Evil–what is it and from where did it come. Is evil foreign to human ontology? What causes humans to sin–something inherit in what it means to be human or something that changed causes humans to live as less than their intended design?
In part 6 of this series I outlined C. John Collins’ concern that Christians maintain a “worldview.” When Christian discuss Adam and Eve we are not debating one or two obscure passages. We are wrestling with how to interpret the canonical “beginning” of the Christian story and if historically accurate the “beginning” of the human story.
According to Collins, “Any telling of the Biblical story must include the notion of sin: humans are estranged from God and Israel is God’s means of bringing light into the world (pp. 41-42).” Sin is a foreign element in the biblical narrative, but it seems commonplace to an evolutionary model for human origins. Collins writes, “I agree with those who see the original task of man to have been to work outward from Eden, spreading Edenic blessings through the earth, turning the whole world into a sanctuary. Human sin interfered with man’s ability to carry this out, but did not deter God from holding fast to his plan (p. 44).” That plan included Abraham and his family, especially the crowning (and crowned) member–Jesus the Messiah.
Collins acknowledges that the current trend of philosophers and theologians seems to be that “evil” is an inherent part of being humans. He disagrees:
“Theologically, if we say being prone to human sin is inherit in being human with a free will, then we must say the Bible writers were wrong in describing atonement the way they did; and we must say that Jesus was wrong to describe his own death in these terms (e.g., Mark 10:45). Further, this approach makes nonsense of the joyful expectations of Christians that they will one day live in a glorified world from which sin and death have been banished (p. 47).”
For Collins the story moves from Creation to Fall to Redemption to New Creation. This “chiasm” if you will begins and ends with a pristine world designed by God for humans. If part one has been misunderstood by Christians what are we do do with the idea of humanity moving away from God starting with the sin of Adam as depicting in Genesis 3, argued in Romans 5, and (according to Collins) underlying the theology of much of Scripture–including Jesus himself in the Gospels! Redemption must be rethought and our eschatological expectations too! (We discussed this a bit in my recent post here.)
In Collins view,
“The Biblical authors therefore portray sin as an alien intruder into God’s good creation. The story of Adam and Eve, and their first disobedience, explains how this intruder first came into human experience, though it hardly pretends to explain how it is that rebellion against God–as expressed by the serpent’s speech–came about in the first place (p. 50).”
Can we reconcile the biblical narrative wherein humans are created as “good” with the evolutionary model of human origins? If so, how do we understand “evil” and “sin?” I welcome your thoughts!
[Note: C.S. Lewis’ solution has been mentioned a few times in our discussion: “For long centuries, God perfected the animal from which was to become the vehicle of humanity and the image of Himself. He gave it hands whose thumb could be applied to each of the fingers, and jaws and teeth and throat capable of articulation, and a brain sufficiently complex to execute all of the material motions whereby rational thought is incarnated [. . .] Then, in the fullness of time, God caused to descend upon this organism, both on its psychology and physiology, a new kind of consciousness which could say “I” and “me,” which could look upon itself as an object, which knew God, which could make judgments of truth, beauty and goodness, and which was so far above time that it could perceive time flowing past [. . .] We do not know how many of these creatures God made, nor how long they continued in the Paradisal state. .. . But sooner or later they fell. Someone or something whispered that they could become as gods. We have no idea in what particular act, or series of acts, the self-contradictory, impossible wish found expression. For all I can see, it might have concerned the literal eating of a fruit, but the question is of no consequence (The Problem of Pain. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996, 72-76).” I’d welcome your thoughts on Lewis’ solution as well (which I’ve heard is partially adopted by Collins later in this book).]
* Page numbers will be updated later today.
Careful there Brian .. questions like “If so, how do we understand ‘evil’ and ‘sin?'” tread dangerously close to opening that can-o-worms dabate about …
… (*whispered*) ‘freewill’
Calvin and the boys opened that can once, and the itch it caused still hasn’t quite been scratched!
True, but I hope that the Calvinists who read this blog can discuss the subject without derailing the whole conversation. Most Calvinists I know do just fine (e.g. Bobby Grow is a Calvinist and he is a great discussion partner on this blog), but then there are those like that one gentleman who pulled a blitzkrieg a few weeks back!
I never thought of the redemption story as a “chiasm”, but it’s an interesting insight (that appeals to me).
We could say:
A’. New Creation
(Calvin wasn’t called the ‘bully of Geneva’ for no good reason.)
I never knew how complex ‘evil’ was until I was confronted with philosophy—both Christian and non. One thing seems to be well agreed upon, that whatever evil is, it is not an intrinsic part of human nature. But, I don’t think theology has been consistent beyond this assertion—Collins here hints at it as being a foreign invader, which then sin takes on a substance of sorts—which now means it has ontology. Augustine believed it was a ‘lacking;’ the equivalent of a hole in a garment. This then would mean it has no substance, and therefore no ontological status to speak of.
Indeed, if things are defined both by what they are and are not then evil is an interesting case study, especially as regards anthropology. Were humans fully good defined by a complete lack of evil (though with the potentiality for evil, unlike God) or was there a sense of evil within them already, so that humans a little more ying-yang from the beginning?
How do you reconcile the narrative in which humans are created in the image of God yet are totally depraved? Isn’t that a bit of a contradiction? Either God is totally depraved or we’re not in his image.
Jim: What does it mean to be in the image of God?
Thanks again for this series, Brian. I just finished the book yesterday and will be reading Enns’s. I’d say Collins says it’s a possibility based on a four-point criteria he lays out (I won’t spoil!), but he doesn’t endorse one particular view.
Also, since I know you’re studying this subject and are a Kindle person — I’ve seen John Sailhamer’s “Genesis Unbound” mentioned around here a few times IIRC, and it’s now available on Kindle! I just finished it this morning and I’d say it’s definitely worthwhile. http://www.amazon.com/Genesis-Unbound-ebook/dp/B005AO8VSY
Do you mean as we are created or as we are now?
I have wanted to read Sailhamer’s book for some time. Maybe I will add that to my list!
Brian: There is no difference between how we were created and how we are now. Unless people used to fly or something like that.
Jim: Suppose you have a shirt, and suppose this shirt looks exactly like how you bought it—how it was made. However now it has a hole, but nothing warranting it to be thrown out. Would you say the shirt is different or the same?
Between: What are you trying to say? Are people born with holes now?
And if my shirt has a hole, how can it look exactly the same? And why would I keep it? I have too many shirts as it is.
It is a thought experiment my friend…it is something that is done in philosophy to sort of make an analogy of an idea. What I am trying to get at is that the shirt is still a shirt. It still bears that purpose, it just now has a ‘hole’ in it. This is what St. Augustine believed sin is like, it is not a ‘substance,’ or a new identity we take on, rather it is a lacking in something— In this case perfection. We are still human, just as the shirt with the hole is still a shirt. In Christian theology, we are regarded no longer perfect, just as the shirt with the hole is no longer a perfect shirt.
I think Jim is pulling your chain. I don’t think he is interested in an actual discussion.
ha—I was hoping for at least one disagreement that wasn’t just that… :-\
One quick thought. IF evolution is accurate, why wouldn’t we see the last precursor as “not in God’s image” like an animal isn’t? Then came Adam and he was, whatever exactly it means. That doesn’t seem terribly “weird” logic at least to me. IF evolution has validity, it’s because it is how God decided to create man in His image isn’t it?
I think it would be fair to assume Adam was morally perfect with a free will and intellect to decide( I think “image” largely = that myself) and the last precursor wasn’t because it was an animal w/o our intellect or our soul.
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