The Church Fathers ABCs
The Restoration of All Things: Preaching Irenaeus of Lyons
It is interesting that in a book focused on the final outcomes of God's redeeming work in Christ, God's creatures give praise not for their salvation, but for their creation. This is interesting because we tend to think of creation as prior to redemption, subject to the fall—marred and messed up by people. Redemption is God's response to human sin. Yet that chronology begs the question as to how God's creation, made as good, could ever go so bad. It's as if God's work was not quite up to snuff. How did a couple crafted in God's image at creation get tempted so easily? It's the same question we can ask of those whom by faith are "new creations" in Christ. How is it that we who possess the very Spirit of God nevertheless choose to behave in ways so contrary to that Spirit? We answer that God is not done with us yet. That we've yet to become who we will be in Christ.
Irenaeus asked, "Could God not have made humanity perfect from the beginning? One must know that all things are possible for God, who is always the same and uncreated. But created beings, who have their beginning of being in the course of time, are necessarily inferior to the one who created them. Things which have recently come into being cannot be eternal; and not being eternal, they fall short of perfection for that very reason. And being newly created they are therefore childish and immature, and not yet fully prepared for an adult way of life. And so, just as the mother is able to offer food to an infant, but the infant is not yet able to receive food unsuited to its age, in the same way God, for his part, could have offered perfection to humanity at the beginning, but humanity, being created, was not capable of receiving it."
Because human beings exist as creatures created, we exist as children, Irenaeus argued, which explains why the first humans were so easily deceived. The image of God was their destiny more than their starting point. Irenaeus taught that God provided his word and spirit as tutors toward this destiny, along with angels too. But if you're depending on angels to teach you well, what happens when one of your teachers envies the lofty heights for which you're destined and decides to sabotage the lesson? Irenaeus said you get a snake in the garden—an angel gone bad who deceived Adam and Eve and sidetracked their development.
It's sort of like what's happened to my 9-month-old daughter. She broke her leg. It was mostly an accident—but not entirely. No matter how many toys and pieces of Tupperware we surround her with, she inevitably wants what she can't have, demonstrating quite vividly her own human nature. One of her taboos is the TV remote that sat atop an ottoman. She uses the ottoman to pull up, but seeing the remote, she overreached to obtain the object of her desire. Letting loose of a hand, she lost her balance and fell back onto her leg and fractured it. Now, as a result of the fall, she was in a cast for three weeks, her development sidetracked by having to haul around a pound of plaster. Granted, leaving the remote where it would tempt her was my doing, making me Satan in this analogy. But she did make a reach for it. She is partly to blame. But c'mon, she's a baby, she couldn't help it. "Cut her some slack, you're her dad!" Which was precisely Irenaeus' point. The childlike Adam and Eve, while at fault, receive ample amounts of grace from their heavenly Father. God explicitly cursed Satan for duping Adam and Eve, but Adam and Eve he only punished, leaving room for their ultimate healing redemption.
Daniel M. Harrell is Senior Minister of The Colonial Church, Edina, MN and author of How To Be Perfect: One Church's Audacious Experiment in Living the Old Testament Book of Leviticus (FaithWords, 2011). Follow him via Twitter, Facebook, or at his blog and website.