As we have come to find out, after millennia in which we lost this knowledge and had to regain it, God is love. Real, true, full love is to seek the welfare of the other above our own welfare. God wanted an Other to truly love. That is one reason (among many) he made the universe.
Lots of different kinds of creatures, God made. Lots of different aspects of life, God made. He made a world of beauty and variety and potential. He made a fascinating world that had yet to be opened up to its full potential. Yet, with all the diversity there was a unity, because everything was still bound to him, dependent in the ultimate on him. And in all the diverse aspects of the way creation works there are unifying echoes of all others, and these echoes reflect the supreme unity found in himself, in his own diversity. (Theologians and philosophers have never been able to fully grasp it, and tend to elevate either the unity or the diversity - unless they are content just to accept and experience it.)
Part of the joy is physical - though we often take it for granted. # that we can rely # that things hold up # spreading of loads # electromagnetism # waves
Part of the joy is biological. Part of joy is feeling. Sensing. Taste and smell of food. The 'joy' a mountain plant experiences spreading over a rock. C.S> lewis quote ====. The delicious warmth of a rising sun after a cold night. Butterflies basking. Pigs wallowing in mud. Sparrows enjoying a dust bath. The physical pleasure of copulation. The pleasure of exerting muscles.
In his joy and creativity, God made homo sapiens - human beings to have management of the world. He gave to them - to us - the joy and responsibility beyond that of other creatures. He wanted his world to be opened to its full potential, to flower with beauty and power, and he wanted creatures able to share this joy of opening up with him. God was not a proud, distant God, who wanted to guard his reputation and his distinctness; he was - and is - a humble God, a generous God, a giving God. Sharing was his nature - in short, he was Love. The kind of love that gives and spends itself for the sake of the beloved, and which would rather bear harm itself than have the beloved harmed.
God loved what he had made. All he had made. Not with a spoiling love that smothers, but with a love full of vigour and dignity that wants his creatures to live and be together in joy and fulfilment, with relationships that reflect the strong, beautiful, fulfilling relationships within himself.
So he gave humankind some responsibility over and for the rest of the creation, especially over the animal kingdom, the sentient ones. To achieve this he provided us with extra abilities - analytical skills, the tendency to communicate, the ability to form and create, plan and achieve, the ability to judge and skilfully use resources, an appreciation of harmony, a deep desire for justice, and an ability to love as he does, in that self-giving way - so that we could create, develop and maintain harmony and right relationships among all things in the created order. (This is the biblical meaning of 'justice' - right relationships.) God gave us the priviledge of loving his creation with that same self-giving love that he has towards it. This is what it means when God made us in his image: he gave us a role of tending, developing and blessing the rest of his creation, and gave us special abilities to enable us to fulfil that role; we are 'like' God, not just in our characteristics but also in our role. Then God commanded us to spread throughout creation so that all parts of it would be blessed with our care.
The joy of each human aspect ==== esp. the joy of self-giving. the social joy spead abroad. mention business etc.
On top of this, he gave us an ability to communicate with himself. Though he is utterly beyond us all (what philosophers call 'transcendent'), and we can never understand, comprehend or experience him fully, he wanted us to understand, comprehend and experience him truly. So he did something that philosophers have never been able to understand: a link between the Transcendent God and the created world. So we are self-aware, as he is, and have a vision of what we are. Humankind has been trying to understand self-awareness ever since and never been able to, but we can all experience the effects and benefits of it. It brings a special poignancy and quality and richness to our relationship with God and love for him - and all so that we can stand in this special relationship with God and fulfil of our God-given role of bringing blessing to the rest of the world.
Sadly, humanity seems to be curse to the rest of creation, rather than blessing. This is how it happened, and what follows it can be seen as the brief history of God.
We were not content in all this joy and diversity and unity, not content with our Purpose of stewardship and care and development. No. A deceitful offer was put to us that tickled both our egos, our self-importance and our sense of self-dependence. Something like a serpent told the first Man and Woman, "Eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and ..."
We took it. We succumbed to the desire to be independent of our Source, to be our own controllers and to try to work out for ourselves what was Good and what was Evil. (This state is called sin, but the word has sadly gained unfortunate connotations. The event is known as the Fall.)
The first part of the offer, being like God, touches the heart of our being; it touches our place in the universe and scheme of things. We were already "like God", being made in his image, but that image was for a purpose: to bless the creation. Our role was as stewards, as lovers of 'lesser' beings (and, as we shall see, this is the very nature of the Living God himself). But we wanted to be kings rather than stewards, tyrants rather than lovers; we wanted the scheme of things to revolve around us, not around God.
The second part of the offer touches our minds. It concerns how we get to know things and in particular how we work out what Good is. In eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil we were asserting our independence from God in deciding what was Good and what, Evil, and in choosing our methods of determining Good and Evil. The offer was not so much to know Good from Evil - we knew that before the Fall (for instance that we should steward the Creation and put it in order, that we should rest on the seventh day, and a few others) - as to decide it for ourselves. Before the Fall this knowledge came from God; at the Fall we told him we wanted to work it all out for ourselves. This has warped our minds - not so much the workings of our brain cells or cognitive apparatus, but rather the basic presuppositions we have made about the nature of things. Of course, this goes hand in hand with our desire to be the centre, rather than stewards and lovers of other things.
And we see this in operation today. How does humanity today try to work out what is right and what is wrong? It has tried various means over the past few thousand years. What is right and wrong has at various times been determined:
and, of course,
But in each case it doesn't work in the long run - it was, and still is, a deceitful offer. The technical term for this happening is the Fall.
There is no way we can determine what is right and wrong without reference to God. For instance, if we try to work it out by utilitarian means (Good is what gives the maximum sum total of happiness over all people) we find ourselves unable to define happiness and unable to account for all the people who will be affected by our action - across all the world and throughout all history. Only God can define these things, and only He knows the end from the beginning and only His eyes range throughout the whole world. The Living God is the only true Law-Giver. That is why he told us not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
We have lost our way in a maze of differing opinions passing as knowledge. One generation says that self-control is Good, and the next that expressing yourself and letting yourself go is Good. In our attempt to work our for ourselves what is Good and what is Evil we try tradition, we try science, we try experience, we try ... and get no nearer. Worse than this, whatever we are trying at the time, we think we are better than our forebears and are at last on the right path; just around the corner we will find It. But the next generation reacts against our elevated answer - a process that the philosopher Hegel called 'dialectic'.
Nor do we have the power to really achieve Good, since we have become unplugged from its source. Even when we do have a true understanding of what Good is (directly or indirectly from revelation from God) we find ourselves unable to sustainably execute it. We get tired of doing the Good, we find ourselves tempted with other attractive alternatives, we sometimes deliberately choose the Evil.
An ancient story of the Karen people (cited by Richardson, 1992) tells how humanity had a precious book written on rice paper, that told wonderful things. But, one famine, we ate it, and lost our knowledge of the wonderful things.
So what? The effect of both of these parts of the Fall is a break in our relationship with God, but it is more than that too. It leads us to wrong action, wrong beliefs, consequent problems, and wrong attempts at solutions. As a result, everything suffers. Not just a few grazes. but deep cancers and decay. Through pride human relationships break down. Through cruelty, many are deeply scarred in both body and soul. Through idolization of certain aspects (such as money) other things in creation are sacrificed. Species that God created for the health and beauty and joy of his creation are driven to extinction. The little ones become poor, because we forget their value and believe we can't afford to 'carry dead wood'. And, after all, my wealth or reputation is based on such things as the size of the company I run or the number of papers I write or the number of medals I win; since I value my reputation above the needs and joy of other fellow-creatures, I let them go to the wall. And they become poor.
(Now, of course, we are not all fully like this. Some people are better and some are worse. As we have found out, none is totally free of all this, but luckily there are some in every age and culture who are nearer God's original design - and we shall see that God sometimes uses such people.)
We suffer and the rest of creation suffers, and because we do not play according to the life-giving guidelines God knit into the fabric of his creation. Joy has fled. It would be bad enough if only we suffered from our going against the guidelines, but it spreads everywhere because we are all interrelated. All the creation suffers deeply even though the rest of it is not culpable.
What makes this even worse is that we lost the way back to God. We lost the treasure. Not only that, but we developed a highly distorted view of what God was like and what ways are best (the Good). Even worse, we resolutely do not want to find it; we will work it out for ourselves, thank you very much.
And in the mean time, the whole of creation can go to hell if that is the price to pay for our independence and self-knowledge! And that hurts God, who loves all he has made. He demands justice, not because he is harsh but because he loves. He hates seeing anyone hurt, and especially the little ones.
So God acts. Perhaps we can detect a promise of future hope when God told the Man "you shall crush his [Evil's] head". The Karen story continues with the prophecy that the lost Book will one day be brought back, by people from outside. It did, but it was a long time coming. In the Karen's case, it was not until the 1800s, though God's promised crushing happened around 33 AD. It was a long time coming because we are not robots; being in God's image we had much to experience and learn first.
I used to think that both the content of the Fall and the punishment for it were arbitrary. The content was that we should not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and was, I thought, merely a test of our love for God. God could just as easily have told us not to stand on our heads. But it wasn't like that.
In the same way, I used to think that the punishment of the Fall was arbitrary. Making our task of growing food more difficult, increasing our pain in childbirth, and making men domineer over women was merely a punishment, essentially unrelated to the content of the Fall. Just as we spank a child for some misdemeanour. But it wasn't like that.
So I gained a picture of God as slightly touchy and petty. Perhaps that was the nature of love: jealous for the attention and obedience of the one loved? It was certainly his divine prerogative to be like this, and if this was how he was then I have just to accept it. But it troubled me just a little. For instance, surely our love could have been tested by allowing us to do something positive for him, rather than merely refraining from something negative. And why these three punishments? And surely our love for others is to be like that in I Corinthians 13, not touchy or petty. I accepted what I didn't understand, but in a rather resigned way.
Only a few years ago I came to see - I cannot remember who it was stimulated me to see it, but I would like to give that anonymous person credit for it - that neither the content nor the punishment were arbitrary. God is not touchy and petty, but is full to the brim with love of the quality found in I Corinthians 13. The content was not arbitrary, but had the purpose of maintaining us in a loving dependence on the One who is our Source and Sustainer as we fulfilled our high Purpose.
Likewise, the punishment for the Fall is far from arbitrary. It comes directly from our claiming to work out what is right and wrong by ourselves. There was only one way in which we could work with the grain of Creation, and that was by submitting to God's way as he reveals it to us, and to God's revelation of what is right and wrong, and by seeking scientific and other knowledge - using even the methods listed above - but always in loving dependence upon him. If we took any other way - using the methods in an attitude of rebellious and proud independence - then we would be going against the grain of Creation. No wonder we would have trouble. In the statement of punishment, God merely forewarned us of this. For all three results of the Fall that he mentioned we would find ourselves going against the grain of creation - both in our goals and in our means.
1. Insofar as we don't accept God's view of the right and wrong goals for providing for our necessities, we find the thorns and weeds working against us rather than with us. The Bible tells us to enjoy the good things the Lord gives us and to "be content with such things as ye have." But we expend enormous effort to provide ourselves with luxuries. And as a result of distorted goals we bring injustice to the poorer parts of the world and to the non-human Creation. And, insofar as we don't accept God's view of the right and wrong means of providing for our necessities, we find the thorns and weeds working against us rather than with us. For instance, rather than being patient with the speed of God's natural processes (patience is part of the fruit of the Spirit) we attempt to speed them up with fertilizers, pesticides, etc. The result is a gradual poisoning of our soil and food (making the proper method of growing food even more difficult), and a rapid depletion of our energy resources. It also distorts our expectations, so that we aspire even more strongly to wrong luxurious goals.
2. Insofar as we don't accept God's view of the right and wrong goals in childbirth, we find our pain greatly increased. When people see children as social security for their old age, as many do in the Third World, the woman is put to enormous stress and weariness as she continually brings children into the world. When people see the sexual act as simply for pleasurable intimacy, then millions of unborn children die and AIDS and venereal diseases spread. And people are cast off in favour of others. And, insofar as we don't accept God's view of the right and wrong means of childbirth, we find our pain greatly increased. I expect childbirth experts could give us many examples of this, but one that touched my wife and me was the birthing position. The medics wanted her recumbent (for their own convenience), and she had a long and frustrating labour, with difficulty in delivery. The medics refused to allow her to sit upright and allow God-designed gravity to come to her aid. They knew best.
3. Insofar as we don't accept God's view of the right and wrong goals in relationships between the sexes, we will find that men domineer over women - or, by reaction, an attempt at the reverse. A common view the world over is that woman is man's garden in which he plants his seed. Walter Trobisch has pointed out how this leads to many of the problems people have with both sex and marriage, and in particular to cruelty. Also, insofar as we don't accept God's view of the right and wrong means in relationships between the sexes, we will find that men domineer over women. The middle ages in Europe saw the emergence of romantic love of the form we know today, in which the man seeks to woo the woman with flowers, songs and sweet nothings. With mere trinkets. Then the woman is supposed to give in to the man. And this too easily turns into wrong domination.
(So we can see a few instances of how, by claiming for ourselves the right to work out what is Good and Evil, in either goals or means, the results are precisely those that God told us would follow the Fall. Those I have sketched above are but a few of the many, some of which are more subtle and perhaps more metaphoric, and I'll leave it to the reader to work them out.)
But there is one important point to be made here. Far from God being touchy and petty, he is a God of a full and rich love for us and the rest of Creation. We can see now that the prohibition from eating the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was not primarily that he wanted to test our love for him, but rather than he knew what the results would be. And, we can see now the meaning of his pronouncement: he was stating what the results would be, results that come directly from our determination to be independent of him.
If someone gets into trouble through their own doings, we leave them to it. Serve them right. Or, if we are not that hard, they should at least learn. But not God; he steps in, though it is we who are the culprits. History is 'his story' of stepping in - that is why I have said that 'the rest' is a history of God.
We are misled, so he comes to teach us. We are lost, so he calls to us. We are helpless, so he has to step in and do it for us. We are weak, so he brings his own power. We are turned against him, so he turns to us. That is the history of the true God, in very brief. Let's look at what he did.
He has to disabuse us of the erroneous belief that we are the centre of the universe, and he has to correct the erroneous belief that we can work out for ourselves what is Good and Evil. He has also to correct all the wrong notions that we have already contaminated ourselves with. Further, he must prepare the way back to himself, and he must give us power, once we have come back, to put ourselves in our rightful places in the scheme of things.
So God had to correct these. He had to act, countering our evil action, and he had to communicate, to counter our wrongly based knowledge. And, since knowledge is at the root of a lot of our action, a lot of the history of God is one of communication. But we also find him choosing and converting too.
Now read on:
The very diversity that God put into creation not only works to his glory, not only shows his characters, not only gives us pleasure and fulfilment, but it also works against the arrogance of humanity in very practical ways. When we think we have it 'sussed' the diversity pops up and laughs at us, saying, "But you've forgotten this, you clever ones!" And when we oversimplify in our arrogance and especially when we deify one aspect of temporal reality and ignore the threads of diversity running underneath, we later find harm has resulted in regions we'd forgotten. The creation is fragile, but it has within it something that gives us warnings - if only we heed them.
This page is offered to God as on-going work in how to understand the Bible, as part of the A Brief History of God website, which itself is part of my Christian Pages www.abxn.org. Comments, queries welcome. Number of visitors to these pages: .
Copyright (c) Andrew Basden 1998-present, but you may use this material for any purpose you like as long as
Created on the Amiga with Protext: 6th Sept 1998; this page is MUCH older than the others, so expect more sometime. . Page last updated: 15 February 2000 added counter. 30 July 2000 God is love so he made. 1 October 2000 a few rewordings, prior to major revision. 10 December 2000 new comments pointer. 29 August 2002 started to expand on The Joy. 3 February 2007 unet. 26 June 2011 intro para, new .end.