Reproclaiming the Everlasting Gospel
I have often heard it said, in one way or another, that "The natural mind is the enemy of God". For me, this has always raised the question of "Why should God have given me a mind that is naturally his enemy?" It is contradictory that if man was created in the image of God, he should have been given a mind that is naturally his creator's enemy, but was "pre-bent" to be subservient.
After pondering this for a while, I was finally shown an answer that makes sense, If we turn to Genesis Chapter 3 and read the story of Eve and the Serpent, we find the same events that happen in each of us when we transgress. First, we are shown the bait. (...your eyes shall be opened and you shall be as God...). Should we attempt to resist this temptation in our own human strength and reply with Eve "God has said 'you shall not...lest you die'" we soon, like Eve, find ourselves out-argued. Perhaps, after all, we shall not die this time. No amount of human logic, thought, or effort can stop our lust for the great things we are promised if we eat of Satan's fruit; To our fallible judgment, they are made to seem of higher account than Life and Truth.
From here comes the position that the natural mind is the enemy of God. It is true, of course, that if we set ourselves to willfully disobey God's command, we become his enemy. However, to state that our human mind is naturally evil because it was made for judging of earthly rather than heavenly matters is nonsense. Humans were not created to live without support from their creator: Our minds and earthly judgment are not meant for resisting temptation any more than a ballpoint pen is for digging a ditch. If the sheep are not meant to fight the wolf, they are no more their shepherd's enemy than the ballpoint pen that would break at the first serious effort to move dirt is mine.
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Reading this a few days ago planted some seeds in my mind that have been struggling to germinate. I know that you have had a very deep immersion in the message of George Fox over the years, Ellis, which makes my exposure very minimal in comparison. I've learned enough of Fox to appreciate him deeply but my understanding is far from comprehensive. I'd just like to run a few thoughts by you. In responding it may be that your greater insight can help me to go a little deeper. My own immersion of a lifetime has been in scripture, so the challenge for me is to rightly understand Fox's message in the language and thought of scripture. I perceive from your blogs that you originally came from a Protestant background of some kind, and that your growth in Quakerism has been partially a process of "unlearning" some of those basic assumptions and ideas relating to biblical interpretation. So you can perhaps sympathize with me! So anyway, here goes...
As you know, one of the basic assumptions of traditional Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant, is the concept of original sin. This concept comes into play in any discussion like the one in your post. The first impulse is to respond that because we are all tainted by Adam's original sin, all of our minds have a built-in propensity to disobedience. This is the case because we're all born in the condition of Adam after the Fall. To some extent it seems to me that Fox would agree with this basic premise, although he might not call it "original sin."
The issue for traditional Christianity seems to be rooted in the premise that the story of Adam and Eve is an historical account of the very first pair of humans from whom we all descend biologically. And since we all sprang from them in their post-Fall condition we all have inherited (perhaps genetically) this post-Fall condition. I believe that this premise of biological descent can be shown overwhelmingly to be wrong on scientific grounds, but there still remains an obligation to take the New Testament material, especially Paul's teaching, seriously enough to find a reasonable interpretation of its use of the Adam story. For me, it is reasonable to see Paul viewing Adam as God's chosen covenant representative for all human beings. He may well have been a historical person (I lean in that direction myself) chosen by God at the time when Man was ready to enter into a covenant relationship with God. Or, the Adam story may just be an entirely mythic portrayal of one man representing Everyman. Either way, the story of Adam is somehow the story of all of us, and of each of us. So far, so good.
What I'm getting at, really, is the way Fox related the Adam story to our story. His way of drawing on it (concerning man's nature and how sin affects it) is in some ways different than the traditional view. This is why Christians were so horrified when Fox claimed to have been fully restored to the condition of "Adam before the Fall." Viewed with their assumptions this was perhaps possible in some spiritual sense, but certainly it was an audacious claim for someone still (according to their assumptions) in the flesh "inherited" from Adam.
It seems to me that the issue for Fox was that spiritual restoration meant more than a forensic or "imputed" exchange of our sinfulness for Christ's righteousness. It was an actual change in the condition of the heart and mind and spirit, which Christ works in those who respond to His voice. This belief, in itself, is not unique to Quakerism. It is the concept held by many Catholics, Wesleyans, and other Arminian and holiness traditions. Fox never claimed that being in Adam's state before the Fall made it impossible for one to fall back into sin and disobedience. It didn't place anyone beyond the reach of temptation or the possibility of sinning. After all, Adam and Eve sinned while in that state. Living the life of holiness still depended on obeying the voice of Christ. But the restoration experience placed the individual "back into the Garden" so to speak where the voice of Christ could be easily heard again. The fallen condition for Fox seems to be equivalent to being so out of relationship with God that nothing short of miraculous intervention could make hearing and recognizing His voice possible. The "natural mind" was essentially "deaf" to God's voice, but not entirely "dead" to it. The mind still had the capacity to respond, but was not inclined to do so apart from the work of the True Light, which God provides to every man (John 1:9, Rom. 12:3).
Both Catholics and Wesleyans have a doctrine of "prevenient grace" which corresponds to this. It's the Calvinist doctrine of "total depravity" which denies such a concept. That's why Calvinism insists on God's sovereign predestination as the only basis for election. Calvinists don't believe in universal access to salvation. the significant difference for Fox, it seems to me, is that knowing Christ and being in full relationship with Him, is a very real, personal, unmediated and continual walk and conversation with Christ Himself.
Anyway, these are the kinds of thoughts that are running through my "mind", Ellis. Your application of the Adam and Eve story makes sense when viewed as a kind of "Everyman" illustration of what we (Christians especially) all face in our struggle to be faithful and obedient to the Light. There is the issue of the "natural" mind outside of relationship with Christ which requires somewhat different dynamics. For those of us who have entered into genuine relationship with Christ and are constantly listening for His voice, I agree that the mind is not the enemy of its Creator. It has been restored to its original state in the image of God. There is a distinction however (it seems to me), in both scripture and in Fox, between the restored mind and the mind we have when born into this world. The presence of the Light is there for each of us, but we're still very tone deaf, to say the least!
I would just add that your statement of conclusion presents the essential truth very well, Ellis: "Humans were not created to live without support from their Creator." However we slice and dice it, that is the bottom line. It's true of all human beings, regardless of where we are on the spiritual path.
Bill, I believe that here is a case of mistaken identity. You are commenting on a post put up by my son, Lewis, and directing your comments to me, Ellis. However, you do make some good points and ask some good questions. I will have to let them sit and work for a while before attempting to respond, if indeed it is I who should respond. I was only alerted to this state by talking to a friend yesterday who had happened to notice.
Whoops!!! My apologies to your son... and to you, Ellis! I need to pay closer attention! However, the fact remains that I would like to delve into this whole topic more deeply. I'm currently re-reading Bensen's A Universal Christian Faith and am finding what I think are important clues to Fox's meaning of many of the terms that are relevant here. Everything depends on rightly understanding his use of terms. His meaning isn't always obvious at first blush, especially for folks who are not intimately acquainted with his writing and preaching. And he very often means something entirely different than what someone approaching it from a traditional Christian mindset would assume. The first two chapters are especially enlightening for me.