Joel. I see a lot of people parse the ideas of “perfect” and “very good.” Notice that this necessarily requires that God made a less-than perfect creation. He did less than He was capable of, intentionally. I could have written a perfect response, but I decided to go for the marginal one that was just okay. Really? The Hebrew combination of “very good” is typically understood (elsewhere in the Old Testament) as “exceedingly good.” Thus, you’re saying that it was “exceedingly good” that man was created such that he suffered and died. All of this is moot, because Genesis 3 indicates the first death of man, as a consequence of sin, God curse even upon the wild animals. Why would the author of Genesis bother to indicate that we were originally designed to be vegetarian? What possible gain is there from adding this dictum? My point is not that all of this is literally true, but that the author went to great lengths to point out a severe fall of all creation as a result of sin. Why do so if it’s just a made up myth? If death isn’t really a problem, but is instead a great benefit, why does the author of Genesis work so hard against that notion?
I would also say that the distinction Irenaeus makes is very different from how you cast it. He believed God to be maximally simple and unchanging, therefore perfect. Nothing could be added or taken away from God, and God needs nothing. This is his definition of “perfect.” In contrast, created things grow and develop. They change. They also are added to or subtracted from. Therefore, they are not perfect as God is. This speaks little to the issue of making some distinction between “very good” and “perfect.” It’s also worth noting that Irenaeus is just one third generation apostle. His views actually stand in contrast to most of his. You claim to take the early church fathers seriously. But essentially all of them were young earth, and believed in a literal Adam & Eve. Lactantius, Victorinus, Ephrem the Syrian, and Basil were six-day literalists. Others, like Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Augustine, believing instead that everything was created instantly (no calendar days).
The next point: You write, “There is a glaring difference in writing between Genesis 1-11 and the rest of Genesis.” This simply isn’t true. It’s said a lot, but it doesn’t hold up to even cursory scrutiny.
Consider Genesis 11: 27-32,
27This is the account of Terah’s family line.
Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran. And Haran became the father of Lot. 28 While his father Terah was still alive, Haran died in Ur of the Chaldeans, in the land of his birth. 29 Abram and Nahor both married. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife was Milkah; she was the daughter of Haran, the father of both Milkah and Iskah.
30 Now Sarai was childless because she was not able to conceive.
31 Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Harran, they settled there.
32 Terah lived 205 years, and he died in Harran.
Now, Genesis 12: 1-5,
1The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
2 “I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.[a]
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”[b]
4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. 5 He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.
The first thing to notice is that three children are mentioned in Genesis 11:27. It seems, for Abram to exist in Genesis 12, Terah must be literally real too. Further, for Genesis 18 and 19 to be literal history, Lot must really be the son of Terah too. In order for Sarai to be barren—and for God to perform a miracle in Genesis 21—Genesis 11:30 must be literally true too. I could go on. But we see a clean continuation of the narrative. No sharp abrogation of fable and the beginning of literal history. If anything, Genesis 12 begins more like a story, while Genesis 11 ends as literal genealogical history. Further, Luke’s genealogy pursues the lineage of Genesis right through that Genesis 11-12 barrier.
Next, you say, “Nowhere did I say that suffering and death weren’t evil.” It immediately and necessarily follows then that God is the creator of evil, and that He needs for it to exist.
On salvation, are you now ascribing to the Orthodox Church? You didn’t really answer my concern. You simply offered another’s view. I noticed the Orthodox priest affirms a literal garden of evil, a literal Adam who sinned, causing the corruption of all creation. I have to ask, what does it mean when the crucified Christ yells, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The veil is torn, the sky darkened, etc. This all is indicative of Jesus taking on our sins, and God turning from those sins. What else would it mean?
Thanks for clarifying your view on death (annihilationism). We could talk a lot about this, but it does relegate New Testament passages like Luke 16: 19-31 to the allegorical (I think it is actually). It also massively changes all discussion of the end of this creation and the judgement.
I do have some follow up questions on that point though. You say,
“(1) Human beings (i.e. Adam) are made in God’s image, yet (2) still come into this world naked, naïve, vulnerable, with no wisdom or knowledge of good and evil, and hence (3) they sin, and in doing so, although created in God’s image, they fall short of being like God; therefore (4) the reality is that we are sinful image-bearers in a world of suffering and death, and we are in need of salvation.”
I do think an evolutionary account can make some sense of this. Animals don’t sin, because they aren’t aware of moral notions. Presumably, we do. But, we begin unaware of what sin is. I touched on some of the stickiness of this in my first blog. But, would it be your view that, if we did not sin, we would not die? I think not. At that point, we would still need salvation, even as we are blameless. Thus, my original point would hold true: God is the physician who offers us the antidote only after He poisons us. I do wonder how you take Paul’s writings on this issue. The “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man” passage. It’s hard to wiggle out of the idea that Paul believed in a literal fall. One alternative I’ve heard is that Paul was so crafty that he was describing Israel using Adam as an analogy.
As an aside, my statement was “just a demonstration of God’s power over death.” Key word being “just.” I was hoping you’d speak to the idea that it wasn’t about being a perfect sacrifice, atoning for all sin. I don’t see a real distinction by what you and I have said on the issue. In the Old Testament, people offered a sacrifice in order to reconcile with God. The law is very important up until Jesus. And, God both pours out wrath for disobedience, and offers redemption, throughout the Old Testament. Jesus is the end of that. No further reconciliation can be attained.
Moving on, you write, “as is virtually on every page of the New Testament, it is through suffering and death that resurrection and transformation happen.” That’s an assertion not evidenced thus far. I don’t see that as the central theme at all.
By the time we get to “You are created in God’s image; you sin; you live in a world in which you are a slave to suffering and death; you’re not a finished project,” you’re sort of just repeating your previous statements, not offering justification for them. If the Bible really teaches, “you were intentionally made imperfect of no fault of your own, and suffer, of no fault of your own,” then the only recourse is to say that God did it. Unless you want to award creation a level of freedom from God’s hand that most don’t go for. Again, my claim seems validated. God breaks our arm, just so he might set it. I will offer a rejoinder to my own claim though. You could argue that God breaks our arm, and promises it will be infinitely better than it was before. Of course, as I argue, that’s not particularly obvious in most cases. It’s not clear that we are better for having suffered or died. And, of course, a great many will die without salvation, in some cases because of their suffering in this world (or what they’ve seen others go through).
It is true that the Christian can rejoice in suffering. But, notice that almost all of that commentary (seen throughout the New Testament) involves reference to “the evil one,” as “Lord of the air,” and “ruler of this world.” That is, essentially all of the New Testament authors (including Jesus) saw suffering as us standing up to a fallen world and the powers of Satan, with the full assurance of eternal salvation and victory. Like Jesus, both in earthly form and beyond, and as with the angels, we are at war with something counter to God. This view is almost the polar opposite of what you’re arguing.
I do appreciate your final clarification on theistic evolution. I do wonder how you would interpret Genesis if the mainstream consensus was that humanity is just 12,000-6,000 years old. Just a thought.
Also, while this exchange has been pointed, let me say I think it’s great to clarify differences. Additionally, I’m not like Ham in thinking that, if you don’t agree with my views or accept my critique, you’re somehow not a Christian. The more I read, think and discuss various aspects of Christianity today, I find ever-nuanced spectra of views (rather than clear camps). Additionally, I’m guilty of having the “more I learn, the less I understand,” approach. That is, most of these issues seem more muddy (on all sides) than I once appreciated. Thus, straight-forward conversation on these issues is necessary. What I really appreciate is that you don’t seem to dodge or play hide-and-seek. I’ve had way to many dialogues that feel more like a series of bullfighter oles.