Fall-Redemption theology is a pretty weird line of thought when you think about it. For a start, there are two fall stories – each set in a different dimension – wrapped up in this theology.
The first is the story of Lucifer, which turns an archangel into the devil, Satan, and involves the creation of another dimension or place cut off from God: Hell.
The second is the story of the fall of humankind, which starts with the story of Adam and Eve being kicked out of the Garden of Eden through the agency of Eve and the actions of the devil, who has somehow managed to insert himself into God’s creation in the physical dimension.
This second story progresses to the story of Noah and the ark, and God’s first act of redemption – a cleansing by way of a flood and a starting over through the offspring of Noah. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work out as planned and leads to the Tower of Babel, where God intervenes (again) to create division and confusion through language in an effort to thwart our ancestors’ attempt to reach the heavens. That intervention eventually leads to the Hebrews, through the agency of Abraham – who needs a little help from the divine to impregnate his legal wife in order to start the line of descent – although he’s had no trouble getting his maidservant pregnant to start an alternative line, but that’s not part of this story.
Then we get another redemption event through the agency of Joseph, wearer of the multicoloured dreamcoat, who rescues the Hebrews into Egypt only for them to fall into slavery, so Moses (with divine assistance) can redeem them again, and lead them into the promised land.
The redemption story celebrated at Easter
By the time we get to the events that the Church regards as ‘the redemption’ story, which we celebrate at Easter, the Hebrews in their promised land are once again a subjected people, this time living under the rule of Rome. But, this redemption story is set beyond the physical world, even if it plays out in events firmly set in the physical dimension.
In fact, this story links back to the first fall story, the fall of Lucifer, which reputedly initiated the war between the forces of good and evil, and led to our fall into sin through the actions of Adam and Eve. This last redemption story is about God intervening directly in human affairs by inserting ‘his only begotten son’ into humanity – for the express purpose of allowing him to be sacrificed to atone for all of the errors stemming from the first fall and to set things right in God’s creation.
In the physical story, if we can believe the gospels, we see the rich and powerful in a backwoods of the Roman Empire do what the rich and powerful do everywhere – silence a voice of dissent. They kill a troublemaker named Jesus of Nazareth using the most horrific means available to them: crucifixion.
What happens next is intriguing, and has been occupying the minds of scholars and believers for centuries.
Immediately after the crucifixion, stories of resurrection emerge, though they aren’t written down for years and they can’t be verified.
In the years after the crucifixion, we not only have stories of what Jesus was reputed to have taught his disciples but explanations of the significance of his life, death and resurrection aligned with the Jewish prophecies of a redeeming Messiah, thanks to the authors of the writings we know as the New Testament.
And, finally, centuries later, we get the Church, a group of people who teach these stories as if they are divinely inspired truths. These are the people that come up with fall-redemption theology to explain it all, despite the fact that none of the originating stories of their theology can be authenticated.
The God of this theology doesn’t even align with the God Jesus is reputed to have spoken of – the God of love or the God described as a loving father who loves his children unconditionally. So, why have we bought into this theology, this story, for most of the last two thousand years? And, why are so many of us, now that we are literate, walking away from it?
As Christians, we want to believe we have been saved from sin by the act of a redeeming saviour. That’s the message we’ve been given as the good news. We want that ‘get out of hell for free’ card. I understand that. But, I’m left asking a question: If Jesus’ death and resurrection represent the triumph of good over evil, the vanquishment of the devil, how come there is still so much evil in the world today?
It doesn’t take much research to realize that on the world stage, nothing changed after Jesus’ supposed act of redeeming sacrifice some two thousand years ago. The Romans went ahead and destroyed Jerusalem and lots of other places. European nations arose from the ashes of the Roman Empire and went on to conquer, colonise and exploit most of the countries on earth. Warlords, emperors and kings everywhere carried on with business as usual, through two world wars, right up to this day where they are still killing unarmed voices of dissent.
What’s the value of this fall-redemption theology?
I don’t see any real value in believing this theology. It’s nothing more than a salve for guilty consciences, a false promise that no matter how you live your life, you’re saved as long as you acknowledge Jesus as your Lord. It’s a great excuse for self-righteousness.
However, this theology has value as a weapon of power for those who claim to speak for God. The Church, for example, has been playing the power games of empire ever since it became mainstream in the 4th century CE. In other words, thanks to Constantine, the Church became another vehicle through which the rich and powerful could exert control over the masses, and the message of fall-redemption theology has been pretty effective at keeping us in line until recently.
Today, most of us in the West can read, and when people read, they start to think for themselves.
Time for a more personal theology.
It’s time to realize you’re the saviour you have been looking for. No-one’s getting a free ride into heaven because someone, unknown and unrecorded outside the words of the New Testament, was crucified in Judea some two thousand years ago – despite what’s been claimed about him.
It’s time to wake up to the reality of this being your life and you being responsible for how you live it.
To develop a personal theology, make some room in your schedule for allowing the divine into your life. Like anyone else you want to get to know, God will remain a stranger unless you spend some quality time together.
And, take it from me, once you do that, you’ll discover there’s no falling or redemption required.
Peter Mulraney is the author of Mystical Journey: A Handbook for Modern Mystics.
Featured image by Paul Zoetemeijer on Unsplash