Fall, incarnation and atonement

In this blog and those that preceded it (here and here), I indulge in some speculations concerning the nature and purpose of the created world and of God and humanity. These thoughts are based on the orthodox Christian narrative of fall, incarnation, atonement and resurrection, and I hope, take the scriptural revelation seriously. They nonetheless have a distinctly scientific and technical flavour that some might find rather cold and off putting. I would simply hope that what I write can complement the more traditional understanding of God and his love for his world and his people. Readers are of course completely free to choose whether or not the give my thoughts any credence at all!

In an earlier post I suggested that we could allow God to be both transcendent and imminent by postulating that he exists in the currently unobservable part of the universe what I have called Z that is both distinct from the physical creation A, and yet meshed with it. Humanity exists within A. But there are scriptural indications that the destiny of humanity is to be with God in Z, or perhaps more accurately for the barriers between Z and A to be broken down – the new heaven and the new earth – and that the route between the two is through physical death. But how does the Christian narrative of fall, incarnation and atonement fit into this. In this post I will speculate on these issues.

In the last post I suggested that the essential act of creation was for God to bring order to chaos. This is of course a direct reflection of the poetry of the early verses of Genesis.

the earth was a formless void (chaos) and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God (or the Spirit of God) swept over the face of the waters.

The scriptural use of the concept of chaos does not end with Genesis however, and we find this concept recurring throughout the Old Testament. This can be directly referenced such as in Isaiah. 

For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it a chaos, he formed it to be inhabited!): I am the Lord, and there is no other’ I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness. I did not say to the offspring of Jacob,  ‘Seek me in chaos.’. I the Lord speak the truth; I declare what is right.

More indirectly, some would see many of the adversarial psalms as also referring to the struggle between the order of God and the untamed chaos, or to put it another way between good and evil. This concept of chaos is later personified into two forms – the devil without and sin within.  I thus postulate that the chaos of the early creation, though tamed and repurposed to produce the complexity and diversity of the physical, biological and social creations that is the purpose of God, can still be force that disrupts and divides – a force indeed that has developed its own “personality”. This is perhaps what Paul is referring to in the letter to the Ephesian church when he writes.

For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Now it is necessary to consider the nature of humanity. We have of course a physical existence. But it has long been recognised in theological terms that we also have a soul. I would reinterpret this in terms of what in technical terms is called “information”. I speculated in the last post that such information flows in Z might be the form of God, at least on a cosmic scale. For humanity, the physical body is encoded within our DNA which can itself be expressed in mathematical form. Our emotions and memories can similarly (in principle) be encoded in digital form. It is this information that defines who we are – and most importantly is does not have a physical form. I would suggest that this is the part of us that should in principle pass at death from A to Z and there be clothed in another style of body more appropriate to that mode of existence – the older theologies would refer to this as a soul. We are perhaps the first generation who can think in these terms – that all our nature, experiences and make up can in principle be digitally encoded and removed from the need for a physical shell.

As I argue above that chaos, the primal force or property of the universe, still exists, as the tendency towards disorder, both as a separate principle and within the creation. And although God has tamed this chaos, and used it to mould the physical, biological and cultural creations, there are inherent dangers in this moulding of chaotic forces. All processes that have a statistical base can be defined by parameters that describe their average value and their spread, but also their extreme values and their limits. I would speculate that the event or events that are classically described as the fall, are as a result of the underlying chaotic principle in the universe bringing about an extreme development in the nature of humanity that resulted in a divergence between the God given order of the physical, biological and social creations and the current trajectories of these creations – a bifurcation that leads to two potentially radically different types of creation.

The primary result of this seems to be that humanity cannot achieve its final destiny – the way to Z through physical death no longer exists on the current trajectory of the created order. This implies that humanity can no longer achieve whatever purpose makes it so important for God. And that is of course where the incarnation and atonement come in. It seems that the way in which this barrier could be restored, was by the intense localisation of God in human form as Jesus and accepting physical death brought about by the forces of chaos within the creation, and in doing so engaging in another creative act, in breaking down the barrier between A and Z – effectively allowing another bifurcation in creation that allows humanity to once again resume its proper path. The gateway to heaven has been opened for all believers.

Such a framework perhaps gives an indication as to why part of the process of God restoring humanity and opening the path to Z, involved the imposition of “law” as found in the Torah. The function of this can be seen as imposing limits on the statistical and chaotic human behaviour to ensure that no further bifurcations occur before the events of the incarnation and atonement. After those events, scriptural laws as defined in the New Testament take on a wholly different aspect – as being in place not so much to limit human behaviour as to develop those qualities within humanity that are required for God’s eternal purposes.

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