We cannot know what Adam and Eve knew when they ate the Forbidden Fruit. We do get the feeling they were led astray, which is what we would expect. Satan came to them as a powerful archangel and they respected his guidance. There is a sense in which Adam knew better than to eat the Fruit of Knowledge; it was a pretty straightforward command from God. Still, the curse in Genesis 3 makes clear that culpability is shared.
What’s most important is where it all leaves us at the end of the narrative: We are fallen creatures, alienated from God and His Creation. We are in desperate need of guidance how to live now that we are outside of Eden. We still have that instinctive knowledge in the heart, but we need grace to reawaken the subjection of the mind to the heart. The means to getting our attention on that problem is the admittedly limited revelation via the Law Covenants.
Hebrews 1:1-3 tells us that the succession of Law Covenants and the narratives of how things worked out were never meant to be the final answer. They should have been sufficient; the image of how God portrayed Himself was as the head of household and we as straying children. It could have, and should have, worked out just fine, but in reality it did so only during brief stretches of history. So Hebrews tells us that God sent His own Son to provide the final revelation of what we must know to live as fallen creatures.
Granted, a lot more came with that, but we dare not lose sight of that fundamental understanding that Jesus was the personification of God’s will for fallen mankind. Jesus remains today the Flaming Sword at the gate of Eden. While His teaching indicates that, for example, the Covenant of Moses was imperfect, it was nonetheless a substantially accurate revelation of God’s divine moral will. So we have the Gospel accounts of things Jesus said to indicate what Moses might have said better. Who can forget His shocking correction of the business of divorce? But the focus remained on how to live, not how to climb into Heaven.
This is something virtually every American Christian ignores. I’m not sure anyone can explain it clearly enough, how American minds are so obsessed with going to Heaven, even as those same minds reject the ancient understanding of what “Heaven” means. You have this awful situation where American Christians have built up a vast lore of misunderstanding about the nature of the Spirit Realm. They insist on working hard to obtain something that does not exist. This is part of a much bigger lie manifested in Decision Theology.
Nothing in Scripture talks about a decision to “be born again.” Americans miss the whole point of Jesus’ comments to Nicodemas in John 3. All of the emphasis, from Genesis to Revelation, is on seizing the instinct burned into every human soul to walk in obedience to our Creator in this world. Part of the problem is misunderstanding what the phrase — “what must I do to be saved” — meant to the folks who are recorded asking that question in the Bible. The American reading of English translations comes with a pre-loaded lie about that. It’s not a question about going to Heaven; it’s about how to reclaim the divine heritage of Eden in this life below. That’s what it meant to them; we have ample resources to prove that, but no one wants to pay attention to the scholarship and literature of those times.
To the Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) mind, the question of going to Heaven or Hell took care of itself if you bothered to answer the more important question of obeying the divine revelation regarding this life here below. I’ve been castigated for saying that; no American believer wants to hear that. Yet the vast array of honest scholarship examining the ANE intellectual approach to things is clear: Those ancient people never pretended to have an intellectual grasp of eternal things. They had parables and common images they used to indicate certain ideas about it, but they never pretended it could be reduced to clear descriptive terms. They were reverent about such things, never daring to presume fallen people could claim to declare the truth of such things.
Yet, here we have American Christians simplistically insisting all you have to do is just “believe in Jesus” and it’s all good. Despite all the verbiage associated with that kind of false gospel, they treat it like a magic pill you can swallow. And they insist this was something altogether new in God’s plan, so folks who died before that must have gone into some kind of Purgatory or something, but they didn’t get to go to Heaven because there wasn’t a Jesus in their day to believe in. I’ll say it again: In the average American Christian theology, people didn’t go to Heaven before Jesus came along. In the American Christian mind, Jesus represents a total break in the continuity of thousands of years of human history. They cannot see how Jesus was the final answer in a long line of consistent revelation.
In Radix Fidem, we must strive to establish that religion is not about “going to Heaven” in that sense, as if it were some better quality of Valhalla — the common American theological assumption. We strive to return to the ANE thoughts about such things, that we cannot possibly know, and need to be very careful how we even speak of such things. More to the point, it’s not for us to worry about. Paul’s Letter to the Romans says it about as bluntly as possible: God holds the initiative in His hands. You can’t choose Heaven, and Hell is the default. But don’t worry about it, because God is the definition of justice when it comes to such things. He doesn’t owe you any explanation that your intellect can grasp. Instead, worry about how you are going to obey His divine will in the here and now.
So we emphasize Biblical Law and reclaiming the divine heritage of shalom while living in this fallen world. We rhapsodize about how it brings us in heart-led communion with reality itself. We see Jesus as the One who put it all within easy reach; we just have to search our souls until we can reconnect the conscious awareness to the heart-mind. Suddenly we discover some part of us always knew we belonged in Heaven, and we quit worrying about it. Now we have the balance of our human existence to reclaim all the promises of God arising from His divine will, as revealed in His Son, and which we summarize under the term Biblical Law. We are told those promises are a down-payment on Eternity.
It’s a deeply heart-breaking reality to know how the vast hoard of American Christians have been led away from that. With few exceptions, they are living in darkness, enslaved to a massive lie. If it were a matter of sacrificing something of myself to restore them to their divine heritage, I’d jump at the chance. But such heroism is not a part of the picture. They each must turn to their own heart-led path individually. It has to be a conscious choice, the one true decision they can and must make. So I’m praying daily: Lord, how can I get the word out? What can I do or say to get their attention? The vast majority of them are hardened against this mighty gift of God, so it’s a very sorrowful mission to seek out those rare few individuals God has touched and who are ready for something different.
The Kingdom of Heaven starts here and now.