The Fall of Man

Sermon: The Fall of Man

I preached this sermon on September 25, 2011, at the Church of the New Jerusalem in Dawson Creek, BC.

Lessons: Genesis 3:1-19; Revelation 20:1-3, 7-10; Arcana Coelestia 206

“And Jehovah God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden eating thou may eat. But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day that thou eat of it, dying thou shalt die.” (Genesis 2:16, 17)

            We live in a fallen world.  When we look around at the violence and poverty, the cruelty that one person inflicts on another, we acknowledge this.  We live in a broken world.  And we are part of that broken world.  We see the same tendencies in ourselves that appal us in others – greed, selfishness, vengeance.  We know that our world is broken, and there are two questions that we ask: how can something God created be so full of pain and suffering?  And can the world be redeemed?

These questions have been at the heart of many religions for thousands of years.  And for thousands of years, Jews and Christians have turned to the story of Adam and Eve for answers.  In its basic outlines, the story is clear: in the beginning, God created everything, and it was good.  The world was in a state of harmony and peace, and everything was provided for man freely.  There was only one law: they were not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  But they broke this law – and this first sin spelled the downfall from that state of Eden.

That general outline is clear – but the specific interpretation is anything but.  Many Christians take the story literally.  Others believe it to be an allegory or a parable – it represents something.  But few agree on what it represents.

In the New Church, we’ve been blessed with an explanation of the true meaning of the story of the Fall of Man.  The Writings for the New Church show that it is a true story – not that there literally was one man named Adam and one woman named Eve, but that these characters represent a group of people who really did live lives of harmony and peace.  Their sin was not the taking of a single fruit – but the story of taking that fruit perfectly represents what their first sin was.

It’s not at all a stretch to say that the story of Adam and Eve is a parable.  The name “Adam” simply means “man” or “human” – and so it’s a story of the way that humanity fell.  If the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil was simply a fruit, and the action was only a sin because it disobeyed God, then why is the tree named “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” and not simply “the forbidden tree?”  Clearly, that tree represents something to do with the knowledge of good and evil.

So if Adam simply means “man,” and Adam and Eve stand for a group of people rather than just for two individuals, who are they standing for?  The Writings for the New Church provide an answer: they stand for the earliest human beings, who were members of what is called the Most Ancient Church.  When the Writings use the word “church,” they’re referring to the group of people who have a special revelation from the Lord – and the Most Ancient Church was made of the first people, who worshipped God.

The people who became the members of the Most Ancient Church went through the process of becoming an image and likeness of God that is described in the creation story. The people of that church became even more a likeness of God than we are today.  Because the human race had not yet fallen, every person of that age born with a will that was not corrupt.  And in fact, the entire structure of their mind was different – their will and their intellect was not divided as it is today.  The things that they loved, they thought, and the things that they thought, they loved.

Because they had this will of good, they had a perception that is unknown today.  The Lord revealed Himself to them directly, speaking to them as if from person to person.  They were able to perceive spiritual realities from a close connection to the spiritual world.  And they had perception of the natural world, too.  Their ability to perceive things from all different sources is what is meant by all the trees that they were allowed to eat from.  Everything they looked at and interacted with contributed to their celestial wisdom; it provided celestial food.  And in the centre of the garden was the tree of life: perception from loving the Lord and trusting in Him.

But there was one tree in the garden that they were not allowed to eat from: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  That tree has a specific meaning; but before we look at that, it’s important to look at the different characters in the story as they were before the fall and see what they represent.

In the story of creation, the Lord created all animals on the sixth day, and gave man dominion over all of them.  The different animals represent different affections.  And the Lord created lower animals like snakes as well as the higher animals.  These lower animals represented the sensual level of the mind – our five senses and their desires, as well as the thoughts that spring directly from these.  This sensual level was and is necessary – but man, or the internal person, is supposed to have dominion over it.  But as it was necessary, there was a snake in the garden.

The second chapter of Genesis describes the creation of woman as being from Adam’s rib.  This woman, as she is created from a rib, represents a person’s proprium, or what is a person’s own, made alive by the acknowledgment and perception that what seems to be our own really flows into us from the Lord.  We need to have a sense that we live from ourselves – but for it to be living, it needs to include that acknowledgment that life is really from the Lord.  That sense of self-life is Eve.

Finally, Adam in this story represents the rational level of the mind, and the internal man – the part of the person that was making decisions, the person himself.  So the serpent is the lowest level of the mind, Eve is our sense of life from ourselves, and Adam is the higher, rational part of our mind.  With this in mind, we can look again at how the Most Ancient Church fell away.

The Lord had put all trees in the garden, but the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they were not to eat from.  At first, this can seem strange – isn’t it good that people would want to know what was good and what was evil?  It is – but the tree of knowledge of good and evil represented something different than simply knowing.  It represented the desire for a person to know from himself what was good and evil, rather than listening to God.  That’s why the serpent said, “In the day that you eat of it… you shall be like God, knowing good and evil.”  It represents that belief that a person can be his own God, and determine for himself what is good and what is evil.

Remember, that serpent represents the sensuous level of the mind, the operation of the five senses, the knowledge we have from them and the desires we have from them.  The ability to do whatever we like is seductive, and appeals to our sensuous desires.  And the knowledge we have from the five senses can be seductive too, because it can sometimes seem more real than higher, abstract concepts.  And the strongest desire in the lowest part of our minds is the love of self.  That is the head of the serpent.

That serpent – desires and thoughts from the lowest part of the mind – appealed to Eve.  In a good sense, Eve represents an own, a proprium, a sense of self-life, that has been made living by the acknowledgment that life is from the Lord.  But in a negative sense, Eve represents both the sense and the belief that we live from ourselves.  That sense is seduced by the serpent, those sensuous things of our mind – because it feels like we live from ourselves.

This is what happened to that generation of the people of the Most Ancient Church.  They allowed themselves to be seduced by the lowest level of the mind.  They allowed themselves to be seduced by the appearance that they lived from themselves.  And they confirmed those things even in their interiors, on the rational level of the mind represented by Adam.  This was the fall of mankind, and has been the fall of every church ever since: from a love of self, people believed that they could know good and evil from themselves, from things of the five senses, rather than from the Lord.

It can seem hard to believe that this is the cause of the fall, that this attitude leads to death.  The serpent says, “In the day that you eat of it, you shall not surely die!”  It seems like people can make decisions based on their own desires and thoughts and still live moral lives.  But that morality is just a covering, like those fig leaves Adam and Eve used to try to cover their nakedness.  It does not penetrate to the level of the internal man.

But this may seem contrary to the teachings of the New Church.  Doesn’t the New Church teach that everyone is saved if they live by what they believe to be right?  Well, yes and no.  The New Church teaches that anyone who believes in God and lives in charity according to the teachings of their own religion is saved.  And it is not bad that different people have different understandings of what the Lord is saying in His Word.  Two people can understand the Word completely differently, and still be trying to follow it.  But the important thing is still that those people have an attitude that they are taking guidance from the Lord’s Word – not that they are coming up with their own plan of living.

The case is completely different with someone who refuses to believe anything other than what they see with their five senses.       Those who refuse to believe anything they cannot see or feel trust in themselves and not in the Lord; they live from and for the love of self.  Many even acknowledge this, saying that all humans act from self-love – which extends also to putting one’s own offspring above others – and that this is the only rational way to act.

Now again, it may not seem like this attitude really is the source of all evil.  After all, we know atheists who live morally.  And we can’t judge anyone’s interiors; some people may believe in a higher power, an absolute morality, even if they don’t call it by the name of God.  But anyone who truly believes that there is nothing beyond the realm of the senses cannot believe in an absolute morality.  Morality for them is based on “whatever works” to keep society in order.  And if there is no absolute morality, then there is nothing inherently wrong in lying or stealing or committing adultery.  The laws against them are necessary for society, but there is nothing “wrong” if I break them and no one finds out – even “right” and “wrong” rely on a belief in something higher.

But if this attitude – that we can determine right and wrong for ourselves – is at the root of all evil, then of course it extends far beyond those who have confirmed themselves in atheism.  We all are tempted by the love of self – and along with that comes a love of our own intelligence.  Even those of us who don’t think of ourselves as particularly smart or learned have a tendency to love our own intelligence more than we love to seek wisdom.  We have a tendency to fall in love with our own ideas.

How many of us have our own pet theories about the way the world really works, or what’s really needed to live a life of religion?  How many of us find at least one way to make an exception for something that is said in the Word?  “Well, yes, I know what the Word says about that; I’ll let the others believe that and I won’t say anything about it, but really I know differently.”  Again, this is different from saying, “I sincerely understand the Word differently from the way you do”; it is saying, “I don’t buy that part of the Word.”  It is basing our beliefs on what we want to be true or what we feel is true, not on what the Lord says.

It’s hard not to do this, to base our beliefs more on the external evidence of our senses than on what the Word says – that serpent of feelings is powerful.  For example, the Word says that it is wrong to act on lust.  But many people do it anyway, and when they do, they often say something like, “It doesn’t feel wrong.  It doesn’t even feel like a big deal.  I don’t feel like it really made any difference.”  Our feelings trump our understanding of what the Word says.

But putting our faith in our feelings rather than the Lord’s Word is the path that leads to death.  Because by nature, we’re inclined to evils of every kind.  And evil feels good.  Once a person is able to “move past” whatever hang-ups they have from their upbringing or culture around them, they realize that committing adultery sometimes just feels right.  If a person can let go of that old belief that revenge is evil, and just completely destroy someone who’s hurt them – that feels great!  When people start to make their own feelings the arbiter of morality, the world begins to collapse.

Have you ever read or heard testimony from people who steal or commit fraud or even murder?  Many, many of them continue to justify their actions.  There is always a justification readily available, and if we’re free to determine our own morality based on what feels right, there will always be murders and rapists and thieves.  There will always be war and violence, because people will always justify the lust for power as the natural way of things – the way human beings are.

We live in a fallen world.  But there is hope.

When the Most Ancient people fell, their wills became corrupted.  And because their will and their understanding were so closely tied, they could not be revived by a knowledge of what was true.  And it may have seemed, then, like the human race was hopeless.

But from the time when the Most Ancient Church began to fall, the Lord provided people with hope, in the form of a prophecy.  God told the serpent that he would bruise the heel of the Seed of the woman – but that the woman’s Seed would bruise his head.  That Seed of the woman is the Lord.  This was the first prophecy of the Lord’s coming – and faith in the Lord to come sustained His church for the next several thousand years.

The will of man would be still be evil from birth.  But the Lord would separate the understanding from the will, so that a person could know what was right and choose to live by what was right.  That higher perception of the will would be closed off, because the will was evil.  But there was a way that the Lord could show himself even to the lowest level of the mind.  The Lord would come as a Divine Human, a visible God, and reach even people with fallen wills.

And so there is hope for us today.  We still are born with corrupt wills.  But we can learn what is true.  We can humbly ask the Lord to teach us what is right, then choose to live by that, acknowledging that it is only because the Lord came and conquered the forces of hell that we are able to do so.  We can force ourselves to live, not based on our own intelligence, or what we feel like doing, but on our understanding of His Word.  And when we do that, the Lord gives us a new heart.  When we act in obedience to the Lord’s Word, He creates in us a new, heavenly will, a will to do what we know is right.  And He can bring us into the New Jerusalem – where once again we find the tree of life: love to the Lord, and the acknowledgment that our lives come from the Him, and not from ourselves.  When we fight against the temptation to live based on our own selfish desires, and instead to live by the Lord’s truth, that serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, is cast down, and we are made free.

15 thoughts on “The Fall of Man

  1. You continuously capitalise ‘Lords Word’ and ‘His Word’, what exactly do you mean by that, i assume the bible? Just wanted to know why you call it that when it was written by man? Also, you say ‘ And if there is no absolute morality, then there is nothing inherently wrong in lying or stealing or committing adultery’, but many religious collectives have been committing these crimes since their origin, and continue to do so. The ‘New Church’ as you put it accepts all religions however one chooses the believe? Thats cool, but what about those who believe or understand the idea of god to be many different gods, is this still acceptable. Or what about those would choose to follow no organised religious structure, and believe that the idea of god is a mere misunderstanding of the singularity of the universe. I don’t believe that anyone needs religion to teach them right from wrong, i don’t believe in a heaven or hell. In fact, if your notion of god was all understanding etc etc, would the insignificance of ones actions while on this plane of existence even matter to god?

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  2. In respond to,
    but what about those who believe or understand the idea of god to be many different gods, is this still acceptable

    Swedenborg spent a lot of his effort on correcting the concept of Trinitarian doctrine that has been held by the Christian Church since the Nicene Council. There is indeed a Divine Trinity, but the idea of a Trinity of Persons was unknown to the Apostolic Church.

    From the Nicene council and the Athanasian Creed, the idea of a trinity of persons, each of whom is separately God, has, according to Swedenborg, perverted the entire Christian Church. This idea of the Holy Trinity is incongruous and defies human reason. It creates a belief and faith that God is one, but is still not one person.

    Under this schizophrenic form of worship one is forced to believe deep in one’s heart that there are three Divine Persons, but give lip service to the idea of one God. This is fuzzy math.

    If you give distinct properties and attributes to three divine persons, you carve up the Divine Essence so that no one of the three can represent God in fullness. This throws the concept of Divine omnipotence right out the theological window.

    This is why the Trinitarian doctrine is declared a “mystery” by the church and we should not worry our finite minds over such things.

    The picture we form (should we refuse to shut our minds) is that God the Father, who sits overhead, was moved by watching His Son suffer on the cross and pleading for all men and women. This arousal of the Father’s compassion and love for His Son next sets the Holy Spirit into high gear, who then descends toward earth to dispense gifts of justification by which humans are instantly transformed from the condemned to the elect (in spite of themselves).

    This picture turns serious thinking people into atheists.

    According to Swedenborg, the angels of heaven understood that Jesus was Jehovah, who came into the world to make himself both visible and accessible to the human race. The Holy Spirit represents the acceptance and reception of God’s divine operation into the minds and hearts of men and women on earth.

    Swedenborg points out that one God cannot go out and proceed from another (as Christian dogma maintains). But a divine operation can certainly go out and proceed from God. So God can display all three operations and divine attributes without having to be described through the distinct activities of three separate persons.

    If the clarification of Trinitarian doctrine described by the Nicene Council was such an improvement over the understanding of doctrine in the Apostolic Church, then why did Europe soon after plunge into the Dark Ages? Surely, such an important doctrinal improvement would not have led to an era of religious conflict and denigration.

    Please chime in.

    (Swedenborg goes into much more detail concerning the holy trinity. If you’re interested in learning more, contact the Swedenborg Foundation and ask for his great theological work, titled True Christianity.)
    by edward Sylvia thegodguy Love is the ultimate science

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  3. Hi, you lost me at ‘This is why the Trinitarian doctrine is declared a “mystery” by the church and we should not worry our finite minds over such things.’

    It is human nature to question that which we don’t understand. It is your statement above that embodies everything that is wrong with organised religion.

    Also, you didnt really respond to the question i asked. I am talking about religions other than Christianity, and their validity, based on what you have stated in your post, once again; ‘The New Church teaches that anyone who believes in God and lives in charity according to the teachings of their own religion is saved’

    Does your above statement not indicate that people can follow what ever belief they choose outside of Christianity, and believe in multiple gods, one god, or something completely different. Provided they live in charity, they will be fine.

    Also, no comment on your choice of words, re- ‘His Word, Lords Word etc, once again, if you are referring to the bible and/or another religious text, they are the word of man, not the word of god at all.

    And no response to the below from my OP:

    Also, you say ‘ And if there is no absolute morality, then there is nothing inherently wrong in lying or stealing or committing adultery’, but many religious collectives have been committing these crimes since their origin, and continue to do so.

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    • I did not write the post, it was written by a new church minister
      anyways i posted the sermon because it was informative rational
      and thought provoking,but i do believe and live a long the same lines,
      Question
      Also, you didnt really respond to the question i asked. I am talking about religions other than Christianity, and their validity, based on what you have stated in your post, once again; ‘The New Church teaches that anyone who believes in God and lives in charity according to the teachings of their own religion is saved’
      Answer
      I alway’s believed serving the lord is a way of life, not some empty ritual,it’s the quality of life we lived that we must answer to, when we reach the other side, no one will ask what your religion was, all religions serve a connection to god,and the whole purpose of religion is to do good to wish the neighbor well, and really mean it
      And so the primary thing we can do to ensure that our faith will develop is to focus on loving others and living in charity. Charity is the life within faith, and our faith will never feel real if it isn’t connected to love for others and love to the Lord. And when we see that the faith we have within ourselves doesn’t seem real to us, rather than saying, “I’ve been lying to myself,” we can ask, “How can this faith come to life in me so that it is real?”

      I will address your other question
      as my time permits

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    • Question
      Does your above statement not indicate that people can follow what ever belief they choose outside of Christianity, and believe in multiple gods, one god, or something completely different. Provided they live in charity, they will be fine.

      Answer
      providing they have a just idea of God.
      and there charity comes from the heart,

      CONCERNING GOD

      Importance of a Just Idea of God

      The idea of God enters into all things of the Church, of religion, and of worship. Not only do theological subjects reside above all [others] in the human mind, but supreme therein is the idea of God. If this therefore be false all things which follow derive from the beginning whence they flow, that they are false, or falsified. For the supreme, which also is the inmost, constitutes the very essence of the sequences; and the essence, as a soul, forms them into a body after its own image; and when in its descent it lights upon truths, it infects them also with its own blemish and error. (BE n. 40)

      Upon a just idea of God the universal heaven and the Church universal on earth, and in general the whole of religion, are founded; for through this there is conjunction, and through conjunction light, wisdom, and eternal happiness. (Pref. to AR)

      Of how great importance it is to have a just idea of God may appear from the consideration, that the idea of God forms the inmost of thought with all who have any religion; for all things of religion and all things of worship have relation to God; and as God is in all things of religion and of worship universally and particularly, therefore unless there be a just idea of God there cannot be any communication with the heavens: Hence it is that in the spiritual world every nation is assigned a place according to its conception of God as a Man; for in this, and in no other, there is an idea of the Lord. That man’s state of life after death is according to the idea of God confirmed within him clearly appears from its opposite, that the denial of God constitutes hell,—and in Christendom, the denial of the Lord’s Divinity. (DLW n. 13)

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    • Morallity
      Now again, it may not seem like this attitude really is the source of all evil. After all, we know atheists who live morally. And we can’t judge anyone’s interiors; some people may believe in a higher power, an absolute morality, even if they don’t call it by the name of God. But anyone who truly believes that there is nothing beyond the realm of the senses cannot believe in an absolute morality. Morality for them is based on “whatever works” to keep society in order. And if there is no absolute morality, then there is nothing inherently wrong in lying or stealing or committing adultery. The laws against them are necessary for society, but there is nothing “wrong” if I break them and no one finds out – even “right” and “wrong” rely on a belief in something higher.

      Question

      Also, you say ‘ And if there is no absolute morality, then there is nothing inherently wrong in lying or stealing or committing adultery’, but many religious collectives have been committing these crimes since their origin, and continue to do so.

      Answer
      Yes,but its still a spiritual sin against God to do them,
      He’s just making a point saying that its still evil to do these things
      i think your taken the statement out of context,
      what are you really trying to point out here,

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    • Question
      Also, no comment on your choice of words, re- ‘His Word, Lords Word etc, once again, if you are referring to the bible and/or another religious text, they are the word of man, not the word of god at all.
      Answer
      God speaks through man and its up to you to discern if he’s a man of God,
      and that depends on your own level of affection for the truth
      by the way the bible is the written word of God, man wrote it with the inspiration from God,

      On your own statement concerning heaven and hell

      I don’t believe in a heaven or hell. In fact, if your notion of god was all understanding etc etc, would the insignificance of ones actions while on this plane of existence even matter to god?

      Yes it does matter to God.

      heaven is not a place you go to it’s something you become,
      it’s a mental state of mind,so is hell.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I appreciate your taking the time to answer the man’s questions. As a fellow Christian, I am very often saddened by the number of self-professed believers I encounter, who fail to accept the Lord’s instructions given through Paul in his letters to Timothy, that a good Christian should always be prepared to offer up an explanation of the reasons for his/her faith in God. There’s nothing that says we have to be able to answer every theological question thrown our way, obviously we are not all trained theologians, or philosophers, but we should have some reply, and it shouldn’t be a reply founded on anger, or impatience, or worst of all, ignorance. So once again, I thank you, for what I see as a very suitable defense of your belief in our Creator. God bless you, and keep you, always.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. The fall is much greater than most people can imagine. Read Genesis, Chapters 1 and 2; all was good. After the fall, all was affected by the fall. Consider all that was good, and all that is not good. If anything that we see in this world is not found in Gen 1and 2, it is a part of the fall. Consider the embryo. All who have been conceived are flawed. All who have been conceived need a Savior. All who have been conceived enter a death spiral. You can continue this thought pattern. Blessings to you, in the Name of Jesus.

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