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Was man in need of the incarnation prior to the fall?


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#1 Athanasius Abdullah

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Posted 12 May 2007 - 08:07 AM

Dear all,

I'm currently reading Panayiotis Nellas' Deification in Christ: The Nature of the Human Person (Crestwood: SVS Press, 1987). On page 18, Nellas states that,

[p]rior to the hypostatic union of the divine nature with the human, man even before the fall was anterior to Christ, a fact which means that even then, in spite of not having sinned, man had need of salvation, since he was an imperfect and incomplete "child."


How does this concept sit with the Athanasian idea that all that was necessary for Adam to rise towards God's likeness, was that he maintain perfect contemplation of God and hence retain his communion and union with Him?

In XC
Athanasius

#2 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 12 May 2007 - 08:53 AM

How does this concept sit with the Athanasian idea that all that was necessary for Adam to rise towards God's likeness, was that he maintain perfect contemplation of God and hence retain his communion and union with Him?


Христос воскресе!

You may find it difficult to find a response simply in the works of St Athanasius, as he is one of the early writers to frame the incarnation largely in terms of a direct response to transgression. Speaking of the relationship to creation, he writes:

"1. You are wondering, perhaps, for what possible reason, having proposed to speak of the Incarnation of the Word, we are at present treating of the origin of mankind. But this, too, properly belongs to the aim of our treatise. 2. For in speaking of the appearance of the Saviour amongst us, we must needs speak also of the origin of men, that you may know that the reason of His coming down was because of us, and that our transgression called forth the loving-kindness of the Word, that the Lord should both make haste to help us and appear among men" (DI 4.1, 2)

This is quite different from St Irenaeus, who sees the incarnation more clearly as an intrinsic portion of the process of growth and development that humankind would always have had to experience, with or without sin. Athanasius focuses much more on the direct connection of transgression to incarnation.

But then, even Athanasius is not hard-and-fast about this linkage, and portions of his writing hark to an 'Irenaean'-style reflection on the necessity of the incarnation for reasons of advancing human union with and vision of God, and not simply a response to transgression. In this realm, the famous 54th chapter of the De incarnatione Verbi:

"1. As, then, if a man should wish to see God, Who is invisible by nature and not seen at all, he may know and apprehend Him from His works: so let him who fails to see Christ with his understanding, at least apprehend Him by the works of His body, and test whether they be human works or God's works. 2. And if they be human, let him scoff; but if they are not human, but of God, let him recognise it, and not laugh at what is no matter for scoffing; but rather let him marvel that by so ordinary a means things divine have been manifested to us, and that by death immortality has reached to all, and that by the Word becoming man, the universal Providence has been known, and its Giver and Artificer the very Word of God. 3. For He was made man that we might be made God; and He manifested Himself by a body that we might receive the idea of the unseen Father; and He endured the insolence of men that we might inherit immortality. For while He Himself was in no way injured, being impossible and incorruptible and very Word and God, men who were suffering, and for whose sakes He endured all this, He maintained and preserved in His own impossibility."

He still maintains the link to the sinful state of man; but he also speaks of a kind of vision of, and relation to, God, that was not the property of man even before sin.

INXC, Matthew

#3 John Charmley

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Posted 12 May 2007 - 12:23 PM

Dear Miaphysite, Dear Matthew,

St. Isaac writes that the Incarnation and the death on the Cross happened

not to redeem us from sin, or for any other reason, but solely in order that the world might become aware of the love which God has for His creation. Had all this astounding affair taken place solely for the purpose of forgiveness of sin, it would have been sufficient to redeem us by other means. What objection would there have been if He had done what He did by means of an ordinary death? But He did not make His death at all an ordinary one - so that you might realise the nature of this mystery.

It was God's love, not our fallen nature which brought forth the Incarnation. As St. Isaac says in Chapter XL of part II of his works:

When the entire extent of creation had abandoned and forgotten God and had perfected themselves in every kind of wickedness, of his own will and without any supplication or request from anywhere he came down to their abode and lived among them in their body just as one of them, and with a love exalted beyond knowledge or description by any created being, he begged them to turn back to himself, showing them concerning the glorious establishment of the world to come, having intended before all worlds to introduce felicity such as this for creation: he informed them of its existence and forgave them all the sins which they had previously committed, and confirmed this good will by authoritative signs and wonders and the revelation to them of his mysteries and finally he has stooped down so far that he is willing to be called 'Father' of sinful human nature, dust from the earth, despicable human beings, flesh and blood: can these things be performed without great love?


God became man because He wants us to turn to Him and be saved.

On this reading, the Incarnation was always His intention.

In Christ,

John

#4 Mina Soliman

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Posted 12 May 2007 - 09:31 PM

Dear Mr. Charmley,

That second quote really, even though it's not for man's fallen nature, implies that it's also because of man's fallen nature that Christ had to incarnate. There seems to be an inner contradiction made by St. Isaac. For one thing, he would write "not redeem us from sin," but in another, he would write, "he begged them to turn back to himself...he is willing to be called 'Father' of sinful human nature, dust from the earth, despicable human beings, flesh and blood." These seem to mean that Christ came to redeem us from sin in addition to His love, or as St. Isaac put it, because of His love, He redeemed us from sin.

One can also look at St. Athanasius' twofold explanation of the incarnation: God's love and God's consistency. If man had not fallen, it seems possible that on contemplating on God's love alone, which people like St. Isaac and St. Iranaeus did. One can try first to contemplate on the mysterious "trees" that were available according to the story of Genesis. While Alexandrian tradition would not take these "trees" literally, it may in fact show that at some point, the communion of the Flesh of God would be an ultimate reality of the maturation of the human race if there would have been no fall, and as a gift to this maturation would be the incarnation of God Himself, if one can see that the Tree of Knowledge wasn't essentially an evil thing, but was to be taken at the right time that God felt man would take it in.

But because of the Fall, man had to be cleansed and then ontologically mature into partaking of the divine nature.

God bless.

#5 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 13 May 2007 - 09:12 AM

One can also look at St. Athanasius' twofold explanation of the incarnation: God's love and God's consistency. If man had not fallen, it seems possible that on contemplating on God's love alone, which people like St. Isaac and St. Iranaeus did. One can try first to contemplate on the mysterious "trees" that were available according to the story of Genesis. While Alexandrian tradition would not take these "trees" literally, it may in fact show that at some point, the communion of the Flesh of God would be an ultimate reality of the maturation of the human race if there would have been no fall, and as a gift to this maturation would be the incarnation of God Himself, if one can see that the Tree of Knowledge wasn't essentially an evil thing, but was to be taken at the right time that God felt man would take it in.


Do you have some passage in mind for the claim that Athanasius believed man could have lived eternally and fully by the contemplation of God's love alone, without the incarnation?

INXC, Matthew

#6 Mina Soliman

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Posted 13 May 2007 - 10:13 PM

Dr. Steenberg,

Forgive me. I have written in an ambiguous and hasty manner.

f man had not fallen, it seems possible that on contemplating on God's love alone, which people like St. Isaac and St. Iranaeus did.


Because of the Fall, God's consistency of His word could not be returned and in essence kept man in death. Without the Fall, God would continue to be consistent, but it's not so much so as the commandment of death was something that had to be done. Therefore, if I (not man) like St. Irenaeus can contemplate just on the love of God alone, it's not so incompatible with Athanasian teaching, since St. Athanasius stressed the Fall, and did not contemplate what would happen without the Fall.

I proceeded to mention the "Trees" and how in Alexandrian tradition (like Origen in his Philocalia said) that they were not taken literally. One can contemplate that when Adam and Eve were considered "mature" enough, they can partake of knowledge of good and evil (I remember someone showing me a quote from another holy father who believed that the "forbidden" tree was not forbidden forever). But since they took it prematurely disobeying God, they fell. If they didn't disobey God, perhaps one day they might have eaten of this Tree when they're ready, and since the "Cross" symbolizes pretty much both trees (since our knowledge wasn't taken away, but at the same time, we partake of life), and life flows from His incarnate body, if we were to follow St. Iranaeus' contemplation of God's love alone, then it seems not contradictory with St. Athanasius, but complementary. Nowhere did I mean that man could have lived eternally and fully by contemplating on God's love; I meant if I as a thinking theologian would contemplate in the same way as St. Irenaeus contemplated on God's love alone, and that one does not really take the trees in Genesis literally, it's quite possible God would have been incarnate regardless. I'm contemplating on theology, not man contemplating for eternal life.

God bless.

#7 Athanasius Abdullah

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Posted 14 May 2007 - 04:35 AM

Dear M.C. Steenberg,

That is quite an incisive interpretation of the 54th chapter of St. Athanasius' On the Incarnation. Thank you for that.

Are you aware of any other Father who took the same position as St. Ireneous in regard to the idea of Christ's Incarnation being a necessity for man's salvation irrespective of the fall? John Charmley recalls the words of St. Isaac, but St. Isaac seems to suggest simply that the Incarnation had an extra-redemptive purpose, as opposed to being a salvific necessity. I believe St. Maximus the Confessor shared the same line of thought as St. Isaac in that regard, if I can recall correctly.

In IC XC
Athanasius

#8 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 14 May 2007 - 08:38 AM

Because of the Fall, God's consistency of His word could not be returned and in essence kept man in death. Without the Fall, God would continue to be consistent, but it's not so much so as the commandment of death was something that had to be done. Therefore, if I (not man) like St. Irenaeus can contemplate just on the love of God alone, it's not so incompatible with Athanasian teaching, since St. Athanasius stressed the Fall, and did not contemplate what would happen without the Fall.


Dear Mina and others,

I'm still not at all certain about this idea that without sin, humanity would have been able to live the fullness of human life without the incarnation, simply by 'contemplating the love of God'. The fairly consistent view of the fathers, especially the earlier fathers, is that the incarnation enables a kind of union with God for which humanity was always in need -- the fuller gift than even Eden had presented. Of course, once sin was introduced into the economy, the incarnation is corrective as well as salvific and one cannot really divide the two aspects from the one act. And yet this is not at all the same thing as to claim that without sin man was not in need of the incarnation.

INXC, Matthew

#9 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 14 May 2007 - 08:44 AM

Dear Athanasius, you wrote:

Are you aware of any other Father who took the same position as St. Ireneous in regard to the idea of Christ's Incarnation being a necessity for man's salvation irrespective of the fall? John Charmley recalls the words of St. Isaac, but St. Isaac seems to suggest simply that the Incarnation had an extra-redemptive purpose, as opposed to being a salvific necessity. I believe St. Maximus the Confessor shared the same line of thought as St. Isaac in that regard, if I can recall correctly.


I would suggest that most of the early fathers took this view. Some expressed it more succinctly than others; but it is by-and-large the overriding view on the incarnation that dominated in the early Church.

I think you must read more St Isaac before you make the criticisms you have. He quite clearly does not hold an extra-redemptive view of the sacrifice on the cross - the body of his work leaves no doubt of this. The specific passage in question is Isaac's attempt to remind his hearers that God is not trapped into specific kinds of paradigms of redemption - even the cross itself. If all that the cross was about was forgiveness, God could have forgiven by another way. But the forgiveness is not all that the cross is about.

INXC, Matthew

#10 Athanasius Abdullah

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Posted 14 May 2007 - 09:19 AM

Dear Professor Steenberg,

I am not sure how it is that you infer me to have criticised St. Isaac. The conclusion I made with respect to St. Isaac is one that is shared by Bishop Kallistos Ware, who states in the foreword of Bishop Alfeyev's The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian, that for St. Isaac, the

Incarnation is not seen merely as a 'contingency plan' devised by God in response to the fall; it is an expression of God's eternal nature as self-giving love. (pages 9-10).


That is what I meant by God's Incarnation fulfilling an "extra-redemptive purpose"--the purpose of expressing His love to man in addition to the purpose of saving man.

In XC
Athanasius

#11 Mina Soliman

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Posted 15 May 2007 - 06:01 AM

Dear Mina and others,

I'm still not at all certain about this idea that without sin, humanity would have been able to live the fullness of human life without the incarnation, simply by 'contemplating the love of God'. The fairly consistent view of the fathers, especially the earlier fathers, is that the incarnation enables a kind of union with God for which humanity was always in need -- the fuller gift than even Eden had presented. Of course, once sin was introduced into the economy, the incarnation is corrective as well as salvific and one cannot really divide the two aspects from the one act. And yet this is not at all the same thing as to claim that without sin man was not in need of the incarnation.

INXC, Matthew


I hope you don't misunderstand what I mean by the word "contemplate," since I am using it not in a sense that man will experience in paradise, but rather my mind simply interpreting and thinking deeply about a theological issue.

With this in mind, I always considered St. Isaac's interpretation of the incarnation even without the Fall as an act of the perfect and infinite Love of God to man (St. Isaac, I don't think, never mentioned anything about God's "Consistency" as St. Athanasius does), not as a corrective to man. What exactly was in man that needed correction if he did not sin? I always linked "correction" to "salvation" and never differentiated the two. What I contemplated on was more of a further "maturation" of the relationship between man and God through the Incarnation if the Fall did not happen. If the Fall did happen (since it did), the Incarnation has an additional salvific effect characteristic of both the Divine Consistency and Love of God.

Unless I'm mistaken, and please correct me if I am, "correction" is "salvation."

God bless.

#12 Demetrios

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Posted 15 May 2007 - 04:37 PM

Unless I'm mistaken, and please correct me if I am, "correction" is "salvation."

God bless.


I don't believe this statement is correct. All have fallen short of the glory of god. One can never be fully corrected in our fallen nature. That nature leads to death. If it we true. We would be the Christ. In my view, and this can be seen in many of the fathers as well. The Incarnation of the logos was necessary to save us from death and to educate man about god. That is what ontological salvation means. Salvation from the affects of the fall.
To guarantee that man is in total freedom to choose his destiny and to not allow evil to exist for ever. The Incarnation had to happen this way. The way to salvation is to link to Christ, who alone is sinless. The only one that has transcended death. Only in Christ can we be saved. Please forgive me if it sounds like I am judging the world. I'm not. For I pray that all may be saved.

#13 Mina Soliman

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Posted 15 May 2007 - 08:42 PM

I don't believe this statement is correct. All have fallen short of the glory of god. One can never be fully corrected in our fallen nature. That nature leads to death. If it we true. We would be the Christ. In my view, and this can be seen in many of the fathers as well. The Incarnation of the logos was necessary to save us from death and to educate man about god. That is what ontological salvation means. Salvation from the affects of the fall.

To guarantee that man is in total freedom to choose his destiny and to not allow evil to exist for ever. The Incarnation had to happen this way. The way to salvation is to link to Christ, who alone is sinless. The only one that has transcended death. Only in Christ can we be saved. Please forgive me if it sounds like I am judging the world. I'm not. For I pray that all may be saved.


Dear Demetrios,

I don't understand how that disproves my statement. What I am understanding from your post here is that correction of our fallen nature is our salvation, and that can only be done through Christ, which is what I was saying. I did not say "one can be fully corrected in our fallen nature." In fact, what I understood from Dr. Steenberg is that even without the Fall, man needed correction, which confused me, since I wondered what exactly needed correcting if man did not fall.

God bless.

#14 Demetrios

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Posted 16 May 2007 - 12:30 AM

Dear Demetrios,

I don't understand how that disproves my statement. What I am understanding from your post here is that correction of our fallen nature is our salvation, and that can only be done through Christ, which is what I was saying. I did not say "one can be fully corrected in our fallen nature." In fact, what I understood from Dr. Steenberg is that even without the Fall, man needed correction, which confused me, since I wondered what exactly needed correcting if man did not fall.

God bless.


Forgive me for being so forward. The word correction to me implies that god didn't create us correctly. My understanding of what Dr. Steenberg suggests is that man would not posses a higher degree of the knowledge of God, good and evil if the fall didn't happen. The fallen state could allow for a higher degree of love than what existed before the fall.

#15 Mina Soliman

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Posted 16 May 2007 - 02:36 AM

I'm going to re-quote something from Dr. Steenberg:

the incarnation enables a kind of union with God for which humanity was always in need -- the fuller gift than even Eden had presented


Now, I agree with this. However, I understood that this statement was the part about being "corrective," where man even without the Fall, needed the Incarnation, and that is the "corrective" part. Am I misunderstanding something or taking things in the wrong context?

What had "Eden" offered? According to St. Athanasius, "Eden" was pretty much God's paradise, not existent in this world, but out of this world. It was the presence, love, knowledge, and "contemplation" (now I'm using contemplation differently than before) of the Word, which benefited man through the grace of Image and Likeness in man that no other creature on Earth has:

The presence and love of the Word had called them into being; inevitably, therefore when they lost the knowledge of God, they lost existence with it; for it is God alone Who exists, evil is non-being, the negation and antithesis of good. By nature, of course, man is mortal, since he was made from nothing; but he bears also the Likeness of Him Who is, and if he preserves that Likeness through constant contemplation, then his nature is deprived of its power and he remains incorrupt.


The Incarnation seemed to have added an aspect of unity with God in creation, in sensible things, and not just in the "Likeness" and "Image:"

Men had turned from the contemplation of God above, and were looking for Him in the opposite direction, down among created things and things of sense. The Savior of us all, the Word of God, in His great love took to Himself a body and moved as Man among men, meeting their senses, so to speak, half way. He became Himself an object for the senses, so that those who were seeking God in sensible things might apprehend the Father through the works which He, the Word of God, did in the body. Human and human minded as men were, therefore, to whichever side they looked in the sensible world they found themselves taught the truth.


Therefore, it's understandable that this was much better than "Eden" had to offer, but to say that this is a corrective even without the Fall confused me. It would make more sense to me if it was just a simple maturation process.

Today, we do partake of the fruits of the Tree of Life, a new Tree, that is the body and blood of Christ who was nailed to the Cross. This humanity of God is something that did not take away the Knowledge we possess of good and evil. When man was in Paradise before the Fall, God did not want man to partake of "both trees". Nowadays, we are in a sense partaking of "both trees," and therefore, it would seem to me that this was a characteristic of a "higher," a more mature "degree of the knowledge of God, good and evil." Why else would God have created a "Tree" of "Knowledge of Good and Evil," if it wasn't going to be used later on in their lives if the Fall did not happen?

What else is the meaning behind "God became man so that man might become God?" Was God forbidding man forever to never "become like one of Us" (Gen. 3:22)?

God bless.

#16 Antonios

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Posted 16 May 2007 - 06:48 AM

Dear friends,

I believe the answer lies in love.

The Almighty God knew Adam would fall. He knew before He ever created him. He knew His creation would see corruption. He knew His children would suffer... And still He created us out of purely divine, inexplicable love because He wanted His children to live, to love, to grow in His Light and Being. And how would we ever reach full communion with Him? How could we ever reach perfection, 'like our Father in heaven Who is perfect'?

He would eventually, at a time, according to His Wisdom, come to us, as one of us, to teach us that there is 'no greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for his friends'.

So, He endured the mockings, the threats, the scourging and the nailing, so that His children might grow in Love. So that we might truly Live. True Love demands this to be something experienced and freely desired; something that would bring us closer to His image and likeness: His Being. And from His Inexhaustable Love, He suffered so that we might share in His Love and partake in the Joy of True Life. There is no other way to Calvary than through Gethsamane, and no other way to Paradise than through the Cross.

This is the mystery of the Incarnation. This is the mystery of the Crucifixion. It is the mystery of our existence. This is a concept the human mind cannot begin to rationally understand. In our humility we simply say 'who can know the mind of God?'. It is only through the heart that this mystery can be solved. Only by the Grace of the Holy Spirit can the heart open to hear 'the inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.'

The Lord said “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love ... this is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends."

"No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you... these things I command you, that you love one another."

This is more than 'freedom'. More than 'salvation'.

This is True Life!

#17 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 16 May 2007 - 10:39 AM

Dear friends,

It has become clear in the above posts that the definition of 'salvation' is critical, if one wishes to ask 'would the incarnation have been necessary for salvation if man had not sinned?'

Salvation has many senses; but restoration from sin or error is not the sole issue at stake - and it is possible (and has ample grounding in the fathers) to speak of 'salvation' without reference to the correction of sin, but as the expansion and ennoblement of life. The raising up to new heights. In the actual economy, this is always bound together with the correction of sin, since sin formes a chief part of our human history and condition. But salvation is more than merely correcting error, or returning to a state prior to it. Salvation involves, fundamentally, a gifting of new life - newer even than that possessed by Adam and Eve.

INXC, Matthew

#18 Athanasius Abdullah

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Posted 16 May 2007 - 11:00 AM

Dear Professor Steenberg,

The versatile implications of the term salvation are clear enough to me, but my concern is for the notion that the Incarnation was quintessential to acquiring the "new life", irrespective of the fall. You seem to suggest that it is clearly evident that such was the opinion of the vast majority of the early Fathers, yet I am finding it rather difficult to find any Father who explicates or even implies this other than St. Ireneous.

For the sake of clarification, it is evidently obvious to me that the Fathers taught that the Incarnation had the purpose of raising man to a new life, in addition to the purpose of restoring man to his pre-fall state, but nevertheless, such a purpose is still understood only within the context of the fall given that the consequences of the fall entailed not only a regression of man's nature from the "condition" it was in prior to the fall, but also deprivation of the very potential to rise to the "new life" which man had yet to achieve prior to the fall.

In XC
Athanasius

#19 Demetrios

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Posted 16 May 2007 - 11:59 PM

Dear Professor Steenberg,


The one change in life that I can see. Is having knowledge of something that before the fall was not revealed. This knowledge is exactly what the tree was called. Good and evil. We can't just have knowledge of good without knowing evil as well.
In other words one wouldn't know what good is unless the opposite is revealed.
This tree could have easily bin called the tree of love and hate as well. Since having knowledge of one, one must know the other. In this way we can easily say we have become a new creation. Is this what you mean by new life?

#20 Antonios

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Posted 17 May 2007 - 01:27 AM

Dear Demetrios,

You make excellent points. Evil existed in Paradise even before Eve ate of the fruit. The fall of the angels preceeded Eden. Satan infiltrated Creation, and we humans followed his lead instead of obeying our Creator. Adam was still maturing. He was to grow from glory to glory for all eternity. Part of this maturation included knowledge and awareness regarding the existence of evil. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil served this purpose. In the correct time, by the careful and correct guidance and instruction of our Creator, this might have avoided the fall. But, because of pride and disobedience, we estranged ourselves from God. And so, from Abraham, to Moses, to all the prophets, we began to learn righteousness through the commandments and teachings of the Lord. Eventually, God Himself, would enter creation and perform the saving work in the Person of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The Incarnation was needed because the Crucifixion was needed because without these events, we would never grow into the likeness of our Creator by the power of the Holy Spirit.

In summary, there is an ongoing battle between Good and Evil. It started before time as we know it, and will eventually end at the Second Coming of Christ. We will all be witness to this final battle. Evil will be destroyed, Creation will be renewed, and God's plan will be fulfilled... Exactly the way He willed it.




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