Each year during Lent, I press all the more deeply into a motif that appears throughout the Bible: that in some mysterious way, the God of the Universe has had a “slain” and “suffering” aspect to his nature for all eternity–even before the world came into being.
When this world did come into being, the Bible says that it came to exist “through” this suffering and slain Jesus. Therefore the rhythms of Christ’s own nature and life are written into the very DNA of the world. All of our history is an echo of Jesus’ life, both from eternity past and while on earth.
I’ve written before about what this means for the world and what this means for us, but what might this mean for the entire history of God’s work in this world?
Creation & The Cross
If this world were created through a Jesus who has suffered from the very beginning, then there must be some intimate connection between Creation and the Cross (Good Friday).
In a sense, then, one could say that the world was created in a “Good Friday” state, we currently live in “Holy Saturday”, and we are all waiting for “Easter Sunday” to come. You could say that both history and the natural life of Creation are “Cross-shaped”.
Re-Thinking “the Fall”
So far, this sounds kind of beautiful, right? This idea of a Crucified Creation, awaiting its Easter Resurrection. It would make such mind-boggling sense and carry with it such simplicity and force.
But, there’s an implication we shouldn’t miss. If this “Good Friday Creation” is true, what do we make of the usual way we describe “Redemptive History”: Creation, Fall, Redemption?
It’s my belief that the life of Jesus (both eternal and temporal) was both “good” and “slain” all along. There wasn’t some part within God’s own life that was considered “good” before Jesus’ death entered the equation. Suffering and Death was always there in the heart of God.
In fact, if you look over the whole sweep of the Bible, you simply don’t see biblical writers speaking in terms of a “goodness” that humans “lost”. The usual idea that we were perfect, messed up, “fell”, and so now Jesus makes everything good again isn’t how the Bible talks about human history.
Instead, it talks about history in a similar way that we experience Holy Weekend: Death leading to Life, all in the midst of a good and beautiful Creation.
When Genesis calls Creation and humanity “good” (and “very good”), that’s not a moral category like we modern people hear it. It’s a craftsman finishing his pottery, stepping back and saying, “dang, that’s good”. He’s not talking about the moral status of his creation, but speaking of the craftsmanship of the creator.
Creation is good, and humans are good–even as we are now tainted by sin. I’m proposing not that Creation began in sin, but was created “unfinished”. God created all the building blocks he would use for his future heavenly world, organized them and gave them dignity enough to hold and know the Divine, and then began his work–in our history–to bring that future world to reality.
Irenaeus & “Baby Adam”
These ideas and musings have a lot of historical precedent, most clearly seen in the Early Church with St. Irenaeus, one of the most important theologians of the 100s CE. He was discipled by a direct disciple (named Polycarp) of the original apostles. So yeah, he probably knew some things.
Anyway, he wouldn’t phrase it quite like I have, but his belief was not that Creation and humanity were made “perfect” and then lost their perfection. Rather, they were made innocent and naive so when they disobeyed, they didn’t know better. He believed that humanity and Creation were created “immature”, and history is the process of God bringing humanity into its “adulthood”.
He, along with many of the earliest Christian thinkers, talked about Adam and Eve’s “infancy” and undeveloped moral nature. Human disobedience is actually a necessary part of the process of our “moral maturity”, he would say. Because of Jesus, even our sin is incorporated into the equation of redemption. It’s a necessary part of the Gospel’s Beauty.
What happened? 200 years after Irenaeus, a brilliant speaker and writer named Augustine articulated the whole “Fallen Nature” idea and it caught on. For more on these different views, see this and especially this. For a fuller, more academic treatment, see the article referenced here.
The Cross Changes Everything
It shouldn’t be hard for Christians to relate to Irenaeus’ idea; we feel the same way about the Cross. It was a shameful act, a tragedy–the worst sin ever committed on earth; and yet, it is the most beautiful, essential, and glorious act in all of eternity.
So again, we ask: what if the world was created in a “Good Friday” sort of situation?
What if we are now living in the tension of that Holy Saturday: questioning, struggling, trying to cling to faith while everything hurts and the Spirit tries to comfort us? Trying to be as obedient as we can and continuing to trust our God.
And what if life is a longing and moving towards that Great Tomorrow, the Eternal Easter, where New Life and New Creation breaks into the world, and every day is Resurrection?
[image credit: “The Garden of Earthly Delights (Outer Wings: Creation of the World)” by Hieronymus Bosch]