At the same SBL seminar, Rusty Reno examined Genesis 3:1, following the traditional interpretation that the serpent is a disguise for the devil. He dealt with the larger pattern of biblical evidence first, showing that the Bible links the devil and the serpent, and links the devil to acts of temptation.
The bulk of his paper focused on two themes associated with Satan throughout the Bible. References to Satan signal the universal or cosmic dimensions of a local event; and references to the devil, especially in Genesis 3, serve the purposes of theodicy.
Reno developed the second point along these lines. Human beings were created with an embodied freedom. This freedom is not unbounded. This in fact is one of the themes of Genesis 3, that our choices are always bounded by forces outside our own control. We are not self-made; and our decisions and actions are limited by pre-existing conditions outside ourselves.
Following Augustine, Reno suggested that free human actions are motivated actions, and that motivations arise from the perception of the world. The process Augustine has in mind seems to be this: We perceive a good thing in the world, our desires are aroused, and we act according to our desires. Reno suggested that angels, being spiritual, do not act out of this kind of interaction with the creation. Rather, angels make choices, for good or ill, as a pure choice.
Now, if Adam and Eve sinned without Satan tempting, that would suggest that sin arises from the interaction with of human beings with the world, which of course casts doubt on the very-goodness of the creation. Because their sin is not a response to the world but a response to a previously fallen angel. God's goodness and the goodness of His creation is preserved.
But, Reno asks, doesn't this undo human responsibility? No, because, as reno says, all human freedom is led. We are created with a natural inclination to obedience service - to something. That something may be God or may be the devil or may be sin. We are never leaderless. That something is never ourselves, however much we might think so. We may act out of fantasies of self-making, but these fantasies come from elsewhere.
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Saturday, November 17, 2007 at 09:15 PM
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