Given the Christian doctrine of the Fall, we understand that human persons have a kind of nature such that it is addicted to sin. But we also know (as I plan to discuss in due course) that, given the Christian doctrine of Redemption, that God is in the business of restoring all that is good and beautiful in all that has been created yet fallen. And this cosmic redemption program includes our own souls. For this reason, we can trust that, while in some way our souls are addicted to vice in potentially every form, we are also attracted to the good. And these truths provide a very powerful incentive for us, who are redeemed, to redeem all things for their good and God’s glory.
At this point it would be helpful to introduce an ancient and abounding notion called the Doctrine of the Transcendentals. Simply put, the Doctrine of the Transcendentals suggests that there are certain descriptions of objects (persons, things, ideas, etc.), which apply to every object. Specifically, the descriptions or properties of goodness, truth, and beauty can be applied to everything from animals (e.g., a good dog) and plants (e.g., a beautiful rose) to mathematical principles (e.g., a true theorem) and moral facts (e.g., harming the innocent is evil). Arguably, nothing exists which isn’t good or evil, true or false, or beautiful or distorted.
To be sure, there are gradations of goodness, truth, and beauty – indeed, this truth is what’s beautiful about this doctrine (!): that is, every baby could be more morally good (or evil); some religious traditions are truer (or less true) than others; every sentence could be written more (or less) beautifully than others (including this rather lengthy and clumsy one!). In short, these properties, which apply to every existing object, transcend the objects which they describe, and are thereby called “transcendentals.” Goodness, truth, and beauty are the standard transcendentals (originating in Platonic thought and developed further by Christian medieval theologians).
How is any of this philosophical jargon related to the Christian doctrine of the Fall? Let me explain.
Because of the noetic (Grk. nous = mind) effects of the Fall, humanity is inclined to distort or distrust God’s ways, his word, and the world which he created. (See Gen. 3.1-6; cf. 2.15-17.) God’s ways reflect the purest form of goodness and his goodness toward his us, his creatures; his word – whatever he says – is truth which can be trusted; and his world (including the heavens) declares his glory, or tif’eret, which is Hebrew for “beauty.” Yet, in our postlapsarian (fallen) state, we misperceive what is good, true, and beautiful, and therefore also misrepresent instances of goodness, truth, and beauty in and to the world around us and to ourselves. We utter (sometimes knowingly, other times unwittingly) falsehoods; we make bad art; we treat others and ourselves wickedly. In short, immorality, lies, and destruction abound in us and in the world.
Sometimes these instances of ugliness are the result of deliberate intent; other times they are the result of accident; still other instances result from a sincere effort to bring about what is good (or true or beautiful), but simply doesn’t pass muster. In other words, because our minds are corrupted by the noetic effects of the Fall, the world is filled with ills resulting from fabrication, failure, or finitude, or some admixture of these.
One important implication of this point about the doctrine of the Transcendentals and the doctrine of the Fall is that we, who are in Christ, have as a fundamental calling on our lives to redeem and reconcile all things according to the way in which God saw as good (2 Co. 5.17-21; cf. Gen. 1.31). In other words, we are to bring out and bring about goodness, truth, and beauty (GTB) in the world. We must produce artifacts, construct political structures, and lead lives which contribute to the net GTB in the world. Redemption simply means restoring the value of something as originally made. That is a fundamental call for those in Christ.
So: while we take seriously the effects the Fall has had on humanity, we also know that there is truth and goodness and beauty to be found in other worldviews and world citizens, and that we being redeemed can contribute to the GTB in this fallen yet fascinating world.
In my next post, I shall make a final comment about the doctrine of the Fall by introducing a final doctrine – the doctrine of Total Depravity – and do so in relation to a significant sociological notion: the notion of reification.