I sat in my living room across from a young man, husband, father of one with another on the way. He had been unemployed for two years. Over a 100 applications, 30 interviews and gotten … nothing. He looks at me and says, “You know it’s possible to do everything right and still fail.” And I know deep down in my soul that he is right. So do you.
How can I speak of a God who cares for creation, who sides with us, when the evidence seems so horribly against me? Every war, every mutilated child, every natural disaster, every disappointment and broken dream, every wart and pimple seems an indictment of this God. Is this not the most difficult question we could ever face?
Welcome to the Homilies of St. Asinus, the recycled saint.
Biblical Christianity claims that God did indeed make a good world—prepared with all that was necessary for a rich and glorious journey into ever-deepening beauty and holiness—complete with majestic caretakers who were made in God’s own image to do God-like work.
So now you peruse your news feed or just sit in quiet contemplation on the struggles in your own heart for five minutes. You grow steadily angry. You feel that I have deceived you—that I have been deceiving you for as long as you’ve known me. Like Gandalf the Grey, extoling the virtues of “having an adventure” while neglecting to mention that the world’s is really made up of orcs and spiders.
There is no sustaining the fiction that this world as we meet it—as we are forced to live in it—looks anything like the good world that came from God’s hand. Oh, there’s still beauty enough (even Sam Gamgee gets to see his Oliphaunts), but it is also mixed with, nay, slops over with disease, despair, and death. Must we close our eyes to the real state of the world in order to be good Christians or believe in a good God? I say, no.
Nowhere do the scriptures attempt to hide from these inconvenient truths. Rather, they are embraced and explained. See, the Christian story is not only that of a good world, but of a good world…spoiled, wrecked, undermined. A world that has become so thoroughly marred that the glory of God is now obscured and hidden, still present, but increasingly hard to see—like trying gain a clear reflection in a cracked and muddied mirror. And the answer to how this world became so fractured will haunt us, even as it explains why life is so hard. This answer is neither easy to say, nor to hear, for it implicates even the best of God’s creatures. I do not tell this part of the story for the sake of drowning us in misery—life in such a broken world will do that without my help. I tell it because without knowing it, we will never appreciate or understand God’s response to it.
And I will tell you the conclusion in advance. It is this: We are a broken and hopeless race abiding in a death from which we cannot raise ourselves. If anything is to be done for us, God must do it.
So let’s get to it. Christianity answers the problem of evil thusly: When we look around this world and see poverty, famine, war, drought, disease, abuse, abandonment, sorrow, despair, we are NOT seeing the world as it was intended to be. We see rather a world that has become un-done—pulled apart at the seams. A world full of unreached potential, unrealized hopes, and failed dreams. And our first question is what could cause such a dissolution of the good world God made?
God certainly as the raw power, but that answer will never do. I have said elsewhere that no accusation against the goodness of God can stand in the face of even the muted goodness and glory that is still evident. I even quoted Psalm 8 in support—that part of creation’s function is to “silence the foe and the enemy.” And you’ll remember that the psalm is reflecting on the same broken world we meet.
An angel, then? Christianity does hold that there are angelic powers at work in the world—some of them diabolical and enemies of God and God’s works. And thus an angel might persecute, oppress, or occupy God’s creation, but always as invaders and usurpers. Creation’s despoiling has all the appearance, however, of “in inside job.” It is undone, not by some distant foreign power, but from within, by something closer to home.
What of the beasts of the earth? No, they’ re incapable. There is little the dog or the dogwood could do to substantively fracture creation. They don’t have wills to modify even their own nature. Who then? What creature has within itself the power to effect such a devastation of God’s good and holy world?… oh yes, there is one.
The royal emissary, the under-king of the world. If the one to whom all creation were entrusted were to rebel against the rightful King, what would be the result? As goes the king, so goes the kingdom.
As goes the king, so goes the kingdom.
Here we find the source of all the sorrows of the world—as Pogo once put it, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” The story of the snake and the apple are well known, so I’ll give only the barest details for context…
In Genesis 1-3, we watched God make Adam and Eve for great glory and fulfillment, bless them with great potential, and invite them to be part of the divine agenda for the world. And yet in the face of such promise, they are tempted by the serpent and they rebel—doing that which God had forbade for their own benefit. And the consequences of this choice are dire: laborious toil, great pain in childbirth, marital travail, sweat, tears, and finally miserable death. It’s not a happy picture, and Adam and Eve don’t really gain anything worth having from their absurd choice to rebel.
But then again neither do any of their children. Their children, who seem bent upon repeating their parent’s choice at every turn. Six chapters into the Bible we find God repenting from ever having made humans because every thought of their hearts were evil—Thus the great purging Flood.
But this story continues even so to our own day, and you know the consequences of it in your own life. You have been a victim of the Adam-like behavior of others, and if you’re willing to admit it, you have also at times been the Adam-like perpetrator of evil against others. And so have I. But again of my reason for telling you this is to make you feel guilty or sad…I am not trying to make you feel anything at all. I tell you these things because they are true, and they explain much that needs explaining.
See, the event of the Fall is the Christian explanation for all the deficiencies in the world. And I mean it as broadly as it sounds. Wherever you can point your finger in the world—to the chaos of our individual lives, unrest between nations, or the unruliness of the natural world—it all flows out of the effects of that initial choice to rebel against God. To put it even more bluntly (because I don’t want you to miss this), every sorrow you’ve ever witnessed, endured, perpetrated, or heard about is directly connected to the original and subsequent rebellion of earth’s human caretakers against their Maker.
Now that is a staggering claim. It seems incredible—in the actual meaning of that word. That depends. When we’re done, ask yourself whether or not I have gotten in all the facts. If facts remain that I cannot explain, then either Christianity or my explanation of it is deficient. But if the details fit and match your experience, then I submit you have warrant for accepting the Christian explanation, and, while we still may all be wrong together, we are not fools for having believed it.
Something happened in that event that turned a harmonious world into a ungovernable one. It was the turning of a corner from which neither we nor the world could return. If you cast yourself off a high cliff, you may indeed regret having done so and even desire to change, and yet you will continue to fall. There are some choices from which you cannot return—the baby will be born, the relationship is lost, the plea has been entered. So long as you stood upon the brink, you still had some control, but with the leap, you have given up your mastery of the situation to someone else.
Thus what Christianity says happened when Adam and Eve took the serpent’s word over God’s is something we have all experienced. Just as we have made choices which eliminated some possible futures, so when our race rebelled, humanity and the world ceased to be one thing and became irrevocably something else. The fallout of this treachery affected everything—Adam and Eve’s bodies and souls, their relationship, their progeny, and the world they were set to govern.
When our race rebelled, humanity and the world ceased to be one thing and became irrevocably something else.
For the remainder of this homily I will focus on what human rebellion did to the natural world. Later I will offer a homily discussing the effects of our rebellion specifically on us—our bodies and souls. Again, the argument is that Fall is the source for all that is predatory and disastrous in nature. But how can anything Adam and Eve did so affect the whole world? Perhaps in an age of nuclear weapons and global warming this less difficult to imagine, but it is a fair question. Why should the butterflies and the butternut squash care what Adam and Eve do?
The explanation rests on Adam and Eve’s position as caretakers of creation. Since the harmony and beauty of the world was in some real sense centered in their royal positions and persons, a rebellion on their part would ripple outward like the pebble in the pond. The world was made to follow Adam and Eve’s lead. If they glorified their Maker and did great deeds in that Name, then creation would respond to their just governance and produce ever greater beauty and holiness. But if they went to war against God, creation could not help but follow.
If America’s leaders declared war on, say, Canada, as individual citizens I might disagree, but I would nevertheless be in a state of war with Canada—and as a resident of Michigan be living in perpetual fear of red-jacketed Mounties at my front door…well, perhaps not. Now it may sound like a raw deal—someone making such a choice on your behalf—but it is a possibility wherever representation exists. It’s simply what means to have a representative—a king, a president, heck, even a CPA who files your taxes for you. If Adam and Eve represent the territory of Earth in God’s holy counsel, then their choices in relation to that principality shall be accepted. As goes the king, so goes the kingdom.
St. Paul makes it very clear in Romans 8 that creation itself was betrayed by human rebellion…
19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. [ESV]
A number of implications present themselves here. The most obvious one is most poignantly felt even in our time—that as a race, we have willingly abandoned our obligation to steward creation well. We no longer desire as a people to see justice done in the natural world. Our mandate to rule with justice have been privated into a desire to have our own ends served. We strip mine the mountains, clear cut the forests, and cast it all into the rivers and valleys. We who were entrusted with the world’s care now, have become like a nefarious parent who strips and beats the child bloody with the rod of its own authority, like the tyrant who taxes his people to the point of starvation and wonders why they work no harder. The history of human interaction with the created world is an alternating story of abuse and neglect. Little could Adam know when the ground was cursed because of him, that he and his children would weaponized themselves to be the ongoing agents of that curse. As Paul says, creation groans and languishes in a prison of human mismanagement.
As a race, we have willingly abandoned our obligation to steward creation well.
And thus the second implication arises—the thorns and thistles. Not only our will, but our very ability to rule and govern has been lost. The ground of Genesis 3 now actively resists us. And more, the physical world has now rebelled against our unjust governance. In a source I sadly can no longer locate, I once read the deeply convicting perspective—throughout scripture the natural world seems always ready and willing, but for the restraining hand of God, to break forth against humanity in floods and fires and earth-shattering retribution. As if to say that God’s good world is so enraged at us for conscripting it in our own rebellion against its Maker that, but for God’s restraining and merciful hand, it would rise up in the name of justice and cast us out.
And still more, scripture speaks of a third implication. As we abandoned the throne of creation, that throne did not remain empty for long. A diabolical usurper has sat down upon the throne of creation. The tempter of the garden is now called the Prince of the Power of the Air. I want to be clear, this metaphysical upstart has usurped, not God’s position (that’s not possible), but ours. In some real sense, Satan now rules from the throne which God prepared for us. We thus pass our lives in an enemy occupied country—like Nazi-controlled France or modern Crimea or Tibet. We have abdicated our throne and become subjects of a diabolical power in common rebellion against our common Maker.
If we are appreciate God’s response to all this sorrow—and be under no misgivings, God has a response—we must own this. We must not be like a man driving a car—“Stop nagging, dear, I know exactly where I am!” If we cannot admit we are lost, how shall we ever be found? Before the alcoholic can recover, he must own his addiction. This is the dark part of the story, and I’m sorry to say that I must make darker still in another homily because we have not yet explained the whole of the human problem. This is what Christianity says is the human plight if God does nothing. And if we are left to our own devices, our situation is indeed dire.
But remember I said, “if God does nothing.” So take heart. The Fall is not the end of the human story, but merely a part of the first chapter. The rest of the story will be about God’s answer. God will not allow the diabolical throne to stand. God’s will will still be done. A man is coming to this story who will restore the sons and daughters of Adam to their throne by sitting down on it himself. And that gives us reason to hope.
See you next time at the Homilies of St. Asinus, reflections of a recycled saint.
 Ephesians 2:2
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