In our world, we have beauty and cruelty, hand in hand; wisdom and insanity, side by side. We have the glory of Bach coming out of Weimar, and the barbarity of Hitler coming out of the Weimar Republic. There is a little Bach in Hitler, and a little Hitler in Bach, and a little of both of them in all of us.
What can explain these extremes: goodness and depravity, love and hatred, stunning beauty and appalling ugliness? Western man often tells the story of humanity in terms of progression, evolution, and growth. The plot follows crude and simple man as he plods, and occasionally jumps, forward. From stone to iron, from iron to refined metals, and from metals to polymers. He goes from fingers to abacus to supercomputer. Up he goes, always up.
But part of the story is left out. It is not just from stone to iron, but from stone-headed axe to iron-tipped spear, from iron-tipped spear to lead bullet, from lead bullet to atom bomb. We jump, but we usually land further down, not further up. The story of man’s progress has been one of technological advance and spiritual decline. As the songwriter Jackson Browne once put it: “Now the story’s told that Adam jumped, but I’m thinking that he fell.”
When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, humankind stepped off a cliff. Theologians often describe Adam and Eve’s sin as The Fall. But I believe what happened in the garden was only the initial tumble down a long, steep hill. Humanity is still falling.
The would-be ruler of creation has become the subject of pain and sorrow. Sin is pandemic; we’ve all be infected. The story of the first sin ends with humans banished from the garden, without hope of return.
Humankind not only fell, it is still falling, and who can stop our plunge? But the Creator is faithful to his creation. The psalmist says, “he will not harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve . . . ” (Ps. 103:9-10). He will stretch out his hand and catch us.