Before The Beginning
We know about - or at least we have stories about - the beginning, but what about before the beginning? Before God pressed the Go button on the Creation machine, did He spend some time thinking the whole project through? Or did He just wake up one day and act on an un-thought-out whim? I accept that this is ridiculously anthropomorphic language applied to an arena that is outside time and space, but the Bible itself is no less anthropomorphic.
I think we have to hope and assume that He thought it all through in minute detail before actually putting the project into operation. If He didn't then we might be tempted to agree with the musings of Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711-76) that
This world, for aught [we] know … was only the first rude essay of some infant deity (Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, part V). We would have to ask ourselves whether we as a species constitute a sort of Frankenstein monster, a creation run out of control, doing things never thought-of by its creator.
So was the Primal Sin described in the Garden of Eden story a surprise to God or not? (see footnote on God and foreknowledge)
I think not. If God is anything like His Biblical representation then He must surely have been smart enough to know that the humans He himself had specifically designed and created would undoubtedly sin. He would have known with absolute certainty that if He gave us a degree of free will, many people would exploit that freedom to the utmost limits, both good and bad. He would have known that, sooner or later, figures with the propensities of people such as Hitler, Pol Pot and others would emerge from society, just as He would have known that Mandela-like figures, Mother Theresa-like figures would also emerge. I say -like, because I don't think there's anything deterministic about this. I am not trying to say that the specific person Adolph Hitler was pre-ordained to appear in history at his appointed time. I am trying to say that, on a statistical basis, given that He had designed us in the first place, God must have reckoned that, sooner or later, some such personality would more than likely emerge somewhere or other.
If, then, we can agree that God thought His whole Creation project through before He actually embarked upon it, we also have to agree that He could at any stage have decided that what He was about to let loose was too risky and have abandoned the whole project. In short, He was under no compulsion to create, and He knew exactly what sort of thing to expect once the project was in train.
This has major implications for how we look at the Garden of Eden story. We could perhaps decide that, far from being the great disaster that it is traditionally presented as, the development described in the Garden of Eden was in fact an absolutely major step forward. Mankind developing a moral awareness, learning to make moral choices, was something that we might surmise God had been longing for and looking forward to throughout those long millennia of evolution. As a colleague put it, we might almost hear Him shouting 'Hurrah! At last!' Instinctive animal behaviour is at last being overlaid by the ability to think in morally analytical terms, bringing us that much closer to God in His long-conceived plan to raise us to be His sons and daughters. (see footnote on this alternative view of The Fall)
I think there is a further implication in espousing this way of thinking. It seems to me to mean that we can never be sure that we have sucked the final truth out of the Biblical text; we have to keep going back to it, re-examining it in the light of the new perceptions that come to us as generation succeeds generation. For example, there is no doubt at all that the ideas of Darwin impose a completely different set of proportions on our view of history compared with those accepted by the Church up until his time, and therefore on how we understand the Bible. This and many other developments force us to re-appraise over and over again interpretations that have in many cases been taken for granted for nigh on two thousand years. So let us think a bit further about the authority of the Bible.Top