. I found it pop up once in a search, for the husband and wife to be benevolent to one another. That’s another possible answer to the question. We’re too occupied with the tasks at hand to ask it. That’s kind of maybe a theme in bible stories. The question was rarely asked at times when it could have been. But it was kind of between the lines here and there. I wonder why Paul didn’t ask it, although as a whole he kind of answered it. But I know what you mean, sometimes it would be nice to see a concise answer as opposed to gathering from multiple passages, but maybe that’s the only way some questions can be answered — in essence in a whole story and not in sound bites. I don’t know. Back to benevolence, there must be a love that is great that has some overlap with benevolence, but depending on the situation or something. As a thinker friend of mine once told me with great gusto and joy after having a great revelation, “Aaron, the bible is full of paradoxes. Isn’t it great?”
    I’ve never put too much thought into it, but after attending many creationist meetings, I’ve heard lots of theories on pre-fall carnivores, e.g. mosquitoes possibly drinking plant juices like similar insects today. In fact, isn’t it only one sex that sucks blood? They had lots of potential explanations. Many think the “evil” was built into the “good” ready to spring forth at the nearly inevitable moment, and many think the time between the creation and the fall wasn’t very long. I know after I’ve had a great blessing and after a feeling of cleansing, it takes me about ten minutes to sin again, so I wouldn’t be surprised. Mosquitoes are patient critters.
    The seminar on the other side of the Jordan is a strong possibility in my opinion and would be good enough for me, the wiping away of tears, not handing us a kleenex but actually wiping them away.
    Speaking of carnivorous ravings, it’s dinnertime, and I’m hungry for that cooked chunk of pig in the refrigerator.

    p.s. Don’t make light of stubbing ones toe till you’ve bashed one against a steel pipe.

  2. My uncle, thanks for your comment! Always make me laugh, especially starting with a Moe quote. I guess what I’m wondering is if the Evangelical concept of the fall makes any sense. Does it make the best sense of the biblical data? Does it make the best sense of the data of physical science? Yes, I recognize theories can be changed everyday, but I don’t think all are equal. I think some explanations account for more than others. All I’ve ever heard is the Evangelical side, and it (or at least how I’ve represented/understand it) has holes in my view. However, I’ve also not done much digging as to alternative explanations. I am very much the scientific nube. That can be remedied. If I ever get motivated to reading science more. Or other theological systems. If there is a God, I truly wonder at his creation of flies. As I can testify from a weekend long van trip with a full on fly orgy, there is absolutely nothing redeeming to anything about the fly. Their entire existence is bent on invading human ears, biting arms, and pooping on food. Let frogs eat something else and the backs of flies be bent forever.

  3. Most vans have windows. Maybe you took the phrase wrong, “When somebody closes a door, God opens a window” and rode it out to the bitter end? Singing I’ll Fly Away?
    I’m thinking science is a man-made concept, a handy word to describe observations of systems and collections of measured facts and figures, manipulating them to create techniques and tools. Those things are extremely interesting, except maybe for sedimentology. It’s a fine line between science and theology. It’s a chasm between science and Science as a savior. I like science. It pays my bills.
    In my past searches I found for me that the “biblical model” fits the real world better than any other “model,” but I try not to think of it that way. I don’t want to get to judgement day and say, ‘There wasn’t anything else that fit better, so I had to accept You as the least contradictory.’ That may not fly. (Oops, sorry for the fly simile.)

  4. Hi Monte. You already know that you have touched upon one of the issues that has been a driving force in my life and development. There probably isn’t much more that I can say that you and I haven’t talked about in person. 😉 But, maybe there is this. I don’t have a problem with a god who redeems all, everyone, and all things (but I can’t even imagine what that would be like, so I can’t really say I ‘believe’ in that). My problem is with a god who places people in a world that does its absolute best–whether through human agency or natural occurrence–to thwart our knowledge of said god and possibly cause us immeasurable suffering…and then this loving god punishes everyone with eternal torture who is unable to have a proper belief in him/her (and in the typical Evangelical theology, this happens to be the vast majority of people who have ever lived). There are evangelical alternatives out there (I don’t mean alternatives to evangelicalism, but alternatives within it), but these voices are less known and not as numerous. And most of these are not American. Jurgen Moltmann, Douglas John Hall, and Miroslav Volf are three I respect, even if I don’t buy into everything they say. Miroslav Wolf has said, speaking about redemption, “I am not a universalist, but God may be.”

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