The Evangelical Universalist Forum

How should we feel about salvation?

Hello Dr. Talbott: It is such a privilege to have you here on this forum. Thanks for taking the time to interact with us.

I posted a question on our forum earlier that was a question I had after reading The Inescapable Love of God. Now that you are with us on the forum, I wanted to ask you how you would respond. Below is my previous post:

"One issue that has always perplexed me was the existence of evil/sin, given the power of God. Maybe if it had taken a few 1000 years before sin entered the world I could swallow it better. But, for crying out loud, it was the first two people who screwed up!! It looks as if, quite honestly, God screwed up. However, Thomas Talbott gave a very convincing answer.

"Talbott argues in The Inescapable Love of God (in the chapter "Omnipotence and the Mystery of Evil) that “perhaps a degree of pain and frustration is itself a necessary condition of a society of independent persons who interact with each other” (Talbott 172-3). He does an incredible job explaining that ultimately pain and frustration are required to create us as we are. So, sin must be allowed. God saw greater potential for good and for love in creating a world such as ours than in any other possibly-created world.

“Ok, but here’s my quandry: It seems to remove the glorious nature of being rescued by God through Christ, for it seems that He is rescuing us from a misery created by Himself (even though that misery might have been necessary). In other words, is it that wonderful to thank a person for pulling you out of a hole, when it was they who pushed you in?”

I would love to get your feedback.

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Wow, these questions are as difficult as they are important, and I can barely scratch the surface in the limited space (and time) I have at my disposal here. It so happens, however, that I address similar questions in a recently published paper entitled “Why Christians Should Not Be Determinists: Reflections on the Origin of Human Sin” (Faith and Philosophy, July 2008).

For the present, then, I shall have to limit myself to a few sketchy comments and perhaps a couple of quotations from the paper.

I believe that the Augustinian understanding of original sin, according to which Adam and Eve fell from a higher state to a lower one, is neither philosophically tenable nor exegetically tenable as an interpretation of the relevant biblical materials. St Irenaeus, the Bishop of Lyons between roughly 177 and 202 A.D., had a very different view. For according to Irenaeus, Adam and Eve disobeyed God for essentially the same kind of reason that human children inevitably disobey their parents. Here is how I describe his view in the paper:

Now in my paper I ask Christians to consider, if only for the purpose of trying to refute it, the non-Augustinian hypothesis that God had no choice, provided he wanted to create any persons at all, but to permit their embryonic minds to emerge and to begin functioning on their own in a context of ambiguity, ignorance, and indeterminism—a context that virtually guarantees the occurrence of misguided choices of a kind that Christians typically associate with sin. So whereas the Augustinians hold that we would never have inherited our sinful dispositions and moral weaknesses, had Adam not failed his test in the Garden of Eden, my alternative hypothesis implies that these are, from a practical perspective, unavoidable consequences of conditions essential to our very creation.

What some Christians will perhaps find heretical here is the implication in my view that our first parents came into being with the same imperfections and egocentric dispositions common to human beings in general. As I see it, in other words, the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is not an account, either symbolic or literal, of how human beings came to acquire a “sinful nature” in the first place; it is instead an account of how our first parents’ natural propensity to “miss the mark” originally manifested itself in the context of ambiguity and illusion in which they first emerged. I also believe that such a view accords far better with both the Genesis account and the New Testament commentary on it than does the more standard Augustinian account. But in any event, the question I would leave you with is this: Is the view that I have just sketched any more problematic, either philosophically or biblically, than the Augustinian idea of inherited guilt or the idea that an inherited sinful nature is God’s supposedly just punishment of the entire human race for Adam’s sin?

I have no doubt that this brief sketch will raise, as it should, many more questions in your mind than it answers. But anyway, thanks for some tough questions.


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I, too, have considered that Adam and Eve were “immature” mentally and spiritually. Among the trees in the garden was the tree of life, from which God didn’t forbid them to eat. I wondered whether God’s intention was for them first to eat from the tree of life, and then they would attain a maturity which would qualify them to eat from the tree of good and evil. I thought perhaps Satan (in his usual fashion) deliberately reversed God’s intended order by tempting them to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil FIRST, and that his success in this devilish scheme had thrown a monkey wrench into God’s initial plan for man.

Then I began to wonder if God had really created fully mature bodies with immature minds. All that He created, He saw as “good”. Our normal experience is to observe immature bodies and immature minds which grow together until both achieve maturity. The rare person whose body is mature but who still has the mind of a child is considered retarded.

Thanks so much for your reply. I would very much like to read your article in Faith and Philosophy. Are those available online?

A follow up question: If our propensity to sin is ‘natural’ to our state of development, then why is there such a decisive condemnation and punishment from God after Adam and Eve were confronted? It seems that He sets in motion a different world because of their actions, a world now wrought with pain, struggle, and death that were not part of the pre-fall experience.

Thanks again for the insights.

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