In my Romans 8:18-25 and Romans 8:18-25 In Brief I have argued that God of express purpose subjected the material creation he had ‘made by hand’ (1* Gk cheiropoietos which has pejorative overtones in the OT. See my Manufactured Or Not So.) to the futility of corruption quite apart from sin in hope of the age to come. In other words, I reject outright the traditional Augustinian idea that an originally perfect creation is now fallen, ‘imperfect’, intractable, hostile, recalcitrant and hence labouring under a cosmic curse as a consequence of Adam’s sin. Rather I contend that it is ‘evil’ by nature or by divine intention (cf. Acts 14:22; Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:17; Gal. 1:4; James 1:2-4; 1 Pet. 1:6f.; 4:12; Rev. 2:10).
Of course, this in itself requires explanation. Like many others I have always tended to think that when it is taught in Genesis that Adam and Eve like babies in the Garden knew neither good nor evil that the point at issue is moral. However, there is ample reason to think that the term ‘good and evil’ is ambiguous: it refers not merely to morals but to what is natural. After all, as I have suggested in my Nature Red in Tooth and Claw, to be ignorant like a baby of the law, which defines the difference between moral good and evil, is also to be ignorant of natural good and evil. While it is obvious that babies (cf. Dt. 1:39, etc.) and animals alike feel and re-act to pain, it is more than questionable whether they actually know it as adult men and women who are characterized by intelligent self-consciousness do. To illustrate this point we have only to contrast the conscious pain a human mother experiences in childbirth and the apparently unconscious pain that a baby must feel as it is born. But if babies like animals are unconscious of pain, so they are of the natural good and evil by which the world outside the womb is characterized.
If we accept on the assumption of recapitulation (on which see my articles) that the Garden of Eden is the womb, or cradle which is a kind of extension of the womb, of mankind the race, the place where initially Adam and Eve, after being taken out of the ground as seed (Gen. 2:8,15), gestated and dwelt in ignorant baby-like bliss, then their ‘birth’ or expulsion from the Garden once they gained the knowledge necessary to break the commandment was doubtless a traumatic experience introducing them to the harsh and hostile world outside (cf. Job 5:7; Jer. 20:18). It is one that mutatis mutandis Paul experienced and recapitulated as a child when the commandment dawned on his developing mind (Rom. 7:9f.). And if it is true of Paul, it is doubtless true of the rest of us including the Lord Jesus himself, though he did not break the commandment. (2* The mutatis mutandis or making the necessary changes is important. Adam and Eve are portrayed as physically adult. This suggests that conscious intelligence came to them late by our standards.) It would seem then that the physical development or evolution of our first parents took place long before they gained the knowledge implied by and intrinsic to the image of God (cf. Job 32:8; 35:11; Ps. 32:9). This is precisely the point made by Paul who tells us in his discourse on the body in 1 Corinthians 15 that the natural (flesh) precedes the spiritual (15:46). To express the point another way, prior to their gaining or developing understanding of the commandment Adam and Eve, who were doubtless corporate personalities or archetypal and representative human beings according to the flesh, had fleshly or pre-adamic forebears who like babies knew neither good nor evil in either sense. In other words, there is no need whatever, as biblical fundamentalists would have us believe, to infer that our first parents were created full grown in one literal day. Rather they developed like babies who recapitulate mutatis mutandis their experience in miniature to this day. The picture we gain from Scripture is far from that painted for us by Augustine. It is one where the development of man from ground to glory (cf. John 3:13; Eph. 4:9f.) is planned and ordained by the Creator, not from initial perfection to fall, curse and eventual restoration but from infant imperfection precisely with a view to ultimate perfection or complete maturity (cf. 1 Cor. 13:10f.; 14:20; Eph. 4:11-16) most signally achieved by Jesus (cf. Heb. 2:10; 5:9; 7:28). What Adam and Eve lost was not their original righteousness, which since they lacked all knowledge of law they could not possibly have had (Rom. 6:16; 1 John 3:7), but like babies their initial innocence. While so far as sinful Adam himself who had enjoyed the bliss of the Garden of Eden was concerned, the harsh reality of the outside world into which he was thrust was a curse but, apart from Genesis 5:29 after the flood there is no more curse (Gen. 8:21, cf. 9:11) and hence no general or so-called ‘cosmic’ curse. On the contrary the earth is recognized as good (Ps. 24:1; 1 Tim. 4:3f., etc.). Curse (or rather curses like sins, pl.) comes only when we disobey the law (cf. Heb. 2:2) and refuse to work (exercise dominion over) the ground in accordance with the cultural mandate (Dt. 28:11f., 15-68; 30:15-20; Prov. 24:30-34, etc., cf. Rom. 2:7,9; 1 Pet. 17). The plain fact is that modern evolutionary science shed of its naturalism stands much closer to the biblical view than the church has traditionally done and unfortunately fails to do to this day (2014). And since babies lack phenomenal knowledge (cf. Job 38-41) and have no history, the six days of creation are clearly a convenient summary of prehistory into which modern scientists can peer in a way impossible to man in the process of emerging from his fleshly (animal) infancy. Indeed, early man was in even worse case than Noah for whom the entire world was from a phenomenological point of view at least covered by a flood.
This brings us to the book of Job with its various problems. First, we need to bear in mind that it was written long before the Christian era. This being the case, Job’s understanding was somewhat limited old covenant not new covenant revelation (cf. John 3:31). However, the book makes it plain that Job himself was a good man (Job. 1:1) who was subject to much suffering. While we the readers are ‘in the know’ since we are specifically informed that Job was being tested and proved by God who considered him righteous (Job 1:8), Job himself was entirely ignorant of the fact (cf. 7:17f.; 10:2f.). While his comforters, like Augustine much later, were all convinced that he was reaping what he had sown and that his pain was directly related to, even caused by his sin, Job though not pretending to be sinless (cf. Job 13:23-26) was convinced that having maintained his basic integrity before God (2:3; 27:5f.) his suffering was out of all proportion to his desert, indeed apparently not directly related to it.
Both Good and Evil Come from God
It was not that he was entirely unaware of the ways of God. In 2:10 for example, he makes it plain that he realizes that his Creator can send both (natural) good and evil and that both should be received in a spirit of humility and acceptance (cf. 1:21). He would doubtless have received with equanimity Jesus contention that God causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall indiscriminately on the morally good and evil alike (Mt. 5:45). This suggests that Job does not believe that man’s problems stem from what Andersen calls a fictitious depravity (p.148) like original sin (p.66) but from the nature of the world in which he lives (Job 5:6f.; Eccl. 2:23) including his own weakness and transience (14:1), an intractable, difficult and even hostile environment (Job. 7:1) and from man’s moral disorientation leading to his lack of understanding on the other (12:23-25). But such is his own personal pain that he is even prepared to remonstrate with God somewhat as Moses and Jeremiah did (cf. Job 3 and Jer. 20:14-18). Why has God created him if he is apparently going to destroy him (10:3,8f.)? Despite all his suffering Job retains his belief that he will one day see God in his flesh (sic! 19:25-27, cf. Ps. 71:20). (Taken literally this appears to contradict the teaching of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:50 but we know what he means. We who are the recipients of greater revelation accept that his conviction is justified. And Job would doubtless be loath to deny that all the things that God works according to the counsel of his will, Eph. 1:11, work for the good of those who love God, Rom. 8:28, despite what he says in Job 9:22-24, cf. Eccl. 9:1-3).
In the end of course, God acknowledges that while his comforters are in the wrong, Job himself is basically in the right. What Job has done, however, is to darken counsel by words without knowledge (38:2). He has failed to recognize in the words of Isaiah that God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts and his ways higher than our ways (55:9). So Job confesses God’s greatness, his own limited knowledge, his relative insignificance and his failure to speak appropriately (40:4f.; 42:2-6).
If this is a true representation of Job’s position, how does it square with Paul’s asseveration in Romans 8 that God has himself subjected creation to futility and corruption quite apart from the exacerbating factor of sin? Surely it supports it to the hilt.
First the biblical evidence other than that provided by Job that creation is indeed corruptible and problematic by nature is quite extensive. For a start, man is called to exercise dominion over it and if he fails, it becomes desolate as at the time of the exile (cf. Isa. 51:1-3; Ezek. 36:33-36). Psalm 102:3,25-27, Isaiah 34:4, 40:6-8, 51:6,8 and 54:10 to go no further supply relevant information. But if the earth is intrinsically corruptible and readily, even spontaneously, lapses into dereliction even when it is properly superintended, so is man who derives from it. Thus it is no surprise to learn that Scripture teaches explicitly that man and beast alike are susceptible to corruption (Ps. 49:12,20; Eccl. 3:18-20). Since they derive from a corruptible creation (Heb. 1:11, etc.), one and all get older. Furthermore, even manna which was bread from heaven did not prevent death (John 6:49 contrast 6:50f.). Given information like this it would appear to follow that man suffers as a result and that all seems vanity (Eccl. 1:2, etc.). As a real human being even Jesus had to contend with creation’s inadequacy which involved him like his fellows in constant repetition (cf. John 4:13f., 6:27), not to mention his own physical fatigue, weakness, aging and mortality. Natural good and evil are divinely written into the created universe and are experienced by all.
Old Testament Teaching
But there is other teaching which indicates that the Creator God himself has determined nature’s vanity. Isaiah whose conception of God as sovereign is perhaps matched only by that depicted by Job does not hesitate to assert that it is God who creates both light and darkness, well-being and calamity (Isa. 45:7) Others like Amos who claims that disaster comes to a city because the Lord has done it (3:6, cf. Lam. 3:37f.) join in the chorus. Indeed, the God who urges obedience to the law for the good of the people (e.g. Dt. 4:40) is precisely the one who warns of trouble even from nature when disobedience is rampant (e.g. Lev. 26; Dt. 28). But as both Job and the Psalmist indicate trouble is not simply the result of sin any more than blessing is always the consequence of righteousness (see e.g. Pss. 71:20; 73:24f.; 90:10,14f.; 94:12-15; Eccles. 7:14f.; 8:14).
Job and Paul
In the NT careful scrutiny soon reveals that sin which is primarily an exacerbating factor is not the only, often not even the main source of trouble in this world. In Luke 13:1-5 it is not merely sinful assassins that wreak havoc but also corruptible towers which collapse naturally as they age and wear (cf. Col. 2:22). Jesus underlines the danger from what is symbolized by the latter when he tells his hearers to lay up for themselves treasure in heaven away from rust and moths as well as from thieves (Mt. 6:19-21; Luke 12:32-34). While Job had problems with lightning (the fire of God!), windstorms (Job 2:16,19) and skin sores, Paul on his missionary journeys had to contend with temperature fluctuations, sea storms and his thorn in the flesh (Acts 27; 2 Cor. 6:4ff.; 11:21-29; 12:7-10, etc. Note that things like these will not be a problem in the world to come, Rev. 7:16; 21:4,23-25; 22:3,5). Like the Israelites we all have to pass through the furnace of affliction and suffering on the way from Egypt through the wilderness of this world to the heavenly Promised Land (cf. 1 Pet. 1:1; 2:11; Heb. 11:10-16), not to mention possible even probable persecution (cf. Phil. 3:8-11). The constant tribulation of this entire present age not simply its end is the necessary and unavoidable prelude to the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22; Rev. 7:14.) At the end of the world as at the end of our human lives in the flesh much of the distress its inhabitants will experience will stem from corruptible and aging nature itself. (3* According to Paul, the flesh, symbolized by Ishmael is in itself a persecutor, Gal. 4:29f., and fosters the war between flesh and spirit, Gal. 5:16f.) For what happens on a personal or microcosmic level will eventually happen on a macrocosmic level too (Heb. 12:27; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12, Rev. 6:14, etc.). People all over the earth will be caught as in a trap from which there will be no escape except through faith in a saving God (Luke 21:34-36; 1 Thes. 5:1-11, etc.). In other words, as human beings of any era we are vulnerable to both the physical death and corruption that characterize this world. Just as Jesus said that heaven and earth will pass away (Mt. 5:18; 24:35), so will we. We even use the expression ‘pass away’ as a euphemism for dying. (4* See further my Death and Corruption.) And in this situation only Christ Jesus who has uniquely brought immortality and incorruption to light can serve as our deliverer (2 Tim. 1:10, cf. 1 Cor. 15:53-55).
The Glory of God
But there is another category of evidence pointing to God-ordained ‘evil’ which we often miss because we are blinded by traditional ideas of original sin and curse. For example, many (sinless) animals are naturally blemished and inappropriate for sacrifice (e.g. Lev. 22:17-25). Sarah, like Hannah, is barren, but no where are we led to believe that this is on account of sin. Moses has speech problems, and the eunuch (Isa. 56, cf. Mt. 19:12) and the barren woman (Isa. 54:1) alike encounter uncooperative nature. But if we fail to draw appropriate conclusions from these, how do we re-act when Jesus refuses to countenance sin in the case of the congenitally blind man and claims all is for the glory of God (John 9:2). The same point is made when Lazarus dies (John 11:4,40). While he was certainly a sinner, his first death was clearly no more related to his sin than Paul’s thorn in the flesh was. Obviously something more was afoot, and Paul’s claim that God works all things according to the counsel of his will (Eph. 1:11) is supported by his further claim that all these things also work for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28). But this was made apparent as early as the book of Genesis by Joseph in Egypt (cf. Gen. 45:5,7; 50:20) who experienced the seven ‘good’ and the seven ‘bad’ years which though integral to the plan of God had no connection with either sin or righteousness. Clearly it is incumbent on us to make the right inferences.
Various clues about creation’s subjection to corruption (decay) are given us throughout Scripture but perhaps the most important is the teaching about the unique saving power of God who will allow no one to steal his glory (Isaiah 42:8). Isaiah 45:21-25 lay the foundation of what is taught in the NT about salvation in Christ who achieved as man the perfection of God in the flesh (Rom. 8:3). He alone as a genuine man triumphed over the world (John 16:33), the flesh and the devil (John 14:30; Heb. 2:14f.). In contrast, all other men and women throughout history have failed to do any better than Adam and Eve did at the start; they have all proved incapable of exercising adequate dominion and of keeping the law and so have come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). Gaining eternal life by keeping the commandments has proved beyond their capability (Rom. 9:31). This being the case, they have all to the very last one been shut up to salvation by Christ Jesus to the glory of God (Phil. 2:9-11, cf. Rom. 14:10-12). As Acts 4:12 underlines, it is by him who claimed that he alone was the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6) that we must be saved.
Even on the basis of this rather limited evidence we are surely entitled to draw the conclusion that, apart from sin, this world is a very uncertain and dangerous place in which to live out our fragile fleshly lives. The present age is an ‘evil’ age but one from which God from the beginning intended us to escape and transcend (Gal. 1:4) not by our own efforts but by giving us an invisible (Rom. 8:18-25), living (1 Pet. 1:3), penetrating (Heb. 6:19), better (Heb. 7:19), sure (Heb.11:1) and blessed hope (Tit. 2:11-14). (5* See my Escape.) In fact the promised age to come already exists and Jesus himself has returned to it to prepare a place for us (John 14:3; Heb. 9:28, cf. Eph. 6:9). God’s purpose has always been to test us (Gen. 2:16f.; 4:7; Dt. 8:2,16; Job 7:18; Heb. 12:3-17; James 1:2-4,12-15; 1 Pet. 1:6-9, etc.) with a view to finding us universally wanting but nonetheless to save us by perfecting us as his sons and daughters in Christ (Heb. 6:1; 12:14). His plan has ever been to make us his children, give us eternal life (1 John 2:25) and to glorify us in his own presence in heaven itself to the praise of his glorious grace (Eph. 1:3-6; 1 John 3:1-3). On the other hand, the subjection of the material creation to decay, far from indicating its redemption, signifies that it is destined for destruction. For this we may be profoundly grateful since despite its undeniable good, for most people on the earth it is the source of so much trouble (cf. Acts 14:22; Rev. 7:14). For all that both Job (13:15) and Habakkuk (3:17-19) like the author of Ecclesiastes (8:12f.) were convinced that their hope lay in God himself. (6* See my The Destruction of the Material Creation, The Transience of Creation. Note that in chapters 21 and 22 of the book of Revelation the sea, death, mourning, weeping, pain, sun, moon, earthly temple, night, things unclean and curse, all features of the first ‘evil’ world have passed away.) And we, who have fed on the word of God and not on bread alone like animals, will find our place among the throng that surrounds the throne of God (Rev. 7:9). We shall be gathered from the four winds throughout history (Mt. 24:31), and not one who has committed him or herself in faith no matter how minimal (Mt. 17:20, contrast 2 Thes. 3:2; 2 Pet. 3:3) will be missing (John 6:39f.; Rev. 7:9). What is more, all will be perfected together (Heb. 11:39f.), and the human race in its essence will be saved, a fitting bride for a glorious bridegroom. Gloria Soli Deo.
Finally, in case the point has been missed, it needs to be emphasized that while it is ever true that Jesus came into the world to save sinners, it is because sin prevents our escape from this ‘evil’ age (Gal. 1:4) which is in bondage to corruption by nature. But for Jesus’ resurrection and triumph over death, futility would reign undisputed and we would all be without hope in the world (1 Cor. 15:12-19).
A study of Job’s enigmatic problems, which at the end of the day relate to the rest of us, surely supports the view that our received Augustinian tradition is false. In fact, ideas like original perfection, immortality, righteousness and holiness followed by original sin and cosmic curse necessitating the redemption of the material creation are myths manufactured by the church. It is church dogma not biblical doctrine that is in urgent need of demythologization. In the last analysis the Bible and modern science are not so far apart after all.
F.L.Andersen, Job, Leicester, 1974.