In my last post I looked at how the Bible describes us as corrupted from the original image of God that we were made in. A visual analogy that has helped me to ‘see’ this better was the orcs of Middle Earth, corrupted from the elves. So this is how the Bible describes us. But from the Biblical point-of-view, how did this happen?
The Fall of Man
It is recorded in the book of Genesis of the Bible. Shortly after being made ‘in the image of God‘ the first humans were tested. The account records an exchange with a ‘serpent’. The serpent has always been universally understood to be Satan – an angelic adversary to God. Through the Bible, Satan usually confronts by speaking through another person. In this case he spoke through a serpent. The exchange is recorded in this way.
The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the LORD God had made. One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?”
“Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied. “It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’”
“You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”
The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves. (Genesis 3:1-6)
The crux of their choice, and thus the temptation, was that they could ‘be like God’. Up to this point they had implicitly trusted God for everything and taken Him at His word for everything. But now they had the choice to leave that behind, become ‘like God’, trusting themselves and taking their own word for things. They could become ‘gods’ themselves, captains of their own ship, masters of their destiny, being autonomous and answerable only to themselves. Long before Dawkins wrote The God Delusion, the first humans fell for the real god delusion – that they could be ‘like God’.
In their Declaration of Independence something in our forebears changed. As the passage recounts, they felt shame and tried to cover up. In fact, just afterwards, when God confronts Adam about his breach of covenant, he blames Eve (and God who made her). She in turn blames the serpent. No one would accept responsibility.
The Fall Today
And what started that day has continued because we have inherited that same innate disposition. That is the reason why the Israelites (in the previous post) of Hosea’s day were behaving like Adam – because they (like us) had inherited his disposition. Some misunderstand the biblical account to infer that we are blamed for the rebellion of Adam. In fact, the only one blamed is Adam but we live in the consequences of that rebellion. We can think of it genetically. We have inherited this mutinous nature of Adam and thus innately, almost unconsciously, but willfully we continue the uprising that he started. We may not want to be god of the universe, but we want to be gods in our settings; captains of our own ships; autonomous from God. Bon Jovi’s chorus “It’s my life”, Frank Sinatra’s more sublime “I did it my way”, Self magazines dotting our supermarket aisles are light-hearted echoes of this desire, while Hitler’s Mein Kempf (“My Struggle”) and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-Il (known as ‘Dear Leader’) cult of personality are much darker echoes. But they are exhibits of the trend in our nature that Adam’s rebellion started.
And this explains so much of human life that we take for granted. This is the reason that everywhere people need locks for their doors, they need police, lawyers, encryption passwords for banking – because in our current disposition we will steal from each other. This is why empires and societies all eventually decay and collapse – because the citizens in all these empires have a tendency to decay. This is why after trying all forms of government and economic systems, and though some work better than others, every political or economic system seems eventually to collapse on itself – because the people living these ideologies are dogged by tendencies which eventually drag the whole system down. This is why no religion has fully brought about the vision for their society – but neither have the atheistic ones (think of Stalin’s Soviet Union, Mao’s China, Pol Pot’s Cambodia) – because something about the way we are tends to make us miss our vision.
Sin is ‘miss’
In fact, that word ‘miss’ pretty much sums up our situation. A verse from the Old Testament gives a picture that has helped me understand this better. It says
Among all these soldiers there were seven hundred select troops who were left-handed, each of whom could sling a stone at a hair and not miss. (Judges 20:16)
This verse describes soldiers who were experts at using slingshots and would never miss. The word in Hebrew translated ‘miss’ above is יַחֲטִֽא׃ (pronounced Khaw-taw). What is so interesting, is that this same Hebrew word is also translated to sin across most of the Old Testament. For example, this same Hebrew word is ‘sin’ when Joseph, sold as a slave to Egypt, would not commit adultery with his master’s wife, even though she begged him. He said to her:
No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God? (Genesis 39:9)
And just after the giving of the Ten Commandments it says:
Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” (Exodus 20:20)
In both these places it is the same Hebrew word יַחֲטִֽא׃ that is translated ‘sin’. It is exactly the same word for ‘miss’ with soldiers that sling stones at targets as in these verses which means ‘sin’ when dealing with people’s treatments of each other. This provides a picture to help us understand what ‘sin’ is. The soldier takes a stone and slings it to hit the target. If it misses it has failed his purpose. In the same way, we were made in God’s image to hit the target about how we relate to Him and treat others. To ‘sin’ is to miss this purpose, or target, that was intended for us, and which we in our various systems, religions and ideologies also intend for ourselves.
This corrupted and missed-the-target picture is not pretty, it is not feel-good, nor is it optimistic. Over the years I have had people react strongly against this particular biblical teaching. I remember one grad student looking at me with daggers in her eyes saying, “I don’t believe you because I do not like what you are saying”. Now I find that rather curious. What does ‘liking’ something have anything to do with whether it is true or not? I do not like taxes, wars, AIDS and earthquakes – I doubt anyone does – but that does not make them go away, and neither can I ignore any of them. All the systems of law, police, locks, keys, security etc. that we have built in our society and take for granted to protect ourselves from each other does suggest that something is wrong. At the very least, this doctrine deserves to be considered in an even-handed way.
But this doctrine of the Fall raises a couple of questions. For starters, why did God create an evil devil ready to tempt mankind into the Fall. Secondly, if God is omniscient He would have known the Fall and ensuing corruption was going to happen when he first made mankind ‘in his image’. So knowing the fall was going to happen, why would He still go through with it? Finally, what has He done in response to the calamity of the Fall? We start by tackling the first question next post.