Self-preservation, the Fall, and redemption

In my explanation of man’s depravity from the view of a recurring, individualized (non-historical) Fall, I have argued that mankind’s natural separation from God was in origin a result of natural self-preservation instincts. These instincts progressed first into childish selfishness and then, with the onset of divinely gifted God-consciousness (Romans 1:18-21), those instincts gone unchecked morphed into moral failure (sin), to the effect that scarcely had our species become aware of its Creator before it began to reject Him.

I thought of this when I came upon the following quote from C.S. Lewis:

If God were a Kantian, who would not have us till we came to Him from the purest and best motives, who could be saved?

It strikes me that God uses the selfsame aspect that damns us to redeem us. Self-regard is not an absolute evil; it is a neutral currency of the universe, one of which our ultimate God naturally demands the ultimate possession. This is no doubt because our blessed Maker, in molding man in His Own image, also imprinted upon him another, converse attribute of which He is the ultimate expression: self-sacrifice. In fact, it is this expectation God has of us, not the self-regard shared by every creature from amoeba to ape, that separates man from beast. That God demands something we are in some sense capable of but not predisposed to do is analogous to a parent teaching her daughter to help her in the kitchen, or her son to brush his own teeth (without swallowing the toothpaste!) so they won’t rot out of his head.

In order for us to become like Him, we must subordinate our self-regard to our self-sacrifice; but thankfully, as Lewis notes, we are not required — nor are we able — to perform self-sacrifice wholly independent of self-regard.

What do you think of this?

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  • This is no doubt because our blessed Maker, in molding man in His Own image, also imprinted upon him another, converse attribute of which He is the ultimate expression: self-sacrifice.

    I’m not sure self-sacrifice is the concept I’d choose. Don’t we see this capability demonstrated routinely in nature, as a mother or father animal protects its young at the expense of its own life?

    However, I will agree that mankind has risen above the rest of the animal world in other respects: (1) the capability of making a moral decision, and (2) the ability to advance technologically to the extent that the evolution (or progress, if you will) of mankind’s civilization advances faster than mankind’s biological evolution—i.e., mankind demonstrates superior creativity. I’m sure there may be more.

  • This is no doubt because our blessed Maker, in molding man in His Own image, also imprinted upon him another, converse attribute of which He is the ultimate expression: self-sacrifice.

    I’m not sure self-sacrifice is the concept I’d choose. Don’t we see this capability demonstrated routinely in nature, as a mother or father animal protects its young at the expense of its own life?

    However, I will agree that mankind has risen above the rest of the animal world in other respects: (1) the capability of making a moral decision, and (2) the ability to advance technologically to the extent that the evolution (or progress, if you will) of mankind’s civilization advances faster than mankind’s biological evolution—i.e., mankind demonstrates superior creativity. I’m sure there may be more.

  • Dan

    Steve,
    I’m struggling a bit here. Even though I don’t believe the garden of eden was literally and historically true, God communicated incarnationally through scripture, that is according to ANE cultural norms, what was trustworthy. It seems then that some period of paradise and tree of life could have occurred in some way. I see no reason why God couldn’t have miraculously interceded once evolution had done it’s job. Once a being is made in his image, the God of Life and Love, reveals and gives Life and Love to that image bearer. Of course, as a God of love he does not force that Love to be recipricocated but at least the image bearer needs to know what he/she is rejecting.

    I do know, from Walton, that the garden represented the holy of holies from which God wanted man to spread to the rest of his creation. That’s why in Romans 8, Creation groans, as this plan wasn’t realized. It seems that in some way your narrative should fold some of this theology in. But perhaps I’m missing some other meaning and importance to the paradise portion of the Genesis narrative.
    Dan

  • Dan

    Steve,
    I’m struggling a bit here. Even though I don’t believe the garden of eden was literally and historically true, God communicated incarnationally through scripture, that is according to ANE cultural norms, what was trustworthy. It seems then that some period of paradise and tree of life could have occurred in some way. I see no reason why God couldn’t have miraculously interceded once evolution had done it’s job. Once a being is made in his image, the God of Life and Love, reveals and gives Life and Love to that image bearer. Of course, as a God of love he does not force that Love to be recipricocated but at least the image bearer needs to know what he/she is rejecting.

    I do know, from Walton, that the garden represented the holy of holies from which God wanted man to spread to the rest of his creation. That’s why in Romans 8, Creation groans, as this plan wasn’t realized. It seems that in some way your narrative should fold some of this theology in. But perhaps I’m missing some other meaning and importance to the paradise portion of the Genesis narrative.
    Dan

  • Mike,
    Natural selection did breed in self-sacrifice as a way of preserving the species. But self-sacrifice done only for the preservation of one’s species doesn’t seem particularly Christ-like. We are called to sacrifice ourselves for our enemies. This seems qualitatively different, no?

    Dan,
    Even when I used to read the story of the Fall as a historical narrative, I never got the impression that the paradisaical state lasted very long. In fact, Romans 3:23 and 5:21 say that “all” humans have sinned, and this is buttressed somewhat by the fact that it was Adam, not his son or grandson, that fell. The impression given is that even in the ideal garden environment, the first human sinned. That’s where I am right now, anyway.

    Once a being is made in his image, the God of Life and Love, reveals and gives Life and Love to that image bearer. Of course, as a God of love he does not force that Love to be reciprocated but at least the image bearer needs to know what he/she is rejecting.

    I hope I haven’t said anything to contradict this – it’s well said!

  • Mike,
    Natural selection did breed in self-sacrifice as a way of preserving the species. But self-sacrifice done only for the preservation of one’s species doesn’t seem particularly Christ-like. We are called to sacrifice ourselves for our enemies. This seems qualitatively different, no?

    Dan,
    Even when I used to read the story of the Fall as a historical narrative, I never got the impression that the paradisaical state lasted very long. In fact, Romans 3:23 and 5:21 say that “all” humans have sinned, and this is buttressed somewhat by the fact that it was Adam, not his son or grandson, that fell. The impression given is that even in the ideal garden environment, the first human sinned. That’s where I am right now, anyway.

    Once a being is made in his image, the God of Life and Love, reveals and gives Life and Love to that image bearer. Of course, as a God of love he does not force that Love to be reciprocated but at least the image bearer needs to know what he/she is rejecting.

    I hope I haven’t said anything to contradict this – it’s well said!

  • Dan

    Steve,
    Whether it was a long or short paradisiacal state doesn’t matter much to me, as long as there was something to it. I just wouldn’t like the idea of humans evolving, having a vague concept of God, continuing in their self-preservation mode and hence sinning. For me the paradisiacal state involves knowing God and experiencing some sort of escape from the hardships of natural selection, including perhaps physical death, as well as having an increasing awareness and communion with God. How far this state got before all went literally to hell is beyond me.

    One other thing, I’ve read that the paradiasical state is in some way being written to mimic Israel’s state of being in the promised land and the fall a way of representing Israel’s exile. This interpretation all depends on the final dating of Genesis, but recapitulation of Adam’s sin is not just individual but also national, and I would say that Ro 3:23 is picking up more on the national element, i.e. that all nations have fallen short.
    Dan

  • Dan

    Steve,
    Whether it was a long or short paradisiacal state doesn’t matter much to me, as long as there was something to it. I just wouldn’t like the idea of humans evolving, having a vague concept of God, continuing in their self-preservation mode and hence sinning. For me the paradisiacal state involves knowing God and experiencing some sort of escape from the hardships of natural selection, including perhaps physical death, as well as having an increasing awareness and communion with God. How far this state got before all went literally to hell is beyond me.

    One other thing, I’ve read that the paradiasical state is in some way being written to mimic Israel’s state of being in the promised land and the fall a way of representing Israel’s exile. This interpretation all depends on the final dating of Genesis, but recapitulation of Adam’s sin is not just individual but also national, and I would say that Ro 3:23 is picking up more on the national element, i.e. that all nations have fallen short.
    Dan

  • Dan,
    I agreed in the original post (perhaps not explicitly enough) that God-consciousness was a revelation. How exactly this “first contact” went down I don’t know, but I expect it seemed not unlike the scene in Genesis 3.

    A national interpretation of the Fall was very likely to be the emphasis of the editor[s] of Genesis, and was almost certainly intended by whomever included the narrative to function as a reminder of, as I quoted from Boadt in Case Study, “a four-part story of sin, God’s warning punishments, divine mercy, and then further sin.” As far as Romans picking up on the national element, there’s definitely an excellent case to be made there, but regardless, early humanity would surely be included as some of “the nations”, would it not?

    Appreciate your input! Keep it coming…

  • Dan,
    I agreed in the original post (perhaps not explicitly enough) that God-consciousness was a revelation. How exactly this “first contact” went down I don’t know, but I expect it seemed not unlike the scene in Genesis 3.

    A national interpretation of the Fall was very likely to be the emphasis of the editor[s] of Genesis, and was almost certainly intended by whomever included the narrative to function as a reminder of, as I quoted from Boadt in Case Study, “a four-part story of sin, God’s warning punishments, divine mercy, and then further sin.” As far as Romans picking up on the national element, there’s definitely an excellent case to be made there, but regardless, early humanity would surely be included as some of “the nations”, would it not?

    Appreciate your input! Keep it coming…

  • Dan

    Steve,
    Thanks for clarifying your original post. I think we agree.

    As to the early humanity stuff, all humans begotten since the fall are the decendents of those that chose to sin, and they too all sin. You’re probably right that all them (at the fall) individually rebelled but I’m hesitant of pressing Ro 3 too much. Also not sure if this group would count as a nation or not, probably.

    (I remember at one time pressing Ro 8–creation groaning–into thinking that alien life was impossible since their part of the universe would also be corruptible and hence they would’ve unfairly been infected by the disaster of Adam’s fall. Not saying you are guilty of such logic BTW. Your point is much more subtle.)

    Interesting, that with the national interpretation of the fall, as you call it, there are layers of meaning to Ge 1-11. Paul, in retelling the fall brings his own layer of meaning as well, which is supportive of the fact that the original layer need not be exactly, factually accurate in order for all the layers to be used by the Spirit in making us holy and wise unto salvation.
    Dan

  • Dan

    Steve,
    Thanks for clarifying your original post. I think we agree.

    As to the early humanity stuff, all humans begotten since the fall are the decendents of those that chose to sin, and they too all sin. You’re probably right that all them (at the fall) individually rebelled but I’m hesitant of pressing Ro 3 too much. Also not sure if this group would count as a nation or not, probably.

    (I remember at one time pressing Ro 8–creation groaning–into thinking that alien life was impossible since their part of the universe would also be corruptible and hence they would’ve unfairly been infected by the disaster of Adam’s fall. Not saying you are guilty of such logic BTW. Your point is much more subtle.)

    Interesting, that with the national interpretation of the fall, as you call it, there are layers of meaning to Ge 1-11. Paul, in retelling the fall brings his own layer of meaning as well, which is supportive of the fact that the original layer need not be exactly, factually accurate in order for all the layers to be used by the Spirit in making us holy and wise unto salvation.
    Dan

  • I have my own thoughts about the creation groaning. I don’t think we’re looking in the right place if we believe Romans 8 is a promise that “creation” in the sense of nature would be redeemed. As I wrote earlier about Romans 8:

    vv. 20-21 “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” Some assume that Paul’s word “creation” refers to the entirety of (physical) creation. Yet this manifestly cannot be: that which is liberated is brought into the freedom of the children of God! Are rocks, trees, and water going to one day turn into the children of God? No, although even this nonsensical view contradicts the predominate futurist view of the decimation of our world before the inauguration of the next! In actuality, the word ktisis does not always refer to the totality of (physical) creation, but refers to any thing that has been created. In fact, we see Paul using this word to refer to individual people when he says, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation” (ktisis again). Paul is referring to what he describes in verse 23 as “adoption as sons”: what we have here is something merely made being gloriously and graciously turned into a son.

    v. 22 “[For] we know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” Here, he extends his use of the word ktisis with the adjective pasa “all” to refer to an entirety, probably of the whole of creation in our common sense. But notice what happens next: he says that at that time the “whole creation” was suffering birth pains in its anticipation of something. Does this talk of pains of childbirth suffered by physical creation remind you of anything? I hope so! Jesus predicted, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains” (Matthew 24:7-8). Paul is describing a fulfillment in his “present time” of Jesus’ words predicting the “last days”! This is yet another quite obvious time statement substantiating the preterist position that Matthew 24 refers to the events culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.

    Funny how the topics of first things and last things (protology and eschatology) go hand-in-hand.

  • I have my own thoughts about the creation groaning. I don’t think we’re looking in the right place if we believe Romans 8 is a promise that “creation” in the sense of nature would be redeemed. As I wrote earlier about Romans 8:

    vv. 20-21 “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” Some assume that Paul’s word “creation” refers to the entirety of (physical) creation. Yet this manifestly cannot be: that which is liberated is brought into the freedom of the children of God! Are rocks, trees, and water going to one day turn into the children of God? No, although even this nonsensical view contradicts the predominate futurist view of the decimation of our world before the inauguration of the next! In actuality, the word ktisis does not always refer to the totality of (physical) creation, but refers to any thing that has been created. In fact, we see Paul using this word to refer to individual people when he says, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation” (ktisis again). Paul is referring to what he describes in verse 23 as “adoption as sons”: what we have here is something merely made being gloriously and graciously turned into a son.

    v. 22 “[For] we know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” Here, he extends his use of the word ktisis with the adjective pasa “all” to refer to an entirety, probably of the whole of creation in our common sense. But notice what happens next: he says that at that time the “whole creation” was suffering birth pains in its anticipation of something. Does this talk of pains of childbirth suffered by physical creation remind you of anything? I hope so! Jesus predicted, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains” (Matthew 24:7-8). Paul is describing a fulfillment in his “present time” of Jesus’ words predicting the “last days”! This is yet another quite obvious time statement substantiating the preterist position that Matthew 24 refers to the events culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.

    Funny how the topics of first things and last things (protology and eschatology) go hand-in-hand.

  • Hi Steve,
    Some more good stuff to chew on re: the historicity of the fall. So thanks (from someone still sitting on the fence on this one).

    A (somewhat tangential) comment on the title – and I realize this might be a semantic knit-pick. Not sure I like a “Theology of Evolution” – seems we are giving too much space for Evolution to lead our thinking. (Not that I’m saying you do this, just that the phrase can be construed in this manner). Kind of like Michael Dowd’s “Evolutionary Christianity” – Mike had a post on his blog a while back on that. I like the phrase “Theological Implications of Evolution” better – or even better, Keith Millers “Theological Implications of an Evolving Creation” ie. Acknowledging that we need to grapple with the doctrinal implications, but also implying that the scientific theory (no matter how accurate) is not and never will be the center of our thinking.

  • Hi Steve,
    Some more good stuff to chew on re: the historicity of the fall. So thanks (from someone still sitting on the fence on this one).

    A (somewhat tangential) comment on the title – and I realize this might be a semantic knit-pick. Not sure I like a “Theology of Evolution” – seems we are giving too much space for Evolution to lead our thinking. (Not that I’m saying you do this, just that the phrase can be construed in this manner). Kind of like Michael Dowd’s “Evolutionary Christianity” – Mike had a post on his blog a while back on that. I like the phrase “Theological Implications of Evolution” better – or even better, Keith Millers “Theological Implications of an Evolving Creation” ie. Acknowledging that we need to grapple with the doctrinal implications, but also implying that the scientific theory (no matter how accurate) is not and never will be the center of our thinking.

  • Dan

    At some time we’ll have to address Ro 8 as I realize you are an FP. Have you read Wright’s Resurrection and the Son of God?

  • Dan

    At some time we’ll have to address Ro 8 as I realize you are an FP. Have you read Wright’s Resurrection and the Son of God?

  • Steve,
    Duly noted. I typed this one out pretty quick and threw a title in there at the last minute without much thought. I agree with your misgivings, but also was dissatisfied with what sounded like a definitive statement (it could have been a book title) although my post is merely toe-dipping into the subject.

    Dan,
    I have not read Wright’s book. I am somewhat famiiiar with his position, though, from second-hand sources. For instance, I’ve read this review and response from a preterist. Looking forward to dialogue!

  • Steve,
    Duly noted. I typed this one out pretty quick and threw a title in there at the last minute without much thought. I agree with your misgivings, but also was dissatisfied with what sounded like a definitive statement (it could have been a book title) although my post is merely toe-dipping into the subject.

    Dan,
    I have not read Wright’s book. I am somewhat famiiiar with his position, though, from second-hand sources. For instance, I’ve read this review and response from a preterist. Looking forward to dialogue!