By H. Boone Porter
The events of human life are strangely complex. They do not simply happen in an instant. Any important decision, any course of affairs, any significant occurrence, has behind it earlier developments,preliminary steps, and preparatory actions. Similarly, the consequences and results, and a variety of sequels, stretch out into time afterward.
The stories at the beginning of the Bible, told as they are in rather brief and sometimes severe terms, recognize this. This is very evident in the third chapter of Genesis, in what is familiar to us as the story of the Fall. First, the serpent persuades Eve to eat the forbidden fruit and then she persuades her husband, and then, after he has eaten, the consequences of disobedience are pronounced by God and their practical effects are later experienced.
The writers of the New Testament see this story being reversed. It is the good purposes of God which lead to the incarnation of our Lord and his works of redemption which bear subsequent fruit in our lives. A key passage for this line of thoughts is the fifth chapter of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. Adam, says verse 14, is “a figure of him that was to come.” Why? Because Adam was the primal, archetypal figure of humanity. In biblical thinking, he represented the whole of humanity (“the whole human running race,” as Corita Kent has called it) which was to be descended from him. Centuries later, it would be Jesus Christ, who would become the primal archetypal figure of humanity. Verse 19 says :
For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the one shall the many be made righteous.
But prior to the disobedience of the “one man,” Adam, was the faithlessness of Eve, tempted by the serpent. Even so, prior to “the obedience of the one” was the faithfulness of Mary, inspired by the Holy Ghost. Although our salvation was uniquely accomplished by Jesus Christ it is a many-layered event, involving many other people in many ways. The motherhood of Mary is a part of it very much in the Christian consciousness as we approach Christmas, and it becomes the explicit theme of this last Sunday of Advent in the new three year Lectionary.
St. Paul was the first writer, so far as we know to compare explicitly the story of creation with that of redemption. The close relation between creation and redemption was also alluded to by other biblical writers. A century later still, it was taken up at length by St. Irenaeus of Lyons whose thought has inspired many subsequent Christian thinkers and who remains the inspiration of much characteristically Anglican theology.
For Irenaeus, the interpenetration of creation and redemption is the key to the whole Christian outlook. It is because God really did make this world and make us in his image, that God the Son could enter the world in human form. We had been so formed in the first place that the Lord might come among us, and be one of us. Jesus brought into the world by Mary, undid what was done by disobedient Adam and Eve, so that the heirs of redemption, the children of the new birth, might experience a new creation, the renewal of all things. For some of us, this remains one of the most exciting things about the Gospel — the discovery that creation is made new, and can be experienced and re-experienced in new terms.
Eve was created to be the queen of the world. Like all things human, this queenship has been blurred, tarnished, hidden, distorted, misunderstood, misapplied, confused. In a wonderfully unexpected way, it emerged into light in a humble young woman in an obscure corner of the Roman Empire.
The Rev. Dr. H. Boone Porter was editor of The Living Church from 1977 to 1990. This article was published in our December 18, 1977 issue.