The second fall
The mentality of the world had developed to the point where the promise given to mankind after its fall could be fulfilled. Philosophically, the world was ready to accept an eternal, unchanging, invisible, and benevolent Master of the whole universe and all mankind, who would unite it into one family, or even one living body. The chosen people already had this notion (with the exception of the world-organism), and had seen how it was the fulfillment of the gropings of the philosophers. Everyone had been searching for a moral code that made sense, and had made a good deal of progress toward one, and it involved legislating morality with the purpose of making people truly human; and of course, the Hebrews had that par excellence.
But much learning still had to be done. I am convinced that Jesus' mission was to restore what was lost by Adam; and so he had to lead people on to know that death was to be abolished in the new order under his kingship, and that the whole world would be transformed by him and his people into a place of human fellowship and individual dignity: into a place where harm and sickness would no longer attack mankind, and every tear would be wiped away. He did this by curing people and even raising the dead. YHWH was to govern his people forever, not any longer from without as an invisible king, but embodied in Jesus.
But to do this, he had to be accepted by his people, first of all. Accepted not as a new David, who would drive out the Romans and take over the world by conquest, but as something totally and entirely different: someone who could even make the winds and the sea obey him, but who did nothing domineering, who acted as much as a servant as a Master; who was a friend among friends. He had to be accepted as the incarnation of YHWH himself and on terms under which the people were to recognize that if they did accept him, they would never die.
If he was accepted, history would have stopped, as it had in China and India. People would have learned more, and there would have been changes, doubtless, as there were superficially in China and India; but the search for life's meaning would have been over, because it would be there on earth for everyone to see: each person's being able to develop himself to the full and then continue forever, in a world in harmony, where the lion would lie down with the lamb and eat hay like an ox, and swords would be beaten into plowshares.
But he was not accepted; the people found him too much for them, and the promise he held out to them too fantastic and too good to be true. And when the leaders of the people made up their minds that he was a blasphemer and his miracles nothing but fraudulent magic tricks, the others who had been convinced by what they had seen now doubted their own eyes, and turned against him. Once again mankind fell, and lost the gift that was handed to them.
Do not be harsh on the Jews. If you were there, would you really have believed that if Jesus took over the throne, you would never die? If your religious leaders couldn't believe it? Would you, having been brought up from your infancy to regard YHWH as the totally other, have been able to believe that this man was not only his son (as if YHWH were Jupiter) but YHWH himself visibly present and speaking like any other man--except that no man ever spoke the way that man spoke. I doubt it. Not really believe it.
The conditions for the possibility of the belief were there; mankind had developed a sophistication that might have made it possible. But basically, it was just too good to be true, and a "realistic" notion of the world forbade it; and so, in the person of our representatives the Jews, and with the approval and under the ultimate authority of the Roman Emperor, we once again rejected YHWH.
But here is where the second instance of cheating on God's part took place. Knowing that our lack of faith was due to weakness rather than malice, that it was a question of skepticism due to our being in a foundering boat with him apparently asleep in the stern, God brought redemption out of the rejection itself.
Unfortunately, the restoration of human nature to its logical condition of being an immortal incarnate spirit in control of itself did not occur. Having rejected Jesus, it is now only through faith in him as having conquered the death we imposed on him and in undergoing death ourselves that we will ultimately emerge in that blessed state on the last day, when the history we struggle through will have been over.
But at this point, a fundamental change came in human nature. It no longer was merely human nature, not even the pristine human nature that existed before the fall. Human beings who believed in Jesus now shared his life, and the myth behind the Stoic philosophy came true; these humans actually lived also with the divine life of YHWH, and became literally one body, while still living their individual natural lives. The "we," the plural "I," was now given a much more literal sense than was possible naturally, though people seemed (and still seem) always to have a yearning for it, as can be seen from the tendency to form totalitarian societies.
There were still many things that mankind could learn about itself, and many changes that it could bring upon itself; but because of the second fall, it would have to do this as it had been doing it, by searching and painfully developing, by bringing them out of itself by its own efforts (now aided by the assistance of Jesus, guiding through the community he founded), until the point where we ourselves, as it were, can have evolved to where our relationships can be much more like God's love within himself and for us. This is the "omega point" that Teilhard de Chardin spoke of for evolution.
But it must be stressed that the "omega point" will not inevitably be reached, precisely because it depends on our acceptance of the gift offered to us. We can reject God utterly, though it is unlikely that all of us will; but because of this second rejection of God, it will doubtless be the case that the final condition of the world (and its eternal state, since evolution will stop when history stops) will be considerably less than what it otherwise might have been, in significant respects. And we can see this. We have advanced in many ways; but in the important things, we are not much farther along than were the people of ancient Rome.
But the probability is that in some senses the final state of mankind--its final equilibrium--will be greater than it would have been if we had not rejected Jesus and history had stopped with his being declared king forever--and it certainly can be much greater, if we choose to make it so. God is that way. It is not that he brings a greater good out of every evil, but that some evils do result in greater good when the sin is more ignorance than deliberate malice. "Father, forgive them," he said. "They do not know what they are doing."
But from this point on, the world has been in two camps, or in Augustine's two cities: those who accept the facts about Jesus, and those who reject them; and they are basically at war with each other, since they have antithetical views of human development. And now the issue is squarely one of love. Those who belong to Jesus are to "love one another in the same way I have loved you," or to love with that absolutely unselfish superhuman love that Jesus had for us when he "emptied himself and took the form of a slave." As Augustine put it, this city is made up of those who "love God even to the contempt of themselves." And the other city is those who "love themselves even to the contempt of God."
The camp allied with Jesus, as John portrayed in Revelation, will always appear to be failing, but will always be winning; and the other, secular camp, will be dominant always, but will have already lost the battle.Next