Gerhard Forde on humanity’s “upward” fall

We must consider the fall and sin differently from the traditional scheme. The fall is really not what the word implies at all. It is not a downward plunge to some lower level in the great chain of being, some lower rung on the ladder of morality and freedom. Rather, it is an upward rebellion, an invasion of the realm of things “above,” the usurping of divine prerogative. To retain traditional language, one would have to resort to an oxymoron and speak of an “upward fall.” […]

Does such rebellion mean that the image [of God] is lost, either partially or wholly? That question is really not to the point since it comes from the picture of the downward fall. There one treats the image as though it were a faculty or an endowment that could be impaired or lost by falling to a lower place on the scale. Usually the “image” has to do with “reason,” on the one hand, and free will, on the other. Humans are “like God” in that they have rational freedom. In the scheme of the downward fall, consequently, one is anxious to protect free will from total corruption or loss. If one cannot, the whole scheme will have to be jettisoned. Those who speak of “total depravity” are thus quite naturally a dire threat and often charged with manicheism and the like.

If one looks at the human predicament as the consequence of an upward fall, however, then much of the difficulty can be avoided. What one “loses” in such a “fall” is faith and trust in God. One becomes, as stated previously, bound against God, indeed, a bondservant of Satan. The image is not lost, but turned to its opposite. One now images not God but the divine adversary. Even though the image is not lost as such, one can see that the predicament is infinitely more serious than the relatively mild impairment or partial loss envisaged by the downward fall. The God-given faculties are not lost, but rather bound to the service of Satan.

from Theology is for Proclamation, (Fortress, 1990), 48-49.

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