“Since he who saves already existed, it was necessary that he who would be saved should come into existence, that the one who saves should not exist in vain.” – St Irenaeus
That is to say, we begin with the Savior. After all, despite some apologetic attempts, one knows nothing of sin until they are confronted with Christ the Savior. Apologetic attempts to convince folks that they are sinners in need of a Savior tend to hold creation and salvation apart as two separate events. However, when we look backwards at creation from Christ the Savior we see that creation and salvation are anything but two distinct actions, they are rather “the continual process of God’s activity in his handiwork, bringing the creature, when he allows himself to be skillfully fashioned, to the stature of the Savior, by whom and for whom all creation has come into being,” (John Behr, The Mystery of Christ, 86).
St Athanasius extends this to the very being of creation. He affirms that creation has been brought into being from nothing; but the creation with which he is concerned is that of the cosmos and of human creatures by the Word of God, “our Savior Jesus Christ”. The world and everything in it was created by our Savior. Furthermore, the reason for the coming of the Word to created being shows us, “that things should not have occurred otherwise than as they are.” Athanasius pushes this to its limit when he asks what God was to do in the face of human apostasy:
“Be silent before such things, and let humans be deceived by demons and be ignorant of God? But then what need would there have been for the human being to have been created in the image from the beginning?…And what advantage would there be to God who made him, or what glory would he have, if humans who had been created by him did not honour him, but thought that others had made them?” (as quoted by Behr, 87).
Athanasius begins with the fact of the revelation of God in Christ and on this basis develops a theology in which Jesus Christ is very truly the beginning and the end. Thus, Paul can speak of our election “before the foundation of the world”. If these statements were to be made in any other way other than retrospectively it would make God into an arbitrary despot, who before creation decides who will be saved and who will not (unfortunately, based on a misunderstanding of God’s providence, there are those who see no problem with this). But when we begin with the fact of the Savior Jesus Christ what else can we conclude but that it is by him and for him that we have been brought into being?
Thus, we are able to see human sinfulness embraced within the whole scriptural economy of God, “in a simultaneous movement of conviction and forgiveness, revealing our fallenness…and yet in the same movement offering us the means by which our brokenness may be healed,” (Behr, 89). Retrospectively then, we can speak of the “Fall” as being “blessed”, and see the “curse” of Adam and Eve as a “blessing”.
When we encounter Christ, the one who called, and calls, us into being and life, we encounter ourselves as sinful creatures. Christ provides the diagnosis of our condition and simultaneously provides the remedy: “The proclamation of the crucified and risen Lord brings together all the brokenness of our life, unifying it, as it were, so that it can now be seen as a whole, recapitulated in a single vision, as our own salvation history in which he has led us to himself,” (Behr, 92).