Ridley Systematics: Creation and Fall

19 10 2012

In this post we’ll be talking more specifically about how we have relationship with God and how we have fallen away from this relationship.  Our topic is Creation and Fall and tonight we’ll be exploring themes such as what were we made for, why are we here, and what went wrong?

Regarding the first two questions, namely what were we made for, why are we here? I would like to begin with an excerpt from the Westminster Catechism.  Question 1 of the Shorter Catechism reads as follows:

 Question:  What is the chief end of man?

Answer:  Mans chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. 

Why are you here?  What were you made for?  You were made to glorify God.  But how?  You were made to glorify God by enjoying him forever.  That thought led pastor and theologian John Piper to articulate the following five observations:

  1. The longing to be happy is a universal human experience, and it is good, not sinful.
  2. We should never try to deny or resist our longing to be happy, as though it were a bad impulse.  Instead, we should seek to intensify this longing and nourish it with whatever will provide the deepest and most enduring satisfaction.
  3. The deepest and most enduring happiness is found only in God.  Not from God, but in God.
  4. The happiness we find in God reaches its consummation when it is shared with others in the manifold ways of love.
  5. To the extent that we try to abandon the pursuit of our own pleasure, we fail to honor God and love people.  Or, to put it positively: The pursuit of pleasure is a necessary part of all worship and virtue.  That is:  the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever.

Often when people think about religion, or relationship with God, we often think about the pleasures we must deny ourselves in order to have a relationship with God.  But the Westminster Confession, and Piper’s comments on it force us to reconsider this.  They say that pleasure is not to be denied to have a relationship with God, but rather that pleasure is only possible, to its maximum extent, in a relationship with God.  Thus you are here to enjoy God.  You were made to enjoy God.  That’s why you’re here and that is the number one way that you bring him glory.

 That’s’ a nice thought, but how do we know if it’s true?  Well lets take a look at Genesis chapter 1 and walk through this together.

When modern Christians read the opening chapters of the Book of Genesis, many cannot help but read it as a science textbook.  And while the Book of Genesis does speak to some of our modern concerns, upon closer examination it has an entirely different purpose in mind. 

In John 5.46 Jesus says, quite remarkably, “if you had believed in Moses you would believe in me.”  Now almost certainly Jesus is not talking about the man Moses, who does not appear in the first 51 chapters of the Bible but he refers to the writings of Moses, the Torah or the Pentateuch.  Jesus is referring to that body of the written word which is attributed to Moses in the same way we might say: “Shakespeare says,” though we might be referring to a specific play such as Henry V.

When Jesus refers to Moses, he attributes authorship to the first five books of the Bible, as most if not all of his contemporary Jews would have done, to Moses.  This does not mean that Moses sat down with pen and paper and wrote the Pentateuch.  This would of course be impossible, since the last chapter of the Pentateuch records Moses death (Deut 34).  What Jesus, and his contemporary Jews would have understood by Mosaic authorship is that Moses told the story of Pentateuch which was written down at a later date. 

So if your willing to accept that Moses told these stories to his people, you must pause and consider the context that Moses was in and why he might be telling these stories to his people. 

In approximately 1400 B.C. the people of Israel, recently freed from slavery in Egypt were about to enter the land promised to them by God.  There were two potential problems facing the people of Israel in this project however.  The first problem was that the land was already inhabited.  The inhabitants of the land had different religious convictions than the Israelites, and because they had different religious convictions they had a different understanding of how they got here, who they were, and what they were supposed to do with their lives.  A great fear throughout the Pentateuch and on into the Bible, a fear which proves well justified, is that the people of Israel would be influenced by these different religious convictions.  The second problem is that Moses, their great and trusted leader, would not be permitted to go into the Promised Land with them.  He had been disqualified because of his on sin from entering into the land that God promised (Deut 32.50-51). 

So the context that I would suggest to you for reading the Pentateuch, and reading this portion of scripture, is that of a father dropping off his son at college.  The father is not permitted to enter this strange land with his son, and this strange land is inhabited by all kinds of heathens who might influence his son.  So the father wants to remind his son where he came from, who he is, and what he is supposed to do with his life.  I hope the importance of this will become clearer as we proceed.

Perhaps Moses’ fearfulness that you would be influenced by a rival religion sounds antiquated at best, and bigoted at worst.  After all, we’ve been raised in an environment that suggests all knowledge is beneficial, and engaging and being influenced by all cultures is advantageous.  But as Ian Macmillan famously said:

Ideas have legs

and that is no less true in religion than it is in the secular environment.  I would say the ideas of religion have legs and you may not like where those legs take you.

Consider one religion in the Ancient Near East told in a story called Enuma Elish which was written around 1120 B.C., although it could have emerged as early as 1600 B.C. (Lamber, Enuma Elish ABD pg 526).  In this story there is not one God but many.  I’m going to leave out a few details, but more or less there is one main god named Tiamat.  She is harassed and annoyed at the junior gods, who are supposed to be serving her and providing for her food, shelter, etc.  The junior gods get upset and stage a rebellion, led by the god Marduk who traps Tiamat with his battle net.  After he traps her he cuts her in half and with the top half of her body he makes the sky, with the bottom he makes the earth and sea.  Because he and the other gods have an aversion to service, they take Tiamat’s blood and make human beings to give them food and drink.  Because humans have no real reason to do this for the gods, the gods strike a deal with the humans that they will provide good weather and fertility to the humans if the humans provide the gods with food and drink.

Now if we were to ask a few basic identity questions such as who are you, where are you from, what is the purpose of your life, etc., what does this story have to tell us?  Well, we are partly divine because we were made from divine bits and pieces.  And while we’re not exactly on an even playing field with the gods, we’re kind of similar to them.  Our purpose is to serve the gods as slaves, offering them food and drink in exchange for seasonable weather etc.  This means that we can manipulate the gods and the gods can manipulate us.

If you’ll look at the identity story in Genesis ch. 1 however, you’ll notice that things are very different.  For example, you’ll notice that the Genesis account flatly rejects the idea, commonly referred to as paganism, which states that the universe is populated by several divine beings.  Rather, as Genesis ch. 1 vs. 1 reads “In the beginning, God.”  You’ll also notice in Genesis ch. 1 that when God creates, he is not using left over body parts of defeated gods or anything else for that matter, but he creates, in the language of systematic theology ex nihilo.  As the Westminster Confession concisely puts it:

 Creation is a making of things out of nothing, or giving a being to things which had no being before.  Thus the heavens were made of nothing, the earth and waters, and all the matter of inferior bodies were made of nothing; and thus still the souls of men are made of nothing, being immediately infused by God.

-Westminster Confession Question IX.2

This means that creation is not part of God, but totally separate.  He has a being of his own, but our being must be given to us as the same for all of creation.   

Finally you may be able to infer that since God did not need anything in order to create, he doesn’t need his creation to do anything for him.  There is no indication in Genesis ch 1 or 2 that God needs creation to serve him, to bring him food, or wine.  God needs absolutely nothing.  He is entirely self-sufficient. 

Moses is trying to draw a contrast between where the Canaanites and others believed they came from and where the Israelites believed they came from.  The Canaanites believed that the gods were many, that they could quarrel, that they could be overthrown.  This means that instability had a massive place in their worldview.  The Israelites believed that God is one and that he is omnipotent.  He will never be overthrown.  This means that that the Israelites had a fundamental belief in the stability of the world and the heavens.  The Canaanites believed that they were made from the leftover offal of a cosmic battle.  The Israelites believed that they were, as the Psalmist says “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139.14).  The Canaanites believed that they were made to serve the gods, because the gods were needy.  They believed that they could barter with the gods, through good works.  But the Israelites believed God needs nothing.  He cannot be bought off with good works.  He doesn’t need them. 

So if God doesn’t need humans to serve him, why did he create them?  Let me draw your attention to two tantalizing clues in the text.  The first is the notion that we are made in the image of God.  The second is the statement that on the seventh day God rested.  Let’s take them in turn.  We read in Genesis 1.26: 

 Then God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.

What is meant by the phrase “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”? Unfortunately, there is no commentary on “the image of God” elucidating its meaning from within the text itself.  Recently however, particularly due to archaeological research in the Ancient Near East we’ve gained helpful new information that gives us profound insights into what it would mean to be made in the “image of God” to Moses and his people. 

 Gerhard Von Rad notes:

 Just as powerful earthly kings, to indicate their claim to dominion, erect an image of themselves in the provinces of their empire where they do not personally appear, so man is placed upon earth in Gods image as Gods sovereign emblem.  He is really only Gods representative, summoned to maintain and enforce Gods claim to dominion over the earth.

Von Rad, Genesis pg 58

With Von Rad, we have the very simple analogy of a government sending it’s image abroad, whether it be a flag, a warship, or a visage of the King to represent that they have power and authority in this land.  So too God sent his image to earth to indicate that he is sovereign over it.  Thus, for God to make images of himself and plant them, as it were, on foreign territory is another instance where we’re brought face to face with this concept of the Kingdom of God.   

Von Rad’s point is more powerfully driven home when we consider the meaning of the Hebrew word for image in Genesis 1.26.  The Hebrew word for “image” in this instance is “selem.” Curiously enough, Moses and others use selem to describe an idolatrous image that must be destroyed (Num 33.52; 2 Kings 11.18, Ezek 7.20).  This means that in Genesis ch 1, your translators have made a decision to translate selem as image, but in other places they have chosen to translate the same word as idol.  Why?  Well, I would say most likely this was done for the sake of tradition.  But I would also say it was done because to say that you and I were made as little idols of Yahweh make our translators uncomfortable.  But this is precisely what the text, in the original Hebrew actually says. 

 Let us make man as our idol.

 Gen 1.26

Just as a king would put images of himself across his kingdom to represent his rule, it was understood that the gods placed images of themselves to represent their rule.  Now here comes the tantalizing part.  In what type of structure do you find idols placed?  Do you see them in sports arenas?  Do you see them in shopping malls?  No, if you want to see an idol you must go to a temple.  Now what is Moses saying then, in Genesi 1, if he calls man and woman idols?  Might he be saying that the world is not necessarily continents and countries, but a giant temple? 

The construction of a temple in the Ancient Near East could take decades, but once the temple was fully constructed the worshippers would take six days to consecrate the temple.  Once the temple was fully prepared, on the seventh day it was understood that the god would fill the temple with his spirit and “rest” within it. 

 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.  And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.  So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation (Gen 2.1-3)

To say that God rested on the seventh day is a strong indication that creation is a temple where God rests in man’s presence and man rests in God’s presence.  The two delight in one another and enjoy one another.  This is the purpose of man for eternity.  When we say creation is a temple, we do mean that the whole of creation is a temple, which means the whole of creation and everything that can be done in it is an act of worship.  Nothing is secular, everything is sacred.  Everything we can do in creation affords us with an opportunity to worship, glorify, and enjoy God.  John Calvin writes:

 If we studywhy he has created the various kinds of food, we shall find that it was his intention not only to provide for our needs, but likewise for our pleasure and delightFor, if this were not true, the Psalmist would not enumerate among the divine blessings the wine that makes glad the heart of man, and the oil that makes his face to shine.

John Calvin, The Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life

Not only does every inch of creation afford us with an opportunity to enjoy God, but we are given, as priests, an opportunity to serve others in the enjoyment of God as well.  C.S. Lewis writes:

 God could, if he chose, repair our bodies miraculously without food; or give us food without the aid of farmers, bakers, and butchers; or knowledge without the aid of learned men; or convert the heathen without missionaries.  Instead, He allows soils and weather and animals and the muscles, minds, and wills of men to co-operate in the execution of his will. 

-C.S. Lewis, The Efficacy of Prayer

In other words, not only is all of creation a means to enjoy the goodness of God but you too are a means, your skills, your desires, your passions, are a means by which others enjoy God through you.

 The Fall

All of life then is given to us to glorify God, and we bring glory to God as we enjoy him in this temple creation that he has prepared for us.  Though that is what we were made to do, we find that is not what we do at the moment.  So what went wrong?

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.       

(Genesis 3:1 ESV)

We’re immediately introduced to this character, the serpent, which should alarm us.  Linguistically we are alarmed because of the Hebrew word “arum,” translated here as “crafty,” which has both positive and negative connotations.  Positively, the word is used in Proverbs 15.5 and 19:25 as a contrast to foolish, uncontrolled behavior.  We could say positively of the serpent that he is not foolish, but plans out his actions.  The word “arum” is used negatively, for example in Psalm 83.3 for those who plan out their actions to harm the people of God.

        They lay crafty plans against your people;

                    they consult together against your treasured ones.

        They say, Come, let us wipe them out as a nation;

                    let the name of Israel be remembered no more!  (Psalm 83:3-4 ESV)

This character, the serpent then, is identified as not foolish but wise and we are given the expectation that he will use his wisdom against the people of God to “wipe them out.”  This is illumined by the New Testament in several places, three of which I would like to draw your attention to.

 The first instance comes from John, who writes in Revelation:

 And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole worldhe was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.  (Revelation 12:9 ESV)

What you want to learn from this is that John is quite happy to identify the serpent in the Garden with the devil, Satan, who he calls the “deceiver of the whole world.”

 Second, I would like to draw your attention to two things Jesus says of the Devil, which we now know is the same creature spoken of in the Garden.  He says first

And he said to them, I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.  (Luke 10:18 ESV)

This is consistent with John’s description that the Devil, because he used his craftiness to deceive, was “thrown down from heaven.” 

 Finally, Jesus says of the devil:

 He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

(John 8:44 ESV)

Going back now to Genesis 3.1 we have a more filled out picture of this crafty serpent.  We know that he is a deceiver, we know that he uses his deceit to murder, and we know that for these things he was thrown down from heaven.  So how did he commit a deception that led to murder?

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.    (Genesis 3:1-5 ESV)

It’s worth noting the tactic here.  The serpent wants to make God seem unreasonably strict.  He makes it look as if God doesn’t want you to enjoy any of his creation.  The serpent wants Eve to doubt the reason she was made.  The woman responds rightly, by saying that we can indeed enjoy all of God’s creation except this one tree because that would break covenant, and the curse of the covenant, death would be invoked.  The serpent says “You will not surely die.”

What is Satan trying to win here?  It’s not enough to say that he is trying to get her to break covenant, he is actually trying to earn her trust.  Remember, we are in a Temple and all of life is worship.  Martin Luther once said that the highest form of worship one can render to God is to trust him.  In trying to win her trust, the serpent is actually trying to win her worship and make her an idolater.  Paul does not miss this implication in Romans 1.18 when he writes:

 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

 (Romans 1:21-23 ESV)

Notice that Paul acknowledges that they knew God, but failed to honor him.  How did they fail to honor him, by “claiming to be wise.”  Now notice in Genesis 3.6 what ultimately provokes Eve to break covenant:

 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.

(Genesis 3:6 ESV) 

Compare the language in Gen 3.6 with the language in Romans 1.22. 

 Gen 3.6:  The tree was desired to make one wise

Rom 1.22:  Claiming to be wise, they became fools

Paul is drawing an explicit parallel to Genesis ch. 3, in order to draw out the implications of what happened in the Garden.  In essence, Adam and Eve became idolaters.  The root of idolatry is an exchange of trust.  Paul will use the word allaso, translated in the ESV as exchange three times in the next few paragraphs:

 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

(Romans 1:22-23 ESV)

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

(Romans 1:24-25 ESV)


For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature;

(Romans 1:26 ESV)

Paul says that they exchanged the glory of God for images and the truth of God for a lie.  So that this is not merely academic, Paul notes that this unnatural exchange in the spiritual realm has implications in the physical realm where he uses the example of natural sexual relationships which are substituted for unnatural sexual relationships.  I want to be quite careful at this point that homosexuality is not singled out as unnatural or sinful.  Paul says quite clearly that idolatry is unnatural and sinful, and all of us are implicated in this unnatural and sinful act.  Each of us has made this great exchange.  Each of us, on some level, has ceased to trust God and begun to trust something else.  Pastor and best-selling author Tim Keller puts it well when he writes:

Each culture is dominated by its own set of idols.  Each has its priesthoods, its totems and rituals.  Each one has its shrines whether office towers, spas and gyms, studios, or stadiums where sacrifices must be made in order to procure the blessings of the good life and ward off disaster.  What are the gods of beauty, power, money, and achievement but these same things that have assumed mythic proportions in our individuals lives and society?  We may not physically kneel before the statue of Aphrodite, but many young women today are driven into depression and eating disorders by an obsessive concern over their body image.  We may not actually burn incense to Artemis, but when money and career are raised to cosmic proportions, we perform a kind of child sacrifice, neglecting family and community to achieve a higher place in business and gain more wealth and prestige.

 –Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods

When we talk about the fall, we mean that we have fallen from worshipping and enjoying God to worshipping and seeking enjoyment in created things.  There are one or two things to say about this.

The fall affects the entire person, both heart and mind.  Historically the Reformed Churches have called this “total depravity.”  This does not mean that you are a mass murderer, what it means is that your entire being has been affected by this fall.  Consider the following verses: 

Jeremiah 17:9 – “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

Ecclesiastes 9:3 – Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead.

Genesis 6:5 & 8:21 – The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually… from youth.

The effects of the fall are passed down from generation to generation.  Augustine called this original sin.  Lewis, commenting on the only begotten nature of the Son of God writes:  “When you beget, you beget something the same kind as yourself.  A man begets human babies, a beaver begets little beavers and a bird begets eggs which turn into little birds.”  Fallen people beget fallen people.  Consider the following

Psalm 58:3 – The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies

Psalm 51:5 – Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

Finally, the fall makes us active participants in idolatry, not merely passive.  We are active rebels, not victims of our own circumstances.

Because that’s a very hard way and depressing note to end on, let me briefly share with you something also found in Gen 3.  Amidst this tragic story, God nevertheless promises redemption.  John Calvin notes:

the Celestial Creator himself, however corrupted man may be, still keeps in view the end of his original creation; and according to his example, we ought to consider for what end he created men, and what excellence he has bestowed upon them above the rest of living beings.

Calvin, Commentary on Genesis, 9.6

The important contribution of Calvin here, is that though the original aim of humanity was disrupted by sin, God nevertheless keeps in mind the original aim of his creation and will work towards its recovery.  We learn about this recover first in Gen ch. 3 v. 15. 

Genesis 3.15 is commonly called the protoevangelion.  Think prototype, which simply means the first or original type.  This is the first, or original Gospel.  We note the good news in this original Gospel, or protoevangelion in two ways.

First, we have the good news of regeneration.

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring (Gen 3.15)

The serpent and the humans are friends.  The friends clearly trust the serpent and will continue to do so.  But God has promised to undo this friendship by placing enmity between them.

Secondly, we have the good news of a savior.

He shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel (Gen 3.15)

The author has switched from the plural “offspring” to the singular of “he.”  It’s indicated that the serpent will indeed harm the offspring, but the offspring will fiercely wound the serpent.  This is made all the easier by God’s cursing the serpent to crawl on his belly, in preparation of being crushed under the savior’s foot.  So what’s this mean for us?  Consider the words excerpted from the hymn:

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,

Weak and wounded, sick and sore;

Jesus ready stands to save you,

Full of pity, love and power.

Come, ye thirsty, come, and welcome,

Gods free bounty glorify;

True belief and true repentance,

Every grace that brings you nigh.

 I will arise and go to Jesus,

He will embrace me in His arms;

In the arms of my dear Savior,

O there are ten thousand charms.

Even in the midst of the misery of sin, God has found a way for us to enjoy him in our sin, for what is more enjoyable to a sinner than a God who stands to save, fully of pity, love and power?  Thus there is truly nothing, not even our own disobedience that can rob our enjoyment of the glory of God.  This by no means indicators that we should sin in order to delight in and enjoy grace, but it does mean that when we fall into sin we are not deprived of the means of worshipping and delighting in God.  Grace is enjoyable sinners “sick and sore”!



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19 10 2012

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