Monday, May 9, 2011

Groaning Under Sin?

Whenever tragic natural disasters occur, particularly those resulting in loss of human life, many rush to explain those events through the lens of the sin of Adam and Eve in Eden. One website expressed this belief held by many Christians: “God created a perfect world where there were no disasters because there was no sin. This world was spoiled and changed when humanity sinned.” Romans 5:12 is an oft-quoted passage to justify the claim that physical death and by extension, fatal disasters, occur because Adam sinned: “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin…so death spread to all men, because all sinned…” With belief in an ancient earth, the “no death/no disasters” creed is impossible. Throughout the lengthy geologic history of earth, there have been many natural and cataclysmic events which resulted in death and disaster for the creatures living on earth.

Scripture makes no explicit statements to support a claim of a perfect death-free and disaster-free world prior to the sin of Adam. Romans states death spread to all men because of Adam’s sin. In the context of Romans, this verse refers to spiritual death which only humans can experience. In addition, Romans 8:19-22 is offered to support a “groaning” creation. This colorful word appears in many different translations of Romans 8. Its frequent citation is an example of the dangers of “proof texting,” the use of a short passage, often a single verse, to justify the acceptance of a doctrine or belief. A contextual study of the entire book of Romans makes clear the overwhelming purpose of the book: to offer a comprehensive account of Christian doctrines related to redemption through Jesus Christ. The book of Romans speaks of man’s spiritual death and alienation from the Creator caused by sin, and outlines the God-provided remedy for that sin and death.

Broad scope scientific knowledge of the operation of our natural world produces a wide-angle picture of reality. Since the creation event of Genesis 1:1 our universe has been governed by the Second Law of Thermodynamics. That term may bewilder the average person, but it is an important, fundamental concept, wholly worthy of our effort to understand. In a sense, the universe may be said to "groan" under this law.

Our universe has a tendency to “run downhill.” Energy tends to dissipate, to become less useful. Physical systems naturally tend toward greater disorder. This tendency is manifest in hundreds of ways in our everyday life. Sanctified hermeneutical imagination leads us to propose that the "groaning" creation of Romans 5 could refer to this fundamental scientific law as a spiritual object lesson. The law has been operative since the beginning. Scientific descriptions of the Second Law may cause some people to see its operation as a “bad” thing. But without it, human existence as we know it would be impossible. We could not consume energy to power our automobiles, nor could we digest our food, to list only two examples.

New Testament scriptures deal primarily with the phenomenon of man’s spiritual disorder. But the condition of the physical creation parallels the spiritual. Romans states “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay” (NIV). Scientifically, this surprising verse is ahead of its time. It appears to refer to the termination of the physical characteristics of this universe at the onset of the New Creation of Revelation 21-22. In the spiritual realm, there are several startling verses suggesting that the spiritual redemption of man was also in the mind of God before the beginning of time (I Cor. 2:7, II Tim. , and Tit. 1:2). This implies that the omniscient God knew man, gifted with free will, would fall into sin and would need redemption. Man’s Garden of Eden sojourn of innocence likely did not last very long. Physical and spiritual decay are now both a feature of this universe. Man willfully chose his own spiritual decay; God had already imposed the physical decay long before.

The Apostle Paul lamented, in Romans 7, that even though he was redeemed by Christ, he still had a tendency to sin. He was susceptible to its harmful effects even though he was a redeemed Christian. Just as the physical creation “groaned” under the Second Law, in his flesh Paul "groaned" under the temptation to sin. He looked ahead to the New Creation of Revelation 21-22 where there would be no Second Law to govern physical reality. Neither would there be any law of sin and death (Romans 8:2).

Tragic deaths from natural disasters result from the operation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. We must be mindful, however, that the benefits of the Second Law far outweigh its harmful effects. At the original creation event, long before man was placed on this planet, God imposed the Second Law because He chose to have the universe operate that way. Some Christian authors envision our universe as it presently exists merely as a preliminary stage leading to the ultimate defeat of all sin and death--a condition yet to arrive at the onset of the New Creation.

Many cataclysmic events of prehistory provide multiple benefits to our existing civilization. Some of those events created multiple die-offs of living organisms and later forged their remains into the energy resources we extract from earth in our time. These cataclysmic, “disastrous” events were not caused by Adam’s sin. To blame natural disasters on Adam’s sin is to trivialize the greater disaster of alienation from God. Observation of natural disasters provides us with the wisdom to cope more effectively with living in a world governed by a prevalent law--the Second Law of Thermodynamics.