February 27, 2020

Jesus as the New Adam

Psalm 8, Prigge

Psalm 8, Prigge

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

      So God created humankind in his image,
      in the image of God he created them;
      male and female he created them.

God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

• Genesis 1:26-28 (NRSV)

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?

Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

• Psalm 8:3-8 (NRSV)

The disciples of John reported all these things to him. So John summoned two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” When the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’” Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

• Luke 7:18-23 (NRSV)

As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, but we do see Jesus…

• Hebrews 2:8-9 (NRSV)

• • •

Yesterday, in our discussion of N.T. Wright’s essay on Adam and Paul’s gospel, the question was asked, “What was the vocation that Adam and Eve failed to live up to, but that Jesus fulfilled?” 

I would like to explore that a bit today. One thing I’ve always liked about Wright’s perspective is that it leads, in my view, to a fuller and richer Christology. In particular, it helps me realize how the life and ministry of Jesus is important. In my evangelical life, the focus was almost always on Jesus’ death and resurrection. We didn’t spend much time in the Gospels, and when we did I usually found our understanding of why Jesus traveled around Palestine teaching and healing to be vague and rather insubstantial. This led, I believe, to an impoverished gospel.

Jesus came as “the last Adam” (1 Cor 15:45). One thing I take this to mean is that Jesus came to fulfill the vocation which Adam failed to fulfill. Humans were created, Genesis tells us, to live in God’s blessing as his image in the world, his priestly representatives who were to extend his blessing throughout the world. As we have seen in our study of Walton’s book and in other posts, God made the world a “good” (ordered) place, a cosmic temple in which he would dwell with humans and give them gifts of life and wisdom to “rule” the world. Because the work of creation was incomplete and chaos (forces of non-order and of “surd evil”) was also present within creation, God called humans to “subdue” the world as part of their priestly calling.

The Jewish teaching of Tikkun Olam emphasizes this as well. The Ari taught:

At the beginning of time, God’s presence filled the universe. When God decided to bring the world into being, to make room for creation, He contracted Himself by drawing in His breath, forming a dark mass. Then God said, Let there be light (Gen. 1:3) and ten holy vessels came forth, each filled with primordial light.

God sent forth the ten vessels like a fleet of ships, each carrying its cargo of light. But the vessels—too fragile to contain such powerful Divine light—broke open, scattering the holy sparks everywhere.

Had these vessels arrived intact, the world would have been perfect. Instead, God created people to seek out and gather the hidden sparks, wherever we can find them. Once this task is completed, the broken vessels will be restored and the world will be repaired.

In an intriguing piece at his blog, Ron Rolheiser contemplates how this original vocation of human beings fits with the understanding of biological evolution. He discusses how “the survival of the fittest” is only one part of evolution’s story. As Rolheiser puts it, nature itself is not “interested” in becoming a one-dimensional place where only the “strong” exist. Everywhere we see evidence of an advantageous complexity that is only possible when the “strong” and the “weak” and everything in between coexist in various kinds of harmonies and partnerships. However, nature by itself shows a “cruelty,” an entropy that also works against such harmonization. It is the task of humans, the most evolved of creatures, says Rolheiser, to assist nature by doing what nature cannot always do for herself: ensure the survival and flourishing of the weak. To use John Walton’s terminology, in partnership with God humans continue the task of bringing order to chaos and of redeeming disorder so that it becomes ordered anew.

When God created human beings at the beginning of time, God charged them with the responsibility of “dominion”, of ruling over nature. What’s contained in that mandate is not an order or permission to dominate over nature and use nature in whatever fashion we desire. The mandate is rather that of “watching over”, of tending the garden, of being wise stewards, and of helping nature do things that, in its unconscious state, it cannot do, namely, protect and nurture the weak….

“Evolution’s Ultimate Wisdom”

Now think of Jesus:

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. (Matthew 4:23-24, NRSV)

What was Jesus doing here but bringing order to non-order and disorder? Bringing wholeness and shalom in place of chaos? He was fulfilling the vocation God had originally bestowed upon human beings at creation. Here is Jesus, the new Adam, ruling over his world in love, subduing the strong forces that were feeding on the weak and the poor.

We also know that Jesus worked miracles in nature, showing power over the forces of chaos and non-order (Matt 8:23-27). We read that he not only healed bodily infirmities but also pronounced forgiveness of sins, redeeming people from the disorder of personal, moral, and spiritual alienation (Matt 9:2-8). In all this, Jesus was doing more than just “showing he was God” (the answer we used to get when we asked why all this was important). Yes, he was presenting himself to Israel as her Messiah, demonstrating that he was Emmanuel, God who had come to be with them to save them from exile. But there was more to that simple explanation than meets the eye.

Jesus was pointing to what God intended human life and life in this creation to be about: shalom — wholeness, peace, dignity, harmony, restored relationships. A world made right. With each healing, exorcism, pronouncement of cleansing, restoration of wholeness, and with each teaching that stimulated hope and imagination and wonder, Jesus brought a few pixels on the screen of this world into focus so that one could see life for what it was meant to be. A few more sparks were gathered. A few more of the weak were protected and nurtured. A few more cells in the body of the universe became healthy again. Non-order became ordered. Disorder was demolished and replaced by an embrace.

Jesus was acting as Adam and Eve and all humans were meant to act from the beginning, extending God’s blessing to the chaotic little corners of his community.

Of course, by the time Jesus came, disorder had spread and developed in countless ways so that it became part and parcel of the very fabric of life and creation. “The whole world [was lying] under the power of the evil one” (1John 5:19). In order to break the absolute dominion of death by which the evil one held us enslaved, Jesus took death upon himself. I like the way Dana put it in the comments yesterday: “In his complete identification with us in death, the lowest point to which one can go, as God he disarmed death. He had to ‘get into’ death in order to smash it from the inside out.” On the cross Jesus faced the forces of chaos and disorder and absorbed all their dark power. As Alan Lewis said, “God has begun to conquer death not by omnipotent annihilation of the enemy but through submission to its clutches.”

In his triumphant resurrection, then, Jesus became the firstborn of the new creation, representative of a new humanity and a new creation. The evidence of that “newness” in our lives and in our world is often scanty, we must admit. Just as Jesus’ ministry was small and obscure, localized in a way that few appreciated it, even so people today who become new in him by grace through faith begin gathering sparks little by little, finding the lost here and there, comforting that lonely one, protecting the weak who are off the radar, and advocating for those hungering and thirsting for justice, whose voices are rarely heard.

As new “Adams and Eves” in Christ we are not called to spectacular, public triumph, but rather to trust in God’s wisdom and not our own, to exercise “dominion” by laying down our lives as Jesus did, and planting seeds as small as mustard seeds that shall one day produce abundant harvests of righteousness because God’s life and love and blessing are in them.

Comments

  1. Robert F says

    “It is the task of humans, the most evolved of creatures, says Rolheiser, to assist nature by doing what nature cannot always do for herself: ensure the survival and flourishing of the weak.”

    Ironically, though, it is often by ensuring the survival and flourishing of the weak that we throw the delicate, imperfect and wobbly balance of nature off. For instance, I survived childhood pneumonia, along with many other children like me who were born in 20th century, because the human race has worked so hard and long against illness by the development of medical science. But there is no doubt that my survival and the survival of all those others who would have succumbed to childhood diseases, to nature, at any earlier time has contributed to the problem of global overpopulation with all its attendant complications. That is, in fulfilling its vocation in this area by protecting the weak and vulnerable against the cruelty and indifference of nature, human beings have caused unintended consequences that actually seem to undermine the fragile order of nature and generate new problems that are not easy to fix.

    I’m not arguing against helping the weak and vulnerable. I think as Christians and human beings this is an obligation. I’m merely pointing out that our efforts seem not, overall, to be completing the ordering of nature, but just the opposite, to be disordering it in rapid and hard to control ways.

    I can think of the exploitation of energy resources that humanity is practicing, in the effort to provide for the flourishing of human life, as another way in which our attempts to make things better for more and more people actually disorders nature in ways we seem at a loss to fix.

    • Valid observation. But perhaps improvements in “overcoming the fall” (I would probably use language like ‘securing Maslow’s first two or three levels’) need to be accompanied by an elevation of consciousness? That is to say, we understand the evil of, e.g. pneumonia, and we also understand the evils of over-populaiton and centralized population control. But what if people agreed to have less children, without coercion? This sounds like an elevation of consciousness to me. I suppose another way of saying this is that our ethics have to grow in proportion with our technology.

    • flatrocker says

      Robert,
      You raise some far reaching provocative thoughts. These thoughts lead to one of our modern challenges as we wrestle with the bigger questions like “what’s the point of it all” and “where is this all leading.” And how we have bought into the notion that all of our progress is ever upward and onward. Maybe our whole paradigm is skewed. Maybe it’s not so much about an ever ongoing material improvement in our lives as much as it is coming to grips with the reality that suffering is part of our existence. Try as we might, with all of our modern advances, we have not eliminated this reality. We simply have traded one brand for another.

      We have worked very hard to stop dying from something as simple as an abscessed tooth along with a myriad of other medial miracles. And by consequence we have taken away the associated pain and misery it caused not only to the victim but also to their loved ones. But in our enormous medical successes and material excesses, have we simply supplanted this with other forms of suffering and misery – epidemic levels of anxiety, depression, diabetes, heart disease, etc, etc?

      Whatever the future holds, whether it is in the melting of the polar ice caps or the lurking of a viral superbug, we will continue to be faced with misery and suffering. Just as our ancestors did, just as we do and just as our children will do – suffering is part of our existence.. The question becomes what are we to do with this? Do we find purpose in this reality or do we simply chalk it up to “sometimes sh@# just happens”? And the danger, I think with the “sh@# just happens” approach is that it leads to numbness at best or despair at worst – or maybe to our own personal brand of hedonism. I prefer to look for another purpose in this reality.

    • Dana Ames says

      Well, Robert, I for one am glad you survived.

      I agree with Dr Fundy re ethic. And the overpopulation problem you cite is, to me, a perfect example of how we are, by means of a love-based ethic and as truly human beings, to “assist nature by doing what nature cannot always do for herself: ensure the survival and flourishing of the weak” by “protecting the weak who are off the radar, and advocating for those hungering and thirsting for justice, whose voices are rarely heard.” It has been shown over and over again that when women (still the largest group of people in the world who are viewed and treated as “weak”) are educated, the size of families is reduced, without coercion. So: educate the women! That is all about advocating, and about ethic.

      Dana

    • But Robert, are the places with the overpopulation the places where the suffering and mortality has been the most reduced?

  2. My first reading of what you wrote had me thinking of the Charismatic Church I attend. They outside and some inside call it Charismatic and some of it does strike me as a little kooky. That being said if any neighborhood I have ever lived in is normal then I really have no idea what normal is. It would seem every type of character including myself have been there. IMO our church isn’t full blown into what might be the outer fringes of Charismatic but more to the middle or opposite side of that. I really can’t place a box over it. Having been to Lutheran churches I have heard the word of God there. The hymns from the 1500’s were a little hard to follow at the one.

    Okay that was just background and qualifying where I’m at. In all of this the picture I keep getting is the creation story starts in Genesis but never ends until we see the fulfillment in Christ. All of the in between is Qualifying to where God is at and what He is doing through us. The NT becomes the witness to such a love and is something that we build on with our own individual story being printed even as I speak. The pages at the end of the Bible are the blank ones we ourselves are writing out with our Author whose names He holds in a book of life. I wish I could show you in the blinking of an eye all that is held within my own and all that He has shed upon me both in His blood and and in His love. Peace, Shalom and rest are not so static as they are our weapons of dominion. Sometimes for me they are hard to grasp in situations I myself am not capable of dealing with. I so need HIm. My hope is always that in the forever I get the chances to be what I was meant to be touching all of creation with the hands of my heart that I so ache to do now.

    This Christ is all my hope and it is His story that He invites me into. Help me Lord, I want to be part of it.

    • On a side note Charles I have not seen you and you have been on my mind a lot. Please say hello so I know you’re okay

      • Hey Bill~ Taking a break from posting while I sort out some issues here. Enough on my plate as it is without that. I am here every day absorbing the good, which is overwhelmingly the majority. You are part of that good and a needed balance, I read everything you write with prayers and blessings sent your way. Many good people here, the best the internet has to offer in my view. I’m okay, a lot to work on right now. You know how to reach me if need be. Take care, be blessed. ~Charley

  3. “One thing I’ve always liked about Wright’s perspective is that it leads, in my view, to a fuller and richer Christology. In particular, it helps me realize how the life and ministry of Jesus is important. In my evangelical life, the focus was almost always on Jesus’ death and resurrection. We didn’t spend much time in the Gospels, and when we did I usually found our understanding of why Jesus traveled around Palestine teaching and healing to be vague and rather insubstantial. This led, I believe, to an impoverished gospel.”

    This is a great summary of the ‘problem’ with much evangelical theology, which does lead to an impoverished gospel. The gospels are treated as simply the ‘backstory’ to ‘Paul’s gospel’ (which is what really matters). This reminds me of one of the stand-out paragraphs from Wright’s ‘Jesus and the Victory of God’ (of which I hear echoes in the quote above).

    “The reformers had very thorough answers to the question ‘why did Jesus die?’; they did not have nearly such good answers to the question ‘why did Jesus live?’ Their successors have not often done any better. But the question will not go away. If the only available answer is ‘to give some shrewd moral teaching, to live an exemplary life, and to prepare for sacrificial death’, we may be forgiven for thinking it a little lame. It also seems, as we shall see, quite untrue to Jesus’ own understanding of his vocation and work.’

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      The gospels are treated as simply the ‘backstory’ to ‘Paul’s gospel’ (which is what really matters).

      And both are treated as simply the backstory to Calvin’s Institutes or Reverend Apostle Pastor Joe Soap’s latest book.

  4. The gospels are treated as simply the ‘backstory’ to ‘Paul’s gospel’ (which is what really matters).

    This describes so much of the Evangelical culture I’ve grown up in. No preacher in this culture would ever say it, but we preach and live as if what John the Baptist said about Christ (“There is one coming after me who is mightier than I…”), Christ might have said about Paul.

    I love Paul, to the extent that he points us to Christ. But, like C.S. Lewis’s dog, too often Paul points us to Christ and we just sit there sniffing Paul’s finger.

  5. Hi Mike –

    Catholic lurker here (converted 11 years ago after being raised in the Episcopal church). I found your comment about not reading the Gospels frequently as an evangelical fascinating as it confirms my own experience growing up in the Bible belt. Once my girlfriend in high school (Assembly of God) asked what my favorite book of the Bible was and I said the Gospels and she was shocked and couldn’t understand why. Could you speak to why that tendency among Evangelicals exists? It certainly is unusual from a Catholic / Orthodox (and maybe other non-evangelical Protestant perspective.

    • I think a lot of it has to do with Western mindset, and particularly the Protestant emphasis on ‘theology’, which, in evangelical circles has to do with ‘certainty’ (which, ironically is the opposite of faith). Paul is seen as a logical and systematic thinker (which is probably not entirely true – none of his letters contain a ‘systematic’ exposition of the faith) and it’s easy to create bullet points and outlines from his letters. His letters are didactic (for the most part) and are more straightforward ‘teaching’. The gospels, on the other hand, are narratives, and it’s much harder to get ‘theology’ from narrative. It IS there, but it requires more appreciation of ancient culture and therefore more work.

      It probably also has much to do with the influence of Dispensationalism, which tends to view the gospels as ‘old testament’. For example, the note on Matt 5 (Sermon on the Mount) in the old Scofield Bible says:

      “In this sense it gives the divine constitution for the righteous government of the earth. Whenever the kingdom of heaven is established on earth it will be according to that constitution. . . . In this sense the Sermon on the Mount is pure law, and transfers the offence from the overt act to the motive. . . . For these reasons, the Sermon on the Mount in its primary application gives neither the privilege nor the duty of the Church. These are found in the Epistles.”

      • Christiane says

        Hi GREG,
        I found that reference also, this:

        “Similarly, in his introduction to the Gospels, Scofield imposes stark divisions before and after Calvary which lead him to the following assertions:
        The mission of Jesus was, primarily, to the Jews… The Sermon on the Mount is law, not grace… The doctrines of Grace are to be sought in the Epistles not in the Gospels.[[51]] ”

        http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article4531.htm

        Greg, I have wondered why the Southern Baptists set Christ aside as the lens through which to evaluation sacred Scripture . . . (the Baptist Faith & Message 2K) . . .

        is it possible that the leader (s) who implemented this restructuring of Southern Baptist ‘creed’ were secret Darby/Scofield followers ?

        honestly, the way that the phrase ‘the gospel’ is used by some Southern Baptist ministers hasn’t got much to do with the four Holy Gospels of the sacred Scriptures,
        so I think there might have been some Scofield devotees among those who were behind the changes adopted into the 2000 BF&M

        How did Scofield get away with all this? Talk about allowing a wolf into the fold. Good grief. Not only was he allowed in, his footnotes are now quoted by many as faithfully as they quote scripture. Maybe Scofield filled a ‘need’ to substitute the words of St. Paul AS ‘the word of God’, rather than the scriptural voice of Christ, Who actually spoke and acted in the very Person of God in sacred Scripture.

        Truth is, the epistles of St. Paul lend themselves to manipulation far better than the actual words of Christ in sacred Scripture. When people quote Paul, they can say ‘in other words’, and give their own interpretations;
        but when Christ is quoted, there are no ‘in other words’ needed: His Words stand on their own.

  6. Christiane says

    the evocative Psalm 8 graphic prompted memories of this strange poem:

    “I saw Eternity the other night,
    Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
    All calm, as it was bright;
    And round beneath it, Time in hours, days, years,
    Driv’n by the spheres
    Like a vast shadow mov’d; in which the world
    And all her train were hurl’d. . . ” (Henry Vaughan, 1621-1695)

  7. A few random thoughts.

    Re: tikkun olam and Rolheiser and Wright, this is the kind of deep theological thinking that I think is possible and necessary for the origins debate to move beyond “defending” the “historicity” of the Bible to something more. There’s a lot to think through here. Thanks for bringing this to the table Chap Mike.

    I get that the focus here is on vocation, but I have a tough time not looking at theodicy. It’s the elephant in the room. Is that going to be discussed head on?