Tom Gilson

What Christ Does For Us, Part 2: Broken Roots

Yesterday we saw that God created humans to have great dignity, and superior value and worth, above every other created thing. We were in fact created for relationship with God. He has always intended to love us, and for us to love Him. This is not love between equals, though, for God created us to be dependent on Him. The food, the air, the very ground that every human has walked upon–all this has always been provided by God.

And so it was once that humans enjoyed intimate, unmarred fellowship with God. This has been the design from the start. Our ancestors seriously messed it up, though, by pursuing independence from God, which separated them from Him. We each ratify that decision through our own independent attitudes and actions daily. The rest of the story of what Christ does for us tells how God is restoring people to that intimate, properly dependent and at the same time highly dignified relationship with Him.

Let’s slow down again, though, and look at how our roots of relationship with God were broken. The story is in Genesis 3. The first part tells of Adam and Eve’s fateful decision.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, Did God actually say, You shall not eat of any tree in the garden? And the woman said to the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die. But the serpent said to the woman, You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

The lie that Eve accepted was that she could have her own independent wisdom, apart from God’s; she wanted to “be like God” herself. Adam’s error included all that as well as placing his wife ahead of God. Both of these were moves of independence and rebellion. The result was a break in their relationship with God. God had warned them that disobedience would mean death. They did not physically die that day (although it was at that time that they first became subject to death). That day marked their separation from God, though; it was an immediate spiritual death. They hid from God. We’ve been hiding ever since.

This had no effect whatever on God’s love for us. It did not decrease our worth in God’s eyes one whit. Later we’ll see that even before the foundation of the world He knew this was coming, and He planned the sacrifice of His own Son on our behalf, even before we were created. He would not do that if we were of no value in His eyes.

This provides more background for a question doctor(logic) asked two days ago:

I don’t see how it can be both ways. On discussions on this blog, humans have been described as infinitely evil compared to God, worthy of suffering, death and eternal torture. How is something worth a lot, and yet worthy of death and suffering?

Aaron answered this already:

This is where basic philosophical categories and distinctions come in handy. Something cannot be both A and non-A in the same way and at the same time, right? Well, the sense in which humans have worth (in virtue of what they are and were created to be) is different than the sense in which they are worthy of punishment (in virtue of what they have done).

Our value in God’s eyes is undiminished. But we who were created to live in loving, close, dependent relationship with Him chose to try an independent route, and death was the consequence. It’s quite a natural one: it’s impossible to live separated from God. It’s impossible for us to be our own gods, as if we could sustain ourselves apart from His creation and provision. And to cut oneself off from the only true source of life and love is to walk into one’s own death.

I have not yet spoken of God’s holiness and justice, which also enter into this equation. That will come up in a future post in this series. The groundwork laid so far shows what God intended, and how the first humans turned their backs on His intent. We all do the same, still, today. There’s no understanding of what Christ does for us without this background.

Part of a Series: What Christ Does For Us

Related: How To Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions — a post that elicited a short question, to which I’m writing a long answer

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10 thoughts on “What Christ Does For Us, Part 2: Broken Roots

  1. Tom,

    I mentioned this in my response to part I. Why are Adam and Eve responsible for disobeying God when we could not know it was wrong until eating the apple?

    The suffering is totally unnecessary. If you believe that a complete understanding of God and morality will lead to the rational conclusion that one ought to do what God says, then why didn’t God give Adam and Eve rationality and moral clarity instead of punishing them and billions of other people?

    Why did God put the tree in the garden in the first place?

    If there’s a category error, then you mean that value of human life needs to be disconnected from suffering and death of human life. I’m not sure I could ever be persuaded to decouple the two.

    I do think that this is a discussion about aesthetics. Obviously, we disagree on the facts (to me, this is an old myth on life support), and even if I agreed with you on facts, there are probably lots of competing interpretations of Genesis. I am very curious to know why you think this story is elegant rather than horrific. It might be illuminating to explore this aesthetic aspect further. To that end, I would be interested to hear what it is that appeals to you personally about this story.

  2. DL,

    If you believe that a complete understanding of God and morality will lead to the rational conclusion that one ought to do what God says, then why didn’t God give Adam and Eve rationality and moral clarity instead of punishing them and billions of other people?

    I’d love to give a full answer (there’s a lot of misconception going on here, which should at least be clarified), but I’m pressed for time, so I’ll just say this: why didn’t God make square circles? It wasn’t an arbitrary punishment, but a logically necessary outcome of their actions, God being properly understood to be what He is.

    Sorry for the brevity. I’ll get back later, if Tom doesn’t beat me to it.

  3. Aaron,

    In anticipation of your comment, I’ll add that AI research has paid attention to the ethics of the creation fully thinking machines. There’s a real concern that maybe we ought not create AI’s if we cannot provide them with a standard of living comparable to that we give to our own children.

    Why should God do any less? If God couldn’t find any better way to create humans than to make half of them roast in Hell for eternity, then he should never have created intelligent life. It seems to me that there’s no point in saying God’s behavior towards us is necessary when that necessity should have short circuited God’s decision to create us in the first place.

    We get right back to the problem of evil, and personal aesthetics. In your model, it is better for God to forgive Hitler conditional on his belief in God and burn an atheist who worked for Medecins sans Frontieres. You think that’s okay. I do not. Not so much because Hitler gets off, but because a good person is harmed by this process. Lack of belief is a trivial offense in comparison with mass murder says I, but you and your God say otherwise.

    I wonder if this plays out in our personal beliefs about the justice system in general. Do you lean towards accidental punishing of the innocent to avoid allowing the guilty to escape? For example, do you accept the death penalty? Guantanamo?

    You see it seems to me that if God fixes us after we die, we will obtain a better understanding of forgiveness and a clear recognition of our mistakes. That means that God should save everyone because the bad guys will be sincerely contrite, and their victims will be forgiving and understanding. Not that any of this excuses the creation of our imperfect world in the first place, IMO, but given that it exists, it at least represents an effort to get back on track.

    Presumably, you see this another way aesthetically.

    I don’t think that Christianity conditions moral impulse, but that moral impulse conditions acceptance of Christianity. If a person believes as I do, either they will leave the church or stay in it but silently believe that God’s justice is more liberal (and then fail to be Christian on a technicality).

    I’ll also add that there’s a good reason that Christianity conditions salvation upon belief. It’s good for business. It would be extraordinarily bad for business if Christianity said that we all get saved, no questions asked, but that we should be good lest we regret it later.

  4. dl:

    I mentioned this in my response to part I. Why are Adam and Eve responsible for disobeying God when we could not know it was wrong until eating the apple?

    They knew it was wrong because they had instructions from God. What they “gained” from that sin was not the first knowledge of good and evil, but the first experiential knowledge of what evil does; and they learned about good in a new way, by contrast to that. Before that all they experienced was good.

    The suffering is totally unnecessary.

    It’s a natural consequence of rebelling against the only true source of live, love, and good. It’s also an expression of some aspects of God’s character I haven’t gotten to yet in this series.

    Why did God put the tree in the garden in the first place?

    So that humans could have a morally significant decision. If there was nothing they could do except do right in relationship to God and to others, then doing right would be morally and relationally meaningless.

    I am very curious to know why you think this story is elegant rather than horrific.

    It’s elegant for its explanation of a huge contradiction in human nature: we are so great, so dignified, yet so awful. This explains the origins of both aspects. (More here.)

  5. They knew it was wrong because they had instructions from God. What they “gained” from that sin was not the first knowledge of good and evil, but the first experiential knowledge of what evil does; and they learned about good in a new way, by contrast to that. Before that all they experienced was good.

    This brings up the question of why there is evil in the first place.

    It’s elegant for its explanation of a huge contradiction in human nature: we are so great, so dignified, yet so awful. This explains the origins of both aspects.

    There are much more “elegant” explanations for the huge contradiction in human nature. In comparison, this one is a simple story.

  6. Simplicity in explanation is part of the definition of elegance.

    What other explanation can account for humans’ incredible aspirations, our sense that something about us is wrong, that we are not what we ought to be? Evolution says that what is, is. It would seem maladaptive to make mankind feel this misery of failure. And evolution is notoriously weak at explaining what is good, or why we have a sense of some good beyond what we are. Where it does have explanations for these things, they are really quite inelegant in that they seem to be force-fit. The Biblical account provides a natural fit for these facets of human nature. (I’ve written more on a related topic here.)

  7. What other explanation can account for humans’ incredible aspirations, our sense that something about us is wrong, that we are not what we ought to be?

    Intelligence.

    Evolution says that what is, is. It would seem maladaptive to make mankind feel this misery of failure.

    Except that this “misery of failure” motivates us.

    And evolution is notoriously weak at explaining what is good, or why we have a sense of some good beyond what we are.

    Evolution does provide a quite satisfactory explanation, IMO, of why we assess some things as “good” and others as “not good.”

    Where it does have explanations for these things, they are really quite inelegant in that they seem to be force-fit. The Biblical account provides a natural fit for these facets of human nature.

    Sorry, Tom, but I just flat out disagree with this. Evolution’s explanations make good sense to me (I’d like to hear an example of one you think is force-fit, though), and as for the Biblical account providing a “natural fit”–well, I don’t see how you can say that given all the centuries of theologians who have spent their lives working diligently at making the story “fit,” and coming up with many different sizes and styles in the attempt.

  8. Okay… I think this looks like the kind of point in a discussion where we have to agree to disagree. I did provide you an example of a force-fit, though in the link in my last comment…

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