Monday, January 28, 2013

The Fall before Genesis

Today with this blog post, I'd like to begin a series where we will delve into the wonderful mysteries of God's creation of the world as we know it. This will involve looking into, primarily, the historical events of Genesis 1-11 and explaining how they sync with what we know from uncontroversial scientific findings (to even very conservative Christians) and how it could sync (or conflict) with the controversial scientific findings of evolutionary biology (to many theists). On that latter topic, I also hope my post on Theistic Rain and Theistic Pregnancies will clear away any conceptual hurdles to the question of how God could be held to create if cosmological and biological evolution are true. We will also go to some unexpected and uncommon places of Scripture in investigating this issue. To close out this introduction, I will say a major purpose of the series is my desire to get everything of value I've discovered and learned about this topic put together in concise form in one place. My investigation started out with the intent of learning some foundational material for apologetics on what the Bible says about Origins. I thought it best to look into Scripture first, to discover as much as possible what exactly Moses intended to say about Origins, and importantly, what he didn't intend to say. This way, after the investigation, I could then concern myself with looking into any contradictions between what the Bible teaches about reality and what modern scientific theories teach about reality. In the end, I was quite surprised by the new interpretive options I came across, even from highly respected conservative evangelicals.

On that note, I think it would be good to start from the first point of relevance to the world today. That would be the Fall before the Fall described in Genesis. I speak, of course, of the Fall of Satan and a third of the race of angels with him (Revelation 12:4). I mention this first because of what I think is the only sensible way to understand Genesis 3:22-23 (ESV), which says, "Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever— therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken." Adam and Eve were created mortal and therefore needed something (in this case, whatever it was about the fruit of the tree of life) to keep their lives from naturally ending in death. If this was their nature already, there is reason to suppose animals were mortal also. This, of course, leads to the question of why death and decay already existed in the universe before the creation of Adam and Eve and their sinning. From here I'll present some quotes with my commentary of what Dr. Greg Boyd has to say about this subject, because I think he explains the theological concepts very well in the article I will be analyzing in this post [1] (Interestingly, he is an evangelical theologian, albeit not a conservative one, but the only other theologian I know of that proposes the same idea on a central point of importance of Boyd's proposed thesis about demons' powers is John Piper).
We trust that God is love, but we also believe that God is the Creator of nature, and nature simply does not seem to point to a God of love. Parasites, viruses, bacteria, diseases and cancer kill millions and torment millions more, humans and animals alike. Earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, mudslides and volcanoes do the same. And the animal kingdom is, as Tennyson said, “red in tooth and claw.” (So is the human kingdom for that matter). The creation looks almost as much like it was created by a cosmic predator (I Pet 5:8) as it does like it was created by an all loving, peaceful, benevolent Creator. There seems to be a “Lucifer Principle” at work in the world, as Howard Bloom noted. “Nature does not abhor evil,” he says. “[S]he embraces it.” (The Lucifer Principle, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1995)... 
I’m going to argue that we cannot adequately explain “natural” evil unless we accept that Satan and other rebellious cosmic forces have had a corrupting influence on creation. This isn’t to deny that there aren’t other important things to consider in explaining “natural” evil. But my contention is that if we leave Satan and other nefarious spirit-agents out of the picture, no explanation of “natural” evil can be adequate.
I include this first because anyone who meditates on the reality of death and decay existing before Adam and Eve fell and the reality of it in our world today will be led to think of the "problem of natural evil." 
The Gospels frequently (but not always) attribute infirmities to demonic activity (I’m using “infirmities” here to cover all forms of illness, disease and disabilities). In Luke 13, for example, Jesus comes upon a woman who has a deformed back and says, “How long should this woman, a daughter of Abraham, suffer under Satan’s oppression?” (vs. 16). Peter summarized Jesus’ ministry in Acts 10 by saying that Jesus went about freeing people from Satan’s oppression by healing them of their diseases. In fact, the word the Gospels sometimes use for disease or infirmity is mastix, which literally means “flogging.” (I review all this material thoroughly in my book, God at War). 
On this subject, we also have John Piper writing [2],
Wartime at the Microbiological Level
In recent years Ralph Winter has waved another wartime flag. It’s worth waving here. God may use it to send some of you in a direction of ministry you never thought was ministry. Winter has been calling our attention to the effects of sin and Satan at the microbiological level where some of the most horrific devastation of God’s good creation happens. Satan has, horrifyingly, employed his rebellious freedom in the development of destructive germs and viruses at the microbial level, which today account for one third of all deaths on the planet. What the Bible calls simply “pestilence,” is a scourge to animals and humans alike. Yet our popular theology does not clearly recognize this as a work of Satan which God expects us to combat as part of His mission. But, if missionaries do not preach about a God who is interested in all suffering, all distortions of His creative handiwork, on all these levels we are simply misrepresenting the full scope of His pervasive love and concern—His very nature....
Returning to Boyd,
Now, there are three points that I think are significant about this as it concerns the issue of accounting for “natural” evil. 
First, there’s no reason to think that a scientist couldn’t give a perfectly natural explanation for these infirmities that the Bible attributes to Satan and demons. They are, on one level, simply the “natural” results of “natural” processes working in accordance with the laws of nature. 
This establishes that there’s no intrinsic incompatibility with attributing infirmities to spirits, on the one hand, and explaining them in natural terms, on the other. This is actually a very important point, since the most common objection to the view that spirits are responsible for some aspects of “natural” evil is that these evils can be accounted for scientifically. 
Second, and closely related to this, if infirmities are the natural result of natural processes operating according to the laws of nature, on the one hand, while also being, at times, the result of demonic activity, on the other, then it seems that the laws of nature as we now find them must to some extent be demonically influenced. In fact, the New Testament says that Satan holds the keys of death (Heb. 2:14). Yet, death is a “natural” result of “natural” processes operating in nature. This should be enough to tell us that natural processes can, in some cases, and to some extent, be satanically influenced. [This fits in as well with what I have written in Theistic Rain and Theistic Pregnancies].
Third, for Satan and demons to be involved, on any level, with bringing about infirmities, they must be able to affect matter. And if they can affect matter to bring about human infirmities, on what basis can we argue that they can’t affect matter to bring about other aspects of nature that seem incompatible with the perfect goodness of God?
On top of this, we need to remember the incredible stature and authority ascribed to Satan in the New Testament. He is called (among other things) the “lord” (archon) of the world (Jn 12:31, 14:30; 16:11), the principality and power of the air (Eph 2:2) and the god of this age (2 Cor. 4:4). He is said to control the entire world (Jn 5:19) and to own all the authority of all the kingdoms of the world (Lk 4:5-7). In this light, why should we think it impossible that this fallen archangel, along with his minions, has messed with the natural order of things?  
Consider also that humans have the capacity to affect natural processes, for better or for worse. For several millennia we have brought about new breeds of domesticated animals, for example. And today, we’re acquiring the power (Lord help us!) to genetically engineer everything from ears to fluorescent fish. If we as intelligent free agents have the “say-so” to impact the natural order, why think spirit agents uniformly lack this capacity?
I will add to these points that in the Book of Job, the first explicit description of Satan's activity in the Scripture explains that one of his schemes against Job was to use a great wind to kill his children (Job 1:6-12,19). Now, let's look at what Boyd says of how this can affect what we take to be possible with creation.
When people think of the Bible’s creation story, they naturally think of Genesis 1 and 2. What most don’t realize, however, is that Old Testament scholars generally agree that there are dozens of other passages that refer to God’s act of creation. And what’s significant about these other creation accounts is that they all involve God battling forces of evil and/or chaos. This is what scholars refer to as the chaoskampf (meaning, “conflict with chaos”) motif of the Old Testament. (I discuss this at length in God at War).

Some of these passages explicitly state they are describing creation, while others are determined by scholars to be creational accounts on the basis of the way they parallel the creation accounts of Israel’s ancient near eastern neighbors. Some of these accounts depict God battling hostile personified waters that were believed to encompass the earth, while others talk of cosmic beasts (e.g. Leviathan, Rahab, Yamm) that all ancient near eastern people believed threatened creation (see, eg. Ps. 29:3-4; 104:3-9; 74:10-13. 89:9-10; Prov. 8: 27-29; Job 9:13; 38:6-11; Hab 3:8-15). Biblical authors are uniformly confident that Yahweh can handle these cosmic foes. Yet, his victory is considered praiseworthy precisely because these foes are real and formidable.
Now, the language of God resisting hostile waters or cosmic monsters is obviously mythic. Yet, if we accept this material as divinely inspired, as I do, we have to ask the question, “What do these mythic portrayals convey?” And whatever else we might say in response to this question, we would have to conclude that these passages teach that God faces opposition on a cosmic level when he creates and preserves the world.
Let's look at three of those passages just mentioned.
How long, O God, is the foe to scoff?
    Is the enemy to revile your name forever?
Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand?
    Take it from the fold of your garment and destroy them!
Yet God my King is from of old,
    working salvation in the midst of the earth.
You divided the sea by your might;
    you broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters.
-Psalm 74:10-13 (ESV)
When he established the heavens, I was there;
   when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
   when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
   so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
-Proverbs 8:27-29 (ESV)
On what were its bases sunk,
   or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
   and all the sons of God shouted for joy? 
“Or who shut in the sea with doors
   when it burst out from the womb,
when I made clouds its garment
   and thick darkness its swaddling band,
and prescribed limits for it
   and set bars and doors,
and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
   and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?
-Job 38:6-11 (ESV)

We can see that these passages definitely point to the reality that God was involved in "creational battles" at the beginning of creation. Next, Boyd speaks on how the matter relates to Genesis,
How are we to reconcile these passages with the Genesis creation account where there seems to be no conflict? It’s not clear. In God at War and Satan and the Problem of Evil, I argue that we can plausibly insert them between verses 1 and 2 of Genesis 1 (this is known as “the gap theory,” since it posits a gap between these two verses). God created all that exists (vs. 1) but we find it to be “formless and void” in verse 2. What happened in between, I suggest, was the angelic rebellion and the corruption of creation.
The chaoskampf material never addresses where the forces of chaos came from, but I submit the New Testament provides us with a ready answer. For here we learn about the rebellion of various angels, headed up by Satan (2 Pet 2:4; Jude 6; cf. I Tim. 3:6; Mt 25:41). We’re not told when these angels rebelled, but given the chaoskampf material, and given the scientific evidence for a suffering-filled creation long before the advent of humans, it seems evident they fell long before humans were created. 
In light of all this, I see no reason to assume that nature as we now find it is in every respect nature as God intended it to be. Rather, it seems reasonable to me to conclude that the warfare between good and evil permeates the very fabric of the creation. C.S. Lewis said somewhere that “There is no neutral ground in the universe; every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan.” Given the material we’ve just reviewed, I don’t regard it as an absurd claim to make. C.S. Lewis also speculated somewhere that the violence in evolutionary history might be plausibly explained by the influence of anti-God forces. And given the material we’ve just reviewed, I don’t regard this as an absurd claim either.
I will note I agree with Boyd about the universe being formless and void, but I think it was for an additional reason. Also, I don't think there is a gap of billions of years between verse 1 and 2, but that will be discussed with the additional reason in a later post in this series on Genesis. Furthermore, there are several more good arguments Boyd has for the proposition that Satan's fall affected creation to make it "red in tooth and claw," which I invite you to read in the full article. What I have quoted so far should be sufficient to see what I'm positing with regard to how we can think of Satan and his demons' role in creation. Finally, you may find J.R.R. Tolkien's creation story for Middle Earth called "The Great Music" in his book The Silmarillion illuminating on this subject as well [3].

This proposal here I think should bring up three important questions, the first and the third being Boyd's. First, what do we make of Genesis 3 and Romans 8 that speak of God and not Satan cursing and subjecting creation to futility? Boyd answers,
First, both in Genesis 3 and in Romans 8 it is God, not Satan, who cursed the earth and subjected creation to frustration. Does this not make God responsible for the sorry state of the present creation and thus undermine my argument that Satan is behind it? I don’t see that it does. 
Throughout the Old Testament God brought judgment on Israel for its disobedience by simply allowing hostile neighboring nations to do what they wanted to do. For example, in Isaiah 10 God referred to Assyria as his disciplining rod as he let the Assyrians raid Israel. Yet, he then turned around and punished the Assyrians for being the kind of nation who would do such things and for going beyond what YHWH had intended (Isa 10: 5-7). 
So too, I suggest we envision God as cursing creation by allowing Satan to do what he wants to do – namely, curse creation. Had Adam and Eve remained obedient to God, this hostile cosmic power would have been kept at bay. But once the primordial couple allowed themselves to be co-opted by God’s archenemy, they opened the floodgates for Satan and his minions to enter into the realm that humans were supposed to have dominion over. (Below I’ll address what area this might have included). 
This doesn’t make God responsible for the corruption of nature. The fault lies on Adam and Eve and on Satan and other cosmic powers for freely choosing to go against the will and designs of the Creator. God simply set up the laws that stipulate that disobedience has disastrous consequences.
Secondly, does this really mean every occurrence of "natural evil" is directly caused by demons? Yes and no. In one sense, with the understanding that Satan and his demons did something foundational to creation at the beginning, they don't necessarily have to be the direct and immediate cause of every natural evil since the universe has been going along. We could think through this with an example of natural evil a human agent can commit. A scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) could take a highly virulent contagion and infect one person in metropolitan Atlanta. Weeks after this, it has killed that person but has also been infecting and killing others. The CDC scientist here was the immediate cause of the first person's infection, but not the ones that came after, yet he is responsible. Likewise, sometimes demons could be the immediate cause of a natural evil we see happen today, or it could be happening as a consequence of what demons did to particular natural substances' powers and potentialities at their creation.

Thirdly, Boyd puts forward that the "question that confronts us is how to reconcile the fact that Genesis 3 locates the origin of the curse within human rebellion with the evidence that the creation had been permeated with violence and suffering for millions of years before humans ever came on the scene? There are four possibilities that present themselves." The fourth possibility he examines is largely the one I hold, and we will discuss how it applies once we get into the exegesis of the first chapters of Genesis later on in this series.

[1] Boyd, Greg. "Satan and the Corruption of Nature: Seven Arguments." ReKnew. 31 Dec. 2012.

[2] Piper, John. Don't Waste Your Life. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2003. 115.

[3] "Ainulindalë." One Wiki to Rule Them All. 8 Oct. 2012. 12 Jan. 2013.

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