Friday, July 26, 2019

The Pride and Fall of Man

1. The Man of Sin in the Light of the Obedience of the Son of God
We cannot know sin and ourselves as sinners by looking at ourselves because we are sinners. We can only know the sinfulness of who we are and what we do by hearing the biblical witness to Jesus Christ.

Through the biblical witness to Jesus Christ, we learn first that sin exists. In the various human responses to Jesus Christ, from the blindness of the Pharisees to the treachery of Judas, our nature as sinners is revealed. Against Jesus Christ we see the sin we do expressed plainly in its three forms as rebellion against God, hatred of neighbor, and self-destruction.

Second, we learn that sin is evil. Jesus Christ as our one just Judge disclosed the sinfulness of all we are and do.

Third, we learn that each one of us is wholly sinful. As humans we prefer to shove a wedge of indulgence between ourselves as subjects and the sinful actions we consider more or less accidents. We prefer to deny that we commit evil actions because we ourselves are evil people. We prefer to compare our own reasonable behavior with the more or less inexcusable behavior of others and so to see others as obviously more evil than we are. But in identifying himself with sinners, Jesus Christ destroyed any illusory advantage of one sinner over another. He revealed that we all need him as our representative. When Jesus Christ died for each of us, he died for us as sinners who act sinfully, because we do what we are and we are what we do.

Finally, we learn that sin is a destructive absurdity. Even if we grant that sin exists, is evil, and is done by us as sinners, we might still excuse ourselves. We might argue that, when God created us as rational creatures able to love him freely, he created us as creatures equally able to choose freely not to love him. But God’s destruction of sin in the death of Jesus Christ reveals this understanding as false. Sin has no positive place in God’s being and therefore no positive place in his work or Word. When we sin, we do what God rejected and therefore do not express some God-given ability. What kind of reason or freedom would choose to do what God denied? So the good nature with which God created us did not include within it the possibility of sinning. We can only call sin a destructive absurdity.

The fact that it took the death of Jesus Christ to overcome sin also reveals that sin is not just a little absurdity but a big one. Even as the great absurdity it is, sin could not threaten God. But it could threaten us, and God in his mercy had chosen not to be without us. So God gave up his only Son. In acknowledging this we may understand that our good causes and actions do not excuse or limit the evil we do. Only God’s goodness can do that.

2. The Pride of Man
While not speaking exhaustively, we may define sin as pride or, more precisely, as unbelief. Unbelief is our ungrateful rejection of God’s grace. It is our refusal to acknowledge and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Sin is first revealed as pride in contrast with Jesus Christ who, even as Lord, freely loved his Father in humble obedience.

By looking at Jesus Christ, we learn of pride first as self-centeredness. In Jesus Christ, God the Son humbled himself, becoming flesh to dwell among us and be with us and for us. In contrast, the arrogance we hide from ourselves includes the erroneous belief that we are truly ourselves only when we look out for Number One, only when we impose ourselves as central, only when we will to be as God by regarding ourselves as supremely important. But this arrogant if concealed will to supremacy reveals our confusion about God. God does not exalt himself in solitary majesty. Only the devil does that. From eternity God the Father loved God the Son, and man in the Son, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. In driving for exalted autonomy, we do not manifest godliness but nothingness. In response to our alienation in pride from God, the Word humbled himself to be with us and for us.

In addition to self-centeredness, we also learn of pride as self-assertion. Jesus Christ expressed his power as Lord through his powerful obedience to God the Father and his powerful commitment to us as creatures and even sinners. In contrast, we proudly want to be the one obeyed rather than the ones obeying. But this too we hide from ourselves. Our proper place as creatures in relation to our Creator is that of servant to Lord. When we foolishly seek to take God’s place as Lord, we plunge into self-destruction. Wanting to rule in place of God, we also seek to rule over others. Relations between people become individual and collective struggles for power. But God as Lord is wholly gracious to us his servants, withholding nothing good from us but showering us with his grace. He asks only for that obedience which is freely and cheerfully given. Even as Lord he shares his rule with us and even becomes one of us to stand in solidarity with us. So in response to our sin of pride, even megalomania, God in Christ not only humbled himself but also became obedient even unto death.

Thirdly, we learn of pride as self-righteousness. Jesus Christ was the divine Judge who allowed himself to be judged in our place and for our sake. In contrast, we put ourselves in the wrong against God’s right by wanting to be our own judge, to decide for ourselves who is right and wrong and what is good and evil. But without God our understanding is fogged and our standards are flawed. We disrupt our peace with God, neighbor, and self. Human relationships become nothing more than crusades fought between people equally convinced that they represent absolute goodness while the others incarnate evil. Might becomes right. But God does not need us to demonstrate the rightness of his decision between good and evil or to assist him in defending or in overthrowing evil. In response to our self-righteousness, God in Christ converted all of us unjust judges to himself.

Finally, we learn of pride as self-sufficiency. In the greatest agony of his humiliation, Jesus asked God in utter helplessness why even he had abandoned him (Mark 15:34). In contrast, we like to think of ourselves as self-sufficient people who can help themselves. We also like to think of God as the special helper of just the sort of people we are. But we sin when we take for ourselves that which we should receive by grace from God alone. And we sin when we regard our right reliance upon God as humiliating and our wrongful self-sufficiency as virtuous. Instead of helping ourselves through self-sufficiency, we doom ourselves to self-destruction. But perhaps we feel that we cannot trust God to take care of us, that he is not wholly reliable, or does not have our best interests at heart. But Jesus Christ, who came to heal those suffering from the sin of self-sufficiency, cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34 English Standard Version, here and following), so that we might be delivered from even this form of pride.

3. The Fall of Man
In subsection 2, we explored the nature of the sin of pride. In this subsection we will reflect specifically upon our nature as sinners. Again we shall develop our understanding on a Christological basis.

As we recognize the seriousness of the Fall, we want to avoid exaggerating its depth. In the Fall, our human being became a corrupt being, but even as such it did not become an incarnation of evil itself. It remained a being still positively willed by God. In the Fall, we chose to reject God but he refused to abandon us. Because it was God who created us as companions in covenant with him, even in our fall we could not undo our creation or dissolve the covenant he established. Jesus Christ became flesh, participating in our corrupted but still human being. We were dead in our sin but our reconciliation with God in him means our miraculous awakening. In him the covenant, though broken by us, is nonetheless restored by God.

But our pride does entail our fall, the corruption of our good nature as created by God. To begin with, our corruption is our guilt. To be guilty is to be indebted to someone for rejecting an obligation owed to them and therefore for injuring them and our relationship with them. Our sin of pride in relation to God is a debt of this kind. God freely created us in love to be his covenantal companions. Our only obligation was to accept and enjoy this grace with gratitude. We absurdly preferred to reject it. Because God remained committed to us, our rejection hurt him. It disrupted our relationship with him. Through this disruption, nothingness entered into God’s good creation. Thereafter we experienced God’s love as God’s wrath; that is, as God’s rejection of our rejection of him. This situation could not be put right by our destruction or damnation. Instead it could be put right only through God’s forgiveness of us in Christ. God doesn’t forgive us arbitrarily, lightly, or simply because he can. God forgives man primarily because this alone could and did set things right.

We understand, then, that our corruption as human beings consists in our guilt or debt toward God. We know this in the light of Jesus Christ as God’s Word of forgiveness to us. Because Jesus Christ himself had to die to reconcile us with God, we know also that our whole human being is corrupt, that we are corrupt in our hearts or to the core. We were by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3). Perhaps we may describe the human who proudly rejects God as one who drugs or intoxicates himself with pride. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh” (John 3:6), so Jesus Christ took our place that we might know a new beginning by being born from above by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Not only are some people guilty and corrupt to the core. All are. According to the Word of God revealed in Jesus Christ, all people stand united in having belonged to the Kingdom of Darkness in the past, in belonging to God’s Kingdom of Light in the future, and with having both unities meet in the present. If we still live primarily as sinners, we do so only as those with no future as such. The type of history usually written—the story of society, culture, and individuals considered without reference to the Word of God—is itself an expression of a certain solidarity in arrogance we share with others. World history is the story of our proud rebellion against God began with Adam. We may acknowledge God’s verdict on Adam as our own because in Christ we no longer exist as sinners now that God has been merciful to all in the same way that he once included all in Adam’s disobedience.

Copyright © 2019 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.