October 22, 2020

Non-Order, Order, Disorder

Two paintings called "The Human Condition," Magritte

Two paintings called “The Human Condition,” Magritte

I was thinking we might finish John Walton’s book today, but I had brain cramp trying to put a final post together, so I’ll save that for another day. In the meantime, I’d like to get the community’s input on one of Walton’s propositions that we haven’t discussed yet.

Here we will be dealing with theological concepts rather than questions about “historicity” or the literalness vs. archetypal nature of Adam and Eve. I think Walton’s ideas on what we will discuss today have some genuine possibilities, and may capture some things I myself have been trying to say about how Genesis, particularly the “creation” and “fall” narratives, work.

Here is his view in a nutshell, and then I’ll let Walton himself explain it.

  • Genesis 1:2 describes the world existing in a non-ordered state.
  • The subsequent seven days of creation describe God bringing some good order to this world. (Note: each bold word is important — some. good. order. The world was not completely ordered but the order God gave to it was good in that it became a sacred space in which God and humans together could continue the work of ordering the world: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion…” [Gen. 1:28] )
  • The story of Adam and Eve shows how humans introduced disorder by attempting to gain wisdom apart from God in order to become the center and source of order rather than maintain their relationship with God.

Here is Walton’s own explanation:

God’s creative work is defined as bringing order to this non-ordered existence. This will be carried out in stages through a process. Even as God brought order, there were aspects of non-order that remained. There was still a sea (though its borders had been set); there was still darkness. There was an outside the garden that was less ordered than inside the garden. The order that God brought focused on people in his image to join with him in the continuing process of bringing order, but more importantly on ordering the cosmos as sacred space. Yet, this was just the beginning.

This initial ordering would not have eliminated natural disasters, pain or death. We do not have to think of these as part of the ordered world, though they are not beyond God’s control, and often they can be identified with positive results. All non-order will not be resolved until the new creation. In Revelation 21 we are told that there will be “no longer any sea” (Rev 21:1), no pain or death (Rev 21:4) and no darkness (Rev 21:23-25). There is no temple because God’s presence will pervade all of it (Rev 21:3, 22), not just just concentric circles radiating through zones of diminishing sacredness. God will be with humanity and be their God (Rev 21:3). This is not a restoration of Eden or the return to a pre-fall condition. New creation is characterized by a level of order that has never before existed.

In this sort of thinking, pain and death do not have to be considered part of what is “good” (= ordered; see ch. 5). These are aspects that have not yet been finally resolved into a fully ordered world. The world before the fall was a combination of order and non-order with a strategy launched to continue bringing order. That progress toward order, however, was set back by the entrance of disorder. The serpent, as a chaos creature, was part of the non-ordered world. Its interference, however, launched disorder when people decided they themselves desired to be the source and center of wisdom and order.

This sort of understanding now offers explanation of the statement made in the last chapter. With people as the source and center of wisdom, the result was not order centered on them but disorder in which sin reigned. They were incapable of establishing order on their own with themselves as the center. The disorder this introduced extended to all people of all time, as well as to the cosmos, and life in God’s presence was forfeited.

Therefore, first of all, we now live in a world characterized in part by non-order because it remains in process of being ordered — a process that is hampered because humans have not filled the role for which they were created. This non-order is reflected in natural disasters, disease and pain, among many other things. Sin is not the cause of all of these aspects of our current situation, but they demonstrate human inability to enforce order within creation….

Second, we also live in a world characterized by order, because that is what creation established. We enjoy not only the benefits of the order that God brought and continues to bring but the benefits of kingdom order established through the work of Christ. Furthermore, humans have brought the benefits of order throughout history through discovery and invention, technology, and industry. These very same human advances that bring order, however, also bring disorder because we too often proceed with our own selfish ends guiding us (ourselves the center of order) rather than recognizing that we are stewards of sacred space.

Consequently, and third, we also live in a world characterized by disorder. This disorder is found in the way that we harm the environment, the ways that we harm one another and the ways that we harm ourselves. Disorder is the result of sin, and it continues to reflect our inability to be as good as we were designed to be. Among its many deleterious effects, sin has made us low-functioning creatures, and the paltry order that we manage to bring is a caricature of what God has intended for us. All of creation groans (Rom 8:19-22) in this state of delayed order and rampant disorder, the latter being the result of sin. That sin is most basically manifested in the idea that we thought we could do better than God — a delusion that still plagues all of us.

• from The Lost World of Adam and Eve
by John Walton, pages 150-152

Based on this interpretation, in subsequent chapters Walton will be forced (as I was last year in a series I did called, “Fall or Folly?”) to question the traditional Augustinian understanding of “the fall.” He ends up coming much closer to traditional Jewish interpretations of the text, which view it not as a story about a fall from perfection but rather a failure to become wise according to God’s way of gaining wisdom: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Furthermore, his explanation of the original, incomplete ordering of creation and humankind’s calling to partner with God in bringing completeness to the world approaches the Jewish teaching of Tikkun Olam that we have discussed here. Human beings were created to be God’s representatives (“in his image”), bringing order to a world not yet fully complete.

Finally, I especially like the way John Walton says that Adam and Eve’s sin did not cause all the imperfections of the world (many of which are simply due to the incomplete nature of the original “creation”). However, human sin affects our ability to fully participate in the ordering of creation and, indeed, we regularly make things worse. Even our best efforts are marked by our alienation from God and one another and the tendency we have to lean on our own wisdom.

Romans 8 says that creation is eagerly awaiting “the revealing of the children of God” (8:19).

Let that soak in for a moment.

Creation is not simply waiting for God to intervene and bring complete order to the cosmos.

Creation is eagerly waiting for humans to be what God created them to be: God’s representatives who bring nothing but blessing, healing, and order to the world.

Jesus resolved the disorder problem of sin by reconciling humans to God and calling us into a process of reordering our lives around him together in the Spirit. The Church is now God’s sign of his plan to re-order the entire cosmos in and through Christ and to bring about a new creation where justice (a wholly ordered world) and peace (a wholly reconciled humanity) reign.


  1. Joseph (the original) says

    The Church is now God’s sign of his plan to re-order the entire cosmos in and through Christ and to bring about a new creation where justice (a wholly ordered world) and peace (a wholly reconciled humanity) reign.

    is this the better way to express what the Church universal represents? it’s a divine sign? couldn’t a more descriptive term have been selected?

    the Church is the working out of God’s cosmic ‘reset’ button culminating in the death and resurrection of The Christ. but the Church in all its janky quirkiness still expresses much of the ‘chaos’ (dysfunction) that plagues all of mankind, sinner and saint alike…


    is the Church the divine experiment of establishing a workshop/hospital where the beginnings of the new order are attempted???

    i think the idealistic understanding of what the Church should be mirrors the uber-bucolic setting of Eden, but all of us that have any experience with real world church dynamics recognize immediately this is not the case…

    how does the concept of the Church in all of its imperfect glory truly represent God’s best intentions???

    i think there must be a real world acceptance of how dysfunction (yes, there are degrees) in both the individual saint and the corporate communion of saints can be acknowledged without denial, yet somehow, still embody the ongoing work of transformation/re-creation/sanctification that is recognizable both without and within this eclectic group of believers.

    the tension of the kingdom being both here and not yet perfected makes for a continued challenge of representing that kingdom rightly to a needy world. justice and reconciliation can be God’s ultimate desire, or purpose, for all of creation, but how is that lived out where the action/behavior of the Church does not need a disclaimer, or explanation, for its failure to do so??? is this grand idealism of justice and reconciliation going to be the exception rather than the rule throughout all of human history???

    does anyone think that the kingdom principles of justice and reconciliation will influence human hearts, human governments, human businesses, etc. to such a degree as to make a truly revolutionary impact on every element of human interaction???

    or will there only be ‘good’ influences scattered throughout an otherwise wild and ever increasing chaotic world system bent on self destruction???

  2. This post was the result of you having a “brain cramp”? I hope you have MORE of them then because THIS post was excellent! I’m thinking of all the people I know who might benefit from this line of thinking. You’ve got my mind buzzing!

    • Yes, Chaplain Mike, I think at the end of this series it would be useful if you could add an index at the top of each one with links to each article.


    • Agreed. Whether I fully agree with “non-order, order, disorder,” it’s an interesting idea to examine, and I like all the stuff you’ve brought into it, CM.

  3. If natural disaster, pain and death are the result of part of creation not having been ordered yet, as Walton says, then they are a characteristic of the chaos from which God made cosmos; if the chaos (lack of order) from which God made cosmos (which contains both leftover chaotic lack of order and imposed order) is also God’s creation, then God created natural disaster, pain and death by leaving lack of order (chaos) in a partially ordered world.

    How can the conditions that God created, including natural disaster, pain and death, not be considered good? Is the chaos which God created not also “good”? Did God create something that was not “good” before he created anything “good”? And if chaos was not created by God, where did it come from? Who created it? If it has always existed alongside God, and God did not create it, isn’t it possible that ultimately he will not be able to completely order it, or undo disorder? Wouldn’t this in fact line up with our experience, even since the life, death and resurrection of Jesus?

    • I believe in the traditional doctrine of creation from nothing, not because the Bible shows it in Genesis, but because I believe that the God and Father of Jesus Christ is the source of everything. That means that, if the primordial chaos is something rather than nothing (which means that it never existed), then God created it as well as the cosmos.

      Questions of theodicy are merely pushed back a step by thinking of the chaos as something that God didn’t create, but, upon reflection, it’s apparent that he must have, or else there is a reality with self-existent being beside God. And since questions of the fall and God’s goodness and theodicy are all wrapped up together, I don’t see how this distinction among lack of order/order/disorder really helps.

      • If by “helps” you mean “answers all our questions” then no, it doesn’t help. From my reading of Scripture the Bible affirms two things simultaneously, without explaining how they come together:

        1. God created everything (Genesis 1:1)

        2. When God began to order his creation (Gen. 1:2), what Bruce Waltke calls “surd evil” and Walton calls “non-order” (and by the way, he also includes the demonic forces of chaos in this — God’s opponents in the “cosmic battle”) were present.

        The origin of evil and chaos and God’s relationship to it all is not explained in Scripture, and if a book like Job can be our guide, the answers are above the human pay grade.

      • Is God all-powerful in a poetic sense or in a math sense?

        • Dana Ames says

          What if it’s both? What if it’s neither?

          What if God is powerful because God is humble?


          • Dana, you just hit upon the spiritual element of the sci-fi book I’m almost done writing. I think I much prefer a God who knows when to keep power in his pocket than one who is all power, wrath and fury. That’s why I love the Hebrews line about Jesus being the exact representation of the Father. Humble servant as opposed to war-mongering savior.

        • Robert F says

          There is poetry in math; there is math in poetry. Without math, there could be no poetry; without poetry, there could be no math. If the power to create exhibited by God in the resurrection of Jesus has merely the power of a poem or of a math equation, then it is meaningless and impotent; if it does not include the power of a poem and a math equation, then it’s meaningless and impotent.

  4. “Romans 8 says that creation is eagerly awaiting ‘the revealing of the children of God’ (8:19).”

    The key word is “revealing”. In Jesus Christ, God has already achieved his goal for humanity; at his parousia, Jesus Christ will reveal the children of God by revealing himself and being fully and completely and manifestly present in creation. Jesus is humanity perfected and completed; we are perfected and completed in him.

  5. I just don’t get what all the fuss is about. We certainly have a hard time living with mystery. All the bible says is ” the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep”. I don’t read chaos into that at all. What I read is that God created out of nothing. I don’t get into the YEC or evolution arguments at all. I can live with ” and God said”. Anything else is a mere chasing after the wind.

    • David, no one is “reading chaos into” Genesis 1:2. That’s what the verse means. There are other places in Scripture where this phrase is used to describe the uninhabitable wilderness that is inhospitable to human life and flourishing, and parallels in ANE literature show that the ancient peoples saw this not merely as unformed nature, but hostile nature.

    • David I have a hard time living with mystery when it’s just an excuse to not do any hard thinking. Jacob wrestled with the angel and became Israel. Job questioned God and received a vision out of the whirlwind. No telling what might happen if you make a fuss.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        “Can’t be too careful stepping outside your door, Frodo. You never know where it might take you.”
        — Bilbo Baggins

  6. OldProphet says

    A lot of interesting chestnuts to chew on. I wonder what the families in the rubble of Nepal think? I’m sorry but theology and doctrine are important but in the department store of life those two items are the toy department. The people on the streets of Baltimore probably think so too.

    • Valid point. But maybe these ideas would help them cope with the rubble and “injustice” in their world. Maybe these ideas will help us (aka “me”) cope with the rubble and injustice when it comes our way.

    • OP, in my opinion this lays a theological foundation that encourages me to care more and take more responsibility to try and bring healing to the world and to make it a better place. As Paul said, the ultimate goal of Christian instruction is love, and this teaching motivates me much more deeply than the traditional Augustinian view of depravity.

      • I agree that the ultimate goal of Christian instruction is love. But is it the Augustinian view that depravity is the ultimate goal of Christian instruction ?

        • No. I’m just saying that a theology that over-stresses human inability to do good works, especially in its more popular forms, is not as good at encouraging significant involvement in the world.

          • Because you are literally incapable and unable to do ANY good work unless you are Spirit-filled.

            That’s a pretty narrow, damnable theology.

          • I agree, Chaplain Mike. I finally left the Presbyterian Church because the minister was a “reformed” Presbyterian, which apparently meant super-Calvinist in the popular form of “You’re a disgusting worm; you were born in sin and will always be sinful; you can’t do anything good; but anyway, God forgives you (probably) if you repent.” It sounded like a message from my past, and made me very sad, but not a bit incliined to do anything positive.

            Theodicy, in the sense of asking “Where does evil come from/How can God allow it?” used to really torment me, and sometimes still does. But in my happier mements, I ask myself: suppose I knew the answer? What difference would that make to what I *do* in this life? And if the answer is “no difference,” then I am teaching myself to ignore the question.

            For instance, a friend died, slowly and horribly, of a blood cancer. If I believed that cancer came from God (a la John Piper), what difference would it make to me as a Christian? If I believed it came from the devil? What difference? If I believed (as I do) that cancer just comes, to the just and unjust, good and bad, alike, without any supernatural involvement, again, what difference? As William James put it, A difference in belief must *make* a difference; it it doesn’t, “it may be indifferently affirmed or denied.” Where the rubber meets the road in life, many theological concepts fall into the “indifferent” category for me.

            Wherever my friend’s cancer came from, my duty as a Christian was clear, and I did it to the best of my ability: Visit her almost every day, and offer her what I could of cheer and hope if she wanted it, or of a sympathetic ear, if she wanted it. If I had believed the cancer came from God, then all that belief would have done is make me angry and bitter. (In any case, I hope I would have had the sense to shut up about that belief in her presence.)

            And I definitely agree with Oscar: “This post was the result of you having a “brain cramp”? I hope you have MORE of them then because THIS post was excellent!” Thank you!

      • I agree with wanting to make the world a better place through love. My drive to work this morning went by literally hundreds of dead animals by the highways I traveled and it was a long driving day. Last night on the mountain as I left feeding the cats and praying over them( because I can offer very little else and a very large hawk has been around) I stopped my truck on the road to shew a little morning dove off the road who left the nest a little early. A man drove by and said at the same time what more can we do.

        These posts don’t mean so much to me in the scope of how it is going to change my day. I wonder of the system I am caught up in and born into. I wonder of the depth to when a human was in right standing just like my hearty cat Will who I took from the streets starving thinking I could find him a home. How many times he has bitten me to the bone now and with special diet needs on top. He is still in right standing with me. He doesn’t always do right but he doesn’t really know it. Last night he got me again. I show him where the blood flows from me. He doesn’t get it. It was reaction and I have to do better. I cannot stop loving him. I just can’t.

        All day the creation waits the revealing is in my head then I read it here. I’m stuck in a system where everything seems upside down to me. I hurt inside because of it. I can’t get out of it. It has been here all my life. My only hope is in this Christ. I can’t help but think this creation story mirrors my life. That the depths are in each one of us.

        I went to the gym the other night. I was just driving a normal speed not doing anything wrong and a young fellow gets right on my bumper. I didn’t do anything but drive. Got to a light where we both had to stop and he pulls up beside and shoots me the finger and then again out the window. I say to my Lord how do I love through this. No really I want to know. Not appearances but inside my chest……really I want to know. My thoughts went to running him off the road and pulling him through the window and beating him and I can do it. I say to him I don’t want that thought…..At all ever. Show me how to have the thought of love. That’s what I want. First….. Can I do this…..This man who would stop and shew a small bird from the road has enough room in his heart wouldn’t you think? I want to take care of this beautiful creation with all my heart. Lord have mercy….So it was said if I absorb the young man’s wrath and bad day that maybe that’s a start. I hope so.. I can’t keep doing this.

        • Christiane says

          Hi W,

          I’m not sure we humans are geared to have what it takes to absorb the wrath of others, but I think we can be given the peace and the grace not to be angered by that wrath . . . if we understand something important, this:
          In truth, if you think about, among Christian people there is very little room for ‘being offended by others’ . . . not when we have sought forgiveness of our own sins made possible through the terrible sufferings of Christ for our sake. ‘Being offended by someone’ no longer has much meaning in our lives when we think on the grace we ourselves have received. I’m not exactly sure whether it’s a question of ‘love’ as in ‘not being offended by others’ OR if it’s a outpouring of grace when we are humbled by Christ’s forgiveness of our sins when we kneel at the foot of His Cross in need of His healing. Or maybe the two are not so different since the Source of all grace and all love is God Himself ?

          A thought about stopping to remove the baby dove from the danger of the road: that is a clear expression of great love, W. The truth is that, in a world where suffering is, no act of love is ‘too small’ or ‘too great’ for those who live ‘in Christ’.

          no act of love is ‘too small’ or ‘too great’ for those who live ‘in Christ’, in a world where suffering is

          • I see what your saying Christiane. It isn’t that I acted out it was my thought process. I want to know like a man knows a woman in marriage. I want to see within my own heart what He sees. He put me in right standing with Father and no one can take it from me. I’m asking. I might not ever get to put into words the answer and what I ask might not be the easiest thing to do or go through but I want to know. If Peter could walk on water on for a second then I believe He loves me like I love Will the cat even though my love for Will isn’t perfect….yet….I’m working on it. I believe that someone who said might have been you and I think it’s true. I’m still trying to work that out and thank you for posting if I haven’t said it before.

          • I know many never look again at old posts maybe you will see this. Last night it stormed here. Black as night and lightning strikes close by. This was how I first met Him in early spring. I wrote some verses down before leaving and I finished this morning. Didn’t Have time for a title yet and it’s off topic but you have a hand in it somehow. I don’t know how.

            Waterfalls inside storms sound
            On both bad and good alike
            The good glory that is found
            In the nature of the light

            Yet many look to inside self
            So many times it is I too
            Oh my lord I need your help
            Hoping in love I know is true

            Liberally in the way You give
            This is the way that I ask
            I need You to really live
            More than appointed task

            Inside this chest where You dwell
            Take down the walls for freedom’s room
            Where we go time will tell
            I hold the promise of the groom

            I ask and seek and I know
            Your faithfulness abides
            This seed of love surely grows
            This life a wondrous ride

            Now for the light to shine forth
            To break outside my chest
            For this is what is of worth
            And I have found the best

    • Did theology have any part to place in creating the mess in Baltimore?

      Seems like a short line from a very literal creation, very literal Genesis, curse of Ham, Ham’s descendants, a cursed line of men…slavery…civil war…jim crow…baltimore.

    • Great piece Chaplain Mike.


      I’ve also thought of Nepal while working thru this series of posts, and particularly as I figured that a discussion of theodicy & death would eventually happen.

      I read a post today that referenced David Bentley Hart’s “The Doors of the Sea: Where was God in the Tsunami” – written about the Indonesia tsunami, but it might as well be about the Haiti or Nepal earthquakes.

      In it he recounts the story of a Sri Lankan man who, with his family, survived the initial wave. He stayed afloat in the sea with his wife and mother-in-law on his back, but ultimately was unable to keep his wife or 4 children from being swept away to their deaths. Overcome with grief he said “My wife and children must have thought, ‘Father is here…he will save us’ but I couldn’t do it.” There’s no good explanation IMO, the appeal to human sin screwing up the physical cosmos, the divine plan or mystery, that God “suffers with you”, or that God just hasn’t finished “ordering” things yet.

      As much as the YEC battle over origins is about biblicism and fear and keeping the system intact, it’s also about theodicy. Key components of Walton’s “functional” theology here are that ”this initial ordering would not have eliminated natural disasters, or pain, or death” and that the world is “characterized in part by non-order because it remains in the process of being ordered – a process that is hampered because humans have not filled the role for which they were created”. So this sort of “chaos” seems to be the default mode of the cosmos. A certain “order” may have been given, but not order that immediately eliminated the death and destruction that had existed for ages. Instead it provided “very good” humans with the capacity to screw up (which we seemingly did instantly) suffer and die and recognize their helplessness in the face of it – it’s all just a part of realizing “order”.

      Walton may be right. I can’t say that I have my thoughts all worked out, but being that I don’t believe in a literal 6 day creation the theodicy questions are glaring. Hart says that there’s ultimately no meaning to suffering, no explanation. He says that God’s answer is Easter….resurrection. Just a hope that death will be destroyed and that in the meantime we can go on lamenting and hating it.

    • OP- this is pretty reductionist, don’t you think? Of course someone in Nepal doesn’t need an explanation of genesis 1 right now. Yet in five years someone who went through that tragedy might be delivered from a lot of destructive assumptions about God and suffering, and the attendant despair over their experience, by adjusting their hearing of the narrative. Also, if Walton is right, then this isn’t really ‘theology and doctrine’ per se, but the fundamental content of Scripture. It’s really hard to argue that the story of the Bible doesn’t help people in their suffering and need, no?

      • One might also argue that they needed to hear this stuff 5 years ago, to prepare them for 3 days ago.

      • Robert F says

        I think people are missing the boat here. The value of these thoughts about creation cannot be measured based on whether or not they would console people of a non-Christian nation in the aftermath of a terrible earthquake, but whether or not they inspire Christians to help order creation by assisting the peoples of a non-Christian nation in the aftermath of a terrible earthquake.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      “Could this not have been sold and the money given to the poor?”
      — Judas Iscariot

      • Robert F says

        If this post is not about helping order creation by, among other things, helping those in need, then I don’t know what it’s about.

  7. This brings to mind the apparently disconsonant tendencies of God. Creation/Destruction, Justice/Mercy etc. It goes to our deepest question: Why? Why create a world with the possibility (as happened last night in Denton Texas) of a man invading someone’s home and kidnapping a five year old boy. Why a world where ISIS can do its business? What is it that left the need, or forced the need for all these possibilities and in fact assured this outcome. The cross, which represents the grossest violation in the category of evil deeds because of the person crucified, was written in stone “before the foundation of the world”. This disorder could in no way have not happened. That’s the one that I hold in the pan and never finish cooking. It’s like God had no choice because we know that we ourselves would have balked at creating a world with those options in the mix. It’s a very great mystery for which I have heard and stated many answers but, like I said, just when I think it’s cooked I cut into it and it’s raw in the middle. Oddly, this doesn’t cause me to lose faith but instead causes me to continue searching. I don’t make having an answer a precondition for loving God. In fact, if I didn’t love God why would I even care about these mysteries? I wouldn’t. “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die,” would be the thinking, not “why do we die?”. I’ve cleared my schedule if He wants to have a sit down to rework this thing a little bit. I’ve been mulling over some good ideas. A lion will lay down with a lamb; no more tears; that sort of thing.

  8. Robert F says

    I don’t know what place lack of order/order/disorder play in creation, and I’m not convinced by all the ways it’s worked out in the post, but I do agree with this: It is a Christian responsibility to work for justice and peace.

    But let’s give OP his due: this discussion is merely abstract until we apply it in the ordinary world. Let’s ask ourselves this: in relation to the events that are unfolding in Baltimore, and across the nation, with regard to police brutality and racism, how should the American Christian, and specifically the affluent, white American Christian, work for justice and peace, thereby helping to complete God’s great creative act of ordering disorder?