Paradise Lost

SAM_1324

Sunrise in the Mediterranean 2014 by Marcello Newall

(For those who want to read the original article in Word format:Paradise Lost)

Paradise Lost [1]

By Marcello Newall

 1. What was Lost

I believe that most human beings perceive, at least to a certain degree, a deep sense of loss. Even those that seem to live a carefree existence can feel that something has gone terribly wrong in the history of the world and the story of humanity: an event of unfathomable horror lingers in the depths of the human psyche and the collective memory of our race. In what Christian theologians have called ‘the Fall’ Adam and Eve rebelled against God and unleashed a Pandora’s box of evil into the world.[2] I think it’s important to try, however partially, to understand the meaning of an event that Scripture describes as of cosmic significance. As Andrew Linzey so clearly explains, without a proper understanding of the fall the ‘natural evil’ currently present in creation ceases to be in any way evil and simply becomes natural.

It seems, therefore, vital to spell out as precisely as possible what kind of inchoate theology will be left if those who wish to reject the Fall have their way […]Instead the cruelty and awfulness of nature become, in theological terms, agents of a now morally compromised God […] God must now abide by a new law of the universe, as Matthew Fox puts it: “Eat and get eaten”. Gone is the operation of the Holy Spirit within creation leading to its rescue from bondage and decay. Absent is the whole eschatological frame of reference, so central to early Christian reflection upon nature, that creation can only properly be interpreted from the standpoint of its eventual consummation.[3]

Moreover if in fact the present situation, characterized by death and violence, is normal then we should not expect any improvement or seek to change it. In reality what Scripture teaches is that something of infinite value was lost in humanity’s disobedience: God’s dream was transformed into something closer to a nightmare, and the rest of the narrative until now has been an unending cycle of death and sin.[4] In this whole process creation became accursed and the animal kingdom was plunged into bloodshed and killing.[5] Sadly most people, even Christians, seem completely oblivious to this situation or at least claim to not understand it. In reality if the fact and nature, i.e. a satanically inspired rebellion, of the Fall were to be fully admitted to, Christians and non alike would be forced to confess that the present situation is far below God’s standards and would therefore have to change their way of living in order to be coherent. Instead what we see in the majority of the religious is a direct or indirect denial of the Fall. To fully accept that we are fallen creatures and that our forefathers rebelled against God would mean that we, like the rest of creation, are in desperate need of redemption and therefore of God’s grace.

Contemporary sociologists[6] and historians alike have underlined an important phenomenon which has been progressively increasing in Western society, especially since the time of the Enlightenment, known as Disenchantment. What we see is an erosion of everything that is dreamlike, wonderful or even somewhat mysterious in our human existence and the promotion of secular and pragmatic values that leave our souls dry and empty. Science and reason rule our lives and we are told that we are nothing more than the fruit of complex natural processes. In this vision animals too are simply biological entities destined for death. And yet the human spirit naturally longs for something much greater than all this: some take refuge in various fantasy worlds while others seem to concentrate their efforts on their ‘career’ or job in an effort to escape the deafening emptiness of it all. When all is said and done all that remains is a lost humanity gazing into the melancholic sunset of a broken dream.

  2. Redemption through the Cross

Having talked of the Fall we must proceed to talk of the Cross. When we study this event in detail we can see that it is the pinpoint opposite of everything that happened in the Fall. De facto God reversed the Fall through the sacrifice of himself: ‘For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.’[7] What was accomplished on the Cross is so multifarious and beyond the realm of human understanding that I can at best only begin to describe the benefits that were obtained through it. Some theologians have described the Cross as a ‘divine exchange’,[8] in which Christ absorbed into himself all the evil of our rebellion and the death consequences of it. In this sense we can say that Jesus accepted death to give us life, our rejection to offer acceptance and sin in order to allow forgiveness. In the original Greek the words ‘it is finished’[9] signify a completely perfected action: in this sense Christ has already totally won on the Cross,[10] and expects his followers simply to apply his victory. In a strictly animal welfare perspective the crown of thorns that Jesus bore signify the carrying upon himself of the curse of creation[11] of Genesis 3:16-18 and its reversal:

Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it. All the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you;[12]

And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe.[13]

Another aspect to consider is the fact that in Hebrew a tree remains a tree whether it is growing or cut down and for this reason the Cross is sometimes called a ‘tree’.[14] In this sense Jesus was crucified on a ‘tree’, not a living one like those in Eden but an accursed cross as a consequence of sin. Furthermore the Cross to which Jesus was fastened was planted firmly in the earth and was not detached from the physical world.[15] Symbolically and practically therefore we can state that the Cross represents God’s faithfulness to this creation, the animal kingdom and the natural world which he has redeemed together with the sin of humanity.

  1. The Sabbath

Very little attention is normally given to the concept of the Sabbath in contemporary theology perhaps out of fear of various forms of legalism that have often plagued its observance. My personal conviction is that understanding the full meaning of the Sabbath may be one of the keys to success in the field of animal welfare. When we are told about God’s original plan for creation the concept of the Sabbath is underlined and it seems to be intertwined with non-violence and peace within creation.

And yet his work has been finished since the creation of the world. For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: “and on the seventh day God rested from all his works”[…] There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.[16]

One of the most radical aspects of the Sabbath is that even animals rested on this day:[17] this would have been quite different from the majority of other peoples of the Ancient Near East and is superior to the treatment of many creatures even in contemporary societies. It is interesting to note that the Lord Jesus considered the welfare of an animal as more important than the observance of the Sabbath, even though it is actually one of the Ten Commandments:[18]

Then he asked them, “If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath, will you not immediately pull him out?”[19][20]

 Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water?[21]

Moreover, according to the very words of Christ helping an animal in distress on the Sabbath is considered a ‘good work’ that does not violate the spirit of the Sabbath. [22] In reality the concept of abstaining from work on this day and therefore resting on the Sabbath has a much deeper meaning. God was trying to teach his people a profound spiritual lesson and it is this: even though in this present Age there is strife and bloodshed there is coming a time when the Lord’s perfect will be manifested and in which all creation, humans and animals alike, will once again know complete and unending joy and peace.

4. A ‘New Age’?

I strongly believe that all genuine Christianity is in its essence eschatological.[23] When the gospel ceases to be projected into the future it also ceases to faithfully represent the kingdom of God. One of the reasons that the so called ‘New Age movement’ has enjoyed such a large success in the past forty years has been its understanding that the human soul is desperately seeking a future age of peace and hope in which creation will finally be restored. Yet one of the greatest truths of the New Testament is that if there ever was a message proclaiming a future age of peace it is the Christian one.[24] Sadly instead of seeking to manifest the kingdom of God[25] on earth the Church has either simply sought to maintain the traditional status quo or has projected the kingdom into some indefinite eon so distant from our contemporaneity as to have no real bearing on our present lives. Christians often use the word ‘eternal life’ when talking about the salvation purchased for us by Christ, the fact is that even though this is a fairly good translation the original Greek says simply ‘life into the Age’. We could render the phrase in question, Zóé Aiónios ζωή αἰώνιος, as ‘future Age life’ or even more surprisingly as ‘new Age life’. Speaking to his disciples Jesus foretold that: ‘Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel’.[26] In the same way the word in question, palingenesia παλιγγενεσία, has been translated as the ‘renewal’ or the ‘new world’ but could be easily translated ‘future age’ or ‘new age.’

Isaiah in Jewish tradition is considered the most important of all the Prophets and his writings are second only to Moses himself in authority. And yet there is one prophecy that is repeated twice in Isaiah: in chapters 11 and 65. In chapter 11 we are told that:

The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together;and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra’s den,and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.[27]

 And incredibly again in chapter 65:

The wolf and the lamb will feed together,and the lion will eat straw like the ox, and dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain.[28]

It is sad and even painful to attest to the words of Christ that the children of this world often seem to know more than the children of light who appear to be blinded to their very own Scriptures.[29]

 5. The Ultimate Choice between Life or Death

The Christian faith presents each individual with a choice, the same choice that was presented to Adam and Eve, to the Israelites[30] and to the crowd that witnessed Jesus’s trial.[31] It is the eternal dilemma between life and death, light and darkness and paradise or perdition of which animals and their treatment are an emblem and symbol. In Christ we can finally regain forever that paradise that was lost.[32]

 

 Thank you for reading and following our blog!  Your comments are always welcome!  ~  Marcello

 

[1] John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” is a famous 17th century epic poem.

[2] Genesis 3.

[3] Linzey Andrew, Animal Gospel: A Christian Faith as Though Animals Mattered, Hodder & Stoughton 19982, Great Britain, p. 33.

[4] Löwith Karl, Meaning in History: The Theological Implications of the Philosophy of History, The University of Chicago Press 1949, USA, p. 190.

[5] Romans 5:12.

[6] Steve Bruce, God is Dead: Secularization in the West, Blackwell Publishing 2002, UK.

[7] Luke 19:10.

[8] Derek Prince, Atonement: Your Appointment with God, Derek Prince Ministries International, UK 2005, p. 37.

[9] John 19:30.

[10] Colossians 2:15.

[11] Galatians 3:13.

[12] Genesis 3:17-18.

[13] John 19:2. See also Matthew 27:29.

[14] Galatians 3:13, Deuteronomy 21:23.

[15] Moltmann Juergen, The Spirit of Life, SCM Press 19992, London.

[16] Hebrews 4:3-4; 9-10.

[17] Deuteronomy 5:14.

[18] It would probably be better to talk of the “Ten Words” and not the Ten Commandments because the Hebrew is dabar which means simply word. The concept of “commandments” came from the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint, that used the Greek word nomos.

[19] Luke 14:5.

[20] Also Matthew 12:11.

[21] Luke 14:15.

[22] Matthew 12:12.

[23] From the Greek eschatos ἔσχατος which means last things. By eschatological we really mean that which is concerned with the future.

[24] Romans 8:20-21.

[25] Matthew 5:13-14.

[26] Matthew 19:28.

[27] Isaiah 11:6-9.

[28] Isaiah 65:25.

[29] Luke 16:8.

[30] Deuteronomy 30:15-19.

[31] John 18:39-40.

[32] Revelation 22.

This entry was posted in Creation Care and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Paradise Lost

  1. Lois Wye says:

    Excellent post, Marcello. thank you!

    Like

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