by Young Oon Kim
Modern Views Of The Fall
Traditionally, the Christian doctrine of fallen man has been connected with the Genesis stomodern Adam and Eve. However, the historical reliability of the Fall story has been increasingly questioned. Those who deny the validity of the Eden narrative do so on two counts. For one thing, it is difficult to reconcile the account of Adam and Eve with Adam and Eve. However, the historical reliability of the Fall story has been increasingly questioned. Those who deny the validity of the Eden narrative do so on two counts. For one thing, it is difficult to reconcile the account of Adam and Eve with modern scientific theories. For another thing, Biblical scholars have tended to cast doubt upon the Genesis account by interpreting it in the light of ancient Babylonian and Canaanite legends. 2
Thus, Brunner insists that the truth of the Fall must not be connected with the "myth" of Adam and Eve. The whole story of Adam implies a "view of time and space which has passed away. 3 Christians must therefore base their doctrine of the Fall on the New Testament rather than the Old Testament. If we work out a Christocentric view of the original sin, we can avoid the intellectual and theological difficulties connected with the mythical world view of Genesis. However, if the Genesis account is not based upon historical events, the question of the When and How of the Fall cannot be answered historically. 4
In light of all the difficulties, some modern theologians reinterpret the Genesis story. Let us consider a few examples.
According to Harvard theologian Gordon Kaufman, 5 the Genesis story emphasizes that the Fall occurred because Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. For Kaufman, this act is a symbolic way of saying that man became a sinner once he could distinguish between good and evil. Before eating the forbidden fruit, man lived in communion with God. Why do we look to God? To know how to avoid evil and live the good life. But once men ate of the tree, there was no longer any ethical reason for God. Man on his own could decide how to act. Henceforth, he felt morally autonomous. Conscience makes man independent or self-reliant, therefore God is not necessary as a source of ethical standards.
Kaufman also notes that the Fall was caused not by man alone but by man's relationship with the serpent, which symbolizes the world of nature. Men fell when they started to relate to nature without reference to God. To live as an autonomous being promises great power: power over nature and power over one's own life. How free, how almighty men feel when they cut their ties with God! As Nietzsche put it, if God is dead, we can become supermen. So men fell when they divorced nature from God and treated their world as a secular realm.
The Eden story depicts an idyllic state. Man and God live together in the closest type of personal relationship. There was intimate face-to-face communication between the Creator and His creatures. Adam and Eve were naked but unashamed. This symbolically indicates the completely open and uninhibited nature of the divine-human encounter.
What are the effects of the Fall? Man lives now according to his own standards of good and evil. We manipulate nature for our own selfish advantage. We are guided by merely anthropocentric and utilitarian considerations. Our fallenness alienates us from God and estranges us from one another. Like Adam and Eve, we hide when we hear God call and are afraid to confront Him face-to-face. We are ashamed of what we are and try to cover up our nakedness. Cut off from God and a natural relationship with other humans, men become tormented by anxiety. We feel insecure, uncertain, uneasy. We become burdened with guilt and terrified by the thought of dying.
The Fall of man affected all subsequent history, Kaufman concludes. Each generation is imprisoned by the attitudes and experiences of its predecessors. Consequently, we become loaded down with the fears, frustrations and follies of the past. Sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, so death spread to all men (Rom. 5:12).
Some disciples of Kierkegaard offer a very different explanation of the Fall. 6 According to this view, it was not an autonomous ethic but reliance upon speculative knowledge which caused Adam and Eve's banishment from the garden of Eden. What the serpent promised is that reason can make us equal to God. Once Adam and Eve accepted that notion, they found they could no longer live in Paradise. Man believed the serpent's lie that by eating the forbidden fruit, "Your eyes shall be opened and ye shall be as gods, knowing."
How are we damned by accepting the claims of reason? First, when we look at creation with eyes wide open we discover that all is not good as Genesis claims. Reason denies the belief that everything God made was very good. Reason explains that everything that exists has a beginning and an end. To exist means to be imperfect, subject to decay and condemned to die.
Secondly, reason leads to evil and sin because it asserts that every individual faces certain doom. History demonstrates that all persons are finite and will sooner or later be crushed as mercilessly as if they were inanimate objects. So reason tells us that we have to accept our fate. To be wise means to bow before the inevitable.
Thirdly, what can reason discover? Only ideas, lifeless abstractions. Reason ignores men of flesh and blood in favor of concepts like truth, goodness and beauty. Reason is cold and impersonal; but life is specific, warm and individual. That is why Kierkegaard was so hostile to Hegel's philosophy of pure spirit. Hegelian idealism drained all the blood and passion out of men. Reason is the original sin because it dissects life by logical analysis, turning passionate individuals into logical categories.
Fourthly, reason destroys men's ethical strivings. Rationalism transforins morality into eternal laws. The rational moralists insist: "You must do this, you cannot do that " Ethics is defined in terms of obligations. Man no longer has a choice. He is coerced into obeying.
To conclude, existentialists identify the Fall of man with his reliance upon reason because reason is totally anti-religious. Reason stresses man's thoughts whereas religion stresses his feelings. Reason ignores the individual in favor of the universal, but faith is concerned with the unique value of each man. Reason extols necessity; faith affirms freedom. To have faith is to assert that with God nothing is impossible. Man is fallen, however, because he was seduced and continues to be seduced by theoretical knowledge.
A third interpretation of the Fall has its roots in Christian Gnosticism, but has been revived by Nicolai Berdyaev and Paul Tillich. According to Berdyaev, 7 the garden of Eden story symbolizes man's pre-historical state. Eden refers to the unconscious, almost vegetative bliss which man experiences prior to his awareness of the difference between good and evil.
Once we lived in a golden age of innocence and harmony. We were then one with nature and in communion with God. The exile of Adam and Eve from Eden symbolizes the fact that man now feels fallen away from God and the cosmos seems to have fallen away from man. Paradise was bliss, whereas our present state is that of dividedness, anxiety and struggle. When man achieved consciousness, he became separated from the true ground of his being. Even though the Fall was a tragedy, it was also both necessary and beneficial. Man rejected the wholeness and happiness of Eden in order to explore his destiny to its inmost depths. He fell away from the harmony of bliss and chose the tragic life of terrestrial existence in order to realize his potentialities.
Eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge exiled man from Paradise. But knowledge is good and enables men to discover meaning in life. Exile from Eden enables us to rise to a higher stage of consciousness and attain a higher state of existence. The "myth" of the Fall does not degrade man but rather exalts him to wonderful heights. Since we have the freedom to fall, we also have the ability to rise again. The possibility of evil is a necessary condition for attaining the good. So the myth of the Fall is a myth of man's potential greatness.
Since we are free, we are called upon to be the creator of new values. We are free in that we are able to cooperate voluntarily with God, to produce new values. We are destined to be created creators. Our creative activity should bring us into a dynamic experience of eternity.
Man thinks of the paradise that was and the paradise to come. Hence the Bible combines the myth of the golden age in the past and the messianic hope of a millennial age in the future. Following the path of tragedy and heroism, man travels from the original Eden, in which freedom is unknown, to a paradise in which there is a knowledge of freedom. Paradise will be reached through human creativeness. Thus, the Christian revelation is first and foremost a message of the kingdom of God, the end of time, a new heaven and a new earth.
Tillich understands the Fall story as a mythical description of the transition from essential to existential being. All men are aware of estrangement from their true nature. Yet, the Fall does not refer to an event that happened once upon a time. What the Fall symbolizes is the universal human situation. All men are fallen because all are estranged from themselves, from others and from God. The human predicament involves three forms of self-destruction: unbelief, pride and concupiscence. Because of these we feel burdened with personal guilt and 8 experience the tragic consequences of existence.
2 A. S. Rappoport and R. Patai, Myth and Legend of Ancient Israel (1966), Vol. 1.
3 E. Brunner, Dogmatics (1952), v. 11, p. 89
4 Ibid., p. 100.
5 Gordon D. Kaufman, Systematic Theology: A Historicist Perspective (1968), pp. 352-364.
6 See Lev Shestov, Kierkegaard and Existential Philosopkv (1969), pp. 1-28, 127-138, 247-249.
7 N. Berdyaev, The Destiny of Man (1960), pp. 23-44.
8 Tillich, Systematic Theology (1957), vol. 11, pp. 29-59.
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