I teach an 8th grade Bible class at a Christian school. A few days ago, going through Romans 5:12-21, we were considering Adam and the consequences of his transgression. Mankind, post-Adam, already at birth faces death, is under a sentence of condemnation, and is already constituted as a sinner. Whether or not you believe this, it’s difficult to get around the fact that the passage says precisely that. So if that’s what it really teaches, and if we accept that this is the word of the Lord, the question we all will have to face is: Is this fair? It hardly seems so. To bear the consequences of someone’s else’s sin? To be born under a death sentence because of what someone long ago and far away did? How could that be? One student did object that it was not fair. Others may have thought the same, but didn’t speak up. In any case, I tried to offer some considerations to alleviate the accusation of unfairness, and here they are, for you fine folks to place in your pipes and smoke.
1) The fact is, everyone does sin (inevitably), and everyone does die (babies included), as I think we’d all admit. That is universal experience and it’s undeniable. And we face plagues, natural disasters, crime, and every other misery which affects humanity seemingly indiscriminately. You were born into a cursed world. So if you are going to believe in a sovereign God at all, there are only two real options: Mankind has been tried and condemned in Adam, or has been condemned without a trial. If you deny the former, you’re left with the later, or with atheism.
2) Another fact is that whatever we think about the justice of us all bearing the consequence of Adam’s sin, it’s obvious with only a moment’s thought that this is what life is like. Our lives are drastically affected by a thousand things in which we have no say. Who our parents were, when we were born, where we were born, what those around us do, etc. The doctrine in Romans 5 has the ring of truth about it at least in that regard. Human beings are not self-sufficient automatons, vacuum-sealed from community and ancestry.
3) Even we Americans govern ourselves on the principle of representation. We elect representatives to Congress and the Senate, and the Oval Office, and they make decisions on our behalf that can drastically affect us all. Even if they are representatives who we didn’t personally vote for, we accept their lawful legislative decisions as binding. If our government goes to war with Germany and Japan, congratulations, Average American Joe is now at war with those nations. Why should we then grudge to God the use of representation by Adam in dealing with us, at least in principle?
4) More seriously, if you are going to object to Adam’s transgression on your behalf, and the consequent sentence of condemnation, you really have no business claiming the work of Christ on your behalf either. It cuts both ways: You can fall in Adam or fall on your own, but then you’re left to your own devices when it comes to saving yourself. Death in Adam may not be “fair,” but in that case neither is life in Christ.
5) Yes, God subjected Adam’s race to Adam’s condemnation, but in doing so he also elected to subject himself as well. Christ, God made flesh, experienced the depths of the Adamic curse. It’s not as though God’s government in this regard is flippant. Building on the analogy in #3, God is not like the politicians who voted for Obamacare and then moved to exempt themselves from its provisions. You haven’t suffered anything because of Adam that Christ wasn’t willing to suffer himself.
6) Perhaps the final and most pointed answer to those who object to the unfairness of our condemnation in Adam is this: When you say this isn’t fair, you are really saying that if you were in Adam’s position you would have acted differently. And in that case, have at it: Stop sinning. Because every time you sin, you ratify Adam’s transgression.