Identity in Christ: Eternal Grounding Lost

We must ground our entire existence in something transcendent. This is a natural and necessary part of being human. Everyone, everywhere, is aware that there is something beyond this life. Even the atheist, naturalist philosopher believes they hold a place in an evolutionary process that precedes and follows their earthly existence. The sense of the transcendent is in all of us. As Christians, this makes perfect sense to us.

The Bible begins, “In the beginning, God…” positing God as having existed before time even began. While we wrestle with how to understand our place in this world, the Bible begins by telling us that there was something, or more specifically someONE, before this world. He does not come from somewhere or sometime. He existed apart from anything else with no beginning and no end. This Eternal One speaks and so begins the world in which we live and the time in which we are caught. All of creation, everything we know, is spoken into being, coming from, grounded in, and utterly dependent on the transcendent, eternal One. Man is made by God’s own hand, fashioned from the dust of the ground, and only becomes a living creature when God breathes the breath of life into him. We bear the fingerprints of God, made in his image, with his breath of life in our lungs. The Lord planted a Garden, made the trees grow, and gave the fruit that would give man food. Adam and Eve came into being by the act of God, were sustained by the provision of God, and were only able to understand their existence as bearing the image of God. Man is a creature, created by and totally dependent on God for his physical existence, an existence intended to last for eternity with God. But man is also the covenant partner of God, the “Thou” to God’s “I,” to use Barth’s famous language. We were created to be in relationship with God forever. God is the transcendent which grounded Adam and Eve’s understanding of themselves, that gave their lives direction, meaning, and purpose. God is the only satisfying and stabilizing grounding for all humanity.

However, that grounding has been lost. Adam and Eve believed the Serpent’s lies and sought their own self-determination. The two lies that the Serpent uses to tempt Adam and Eve go to the heart of man’s grounding in God. The first is that Adam and Eve surely won’t die if they eat of the fruit. This lie attacks the reality that we are creatures, dependent upon God’s sustaining power. Adam and Eve had been given the breath of life by God and had been given everything they needed to survive by God. The Serpent questions the necessity of depending on God for physical existence. The temptation is to be self determining and self sustaining, consciously denying the reality that our very life and breath are dependent on God’s sustaining power. Adam and Eve believed the lie and disrupted the grounding of their physical existence. The second temptation was to be like God. This lie attacks the reality that we are creatures that were made to be in a creator-creature covenant relationship with God. Adam and Eve had been created as God’s representative image-bearers on Earth. They had been spoken to by God, been given tasks by God, and were able to walk with God. Man was created to relate to God, to listen to God, and to obey God. The Serpent questions the necessity of depending on God for existential existence. The temptation is, again, to be self determining. Why be under God’s commands, obeying his laws when you can be your own judge of right and wrong? Why be a creature relating to God when you can be a colleague and a co-equal of God? By taking the fruit, Adam and Eve disrupted the grounding that mankind had as being creatures relating to God.

Man has rejected this grounding in God. The flaming sword that God put over east of Eden not only kept Adam and Eve out of the Garden, but it symbolized the estrangement of man from God. We have been cut off from the One who would give our selves and our lives the grounding they need. In God’s place, we have placed ourselves. We are confident that we can sustain ourselves. We can forge our own way, provide for our own needs, and, if in the off chance we fall, we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. There is no need to look beyond the resources available to us here on this earth. We can handle it. Likewise, we have placed ourselves in God’s place. Instead of humbly relating to God as a creature, we place ourselves on the throne, judging what is right and wrong, demanding to be loved on our terms, and refusing to let our identity be determined by another. Yet, this great insurrection did not have the liberating effect that was promised.

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