Is It Just That in Adam All Die?
I think the New Testament does teach that the whole world is born into the consequences of a fallen nature because of the sin of Adam and Eve. The New Testament repeats this idea frequently—“that through the disobedience of one man, death comes into the world.” This has been an occasion for much theological protest. What kind of a God would punish all people with the consequences of one individual’s sin? In fact, it seems to go contrary to the teaching of the prophet Ezekiel. He rebuked the people of Israel when they said that the fathers had eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth were set on edge. The prophet said that God treats every person according to his own sin. He doesn’t punish me for what my father did, nor does he punish my son for what I did, although the consequences may spill out into three or four generations. That the guilt is not transferred from one person to another seems to be the message in Ezekiel.
It makes the question all the more puzzling. In protest we want to say, “No damnation without representation.” We don’t like to be held accountable for what somebody else did, although there are occasions in our own system of justice where we recognize a certain level of culpability for what another person does through the means of criminal conspiracy.
For example, I might hire you to kill somebody. Even though I’m far away from the scene of the crime and don’t pull the trigger, I can still be tried for first-degree murder. All you did was carry out my desire. Even though I didn’t pull the trigger, I’m guilty of the intent and malice of forethought that you actually exercised.
You might say that’s a poor analogy of the Fall because nobody hired Adam to sin against God in my name. Obviously we didn’t. He was appointed to be the representative of the whole human race. Again, we tend to find that difficult to swallow because I don’t like to be held accountable for what my representative does if I don’t have the opportunity to choose my representative. I certainly didn’t choose Adam to represent me. That’s one of the reasons we like to have the right to elect our representatives in government: The actions that they take in the political realm have tremendous consequences on our lives. We can’t all be in Washington enacting legislation. We want to elect our representatives in the hope that they will accurately represent our desires and our wishes.
There is no time in human history when you were more perfectly represented than in the Garden of Eden because your representative was chosen infallibly by a perfectly holy, perfectly just, omniscient God. So I cannot say that I would have done differently than Adam did.
One last point: If we object in principle to God’s allowing one person to act for another, that would be the end of the Christian faith. Our whole redemption rests on the same principle, that through the actions of Christ we are redeemed.