Something New Under the Sun
"The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us. There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after." (Ecc 1:9-11)
Study human history and you will find remarkable things. Man has created incredible works of beauty - painting, sculpture, literature, poetry, and music. You will find remarkable feats of engineering from ancient times up to this day. You will also find stories of great heroism, courage, and compassion. Yet, right alongside of each of those things you will find acts of degradation and corruption. The Roman Empire built great buildings, roads, aqueducts, and a system of laws to rule over the empire. They were also some of the most brutal conquerors the world has ever known, destroying people who got in the way of the Empire's expansion. The Roman citizen had a comfortable, pleasant life built on the back of conquest and enslavement. This has been the story of mankind from the beginning of recorded history. It is a story of good and evil, side by side, both coming from the mind of man. In those terms, very little has changed from ancient times to this day. We see remarkable feats of engineering, beautiful works of art, and economic prosperity undreamed of before, all alongside poverty, war, death and destruction.
Every solution to man's problems creates even greater problems that have to be solved. We study the structure of matter to better our understanding of the universe and we end up with atomic weapons. We study infectious diseases in order to cure them and benefit man and now we have biological weapons. We build automobiles, trains and highways for better transportation and see people maimed and killed in accidents. Even something as wonderful as the Internet expresses that same blend of good and evil. As soon as the Internet was available to the public, pornography, gambling, and rip-off schemes began to emerge all over the place. Today, people's e-mail is filled with unwanted messages, their computers are attacked by software viruses and a constant battle goes on to keep the whole system from being destroyed by its own capabilities.
Indeed, where human endeavor is concerned there is nothing new under the sun. It is "Vanity, vanity, all is vanity." Man's nature, it seems, has not changed one bit in all of human history. The same process of gain knowledge, employ our creativity and will power to make life better ends up with the same situation over and over again. As the saying goes, doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results is a sure sign of insanity. We need something new. We need a different approach. But, first we need to understand what is wrong with what man has been doing for all these many centuries and to do that we need to go back to the beginning.
"And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth." (Gen 1:26)
"And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." (Gen 2:15-17)
God created man for the purpose of bearing the image of God and gave man dominion over this Creation to accomplish that purpose. Put another way, God seeks to make His glory, and all facets of Himself, manifest within His creation through man. To that end, man is created as the vessel of God's creative power and dominion. Within each of us there is some set of gifts and capacity to be that instrument of God pouring His nature out. The only restriction given to man in Eden was to not take on to himself a mixture of good and evil. Man was to be led only by the spirit of God flowing into and through man. When man rebelled against that purpose and sought to go his own way, man fell into the confusion of good and evil. This is the source of what we see in man's works. This is the paradox of human nature.
Having taken on a mixture of good and evil, man will always express that mixture in everything man does. Any attempt to do only good will nevertheless result in evil being created alongside. Man seeks to do creative, inventive, good things and always ends up with a mixture of good and evil. This isn't caused just by not knowing what is good and evil. It is caused specifically by man trying to choose what man should do in all situations. It is man going his own way, in rebellion to God that is the source of the world we see.
This is the source and true nature of what we call sin. We usually think of sin as doing evil things as opposed to good things. We define those good and evil things by some list of moral principles, or laws, and consider a person good to the extent he does what is good and resists what is evil. To not do what is good, or to do what is evil, we call sin. That's a very simplistic understanding of sin, however. The sinful act is the end result of man taking upon himself the determination of what is good to do and what is evil to do. Sin comes from man rejecting the leading of God's spirit and substituting man's knowledge and will power its place.
Furthermore, we think of sin as only applying to moral acts. But, the more general meaning of sin is simply "falling short." In other words, anytime we set out something to do and fail to do it, we have committed sin. If God has created us to make manifest some aspect of God's glory and we do not fulfill that purpose, that failure is a sin against God as well. A person could live his whole life not doing immoral acts according to some set of rules and still fail to live up to what God intended. The parable of the talents that Jesus told is a very good example. It wasn't enough that the servant preserved the talent given to him; he had to do with it what his master commanded.
This then leads to a better understanding of what is usually called "original sin." We get the idea that because Adam sinned, there is perhaps some genetic nature that is passed from generation to generation. While that may be true, there is a deeper understanding available. Once Adam turned from God's leading, Adam's mind could no longer be pure in doing the will of God. His dominion over creation was not removed, however. Man still dominates the world, only now under the influence of Satan rather than God. What we see in the world in terms of its political, economic and social structures were created by man acting under that corrupt influence. Similarly, the reshaping of the world by engineering the forces of nature creates the physical environment we live in. What Adam and the sons of Adam created manifests the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. All those born into the world after that point are born into a world that is no longer the paradise God created. Instead, man is born into a world where he must struggle to obtain the necessities of life. The instinct for survival, the need to obtain food, shelter, etc. becomes the dominating force driving man's behavior. The intensity of the physical experience overwhelms the spiritual nature and man becomes a purely carnal being. All flesh born into the world enters into a corrupted world and is then corrupted by the world. Thus everything continues the same from generation to generation. There is nothing new under the sun, it is vanity, vanity, vanity.
The record of human history, its mixture of joy and misery, all ending in death, gives ample evidence that the word spoken by God was true. Truly, "In that day you will die" has been fulfilled for uncountable generations of man. Yet, even given the ages of man, there are those who still will not accept the truth of God's proclamation. They still fervently believe that with just a reasoned knowledge to replace superstition and ignorance, more sophisticated technology to replace inefficient mechanics, reworked political and economic theories to better distribute justice to all, all the problems of man can ultimately be solved. That has never worked in the past, so why would we believe it will work in the future? It is arrogant foolishness. It is vanity.
"Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity. And moreover, because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he gave good heed, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs. The preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was upright, even words of truth. The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd. And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh. Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil."
One thing and one thing only can repair the damage done. Man must return to guidance by God alone as it was in Eden before the fall. That guidance does not merely mean a new political or social system based on God's commandments. That has already been tried. The Law of Moses is sufficient, if followed, to provide a just society. The impossible situation we find ourselves in is that just knowing that is not enough. Having fallen into a world of sin, man lacks the ability to lift himself out of that condition. The failure of all legalistic solutions is not in the moral laws themselves but man's inability to follow those laws due to man's fallen condition. To live by a system of laws, whether God ordained or man created, results in the same situation. In the end, the perfect law from God merely exposes fully the failing of man. Unless something new and very different enters into the situation, there can be not solution. There must be something new under the sun.