Following the recent discovery of new species and a reports of a “lost world,” a primitive pristine paradise on the Indonesian island of Papua, I thought I’d pass along some thoughts of F. W. J. Schelling, the 19th century philosopher and contemporary of G. W. F. Hegel and Friedrich Schleiermacher, who was one of the last great German idealists.
German idealism in general, and Schelling’s philosophy in particular, have exercised great influence down into contemporary theology, having effected, among others, Paul Tillich, Jürgen Moltmann, and Wolfhart Pannenberg.
Early in his career, Schelling delivered a series of lectures, including a lecture “Of Human Freedom” in 1809. This lecture focused largely on the problem of evil and theodicy. World history is for Schelling, the divine self-revelation, in which the polar opposites of good and evil are finally reconciled. He writes of the primal state of the world, having a view of the Fall into sin as necessarily linked with creation:
But just as the undivided power of the primal basis is only recognized in man as the inner basis or center of an individual, so, too, in history, evil at first remains concealed int eh depths, and the age of guilt or sin is preceded by an age of innocence or unconsciousness of sin. The primal basis of nature may have operated alone long before, and, through the divien forces contained within it, it may itself have attempted a creation which, however, since the bond of love was lacking, always relapsed in the end back into chaos (as is perhaps indicated by the series of species which were destroyed before the present creation and did not return) until the word of lvoe went forth and with it enduring creation took its start.
Schelling does not have separate doctrines of creation apart from sin, or a fall from a real primal state of innocence into a state of sin. The innocence merely consists in the “unconsciousness of sin.” And so too, things like the fossil record of extinct species are seen as abortive attempts of the material world to bring forth “enduring life,” which can only truly be accomplished when the spirit of love infuses itself into the world.
Schelling also deals at the length with the implications of such a doctrine of sin for our conception of God. Biblical Christian theologians can acknowledge the reality of animal and plant death before the Fall because human sin was not the first instance of creaturely rebellion. Indeed, Satan, a “murderer from the beginning” and ” the father of lies” (John 8:44), bears that distinction.
Time and again, however, Schelling refuses to acknowledge or find relevancy in this reality. He writes, for example, “The first cause of all can never be evil in itself, as there is no duality of hte principles in it. But neither can we presuppose a created spirit, itself fallen, which solicited man to fall: for the very question, at this point, is how evil arose in a created being.”