Now, I know that many writers nowadays begin with some kind of anecdote or gripping mini story to grab their reader’s attention and instead of that I almost do the opposite and write the most disinteresting part first! But I do ask you to persevere with this musing because its theme is a greatly encouraging one! I wonder how many will have either heard or know the source of the words, ‘the fortunate fall.’ It seems it first appeared in the writings of the North African bishop Augustine when he was describing the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. I first came across the words ‘Felix culpa’ about fifty years ago. Felix, the Latin for ‘happy,’ ‘lucky’ or ‘blessed,’ and ‘culpa’ meaning ‘fault’ or ‘fall.’
Augustine and many others since have written and spoken of how God judged it better to bring good out of evil than not to permit any evil to exist and Thomas Aquinas wrote “God allows evils to happen in order to bring a greater good therefrom.” Easy to write and say, another to believe, participate in and live through. Every Easter there are those all around the world who sing the words “O HAPPY FAULT that merited such and so great a Redeemer.” So, according to this, our Lord Jesus, God in the flesh, His life and death are greater than every enemy and especially sin, therefore nothing should prevent us from entering into life as God always meant it to be. This is an amazing thought and an incredible doctrine, but does it square up to our Bible? Yes, from Genesis to Revelation everything points in that direction. God’s greatest self-disclosures in Old Testament stories so often take place against the backdrop of the unfaithfulness and infelicities of man. When Adam and his wife fell, immediately God’s response discloses a more full sight of His nature and character.
For example, consider the way He prepared clothing to cover their newly and terribly experienced nakedness. It is a most wonderful and encouraging way to read your Bible, just with this one theme in mind, how does God turn around and work through the sins and the mistakes of those He has called to Himself? Abram comes to mind and his excursion into Egypt, a place he should not have gone down into. A mistake indeed, but did he learn through it and to what deepening knowledge of God did it lead him (Genesis 12:10-13:4)? He and Sara failed miserably in the way they followed the common conventions of the day and the outcome was the birth of Ishmael (Genesis 16:1-16). What complications have come in history as a result, but we see things about the character of God emerging we have not seen so clearly before. The way He tenderly handled Hagar and the child, and not only once but twice, is another example (Genesis 16:7-14, 21:8-21). After the defections and confusions that marred Abram’s journey of faith God drew him in further and shared a ‘New Name,” saying, “I am El Shaddai, walk before Me and be perfect” (Genesis 17:1). God does not jettison His man, but reveals Himself to him as EL SHADDAI, which means GOD ALMIGHTY. It is not so easy to reconcile God’s ‘Almightiness’ with the foolish ways into which mankind has fallen.
Questions arise in our minds, “if He is the Almighty why does He allow such tragedies?” and similar queries trouble us. Thus we meet the dilemma of God Almighty, the God All Powerful, Who reveals Himself as the God of deliberate design and purpose and yet displays apparent latitude to His creatures within that plan. Creatures can choose to resist His will, or so it seems. Non-cooperation with God is entirely possible. We have intimations of God giving a marked degree of liberty to creation in Genesis chapter one. Did God decree how many trees and blades of grass the earth would bring forth (Genesis 1:11)? What about the apparent liberty accorded the earth to cooperate with God in the bringing forth of the creatures (Genesis 1:24-25)? It is as though God empowers the creature, the earth, to flow in happy agreement with His good purposes and it does so. The same liberty of choice God gave to Adam and his wife. Will they cooperate gladly with Him in His purposes both for them and the whole creation or will they yield to the creature that comes tempting them to a rebellion toward God and disobedience to His promises that he himself has already embraced (Genesis 3:1-7)? We know the answer all too well having participated ourselves in the sin of Adam, and we know something of the result of that dread defection.
We know we are free to the point of non-cooperation with God. Yet this is not the totality of the story. As we have said already, God though seemingly taken by surprise is on the other hand not taken by surprise! Again, we get a sense of His design and yet a freedom for disobedience within that plan. He is God ALMIGHTY but is well able to work in the face of evil and even utilize it as part of what He is doing. Not only this, He seems to be unhurried by what has transpired. He makes promises to His man and woman and to their enemy (Genesis 3:8-19) and what we know as history must be understood as the outworking of those promises. The promises of salvation and destruction of all that opposes are implicit in what He says. And these things are taken up as the Bible unfolds its story. Blessed are those whose hearts are beginning to understand. Those who do begin to discern His wise designs will experience how good it is to give thanks to the Lord and to sing praises to His Name for He is THE MOST HIGH (Psalm 92:1). It is this psalm that first prompted me to attempt to write a little in this vein. “How great are Your works, O LORD! Your designs (plans) are very deep” (Psalm 92:5).
The person who lives in the stupor of doubt mixed with self importance is like a brute beast and does not understand the statement the psalmist now makes “that though the wicked sprout like grass and all evil doers flourish, it is that they may be destroyed forever” (Psalm 92:7 Hebrew). Somehow, through all that has been transpiring in history, as we know it, God is working to remove all that offends and to accomplish that in such a way that there will never be a recurrence of it ever again. Yet how slowly, apparently, God works out His will. His reign and rule He has not relinquished at any point. His purposes are being accomplished and He invites us to agree with Him and cooperate humbly accepting that indeed, His thoughts are very deep. When Jesus speaks of the reign and rule of God (the kingdom) almost every parable and picture He employs involve small beginnings and a process that involves the presence and activity of enemies. The parable of the sower and his seed, the mustard seed, the yeast a woman took to put in three measures of meal are three examples. Jesus did not say that the kingdom is the end result, but He includes the process. All is part of the kingdom; even the oppositions are part of His reign. In another story Jesus speaks of a farmer sowing in his field and an enemy planting seed in the same field. “Let both grow together unto harvest” is his reply to his servants who thought they could purge the field of the tares (Matthew 13:24-30).
Consider, not only the purpose of God, but also His patience! Returning to the story of Abraham we find that God started small, one elderly man and his wife, He chose a solitary couple! Other empires had come and gone already and He did not select from any of them. His choice fell upon the insignificant few, through them He would begin to reveal His plan and purpose, not only to them but work in them in such a way that they, the sons of His kingdom would be the seed of a great harvest throughout the nations (Matthew 13:38). Election is not a popular subject nowadays, it is offensive to many, but we must face he fact that it is a constant theme to be seen in the way God works in His creation throughout history. He chose Abraham and He chose the mean and small nation of Israel through which to make Himself known. There was no merit in that pathetic slave people, there was no grandeur or great learning as there was in Egypt, but; because of His own purpose and love He brought them out of bondage and through to the land He promised them (Deuteronomy 6:6-11). When we think of smallness we ought also to consider the actual size of the “promised land”! Barely forty-six miles across from east to west! Size does not matter, but its placement was at the meeting place of three continents with their diverse cultures and Israel, God’s people were to bear their testimony to Him right there, at the confluence of nations. In that place God chose to set His people, a little, inconsequential nation were to display His loving kindness and faithfulness.
Actually, when we think of God as the God of election we do well to realize that He chooses not so that those chosen be OVER or ABOVE others but FOR them. Abraham was chosen that through him all the nations of the earth be blessed and Israel was his offspring and the church is God’s chosen vessel, each member of it elect and precious not to be OVER but FOR others. Here again we meet the God of wise design working out the counsels of His will and yet doing so in the context of defections, mistakes, non cooperation and sometimes even outright rebellion of this chosen. But God takes up all these; they seem to be ‘fortunate falls.’ God incorporates them all into what He is doing; it is quite amazing to read the scriptures with this thought in view. Oh the power of mistakes! Ah, but we must embrace Paul’s solemn warning when writing about God’s grace in Christ Jesus. When we were enemies Christ died for us. Such grace! Grace did much more abound over all the sinful follies of mankind. Such grace! Grace reigns but; “shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid (Romans 6:1-2). The growing realization that this wonderful God we are coming to know uses even sin and mistakes as stepping stones to disclose Himself and overcome all His (and our enemies) should stir us to greater devotion and cooperating obedience to walk and work with Him in what He is doing. Grace abounding to us and in us produces loving obedient living.
We learn to live in the flow of His will being accomplished even in the midst of accidents and mistakes, our own and those of others. We agree with Him and expect that when difficulties come and foolishness is all around us He will turn them around for good. God does not ‘fix’ everything in His purposeful planning, there seems to be an invitation to cooperation that includes a kind of improvisation when we view our own mistakes and those taking place in our world. Such occasions, sometimes self-inflicted and on other occasions brought upon us by others are platforms for the discovery of God and His gracious ways. We all know how Fleming discovered penicillin, the ‘chance’ happening of dust borne mould defiling his petridish. The discovery of x-ray took place similarly, through a mistake when handling a photographic plate. How many times the mishaps and blunders that happen in life somehow prove to be a steppingstone to discovery. We are so tempted to reject what seems to be against us, but Paul tells us “If God be for us, what can be against us” (Romans 8:31). We must not be like those who rejected the very stone that the Builder has chosen with which to add to His construction (Matthew 21:42). We do tend to get enslaved to a perfectionism that smacks of idealism and is far from the ways of our innovative God. We omit this and fail to do that; we grieve over these things and are almost surprised when He turns them unto good. We must learn to improvise with God! So many irritating things come our way! Delayed flights, slow workmen, our neat plans upset wholesale, but God the Most High is over it all and not only so, but working good! We work with someone who is a hard taskmaster, unreasonable indeed, but whatever we may be facing of setbacks and abuse, even here God is at work.
How He will turn it to good we cannot see and whatever will He do both in us and through us as we yield to Him in it all? I read a little about Jujitsu, apparently it is the art of using the power of the opponent who has brought about our fall as a springboard to overcoming, using their own energy against them. Yes, God does order our steps, but within the parameters He has set in His goodwill He invites us to cooperate with Him as oppositions and enemies, mishaps and mistakes are strewn in our path. So, we will begin to testify, that this and that was a happy fault.