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As defined, a mystery is “Something that is difficult or impossible to understand or explain.” To solve a mystery we look for clues, relying upon deductive reasoning. Some mysteries are more easier to solve than others. For example, when we consider the general revelation of the universe, when we look at the splendor of the heavens and earth, it is not difficult to deduce that it was designed and created by God: Indeed, “his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (1:20). It is not difficult to solve the mystery of creation’s origin, even a child can deduce it. It is only the fool who says in his heart, “There is no God” (Ps. 14:1).
Paul’s question presumes our knowledge of his ongoing epistolary argument: “did [Israel] stumble in order that they might fall?” (11:11). Did Israel in fact stumble, and if so how? Indeed, they did; indeed they have, as Paul describes in the ninth chapter, “They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame” (Rom. 9:32-33). Pursuing the righteousness of God by works not faith, they stumbled over Christ. Or, as Paul puts it in the tenth chapter, “For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:3-4).
Like many catastrophes, the Fall came without warning, but unlike many catastrophes it came with deceptive subtlety. In the midst of the Garden, Satan in the form of a serpent deceived Eve, who sinned by eating the forbidden fruit and shared the temptation with Adam, who ate too. And so fell our ancestors, and the human race, “from their original righteousness and communion with God,” and as a result they “became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all parts and faculties of soul and body,” as our Confession of Faith puts it. In the history of human tragedies, the first was the worst.
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