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Creation’s Rebellion: What changed after the Fall?

When faced with the question of why there is so much suffering in the world, the default Christian answer is because of Adam’s sin. This belief is certainly not without warrant. Indeed, a number of biblical texts appear to support it, like Genesis 3:17-18 where the ground is cursed and thistles and thorns begin to plague man thanks to the Fall. Among other passages, we could also point to Romans 8:19-21. In this classic text, St. Paul says that creation “was subjected to futility” and yet eagerly awaits that Day when it will be “set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.”

As I’ve previously discussed in this column, however, modern scientific discoveries have made it clear that creatures have been dying for as long as they have inhabited this planet. This has been going on for more than three and a half billion years—long before Homo sapiens entered the scene of history a few hundred thousand years ago. Notably, a figure no less than St. Thomas Aquinas himself recognized that death attended the lives of animals before the Fall, even as he held that man was initially exempt from this dynamic.

Yet, if this is true, then what in the created order actually changed as a result of Adam’s sin?

Giving God credit for his troublesome creatures

To answer this question, it might be easiest to start by reflecting a little on why Adam’s sin did not inflict fundamental changes within the structure of the created order. On this front, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church can lend us valuable insight into why the Lord made creatures that cause us pain and suffering.

For his part, the Angelic Doctor stressed that many good things about our world would be absent if we were to eliminate what from our limited perspective appear to be flaws in creation. For instance, Aquinas observed that “[f]ire would not be generated if air was not corrupted, nor would the life of a lion be preserved unless the ass were killed.” This recognition is crucial, for even as the opening chapters of Genesis present us with an idyllic archetypal state where neither man nor animal suffers any harm, St. Thomas held the natural order in such esteem that he considered it an ineluctable fact that the sustenance of one organism requires the demise of others.

Having said that, Christianity from its inception has always maintained that human sin is fraught with cosmic consequences. How, then, are we to understand the effects of the Fall with respect to creation writ large?

A number of factors make answering this question a daunting task, but one of the key reasons was underscored by St. Augustine. Human sin, the Doctor of Grace explains, clouds our ability to behold God’s wisdom manifest in this created order. It causes us to be repulsed by features of creation that are good for us in the same way that sickness causes an afflicted individual to find healthy bread distasteful and sore eyes to perceive light as repugnant. In this light, Augustine maintains that animals like the poisonous viper and the worm that causes rot were created as such by God, even if they exhibit traits that humans tend to experience as problematic.

Read more at Catholic World Report 

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