Friday, July 13, 2007

Question from email on Scott Hahn and original sin

Someone emailed me with a question about Scott Hahn's claim that original sin in some sense was Adam's failure to protect the Garden of Eden, possibly at the cost of his life. I am going from memory here, but if I recall correctly, he said that Satan was implicitly threatening Adam with death and that Adam effectively failed to fight back. I believe that is correct if rightly understood, and my response to the questioner follows in the hopes that it might be useful to others as well.

The idea of Adam having fallen for fear of death is not entirely off the wall. If one views God's command as an implicit promise of eternal life if Adam does NOT eat the fruit, then Satan's contradiction is both a temptation and a threat. The statement "you will surely not die" is a repudiation of God's promise and a promise that Satan will protect Adam's physical life. But like God's promise, it also contains its opposite. Satan is saying "if you eat the fruit, I will protect you, but if you don't, I make no promise of protection." Naturally, the implicit threat is a lie, and Satan knows it is a lie, but it is a choice of who Adam will trust with his life. If Adam trusts God, then he should have no fear that Satan will not protect his lfe, because he should know that God will. But if he does not trust God, then his value of his own created life will cause him to ally with Satan for his own self-protection.

The temptation is Adam's own self-interest, but it also covets God's knowledge because Adam does not want to trust God's ultimate providence. Despite having been given supervision over all of creation, Adam wants more. He wants to have ultimate control over his own life as well, just as Lucifer himself did. Thus, Lucifer is tempting Adam with the same temptation he himself had: to be like the most high (Isa. 14:12-14). The temptation is a false hope, Adam's hope to be like the most high, to own his own life. Adam's act forfeited God's promise of protection, effectively taking responsibility for his own life. Even worse, because he then had knowledge of good and evil, he knew what he had done and was ashamed, but it was too late. He had already put his lot in with Satan against God, setting his will in unnatural opposition to God's predestination of his nature, which is what produces death in patristic theology just as a natural consequence.

I hope that helps to make sense of what I think Hahn is saying. The point wasn't so much that Adam needed to be brave, in the sense of natural boldness as a man might have against a predator, and quailed in the face of danger. The point was that he should have trusted God like Abraham did. And praise God! Jesus of Nazareth did this (Luke 22:42) where Adam would not.


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