Theology 101

The Fall’s Unraveling of Shalom

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We have been discussing how to better understand God’s vision for shalom using the four-chapter gospel model that sees the historical redemptive narrative told by the Bible in four parts: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. Creation shows the way things were, the fall explains the way things are, redemption shows the way things are going to be, and restoration demonstrates the way things will be. 

In my last article, we looked at shalom in God’s creation and how it intrinsically relies on interdependence and community with God and with each other. Today, we’ll examine how the fall has impacted our experience of shalom.

Sin’s Impact on Shalom

The second chapter of the biblical narrative, the fall, accurately describes the way things are. Genesis 3:1-19 makes it clear that because our first parents rebelled against God, we are all fallen creatures with a sinful nature, which manifests itself in selfishness, greed, and exploitation (Rom. 3:12). Things are not the way they are supposed to be. 

This rebellion of Adam and Eve against God in the Garden of Eden broke the command he had given to them and introduced sin into the world (Gen. 2:16-17). Sin contaminated every aspect of human life and the created order (Gen. 3:7-24). The unity and peace God had woven into his world, shalom, began to unravel. Every part of the created order was damaged; even the environment was altered (Rom. 8:18-23). Everything was broken, including our relationship with God. Theologian Mike Wittmer writes: 

The trajectory of human sin ricochets into the farthest corners of creation, destroying first ourselves, then human society, and finally the animals and even the earth itself. No aspect of shalom is spared from the careening path of sin.

Think of shalom as a beautiful tapestry portraying a picture of God’s good creation. Sin enters the world and millions of threads begin to unravel. It is only by God’s grace that the whole thing does not become undone. We can still see a faint shadow of the glory that was once present in God’s creation. And that faint shadow reminds us, God’s image-bearers, now fallen, of the way things were supposed to be.

The Impact of Shalom’s Loss

Today, we see the effects of the fall in every facet of our lives. We seek independence from God and look to other things to fulfill our longings. We experience despair, hurt, pain, sadness, anger, and envy in broken relationships. We toil internally, wrestling with self-doubt, insecurity, pride, and depression. The earth itself aches from the physical effects of the fall, groaning from famine, drought, floods, and other natural disasters. Sin has touched all aspects of creation, and the fall truly explains the way things are. 

After the fall, sin plagues how we relate to everything and everyone. Nothing goes untouched. Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey describe it this way in How Now Shall We Live?: “Every part of God’s handiwork was marred by the human mutiny…At the fall, every part of creation was plunged into the chaos of sin, and every part cries out for redemption.” In this fallen state, humans are unable to realize the calling that they were made to fulfill. While God designed work as a good thing, sin corrupted it, ensuring that humans toil and sweat in their labor (Gen. 3:19). In response to the brokenness and chaos, we try desperately to break free from the bondage of sin, without success. 

Our own brokenness lies at the crux of these broken relationships. We deny what is true: that Jesus Christ is Lord over our lives, deserving of all honor, glory, and praise. Instead, we value other things over him, especially ourselves (Rom. 1:18-19). We place our trust, confidence, and love in ourselves rather than in God. We deny God’s truth and adhere to lies. We choose to live in a way that glorifies “me.” From that, all relationships suffer. Our wildly misguided perception of truth and value—our sin—taints all our interactions. 

The Most Important—and Most Broken—Relationship

In all these broken relationships, our relationship with God is the most broken. His very nature is holy and perfect and cannot tolerate the presence of our wretched sin. We cannot fill the void sin has left between God and us. Consequently, we question God. We doubt him and we seek independence from him. We question his love for us and refuse to believe in his goodness. We grasp for control over our lives. God cannot simply turn his head and overlook our rebellion. His nature requires that justice is done. 

We were made to extend shalom, but as a result of the fall, the God-given drive for flourishing deteriorates into a selfish pursuit of a self-centered life based on individual happiness, health, and security. God’s desire for shalom throughout his creation has been replaced by man’s destructive, self-centered quest to make a name for himself. No longer are we interested in living in harmony with God, other humans, or the physical creation, instead we are each isolated in our own ego and greed. 

In this state, all hope seems lost. Thankfully, this is not the last chapter of the gospel. As we will see, we experience the depth of God’s grace, his desire to restore shalom, and his love for us in the chapters to come.

Editor’s Note: The new booklet, Reweaving Shalom: Your Work and the Restoration of All Things, from which this article is adapted, is available now from our bookstore.

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