Failure: Fallen or Finite?
Friday, October 15, 2010By Steven H. VanderLeest
Does metal always fail when we pull it apart with enough force? In our human experience, yes. Is this inevitable failure a result of the fall – a dramatic demonstration of the power of sin and the groaning of creation? Or is it instead inherent in the original creation – an intrinsic property of the good world that God granted us? Maybe it isn’t a failure at all. Maybe metal bars are supposed to break in two if you pull hard on the ends.
I’ve sometimes heard shalom described as “the way things ought to be” as some reflection of the good in original creation or the good in the coming new heavens and new earth. But I’m having trouble teasing out how this applies to the physical materials we have in the creation around us.
I think there is probably a difference between fall (effects due to the sinful state of man) and finiteness (limitations because we are creatures). I am guessing that it is important to recognize these two as distinct because we are called to fight the former but accept the latter. In fact, if we do not accept our limitations as creatures (i.e., created beings that were “made” as part of the creation), then we have fallen into the sin of pride (thinking more of ourselves than we ought) or perhaps negligence (omitting appropriate care and understanding to work within one’s competence).
So are there defects in the physical world that are the result of sin? Were stones stronger before the fall? Did wood have knots in it before the fall? Could sand have been formed into better silicon wafers with a perfect crystalline structure before sin came into the world? Was iron lighter and resisted oxidation (rusting) before Eve and Adam ate the apple?
Most of the Biblical language I can identify regarding sin and the Fall applies most directly to humans. But Romans 8:20-21 seems to speak to the effects of sin on the rest of creation. Here it is in two different translations:
- 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. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
(Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION (R). Copyright (c) 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.)
- For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.
(Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE (R), Copyright (c) 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.)
It seems that this passage is telling us about how sin has affected all of creation. But it is hard for me to identify what that evil effect is (compared to the intrinsic and good properties intended by the Creator). What seems bad to me in one sense is good in another sense. For example, I might desire a very sheet of metal. But I don’t want it so strong that I cannot cut a sheet of it into a desired shape or then bend it into a form. I must admit that I have always been a bit frustrated that the Genesis account of creation is so short. I wish I knew more about what God intended. When he declared the creation to be good, I wonder what changed after the fall. I wish my vision were not so clouded so that it is so hard to know what is good (and of course that is largely the effect of sin on my own thinking, but perhaps also partly my finiteness). The vision of the new heavens and the new earth at the end of Revelations is also tantalizing yet very brief. My entry this week is thus probably not very satisfying – I have lots of questions and few answers. But I hope it is food for thought!