Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 38. Understanding the Fallen World
Rom 8:20-22 (NLT) Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
Accepting the Fall: I am aware that I often refer to this ‘fallen world’ which in itself refers to the Fall recorded in Gen 3 and to the fall of Adam and Eve from perfect people to sinners. Although disputed by liberal ‘believers’, the New Testament affirms that it was clearly an historical event according to the apostle Paul (see Rom 5:12, 1 Cor 15:21, 1 Tim 2:14, 2 Cor 11:3). The point about the Fall for us today, is found in the consequences, both logically and in reality.
The logic of the Fall: Apart from the fact that Genesis declares it and the key New Testament scholar acknowledges its historicity, the Fall declares something so fundamental that most of us never even think about it. As far as God is concerned, the state of living after the Fall is NOT normal. Normal for God is how the world was before mankind sinned, and ‘normal’ is what it will be when God creates a new heaven and a new earth eventually (Rev 21:1) with a new sin-free community (21:2). But here is the thing, if you don’t believe in God and you don’t believe in the Fall, all you are left with is a messed-up world that was always messed up and will always remain messed up, a very pessimistic scenario.
The reality of the Fall: As I have quoted before, one modern historical commentator has said ‘the history of the world is the history of wars’ and most people have heard of Mao Tse Tung’s quote: “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” But it is not just nations, it is tribes and cultures and families and individuals who seem unable to live peaceably together. The curses of Genesis 3 show that life after the Fall was changed, it became more difficult, harder and harsher as God stepped back into the shadows and let us live our lives as we wanted – alone. (And yet as we saw at the beginning of these studies, He is still there reaching out to whoever will respond to Him).
Worldwide changes: The indications are that this change affected the whole of creation which is what makes Isaiah’s prophetic analogy(?) so incredible when he speaks of the day of the Messiah when, “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Isa 11:6-9) The amazing sense of peace and harmony among all living creatures there, makes us realise how different the world is now. The Bible doesn’t spell it out but there are hints of powers and forces released that cause geographical upheaval that didn’t occur before the Fall – earthquakes, moving tectonic plates, hurricanes, tornadoes, volcanoes. It is not clear and so is speculative, but it makes sense. Something else that Genesis shows us is that human behaviour deteriorates when left to itself. From a first single act of disobedience we read that before very long, “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.” (Gen 6:5)
Why am I like this? The fact is that sickness and illness developed in the world, things go wrong with our health. Even more than that our bodies develop ‘defects’. I have a particular non-problematical skin feature that I clearly inherited from my mother and from her family. Things like this get passed on down through generations. Sometimes they can be very serious. To take one example, Huntington’s disease is a rare inherited disorder involving the progressive loss of particular nerve cells in the brain, and causes a decline in thinking and reasoning skills, including memory, concentration, judgment, and ability to plan and organize. Huntington’s disease comes from a genetic disorder. (Quotes from Internet). Sometimes genetic changes can cause literal physical changes and so in the modern ‘transgender debate’ we find that there are some people, fairly rare, who are born with what possibly might be best expressed as mixed (both) sexual organs that challenge gender identity. More commonly in the gender debate, which we’ll consider as a separate subject, we find people whose psychological and emotional identity does not correspond to their biological sex. This often creates the question, “Why am I like this?”
The truth about causes: The answer to this question is NOT, “Because you have sinned, and it is God’s punishment.” It is also NOT, as some Christians who struggle personally with these things say, “God made me like this.” No, He didn’t. What we are talking about here are consequences of the Fall, of the world going wrong. The fact that God allows the Fallen world to work like this is no more and no less than like a frustrated car mechanic watching a person run their car into the ground from lack of proper maintenance, who has been told to mind his own business and let the car owner get on and do what he wants. There may sometimes be a causal link between sin and a bodily breakdown – as we’ve suggested before, long-term alcohol abuse can result in organ damage, e.g. to the brain and nervous system, heart, liver and pancreas. Medical authorities maintain there are clear scientific links between smoking and lung cancer. Personal injuries may be caused by personal negligence. However there are times when things happen out of the blue with no apparent cause, because that is what sometimes happens in a fallen world. In respect of diseases it may be that an individual makes themselves vulnerable to catching a particular disease, but often such things happen simply because we are part of the fallen human race, not because I am more of a sinner than my neighbour. (see Jesus in Lk 13:4).
The truth about behaviour: When we come to consider behaviour, attitudes and outlook in respect of gender issues, which has been so much forced into the open in the last twenty years or more, as with any other behaviour, attitudes and outlook, we arrive at a major debate which, I believe, has not been resolved intellectually or scientifically. Feelings about gender are flexible (and we’ll consider this more fully in the next study) and science has not been able to determine so far what are the definitive causes for the ways individuals feel about themselves, but however we feel, there is still a large measure of freedom as to how we act out those feelings, and therefore choice is still there in some degree.
To take a silly, nongender-issue example, on a bad day I can wake up and feel physically very low. There are probably good physical reasons why my emotions flow in that direction. However, if I am wise, I keep my mouth shut until body and emotions pick up; it is that simple. Whatever our propensity, we still do have a measure of choice as to how we will act. The Fall did not take that away from us. Genetically, we may be predisposed or inclined in one direction, but we are never forced down a particular path. As Christians especially, we can seek the Lord for grace and thus choose with His help how we will act. Taking my eyes off me when I am feeling low about myself, and simply saying in actions, how can I help others, refocuses our lives and our actions as well as our mind and emotions, so that His resources can then flow in me.
Fallen People: Now this is very significant when it comes to the way we think about other people, particularly people who are not ‘like me’! First, we would do well to see that every one of us human beings struggle in some measure with some ‘foible’, as I referred to our quirks or personal idiosyncrasies, our ‘feet of clay’ as I have on occasions referred to it before. But those aren’t just ways of thinking, the things we struggle with can be physical or emotional. This needs to be our starting point, this recognition that because this is a fallen world we are all in some way or other ‘broken’ or ‘damaged’. The more I have revelation about my life the more I see what a broken person I was (and still am in a measure), falling short of perfection, falling short of grace and goodness sometimes. Look, every time we have spoken a harsh word, thought an uncharitable thought, put self before others, acted less than perfectly, we have identified that we are fallen people.
Redeemed People: But when we look at ourselves and others around us, we have to come back to the heart of this series so, second, we need to remind ourselves that although we are fallen and imperfect, God is on our case. He has provided a new life for us in Christ through His Son’s death on the Cross, and He has provided His own Holy Spirit for us, to indwell us and help us, and so although we do so often struggle with coping with these inadequacies, these blemishes, these signs of being broken, He still loves us, is there for us and is there gently working to change us, in His way, with His wisdom, with His power, in His time. Hallelujah! We will be changed, it will happen, partly this side of death and completely in eternity.
Beware jumping to conclusions: Once we get to and see the redemption idea, we can be reassured about ourselves and then we start looking at others and start thinking about how they could be redeemed, how they could be changed and so there, third, if we are not careful, we start getting judgmental; we forget so many of these truths and revert to, “why are they like that, it is wrong, they are wrong,” and other short-sighted ungracious, insensitive thoughts that are moral assessments that may be part-truths but forget the big redemption picture. Keep it simple: God loves them. Start from that point and show them His love by the way you unconditionally accept and love them. Watch Jesus’ example in the Gospels as he interacted with ‘sinners’. That doesn’t mean you agree with their lifestyle or life-outlook, but that you want to be there for them in case God wants to use you in their particular ‘redemption process’. Much grace needed. Let these truths sink into you, anchor you, and maybe restrain you, but may they help us each to be part of His redemption process within us and in others around us.