What are we to believe about "the Fall" in Genesis?

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Saint Paul later hooks this story about the origins of suffering to the gospel accounts of the passion of Jesus.

First, the term never appears in the Bible. The theology of the Fall evolves over time and reflection by church fathers, especially Augustine who popularized the term "original sin" to define humanity's "fall from grace." (See Questions Catholics Ask:  "What is ‘original sin’ "?)

Which is not to say biblical texts concerning the first sin don't provide ample material to support the doctrine that followed. The story is dramatically simple: God makes a man and woman in the divine image and instructs them not to eat from a single tree in the garden. Eating its fruit would be fatal. Yet the couple prefers to take advice from a fellow creature in the Garden. This serpent claims the fruit doesn't cause death, but actually delivers fullness of life as God enjoys. This turns out to be the worst fake news in history.

This ancient myth is etiological, in the manner of Rudyard Kipling's stories of how the leopard gets its spots and the rhino its wrinkles. Why is life so hard? people wonder. Is God doing this to us? Do we deserve to suffer? The story of the Garden assures us that God doesn't cause harm. People do this; and we do it with every choice we make against God's benevolent guidance.

Saint Paul later hooks this story about the origins of suffering to the gospel accounts of the passion of Jesus. Paul simplifies the math by condensing the story to two crucial actors. One chooses the way of disobedience (not listening to God), launching the story of sin and suffering. Another chooses perfect obedience and, by means of his voluntary suffering, reverses the consequences of sin and death. One man falls, and another is lifted into the heavens. The point is clear: the self-willed path leads to ruin. Pursuing the will of God leads to salvation. Choose wisely.

The theology of the Fall becomes problematic when it narrows its focus on two "original" persons; one historical choice; and the dreadful consequences for the rest of us. Because of a single defining moment most of us didn't participate in, men and women are perpetually alienated from each other and the earth, between generations, and from God. Most parochial school kids figure out early on this is a pretty raw deal for a piece of fruit. To transfer our gaze to the significance of every human decision—toward self-will, or for the holy will—is to recognize that we each choose to fall, or to rise.

Scriptures: Genesis 2 & 3; Isaiah 14:12-21; Ezekiel 28:12-19; Sirach 25:24; Wisdom 2:23-24; Romans 5:12-21

Books: An Introduction to the Old Testament: A Feminist Perspective, by Alice L. Laffey (Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 1988)

A New Heaven, A New Earth: The Bible and Catholicity, by Dianne Bergant and Ilia Delio (Orbis Books, 2016)

Reprinted with permission from PrepareTheWord.com. ©TrueQuest Communications.

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