The Destiny of Man
“The Way Back to God”
The doctrine of the Fall is vital to true Christian theology. There has been a strong tendency in modern times to decry the story of the temptation in Eden as quite irrelevant to modern thinking, outworn in the face of modern knowledge. In point of fact, the truth behind the story is much more logical and reasonable than the alternative claim that man is slowly lifting himself out of beast likeness by his own efforts. It is further claimed that there never was a time of pristine perfection followed by a fall into sin. In any case a long, cool look at the present state of human society provides the evidence that man has fallen into sin and is sinking steadily deeper. The Genesis story, stripped of its embellishments, indicates that the root cause of the Fall was disloyalty to God. This constituted the entry of sin into what was previously a sinless world. An old Sumerian legend, probably derived from a dim memory of the events narrated in Genesis, depicts the first man as placed in a garden that he was bidden to cultivate, just as in the Eden story. Variant to the Genesis story, the legend describes a garden in which there were two temples, one to the god who had created the man, and one to another god. But when the creator-god came down to talk to the man he found him worshipping in the other temple. So he had betrayed his creator and forsworn his loyalty. The sentence was pronounced upon the faithless man. “The face of life until he dies he shall not see”. Something like this must lie behind the more familiar story of the forbidden fruit as though the partaking of that fruit was a ceremonial act in which the participant formally rejected the good and accepted the evil, and in so doing automatically incurred the penalty. Having once embarked on the pathway of alienation from God, successive generations continued therein and sin in the world became increasingly obvious and increasingly influential. “God made man right” said the Wise Man “but they have sought out many villainies (Eccl. 7.29 Fenton). One of the most scathing passages in the Old Testament is that describing how God on the eve of the Flood looked down from heaven upon the degenerating race “and God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen.6.5). Therefore, as Paul wrote to the Romans, “sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Rom. 5.12). Logically, death is the antithesis of life. If life only continues when the individual is in a state of harmony with God, of loyalty to Him, then the entry of sin must indicate the extinction of that life, the dissolution of the “living soul” which subsists when life and organism are joined together and are on the same wavelength, as it were, to the environment. Canon R.H.Charles in his “Critical History of the Doctrine of a Future Life” (1912) puts this well when he says “the soul is a function of the material body when quickened by the spirit. So long as the spirit is present, … the soul a ‘living soul’, but when the spirit is withdrawn the vitality of the soul is destroyed and it becomes the soul of a dead man, that a corpse, the annihilation of the soul ensures inevitably at death”. It has to be said here that the re-creation of the deceased individual by the impression of the identity upon a new bodily organism suited to its intended environment, in consequence of a fresh operation of Divine power, restores living. sentient existence (that is the ability to use its senses). This is the Christian doctrine of the resurrection.
Thus did evil come into the world, and increase its power and influence while age succeeds age. As men moved steadily away from God the intimate knowledge of Him, and the power of communion with Him, possessed by early man, became blunted, then obscured. Finally it was almost forgotten except by a few whose minds retained more of the original grasp than those of the majority. Concurrently with the progressive alienation of men’s minds from God and the good standards of His creation, came the physical consequences, decreasing bodily vitality and increasing power of disease; the arising of evil traits of character leading to selfishness, greed, malice, hatred, resulting in strife and warfare. The misuse of the environment is becoming so apparent today in widespread pollution of land, sea and air that the entire fabric of human society is disintegrating and heading for a catastrophic end, unless God intervenes. “The whole world is in the power of the evil one” said John (1 John 3.19), and that remark is very apt. The forces of evil are rampant in the world, and God seems very far away.
It may be a natural reaction to enquire whether this state of things is by Divine ordering or an evidence that God has lost control of His creation. The answer to both questions is an unqualified ‘No’. It is inherently impossible that the Creator of all good, can be the instigator of evil, or that at any time He does not retain full control over all that He has created. The practice of evil is by Divine permission, and is at all times subject to Divine control and could be limited or brought to an end at any moment by Divine command. The logical deduction is that evil is permitted for a wise purpose; a purpose that is connected with man’s own development. The disastrous harvest of the twentieth century, is the reaping, the end result of man’s attempt to live without God
Perhaps this experience would be of great value should man find himself freed from the burden and given a fresh start in a world where evil does not occupy the influential position that it does here and now. Is it conceivable that God plans for man to experience the contrast between a world dominated by evil and one dominated by righteousness before he is called upon to make the irrevocable choice, for good or evil, for life or death? The power of evil is a phenomenon of time only and not of eternity. It has entered the world, to become a means of teaching man the reason that right and good must stand as the governing laws of creation. By its means men pass through experiences which at the end do bring them to God. If all this be so then at least one can begin to understand why it is permitted and not lose faith in the power of God to control its course and its effects, and so it is possible to anticipate a time when evil will be no more.
Such a time must come. Evil being inherently destructive, it has no place in God’s permanent creation. The revealed word of God is definite that evil is permitted only temporarily, for a wise purpose, and that the time comes in the history of human development when evil is to be eliminated. It is true that in the meantime the innocent suffer with the guilty and sometimes more than the guilty, but this is inevitable because in the Divine wisdom and order, all men are interdependent. Each man is a member of that unity which is the human race. The entire race is one component part of that greater physical entity which is this earth with all its variety of life, plant life, and basic substance, all of which are inter-related and must function together to maintain their continued joint existence. One is compelled to reflect that the eternal continuance of evil is incompatible with the Biblical assurance that eventually every knee will bow to Jesus and every tongue confess Him Lord (Phil 2.10‑11), that God will be all in all. Theologians of the past and present have pondered this fact and drawn the obvious conclusions – “the question we have to face is how God could be all in all, and how all things could be summed up in Christ, if evil were to exist eternally …would not His victory be imperfect, and above all would not his kingdom be incomplete? His conquered enemies would be His enemies still, with wills and desires in opposition to Him, however unable to make that opposition effective. How then could His kingdom be truly universal, and He himself ‘all in all’?” Thus writes Archdeacon Guillebaud in “The Righteous Judge” (1964). Two generations earlier, Dr.C.A.Row, Prebendary of St. Paul’s Cathedral, had said in “Future Retribution”, “Will spiritual and moral evil continue to exist for ever? Will rebellious wills be capable of resisting for ever the power of his Divine attractiveness? Will He not succeed in destroying the works of the Devil, but after all that He has done and suffered, will He leave those countless multitudes, in numbers numberless, who will constitute the overwhelming majority of mankind, to exist for ever in a state of rebellion against God, and in a state of misery which, through the endless succession of aions of the future, will never know even the hope of a termination? To these questions, ignorant though we are as to the mode in which God will solve them, I think that everyone who dwells in love, thereby dwelling in God, and God in him, will answer, God forbid”.
Dr. Row has not been the only one to perceive that there can be no elimination of evil from the earth without having dealt with the question of sin in the hearts of men. Medieval theology thought to solve this problem by consigning the sinners to hell and leaving them there but this no solution, for immortal sinners living an eternal life of evil must forever frustrate the avowed purpose of God in creation. The elimination of evil implies and involves a process by which all men everywhere and all generations may, consistent with their prerogative of free-will choice, renounce sin and affirm their loyalty to God and acceptance of His purpose for them. In theological language that process is called repentance, conversion, acceptance of Christ as Lord, and dedication of life to God. And it involves the question of what happens if, after full opportunity and every possible form of persuasion, the individual steadfastly refuses to turn from evil and accept the ways of God. There can be only one answer. The laws of Nature decree that the wastage of natural processes returns to its native earth and is absorbed. So must the conscious being who will not accept the place in creation for which he has been created, who remains wedded to unrighteousness for its own sake despite the element of disruption he introduces into creation, be found no more. It may be that there will be none such; that the persuasive power of the Most High will have reclaimed even the most obdurate. But if such there are at the end, it can be only because they have, in full knowledge and understanding of the position, preferred to renounce life rather than accept the obligations of communal living and respect for fellow-men. It must be, it will be, that when the Divine purpose for man has been accomplished, “all that hath breath shall praise the Lord”.