June 22, 2010

Dispensation 1 – Paradise Lost

Shortly after God made Adam, He took him on a tour of the rest of creation.  “This is all amazing,” Adam said, “What are you going to do next?”  “I’ve decided to make you a companion,” God replied, “I’m going to make her from your body, so you’ll be completely compatible in every way.  She’ll always respect and admire you.  She will always say exactly what she means at all times. She’ll respond to every situation with logic and rationality, and she will quickly accept accountability when she is wrong.  She will have faith in you, be supportive, and always give you the benefit of the doubt.  She will consistently be on time for events, she’ll never hide her insecurities behind vanity and when you have a conflict, she will always let you have the last word.  “Wow”, Adam said, “She sounds great!  What will this cost me?”  “In order to create her” God replied. “I’ll need a lung, your left foot, a piece of your heart and liver, a kidney, and three vertebrae.”  “That’s an awful lot to give up” Adam said, ”What can I get for a rib?”

(yeah, I know its corny joke, but its my blog so I can be corny if I want)

Our history on this planet can be seen as the story of God contrastively showing that His plan for man’s righteousness is the only one that will work by presenting every reasonable scenario in which man could choose righteousness on his own.  These scenarios are called dispensations.  In each dispensation, man is given the opportunity to choose God’s way or his own – to either justify God or justify himself.

The first dispensation would logically be a “pure” scenario in which man was in a state of complete innocence – A state in which he had no “baggage”, no preconceived notions, no historical influences, no childhood trauma or growing pains, etc.  This first dispensation should address the question, “If man was a completely innocent being with a volitional will, but no knowledge of good or evil and no moral biases, would he, of his own volition, choose righteousness (God)?”

The first couple

This of course is the familiar narrative of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis chapter 3).  God creates the first man and woman in His own image and places them in paradise.  They have just one rule: they are not to eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  The result would be death.

They now have a choice – don’t eat the fruit and live forever in blissful innocence/ignorance, or come to know good and evil with the result being death.  (This whole situation seems odd at first glance, but it is actually logical and just.  We’ll explore it in an upcoming post.)

A talking snake?  Really?

Of course, in order to make it a fair choice, you’d have to have someone present a counter-argument to God’s position.  Thus enters the serpent.  Now some people get hung up on the idea of the talking snake.  But considering the fact that in the previous two chapters of Genesis God creates the entire universe by just thinking about it, a talking snake seems like a comparatively minor phenomenon.  And for the record, there is reason to believe that it wasn’t a “snake” per se.

The grammatical root of the word translated “serpent” is “nachash” in Hebrew, which means “one who whispers an enchantment”, or “to shine”.  As a proper noun, it would be translated “The Shining One”.  I believe this is an allusion to the being known as Satan, who was also called Lucifer (Isaiah 14:12-15) the “light bearer”.  This idea is also referenced in Revelation 12:9.   “Nachash” later became synonymous with slithery reptile in Hebrew vernacular.

Of course I may be over-complicating the whole matter and it could very well have just been a tree snake with an excellent vocabulary.  Either way, for our purposes its taxonomy is not as relevant as what it said.  It basically implied that God was wrong.  Adam and Eve would not die if they ate the fruit.  In fact they would be more like God in that they would know what good and evil was.  This was a clever mix of facts and lies that we we’ll discuss later.

Original Sin?

In any case, Eve bought the spiel and ate the fruit.  She gave some to Adam who followed suit.  And presto!  Original sin.  Right?

Not so fast.  While this is the traditional view of what constitutes original sin (i.e., the transgression that got the first couple booted from paradise and made all their descendants the rebellious miscreants that we are today), there is reason to believe that eating the forbidden fruit was only a part of original sin – and not even the most significant part.  I base this on three things.

1.  God did not immediately bring judgment and end the dispensation after the fruit was eaten.

2.  In and of itself, eating the fruit didn’t offer a just opportunity for Adam and Eve to choose to be comparative or contrastive, because they didn’t know what good and evil were until after they eat it.

3.  God’s actions immediately after they ate the fruit show that he was much more interested in their reaction to the sin than the sin itself.

So what happened after the fruit was eaten?  Adam and Eve suddenly had knowledge of good and evil (and public nudity) and they hid from God.  Did God immediately rain down wrath?  Nope, he asked them questions.

God asked Adam where he was and what he did.  God was not looking for information.  He obviously knew where Adam was, what he did, and what the ramifications were.

Adam and God both knew Adam was wrong.  The only variable in this situation, was how would Adam react?  Would he be comparative or contrastive?  God asked questions in order to give Adam the opportunity to either justify himself, or justify God – to keep his new red jellybean or replace it with a blue one.

The sin is in the answer

Adam could have said, “God, I messed up.  You told me not to eat the fruit and I did.  It was all my fault.   I promise not to do it again.  Um, could you make me a pair of shorts?”

But instead, Adam justified himself and blamed God for creating Eve! He basically said, “yeah, I screwed up, but it’s your fault God!  If you hadn’t given me this harpy, I never would have been tempted to eat the fruit and I’d still have my rib!”

God then turned to Eve who also justified herself and threw the snake under the bus.  God didn’t ask the snake anything because, lets face it, no one likes snakes.

Once both of our progenitors showed themselves completely unwilling to accept a shred of responsibility (way to set an example for the kids Mom and Dad), God declared the first dispensation a failure by bringing judgment and an eviction notice on the first couple.  So it’s on to the next dispensation.

Real or make believe?

Now I’ll admit that many of the elements in the Eden narrative seem a bit incredible, (no more incredible than the whole “speaking the universe into existence” preamble, but still).  So what do we do with this story?  We basically have two options, its either symbolic/allegorical, or it literally happened.

If it’s an allegory, then no further analysis is necessary.  It’s just a nice little moral fairy tale about resisting temptation, the corruption of the innocent yadda, yadda.  No different than Pandora’s Box or any similar fable.  It presents universal wisdom that we can interpret or euphemize in any way we choose.  Some religious traditions do just that.  The problem is that some of those same religious traditions also believe in a literal Jesus, and according to Luke 3:23-38, Adam is a part of Jesus’ genealogy.  Not sure how they navigate that contradiction…

But if the narrative is literal (and I have no reason to believe it is not) then the ramifications of this first dispensation are staggering and give us a lot of terms and ideas that need to be defined and analyzed before we can move on to the next dispensation.  These include life, death, good, evil, knowledge, sin, curse, etc.  We’ll start the analysis next week by looking at why doing wrong requires justification.

Related podcasts:

Eden-Paradise Lost

The Serpent and the End of Innocence

Original Sin: Naked and Ashamed


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2 thoughts on “Dispensation 1 – Paradise Lost
  1. Don

    3. God’s actions immediately after they ate the fruit show that he was much more interested in their reaction to the sin that the sin itself.

    All SIN is lawlessness. So when God spoke the commandment to NOT eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil that was the only Law in place at the time. Adam and Eve broke it. There is nothing God can do except give them the death penalty because he spoke it and cannot go against his word. This is why Jesus came. To pay the price all of us deserve. The Law was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. God was dealing with the SIN but he allowed Adam to think it through to understand what he had done and give him a chance to repent. The SIN was the primary thing God dealt with not Adam’s reaction to it. All through the Bible you see examples of God dealing with Mankind with Love. However, SIN must be dealt with and the only way to deal with it is Death. It has been dealt with at the Cross so now we are free from it eventhough our physical bodies must die.

  2. E. Mabrie

    Hello Don,

    Thank you again for your comments. I’d like to get your thoughts on the following questions – What do you think would have happened if Adam had confessed and repented of eating the fruit instead of justifying himself? Would God have done anything differently? Why or why not?



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