Eden

The first chapter of the Judeo-Christian Bible describes the creation of the universe. It is an account of transformation from chaos to order in the physical universe. The second and third chapters of Genesis describe the Garden of Eden. All Judeo-Christian theology is derived from how the moral universe of Eden is interpreted.

 

The story of Eden raises many questions.  Why does God place a forbidden tree in the middle of the garden?  Why does God allow an embodiment of evil to tempt and deceive the human inhabitants of the garden?  Why does God not intervene until after rebellion has occurred? What was the original purpose of creating humans? How did Eden change God’s purpose?   

Traditional theological interpretations provide three different answers.

 

1) God created perfect people in a perfect world, fully expecting them to remain perfect for all eternity.  

2) God created perfect people in a perfect world, for the pleasure of causing them to degenerate into objects of wrath.   

3) God created perfect people in an imperfect world so that they could choose between perfection and imperfection.

 

Early Christians believed that God was both omnipotent and perfectly benevolent. Therefore God could not have been thwarted in his plans, nor could God have created humans for the pleasure of inflicting wrath upon them. Early Christians also believed that humans were created with freedom of choice and moral responsibility. They understood the forbidden fruit not as a test to be failed, but as a lesson to be learned.

 

Few of the writings that have come down to us from the Patriarchs of the Early Church contain commentaries on Eden, with the exception of the apocryphal Revelation of Moses which devotes several pages to the final days of Adam and Eve. As God expelled the rebellious couple from Eden he promised that if they would refrain from evil thereafter they would be resurrected to paradise and eternal life. Adam and Eve repented of their rebellion and God had compassion upon them and their children. At the end of the narrative, they fall asleep in death until the day of resurrection when Adam is promised he will sit on the throne of ‘him that deceived thee.’  The lessons of Eden have been learned and paradise will be restored by divine grace.

 

Augustine interpreted the story of Eden to establish the legal justification for Original Sin. Chapters 12 – 28 of the fourteenth book of The City of God describe the Fall of Man. Augustine makes it clear that God created perfect people in a perfect world.  The entire blame for sinful rebellion lay with a deceptive devil and rebellious humans. Augustine does not explain why the angel of light became the prince of darkness.  Could God neither foresee nor prevent the first rebellion? Augustine does not explain how the perfect will of the first humans was permitted to be corrupted. The most that Augustine will concede is that Adam and Eve could have eluded the devil by turning to God for assistance. Omnipotent God could have intervened to prevent the Fall but did not because Adam, Eve and the devil had other plans. Augustine sums up his doctrine of Original Sin in chapter 27 of The City of God: God was not outwitted. His perfect plan was not foiled. God foresaw that his creatures would sin and permitted it to happen so that they would be justly condemned. Only after the Fall could God restore perfection by bestowing grace via the sacrament of baptism. This is a perfectly Augustinian paradox. 

 

Unlike the Early Church, Augustine made Eden a test to be failed. No lessons were learned: Augustine’s God is unchangeable: humans are incorrigible. Augustine’s God knew that Adam and Eve would fail just as he knew that Satan would rebel. For Augustine, Eden’s sole purpose was to show God fully innocent of the creation of sin and wholly justified in the execution of wrath.  Man forsook eternal life and was therefore justly condemned to eternal death; not just Adam and Eve but the entire cursed human race that descended from their sinful seed. The only remedy for damnation was baptism. The condemnation of Original Sin was so great that even unbaptized babies were excluded from both the Kingdom of heaven and eternal life. God’s purpose in all of this is incomprehensible. Augustine’s purpose was to establish Original Sin as a weapon of mass conversion. Mission Accomplished.

 

Catholics have inherited most of Augustine’s doctrine of Original Sin. According to The Teaching of the Catholic Church (Canon George Smith, 1952) Adam was created in the ‘state of original justice’, habitually endowed with sanctifying grace and enriched with supernatural gifts. The Catholic Church agrees with Augustine that God is not the direct cause of death, sin or evil.  Man is the architect of his own misfortunes. ‘The death of man is intended by God, not as an affliction, but as a punishment for sin.’  Catholics disagree with Augustine about the fate of unbaptized babies and baptism as the sole means of salvation.  

 

Calvinists have inherited the full doctrine of Original Sin. Calvin’s Institute of the Christian Religion (Book II, chapter 1) agrees with Augustine and Catholics that Adam alone is responsible for the condemnation of the human race. ‘As the act which God punished so severely must have been not a trivial fault, but a heinous crime, it will be necessary to attend to the peculiar nature of the sin which produced Adam’s fall, and provoked God to inflict such fearful vengeance on the whole human race. The prohibition to touch the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was a trial of obedience, that Adam, by observing it, might prove his willing submission to the command of God… The promise, which gave Adam hope of eternal life as long as he should eat of the tree of life, and, on the other hand, the fearful denunciation of death the moment he should taste of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, were meant to test and exercise his faith. Hence it is not difficult to infer in what way Adam provoked the wrath of God. Augustine, indeed, is not far from the mark, when he says that pride was the beginning of all evil, because, had not man’s ambition carried him higher than he was permitted, he might have continued in his first estate… Man, therefore, when carried away by the blasphemies of Satan, did his very utmost to annihilate the whole glory of God.’

 

Calvin, like Augustine, argues that God created perfect people in a perfect world, which they could have retained for all eternity.  Calvin frankly states that Augustine’s doctrine of Original Sin ‘gave rise to much discussion, there being nothing more remote from common understanding, than that the fault of one should render all guilty, and so become a collective sin.’  Not only is Original Sin shared by all humans, but it is entirely independent of personal sin. ‘Augustine labored to show that we are not corrupted by acquired wickedness, but bring an innate corruption from the very womb. It was the greatest impudence to deny this.’  Despite the voluminous writings of Augustine and Calvin, innumerable sincere believers have had the impudence to question the justice and purpose of Original Sin.

 

Why did Calvin’s God create Eden as a trial of obedience? Could an omniscient God have ever doubted that humans would succumb to temptation? What was the purpose of a trial if the result was foreseen (predestined) by God and no lessons were learned by the humans?  Calvin realized that this portrayal of an incomprehensible God and incorrigible humans had always been the flaw in Augustine’s theology.  Calvin found a solution.  God’s purpose had never wavered because all of creation was predestined. Calvin spent decades defending this highly controversial theology.

 

This doctrine of double predestination is fully defended in chapter 23 of Book 3 of The Institute of the Christian Religion. ‘Heretics deny that it is ever said in distinct terms, God decreed that Adam should perish by his revolt. As if the same God, who is declared in Scripture to do whatsoever he pleases, could have made the noblest of his creatures without any special purpose. Heretics say that, in accordance with freewill, Adam was to be the architect of his own fortune, that God had decreed nothing but to treat him according to his desert. If this frigid fiction is received, where will be the omnipotence of God, by which, according to his secret counsel on which everything depends, he rules over all? But whether heretics will allow it or not, predestination is manifest in Adam’s posterity. It was not owing to nature that we all lost salvation by the fault of one parent. Scripture proclaims that all were, in the person of one, made liable to eternal death. As this cannot be ascribed to nature, it is plain that it is owing to the wonderful counsel of God. It is very absurd in these worthy defenders of the justice of God to strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. I again ask how it is that the fall of Adam involves so many nations with their infant children in eternal death without remedy unless that it so seemed pleasing to God? Here the most loquacious tongues must be dumb. The decree, I admit, is, dreadful; and yet it is impossible to deny that God foreknow what the end of man was to be before he made him, and foreknew, because he had so ordained by his decree. Should anyone here inveigh against the prescience of God, he does it rashly and unadvisedly. For why, pray, should it be made a charge against the heavenly Judge, that he was not ignorant of what was to happen? Thus, if there is any just or plausible complaint, it must be directed against predestination. Nor ought it to seem absurd when I say, that God not only foresaw the fall of the first man, and in him the ruin of his posterity; but also at his own pleasure arranged it. For as it belongs to his wisdom to foreknow all future events, so it belongs to his power to rule and govern them by his hand. This question, like others, is skillfully explained by Augustine: “Let us confess with the greatest benefit, what we believe with the greatest truth, that the God and Lord of all things who made all things very good, both foreknow that evil was to arise out of good, and knew that it belonged to his most omnipotent goodness to bring good out of evil, rather than not permit evil to be, and so ordained the life of angels and men as to show in it, first, what freewill could do; and, secondly, what the benefit of his grace and his righteous judgment could do.”

 

Calvin’s double predestination ‘solution’ to the problem created by Augustine’s doctrine of Original Sin simply increases the incomprehensibility of God. Adam was condemned for his rebellion and made responsible for the origin of evil and sin and yet Calvin insists that God not only foreknew it would happen but predestined it to happen and ‘at his own pleasure arranged it.’  Calvin differs fundamentally from Augustine in his understanding of grace. Baptism was eliminated along with Purgatory, Limbo and sacramental grace.  God alone decided who will be saved with no regard for works or merit.  The most righteous Christian can be left in condemnation while the most unrighteous Pagan may be numbered among the chosen few. With Calvin’s God there is neither rhyme nor reason, only dreadful wrath and unmerited mercy.    

 

How do Modern Charismatics interpret Eden?  They retain the doctrine of Original Sin while disagreeing with Augustine and Calvin on its basic principles. The architects of Wrath both knew that Original Sin is absolutely incompatible with freewill. Charismatics agree with Augustine and Calvin that all humans are condemned by Original Sin but they also want to believe God’s saving grace is offered to all who will accept it. The true ugliness of Original Sin is reduced to the absurdity of a God who claims to love the entire human race while cursing it with inexhaustible wrath.

 

The fundamentalist branch of modern Christianity has fought tooth and nail against Darwin and his theory of natural selection.  The principle cause of offence is not the idea of evolution, but the date assigned to the creation of Adam and Eve. Fundamentalist date the Garden of Eden in 4,000 B.C. They interpret the Bible to say that no sin, suffering or death had ever been known in the world prior to 4,000 BC.  The entire edifice of Original Sin teeters if death and suffering existed before 4,000 BC, it collapses if humans lived prior to Adam and Eve in 4,000 BC. 

 

The dating of Eden was not a problem for Augustine. His contemporaries knew nothing about ancient history, palaeontology or geology.  A 4,000 BC dating of Eden was not a problem for Luther or Calvin, who lived at the cusp of the renaissance in a pre-scientific era.  The dating of Eden is a major problem for modern Christians.  It requires impressive intellectual gymnastics to eliminate all death and suffering from the world prior to 4,000 BC.  Dinosaurs have to be contemporaries of cavemen.  Most Christians have reconciled themselves to the growing evidence. Wherever Fundamentalists fight to defend the ‘Biblical account of Creation’ the real battle is in defence of Original Sin and the Gospel of Wrath.