Friday, June 21, 2013

The breaking of a covenant

As their exposition of the Biblical covenants progresses, Wellum and Gentry discuss, in the noteworthy book Kingdom Through Covenant, the collapse of the first covenant that God had made with Adam

There was a real and vital element of condition in the covenant relationship in the garden. Eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was prohibited. We know that the conditions for maintaining love, loyalty, and trust in the covenant relationship were not met. When the fruit of the forbidden tree was eaten, we were all involved somehow, as Romans 5:12–21 makes plain. 
A brief comment is necessary to discuss the breaking of the covenant. Just what was involved in this initial transgression? Was the prohibition against eating the fruit of the forbidden tree an arbitrarily imposed means for testing loyalty and obedience? This is surely true, but it does not do justice to what was offered by the snake and confirmed by God after the Fall, that they would be “like gods, knowing good and evil” (see Gen. 3:5, 22). 
Some have explained knowing good and evil as reflecting sexual understanding of each other. This is inadequate because it does not make plain how the acquisition of such knowledge would make one like God. 
Others have explained good and evil as a way of expressing the totality of knowledge by describing opposite poles. But certainly neither Adam and Eve nor any subsequent humans can claim the totality of knowledge. 
The best explanation to date is that of W. M. Clark,93 who carefully analysed all the occurrences of the phrase in the Hebrew Bible and showed that the “knowledge of good and evil” has to do with the exercise of absolute moral autonomy. That is to say, knowing good and evil means choosing or determining for oneself what is right and wrong independently of God. The decision of Adam to be self-legislating did make him like God in one sense, but also unlike God in that he would not be able to foresee the consequences of his choices long term or always be certain of the issues before him. (216-7)

I found this excerpt very enlightening. The independent determination of dependent creatures of what is right and wrong is a step on which we "must fall down, or else o’er-leap." In attempting to over leap God in a brazen act of autonomy, the human race fell. With absolute moral authority came absolute moral depravity. This was a breaking of a covenant with dire consequences. It causes us to look forward to that time when a covenant between God and us would not depend on our faithfulness, but his.

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