University Congregational Church
Jan. 14, 2018
“Shining A New Light: The Fall of God”
Gen. 2:4-24; Gospel of Thomas saying 3
Once upon a time, two people lived in a kind of paradise – a garden of perfection – where they could eat and play and frolic with the animals freely. They had an idealic life where all was good and pleasant. They knew nothing of pain or heartache or lonliness. They laughed freely and enjoyed life to its fullest. They ate, drank, and were merry all day every day. Very few rules existed in this paradise. The big rule was not to eat any of the fruit on a particular tree in the garden, but that wasn’t a big deal since food was plentiful and there were many other luscious trees around.
Until one fateful day… a snake lured one of them to a tree where the snake encouraged them to eat that one fruit that was to be left alone. Eventually, both humans ate a bit of the fruit. And all hell broke loose.
From that moment until today, all humans experience pain and sorrow and heartache. We don’t live in perfect gardens anymore and we have to experience death and sorrow as a normal part of life. Singing and dancing are reserved for special times. Rules and laws and acceptable behaviors are written down and we are punished if we break them. Fruit has carbs. Carbs are to be eaten in moderation. Snakes are poisonous and humans are sinful.
All because of an apple. Or a pear, as Augustine postulated. Most of us know some version of this myth from the 3rd chapter of Genesis. It is not only a story for the Abrahamic faith traditions – it is now a story told as part of our culture. Even children who have never been to church have heard of the way sin first came into the world. And they have been told various perversions of the story too, like:
• Women brought sin into the world and that’s why men are supposed to be the head of the household now.
• Snakes crawl on their bellies as a punishment for their part in bringing sin into the world.
• All humans inherit sin before we are even born.
• Babies are born sinful and have to be baptized in order to be saved.
• Childbirth is painful to punish women for eating the fruit.
Of course, Genesis 3 is not a precise historical account of the first people or about how sin and disobedience came to be. And how we understand this myth has been a topic of discussion for at least a few thousand years.
A 19th century theologian, Hegelian Ludwig Feuerbach, understood this story in an interesting way. He noted that humans had divinity in ourselves at creation. We were created in the image of God, according to Genesis 2. We had all the godly traits – righteousness, love, nobility, justice, faithfulness, and all the rest. In short, all the divine attributes were first ours. But we fantasized the existence of another being who could vicariously bear our righteousness. We decided there was a divine being up there in the clouds who was perfectly loving, just, righteous, etc. And to give this being all the perfections, we had to empty ourselves of them. For this divine being to be morally perfect, we had to call ourselves totally depraved.
If there was a sin in the story, according to Feuerbach, it was that humans renounced their righteousness and their divine image. In doing so, humanity created what had not existed before: a vast distance between humans and God. If you go back and read Genesis 1-3 again, you can follow his logic.
Furthermore, for humanity to be fallen away from God is for God to be transcendent… God exists separately and without the limitations of the universe. For God to be transcendent, means that the story shows our alienation was mutual. This story, then, is not only about “the fall of humanity”, but the “fall of God” claims modern theologian Robert Price. “A fallen humanity means …. The alienation from man of the divinity innate within him but now banished by his own act. There would have been no other God separate from us but for the fall. So it was equally the fall of man and the fall of God.” – Robert Price
Today we are continuing our “Shining a New Light” series, based on articles in the Jesus Seminar’s (Westar Institute) magazine The 4th R. Each week, we will look at some of the best scholarship by the world’s premiere theologians. Robert Price’s article entitled “The Fall of God” really captured my attention and I wanted to share the ideas with you.
As you may know, I was raised in a conservative fundamentalist tradition. The story of sin and separation coming into the world was a very foundational piece of how I was taught to understand the world. Even today, it seems a bit blasphemous to talk about “the fall of God” instead of “the fall of man”! But I was even more intrigued by Robert Price’s furthering of this theology. He says, “Jesus Christ came to negate the effects of the Fall. He has joined the separated. He has knit into one piece that which was sundered. In Jesus, the God has come near who once was afar off. His kingdom is close at hand.”
In other words, the alienation experienced between God and humanity was un-done in Jesus.
• We can claim our natural divinity – our imago dei – again!
• We don’t have to worry about being unworthy or depraved or sinful.
• We don’t have to live in punishment and separation.
• We are free to express our natural gifts again.
• We can embrace righteousness, nobility, love, justice, and faithfulness, and other divine attributes for ourselves and our children!
Perhaps this is what Jesus actually meant in his discussion with the disciples as recorded in Luke 17: 20-21:
Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”
What is the kingdom of God? It is not out there somewhere. You don’t have to use a telescope or a miscroscope to find it. You don’t have to climb a mountain or look to the sky. You don’t have to dig to the bottom of the earth or travel to some exotic destination. That’s actually a good way to miss it. Jesus said that all along the kingdom of God has been right here! Within us. God’s own image – God’s own ways – God’s own breath – God’s own plan – God’s deep desires – God’s greatest wish – all along it has been among us. All along it has been in our hearts, in our mouths, in our minds.
The Gospel of Thomas says it this way in saying 3: Jesus said, “If those who lead you say to you, ‘See, the kingdom is in heaven,’ then the birds of the air will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. But the kingdom is within you. If you will know yourselves, then you will be known and you will know that you are the sons (and daughters) of the Living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you are in poverty.”
Robert Price writes, “What if? … Every time you bemoan your sinfulness, your lack of the moral perfections of God, all you are doing is reinforcing the false belief that you don’t have them! You are a sinner all right – because you tell yourself you are! Your pious confession of sin makes you a sinner! To announce your moral bankruptcy is to create it! To ‘admit’ you are a miserable worm before a holy God is to impute unrighteousness to yourself by faith – surely a perverse twisting of the gospel!”
I know for many of us this is brand new thinking. Even I am not certain I can fully embrace it yet. It will take time to process. As I have been thinking about it this week, I have many feelings of excitement and hope, but a bit of trepidation. Yet, as Price points out, when we pray the Lord’s Prayer and say, “Thy kingdom come”, we can visualize it coming to be within us.
Raimundo Panikkar once said that when we say that God is within us, we do not really mean it. He suggests that we really think God is like a pill we have swallowed; a metal plate surgically implanted; a bullet fired into us; or a thought pounded into us. We conceptualize it as a foreign body that is now on the other side of our skin from where it used to be, but which is still external in its alienness. But to say that God is within you must truly mean that God is a part of your DNA. It has penetrated so deeply that it simply is you.
This isn’t about being conceited. It actually carries with it a great potential and a deep responsibility. We did not create our own divinity, so we cannot carry it with pride. We do not claim to be God. We are acknowledging what was said in Genesis: that God created us – male and female – in God’s own image. We are taking seriously the saying of Jesus: that the kingdom of God is in the midst of us.
Most weeks, I send you out of this place to help someone or to bring hope and love to others. This week, I am asking you to look deep within yourself… take time to be silent and get to know your own holiness. Find God in your heart of heart. Just be. Sit in the silence and search your heart and mind for that righteousness that is within you. Until you find it within, it will be impossible for you to find it anywhere.