December 11, 2019

Labor Day 2019 — Another Look: Adam and Eve – A Failure of Vocation

September Road (2018)

Labor Day 2019
Another Look: Adam and Eve – A Failure of Vocation

What the Bible offers is not a “works contract,” but a covenant of vocation. The vocation in question is that of being a genuine human being, with genuinely human tasks to perform as part of the Creator’s purpose for his world. The main task of this vocation is “image-bearing,” reflecting the Creator’s wise stewardship into the world and reflecting the praises of all creation back to its maker. Those who do so are the “royal priesthood,” the “kingdom of priests,” the people who are called to stand at the dangerous but exhilarating point where heaven and earth meet.

• N.T. Wright, The Day the Revolution Began

• • •

In the context of the biblical story, Adam is not so much the first sinner as he is the first failed savior.

What do I mean by that?

Here is my overview on how I have come to read the message about humans and God’s creation purposes for them in the book of Genesis.

  • Despite our common perception, the world we see in Genesis 1-2 is not a perfect world, devoid of sin and death.
  • God created adam to be his image in the world (that is, his priestly representative). This was (and is) the human vocation.
  • As his priestly representatives in the world, adam was to” “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” (Gen. 1:28). Thus, the vocation involved not only taking care of creation as God’s stewards, but also actively engaging and overcoming evil.
  • To summarize: from the beginning God chose humans, those who carry his “image” in the world, to repair the world (something like the Jewish concept of tikkun olam). The original mandate for humans is that we should represent God in the world and to work with him to rule over an unruly world and overcome evil and its effects on the world.
  • Adam and Eve were not the first humans, but they were the first representative humans to be called into this covenant vocation, that they might bring eternal life to the world (through the Tree of Life).
  • The story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden shows humankind’s failure to do that. They failed to exercise dominion over the creatures and subdue evil (as represented in the wiles and lies of the serpent).
  • They were thus exiled from Eden, thereby losing access to the Tree of Life for themselves and all their descendants, subjecting themselves and the world to the domination of sin, evil, and death.
  • This is, in microcosm, what the story of Israel and her leaders is about. Placed in God’s good land, and called to be a kingdom of priests and a light to the nations, Israel failed to keep God’s commandments and show the way of life to the world, and was ultimately cast into exile. Israel, like Adam, failed to live up to her vocation of giving the world access to the Tree of Life.
  • What Adam could not do, what Israel and all her patriarchs, prophets, priests, and kings could not do, Jesus did. Through his death, resurrection and ascension, he exercised dominion over the powers holding this world captive and subdued evil, restoring access to the Tree of Life for the whole world. “If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17).
  • Those who are “in Christ” now receive a foretaste of this: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). We read of the ultimate goal in John’s vision of the throne: you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth” (Revelation 5:10).

Behind all consideration of our “callings” as human beings to live in this world and care for it and each other by means of doing our work well and relating to others with love and regard, there is a “big picture” vocation from the story of creation that only Jesus the Messiah and Lord was able to accomplish and win back for us.

Like the first humans, we are called again to live in God’s blessing and life because Jesus exercised dominion over the powers of this world and subdued evil through his death and resurrection. Our “big picture” vocation has been restored. In Christ we once more enter into God’s creation mandate as we announce its restoration to the world. Jesus has made it possible for humans to live in this world as fully formed human beings and to repair the world. This is the life-giving good news we announce: Jesus’ victory and restoration of our vocation.

It will not be perfectly experienced until the restoration of all things, the new creation. But through Jesus-shaped lives, we begin to taste of the age to come.

Jesus’s followers themselves were to be given a new kind of task. The Great Jailer had been overpowered; now someone had to go and unlock the prison doors. Forgiveness of sins had been accomplished, robbing the idols of their power; someone had to go and announce the amnesty to “sinners” far and wide. And this had to be done by means of the new sort of power: the cross-resurrection-Spirit kind of power. The power of suffering love.

• N.T. Wright

Comments

  1. Dave Greene says

    Quite a different perspective here then in The Case for an Unfallen Creation, by Jon Garvey, that we have been following with Mike the Geologist. Hmm… which viewpoint to choose…

    • Not all that different, at least from my perspective. “Unfallen” and “unruly” are not necessarily in opposition to each other, though centuries of evangelical theology has assumed so.

  2. Adam Tauno Williams says

    It is interesting to take this and try to overlay it with the distinction between Malevolent and Surd which others have observed or noted. This could change significantly the meaning of “actively engaging and overcoming evil”, should Evil itself be divided and categorized into Malevolence and Chaos.

    • Iain Lovejoy says

      If God’s principle action in creation is to bring from darkness and chaos diversity, light and order, then *moral* evil (i.e. malevolence) would not be the darkness and chaos itself, but that which retrogressed or caused regression towards it. This would assume (with historic Christian theology / philosophy) that darkness and chaos are not themselves active forces as such, but at bottom an emptiness – a simple absence of the good.
      (Thus death is not of itself evil but killing is, chaos not of itself evil but destruction is.)

  3. Iain Lovejoy says

    The first chapter of Genesis sees the world starting in formless chaos and developing order, diversity and flourishing through the ongoing creation of God. It starts unruly (as it is put above) but not evil. If the seven days in the scheme is the whole history of creation, Mankind is supposed to be the culminating order, diversity and flourishing ushering in the perfection and rest of the seventh day. Only, as chapter 2 tells us, we ****ed it up, and God has to spend the rest of the Bible trying repeatedly to fix it and finally usher in.that seventh day.

    • Burro (Mule) says

      There is also the Orthodox concept of the Eighth Day, where we are right now. On the Eighth Day, we undertake to complete where we left off in the Garden.

      • and THEN, there is the prophet ISAIAH

        “Is that what you call a fast,
        a day acceptable to the Lord?

        6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
        to loose the chains of injustice
        and untie the cords of the yoke,
        to set the oppressed free
        and break every yoke?
        7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
        and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
        when you see the naked, to clothe them,
        and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
        8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
        and your healing will quickly appear;
        then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
        and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
        9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
        you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

        “If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
        with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
        10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
        and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
        then your light will rise in the darkness,
        and your night will become like the noonday.
        11 The Lord will guide you always;
        he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
        and will strengthen your frame.
        You will be like a well-watered garden,
        like a spring whose waters never fail.
        12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
        and will raise up the age-old foundations;
        you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
        Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

        13 “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
        and from doing as you please on my holy day,
        if you call the Sabbath a delight
        and the Lord’s holy day honorable,
        and if you honor it by not going your own way
        and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
        14 then you will find your joy in the Lord,
        and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land
        and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”