Saturday, April 11, 2015

Back to the Basics: Building Blocks for a Sound Theodicy, Pt. 3-B: Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, Continued

In my last post, I started an examination of Genesis and what the first biblical book tells us about divine sovereignty and human responsibility. We see that, in the beginning, the sovereign Lord who creates the world also makes man and gives him “dominion” or “rule” over the animal kingdom and the earth itself. We know this to be true because of what happens in the Fall.

And the Fall happens to be the background for today’s post: that divine sovereignty and human responsibility meet sin in the narrative. How does the Lord handle sin? What role do Adam and Eve play in the sin committed? You likely know the narrative, but we’ll cover it because it shows us in no uncertain terms that sin doesn’t negate God’s sovereignty (contra Open Theism) nor does it negate man’s responsibility. Even Calvinists struggle to reconcile how their theology posits that evil is foreordained by God while still attributing evil to man.

Yes, I am aware of the “primary” and “secondary causes” language that is philosophical in nature; even Arminius used these terms in his three-volume theology (The Works of Arminius, or simply, Works), but even if you posit man is the primary cause of an evil action, you’re still stuck with God as the secondary cause. Any agent in our world today that “drives the getaway car” from a murder of the scene of a crime is still guilty, even if he or she never even touched the trigger of the gun or the dagger that killed the victim. And, if the Lord never approved of aiding and abetting the wrongdoer, why would He not care about being free of evil Himself? 

God as secondary cause is still not enough to free the Lord of the crime of committing evil. And, if the Lord is the primary agent of a noble action, then He must do so in a way that is non-coercive. The Lord does this in the salvation process, when His Holy Spirit convicts a man of his sin and need for Jesus but does not force the individual in any way to make a choice to either receive or reject the gospel. The same happened in the account of the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-27).

Commands, freedom, and warning

The end of Genesis chapter 2 shows us divine sovereignty and human responsibility in yet another beautiful display of the two concepts. First, we see the Lord, in His sovereignty, gives Adam the responsibility and freedom of naming the animals in the animal kingdom. The Lord creates the animals (sovereignty and divine freedom), and then the Lord allows Adam to name them (again, another display of divine sovereignty). The text even tells us that Adam got free reign over what to name the animals: “and [He] brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name” (Genesis 2:19, NASB; cf. Gen. 2:20).

Naming the animals was another responsibility the Lord gave to Adam in creation, along with cultivating the ground and upkeeping it. These were responsibilities, but they were also privileges from the Creator of the universe. Even responsibility is a freedom and a privilege. I need to remember this when I’m paying my bills each month (you know you want to laugh here J)

Adam even gets the unique privilege of naming his companion: “She shall be called woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Gen. 2:23). In the same way that the Lord names the sun, moon, stars, and day and night, He now allows man, bearing His image and likeness, to name some of creation himself – the animals and the human female. We find out that Adam names the gender, but he also gives the woman a specific name: Eve (Gen. 3:20), or “Zoe” in the greek (“Zoe,” Grk., means “living”).

As Genesis 2 shows us here, the “rule over the earth” becomes a bit more fleshed out for us to see exactly what ruling over the earth entailed. By Adam working to cultivate the ground, and naming the animals and his mate, Adam was “taking responsibility” for them. And, despite the Lord’s having created everything, he would make Adam “lord” (lowercase, not capital) of the earth. This will play a large role in the Lord’s punishment to Adam in Genesis 3.

In Genesis 2:16-17, we see that the Lord warns Adam that if he eats from the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, “in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” God speaks about death here, something that, from the text alone, doesn’t seem to have ever existed in the creation narrative until the Lord mentions it here. At the same time, however, God is aware of the concept of death – which explains why He gives this warning to Adam and uses death as a punishment to deter Adam from disobeying His command. And the fact that Eve mentions death to the serpent shows that she is aware of how terrible a consequence the couple would endure if they disobeyed God (Genesis 3:3).

The Fall and Its Consequences

We won’t cover the Fall here except to point out the Lord’s warning to Adam in Genesis 2 and the Lord’s response to sin. Adam and Eve believe the serpent’s lie that on the day they ate the fruit, “your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5).
They eat, and their eyes are opened, and they realize they are naked. Once the Lord enters the Garden, Adam and Eve hide because of the knowledge that they have sinned.

The Lord confronts Adam and Eve about their sin, but starts with the serpent since, “The serpent deceived me and I ate,” Eve said (Gen. 3:13). The Lord tells the serpent that he will be “cursed...more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field. On your belly you will go, and dust you will eat all the days of your life” (Genesis 3:14). In other words, the serpent’s days are numbered and he will be the most humiliated creature on earth.

The woman is sentenced to painful childbirth (“I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth,” Gen. 3:16), but she will still sexually desire her husband – even if it brings more and more children, and multiple painful childbirths. The husband will rule over her as a consequence of her “leading” her husband into sin.

As for the man, Adam, the Lord sentences him to 1) hard, sweaty labor (v.19), 2) physical death – “till you return to the ground” and “to dust you shall return,” Gen. 3:19). The Lord finally announces death for the human family, but notice that he doesn’t institute death for the animal kingdom. He simply tells the serpent about “all the days of his life,” a claim that some could use to make the case that animal death existed prior to the death sentence upon humanity.

Last but not least, the Lord tells Adam that “the ground is cursed because of you,” or, as some translations of Scripture read, “Cursed is the ground because of you” (Gen. 3:17). The Lord is even more descriptive of the ground’s curse when He says that “both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you” (v.18).” This statement tells us that the ground’s crop and food will be hard to come by because thistles and thorns (weeds) will also grow on the ground. Adam will now have to work by the sweat of his brow because of the intensity of labor required to bypass the weeds and see that a crop grows to fruition.

In my next post, I will tackle some important lessons we can learn from Genesis 3, and use the lessons learned to propel us into further discussion regarding divine sovereignty, omniscience, human responsibility, and evil. God bless.

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