The Fall of
Testament Reading: Genesis 23:1-24
Testament Reading: Luke 17:20-21
Gospel of Thomas, saying 3: "Jesus said, 'If those who lead you say to
you, "See, the kingdom is in heaven," then the birds of the air will
precede you. If they say to you, "It is in the sea," then the fish will
precede you. But the kingdom is within you. If you will know yourselves,
then you will be known and you will know that you are the sons of the
Living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you are in poverty
and you are poverty.'"
week we took the briefest possible look at the Eden story. Today I want to
return to it. Let's see if I can manage it – or whether I will be turned
back by that cherub with his flaming sword!
Let me summarize for you
two very different accounts of the separation of God and human beings. The
first is that of Saint Augustine, followed by the whole of the Western
Christian tradition. In this version we are to understand that God posed
fledgling humanity a simple test: he arbitrarily chose one single tree and
told the primal pair to keep their hands off. But they just couldn't
resist the lure of forbidden fruit.
In this interpretation
Augustine was perhaps unduly influenced by his own Tom Sawyer escapades in
which as a youth he made away with pears from a neighbor's orchard. From
this episode he learned the lesson that forbidden fruit is the sweetest.
In any case, humanity
failed this simple test. As a result we inherited both the guilt and the
taint of sin. God had no choice but to drive our first parents out of
Eden, as his eyes were too pure to look upon sin. From there on in, our
acceptance by God is a chancy matter, made possible only by extraordinary
favor shown from on high.
But as Saint Augustine
saw it, the distance had not even yet been overcome, since even after
Jesus Christ, we remained sinners sold under the bondage of
iniquity. Doomed forever to moral and spiritual defeat, yet forgivable
thanks to Christ.
Here is the other
account, in some ways the opposite of the first. It is the theory of the
19th Century Hegelian Ludwig Feuerbach. (Feuerbach's very name, by the
way, is redolent of mythology: it means "the Brook of Fire," the
Phlegethon!) He postulated a primordial shirking of human responsibility,
a primeval repudiation of the divine image in which nature had cast
humanity. So far it sounds rather like Augustine, doesn't it?
But according to
Feuerbach, 'twas moral cowardice did the deed. We had divinity in
ourselves, all the godly traits of righteousness, love, nobility, justice,
faithfulness and the rest. In short, all the divine attributes were first
ours. But we were too lazy or too self-distrustful, so what we did was to
fantasize the existence of another being who could vicariously bear our
We decided there was a
divine being up there in the clouds who was perfectly loving, just,
righteous, etc. To endow him with these perfections we had to empty
ourselves of them. We had to bow and scrape, to confess our unworthiness
and his entire worthiness. For him to be morally perfect, we had to call
ourselves totally depraved. Theologically we said it would be presumptuous
to claim for ourselves what was his alone. Namely, righteousness in all
"Only thou art holy!" So
chants the worshipper, and it sounds pious, but Feuerbach says it is the
greatest blasphemy against the spirit, the Holy Spirit of Man, who must be
unholy if only God is holy.
Feuerbach knew he would
be called an atheist, but he said he believed in the reality called God;
he just wanted to put it back where it belonged: inside the human breast.
These accounts, those of
Augustine and Feuerbach, at first seem to be antipodal, as opposite one
another as two views could possibly be. Yet I suggest one could hold both
at the same time. In fact, to me, they are merely the two sides of the
Both stories tell us that
man and woman renounced their righteousness, their divine image. And both
agree that as soon as this happened there sprang into being what had not
existed before: a vast distance between man and God.
It was Thomas J.J.
Altizer who first helped me see this (I paid him back one day, let me
assure you! Once I helped him find the right subway to the San Francisco
theorizes that man is alienated from God because of the Fall. But equally
and in the same moment, God becomes transcendent of man because of this
alienation. His ways are not our ways, he is high and lifted up. You must
go seek him in his temple. Because he no more walks among us in the cool
of the evening.
For man to be fallen away
from God is for God to be transcendent. And for God to be
transcendent is the Fall of God! Alienation was mutual. A fallen
humanity means a transcendent deity, the alienation from man of the
divinity innate in him but now banished by his own act! There would have
been no other God separate from us but for the fall. So it was equally the
fall of man and the fall of God.
But Jesus Christ came to
negate the effects of the Fall, did he not? He has joined the separated.
He has knit into one piece that which was sundered. In him the God has
come near who once was afar off. His kingdom is close at hand.
And thus the answer of
Jesus to the questions posed him in today's gospel readings. Where is the
kingdom of God? It is not out there somewhere, as if one might go
somewhere else to find it. As if one might spot it if only one took up a
powerful enough telescope. No, the way to miss it is to look for it
out there somewhere, because all along it has been right here!
If it is here, then the
way to lose it is to go off somewhere in search of it. If I think I have
misplaced my car keys, but in fact they are just where I thought I put
them, then I am only assuring myself that I will not find them as soon as
I start canvassing every place else where I think I might perhaps
have lost them!
This actually happened to
me a few years ago! I finally went to the trouble of replacing all my
keys, only to find them many months later just where I thought they were
in the first place!
And strangely enough, it
is just as easy to forget where the keys of the kingdom are! And when you
do, religion will be erected on a false premise. Life will become a quest
throughout the universe and the heavenly spheres to find something that
all along was near you, in your mouth and in your heart: the Kingdom of
You can see another
example of the same dynamic in the same chapter of Luke we read from. The
disciples said to him, "Lord increase our faith." They thought they lacked
it because they were looking somewhere else for it, but their very words
showed where it already was: within them. Their very request showed they
had it! Or did they ask him for faith in a spirit of cynical hypocrisy,
never for a moment entertaining the possibility that he might answer their
prayer? They already had faith or they would never have asked the question
to begin with!
What if...? Every time
you bemoan your sinfulness, your lack of the moral perfections of God, all
you are doing is reinforcing the false belief that you don't have
them! You are a sinner all right --because you tell yourself you are! Your
pious confession of sin makes you a sinner! To announce your moral
bankruptcy is to create it! To "admit" you are a miserable worm before a
holy God is to impute unrighteousness to yourself by faith -- surely a
perverse twisting of the Reformation gospel!
When you pray for the
Kingdom of God to come, where do you suppose it is going to come? Outward
from within! For it is already there like a planted grain of
mustard seed that is able to sprout into a tree so vast that all the birds
of the heavens may come and nest in its branches.
Jesus came preaching the
kingdom of God and explaining it with parables of seeds growing secretly.
The lesson? The harvest is ripe! It is time to put in the sickle!
The Book of Revelation
envisions a glorious consummation when religion shall be no more! Because
in that day the separation between God and humanity will be overcome, as
it already has in Christ. There simply is no Temple in the New Jerusalem,
because the dwelling of God is henceforth with men and women! So says the
In the Bible "Kingdom" is
pretty much equivalent to "country." They were all ruled by kings. But I
suggest that the phrase "Kingdom of God within you" points beyond the
limitations of the word "Kingdom." For there is no more any difference
between ruler and ruled!
Marx, a follower of
Feuerbach, retained some of the vision of the Bible. He saw that if the
Golden Age should ever come, the state would wither away. There would be
no need for it. And Jesus Christ has brought that consummation, at least
in the kingdom of the soul: there is no servile obedience where the king
and his subjects are one. The divine king has doffed his crown, for there
is no more ruling to be done. Once more he walks with you in the evening
cool of the garden pathways within.
What will this mean? I
can concretize it for you and for myself, if you wish. When you pray the
Lord's Prayer and you get to the part where you ask, "Thy Kingdom come,"
why don't you visualize it coming to fruition from within, from the only
place, in the nature of the case, it could come from?
When you receive
communion, why don't you experience it as taking the Kingdom of God from
out there and bringing it in here?
When you have a moral
decision to make, grow up enough to realize that your responsibility is
not done when you simply recall which rule you have to obey. Your
responsibility is to look at the situation and creatively engage it. You
are no one's flunky or slave. You are the king! Do what Solomon
did: decide for yourself what is right!
When you worship and are
rapt in wonder, let yourself pause to wonder in astonishment at the divine
glory that is within you, that you did not make, and hence which you
cannot be absurdly conceited over, but which is simply and gloriously
Just how "within" you is
the kingdom of God? I remember reading somewhere in Panikkar that when we
say that God is within us, we do not really mean it. We really think God
is like pill that we have swallowed, a metal plate surgically implanted. a
bullet fired into us. In other words: a foreign body that is now on the
other side of the skin from where it used to be, but which is still
external in its alienness. But to say God is within you must mean that he
is truly within you, as your DNA is within you! It has penetrated so
deeply that it simply is you.
The kingdom of God is not
coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say "Lo, here!" or
"There!" for the Kingdom of God is within you! It is behind the eye that
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