October 9, 2016.
Last week we began a series of four lessons that I am teaching for a class out of the book of Genesis. Though each lesson will not be necessarily related to one another, the first two big concepts that I believe we can pull from the book of Genesis often go hand in hand, as they open the book. Last week we saw God as Creator, unfolding His beautiful creation and placing man in the center of His dwelling place, the garden of Eden. This week we will pick up from where we left off, as we track through the theology of what lies behind the world of suffering that we live in today.
Before we begin, however, I want to make an interesting note here. If you asked just about any decently studied Christian why the world is as we see it today, they will likely refer to the fall. However, if you asked a Jewish thinker during the second temple period (which was a prominent time of Jewish development and thought a few hundred years before Christ up through the first century AD), they would have given you a threefold answer. They would have referenced three major events that set up the fallen world that they were in currently: The sin in the garden, the sin of the watchers (Genesis 6, ‘sons of God’) and the tower of Babel. Each of these played a vital role in Jewish theology, and the Genesis 6 event may even be the most prominent from what we know from second temple period literature. That being said, since Christian theology rests much more heavily on the fall in Genesis 3, that’s where we will spend the majority of our time.
The background of this lesson is really last week’s lesson, so if you want a more in depth background, click here. In brief, Genesis one and two set the stage for the paradise of God, where God and man walk together in love. God has created, and everything is functioning as it should, denoted by the comment, “And God saw that it was good.” Man was given his task, to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth (Genesis 1:28)” and one restriction was put into place for the sake of free will:
“And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
Before we get into the implications behind this restriction, it is important to point out the function of this tree. In chapter three we see that “the tree was to be desired to make one wise.” In my view (though I could be wrong here), I think this means that Adam and Eve knew exactly what they were choosing when they ate of the fruit. It doesn’t seem to be a concealed door with a “keep out” sign on it. They knew that eating of the tree would make them wise, giving the notion that they would be on the same level with God. This will be important as we look into the sin.
Okay, so God creates everything, the universe is functioning as it should and man is placed in the garden paradise with God to dwell in harmony. Why then place a tree in the garden that could ruin it all? That’s like building a machine and putting a self-destruct button on it, right? (Side note, I always found it very convenient when the bad guy’s destruction machine in the cartoons that I grew up watching had a self-destruct button… that just seems like poor planning, right?) It’s a fair question. But not one without an answer.
In our day and age, an analogy might serve well. If I made a robot, and programmed it to serve me- I told it to do what I wanted to do, and it always followed the commands- would that robot ever be capable of truly loving me? No- for it never had a choice in the matter. For true love to exist, there must be true choice- free will. Love cannot exist outside of free will. This, of course, comes with the possibility that the opposite choice will be made by the creation. This is a risk that God thought was necessary and good, for reasons that we may or may not understand fully in this life (to understand the answer to that fully, I think one would have to know the mind of God fully). We’re not here today to discuss that issue. We will assume that if a God who by definition is omniscient (all knowing) decides to do something, then the something is good. What we want to highlight today is the purpose behind the choice- true love.
Why would God care about love, then? If he wanted obedience, why does he bother with the love, but rather just create humans to do his will? I think this says a lot about the character of God, and who he is. John tells us in his first epistle that God is love (I John 4:8). We are also told in Genesis 1 that mankind is created in the image of God. Perhaps the most well known verse in the bible, John 3:16, indicates that God loves man with a love that is unfathomable to us. If God sets the definition of love, and he creates those of whom he loves in such a self-sacrificial way, then we could be created with nothing less than the ability to love the one who first loved us. Love is not fully complete when only one party loves. Every heartbreaking movie or love song speaks to this idea. Love is only complete when all parties are on mutual terms (this is one of the reasons that it is necessary for God to exist as a trinity, but that again is a topic for another day). It is true that God is self-sufficient without human love (again, reference to the trinity), but for whatever reason, God wanted to create mankind, with whom he could share his love. This love demands no less than a full choice of love on our part to be complete.
Now that I have completely confused you with a discussion of free will and love (I do apologize if it is convoluted, I probably need to go back and see if I can clear up my thought process a little more, or maybe just cut out the rambling), we turn our attention to the main body of what we are studying today- the fall. The first question that comes up here sometimes is, “Did God cause sin since he knew that man would fall?” I do not believe so. Knowing something will happen is different than that thing being inevitable. Let me give you an example of what I mean. If I record a football game to watch later, and someone tells me the outcome of the game before I watch it, as I’m watching the game, I know what will happen in the end. However, just because I know who will win does not mean that the team that lost had absolutely no chance of winning as the game was played. This is how I try to wrap my mind around the fact that God is both in and outside of time, simultaneously. Foreknowledge does not demand predestination. God did indeed create the possibility of sin (which was necessary for free will and true love), but he did not cause sin. When God created everything, it was created in a state of “goodness.” It was man who took the creation off course.
We should now turn our focus on the sin that Adam and Eve committed. It is so much more than eating a piece of fruit that they were told not to eat. Sometimes I fear that we boil this narrative down to a children’s story and miss the deep teaching and theology that stems from it. We mentioned earlier that the tree of knowledge of good and evil was looked at with the desire to make one wise. Man was placed in the garden, fully functional and sustained by God, to live in a relationship with God, trusting in and depending on him- the giver of life. The rebellion of Adam and Eve was not eating a forbidden fruit that had mystical powers, it was the sin of self idolatry.
The first sin was driven by the words, “you will be like God.” Man would no longer have to rely on God, for they thought could rely on themselves. At the heart of the fall of man was the idol of self. The fall did not stop with Adam and Eve, for it manifest in our lives even today. Think about it. When something bad happens, who do you trust to fix it? Do you immediately pray, or do you immediately start thinking of ways to take care of the problem? Or on the flip side, when there is a pleasure that you want to partake in, do you think about how it does or doesn’t glorify God, or do you do it to satiate your own desire? Perhaps when we feel compelled to sin, it is because we sit as king on the throne of our lives, not God. We want to serve ourselves, to satisfy our own desires, or to make ourselves happy.
“Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool,
but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.”
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh
and refreshment to your bones.”
Three curses are given by God as a result of the serpent’s (who will later be identified as Satan, Rev. 12:9, 20:2) deception and man’s sin.
“The Lord God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
cursed are you above all livestock
and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”
To the woman he said,
“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,
but he shall rule over you.”
And to Adam he said,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”
All parties involved have consequences for their actions. We too have consequences for our sin. It is important to note here that every soul is guilty of the fall. The doctrine of original sin, the idea that Adam’s guilt has transferred to every subsequent human being at birth, does not align well with the passage that is used to teach it:
“ Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—”
In this passage, Paul is discussing the sin of Adam and how that sin has affected all humanity. Notice here, however, that nowhere in the verse does it say that Adam’s guilt spread to all men. What spread? Death. While in the garden, Adam and Eve had access to the tree of life, which sustained them. Once they were banished from the garden, their access to the tree was denied, and indeed death was upon them (just as God had told them from the beginning). In this way, death spread to all men, for all have sinned.
The curse was severe because the sin was severe. This is why it is important to have a healthy understanding of just what Adam and Eve chose to do. They chose to rebel, to set themselves up as God, to make the center of the created universe themselves. This could not last, for it was against truth. Really, if there had been no consequence, man would have been destroyed, for mankind cannot survive apart from God. Further, for God to abolish sin instantly would mean the abolition of mankind itself, for it was man who had fallen. The consequence of their sin, though seemingly severe, was actually part of the redemption plan that God had from the beginning.
I believe that the first messianic prophecy is here in Genesis three, right on the heels of the fall. In the curse on the serpent, God says, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Whereas this indeed can be taken as a general statement of the struggle between good and evil that man will experience in the fallen world, I believe the “offspring” here finds his ultimate fulfillment in Jesus. After all, Jesus is the one who comes to earth, as God, to reverse the very curse that is being delivered in this passage. Paul makes the connection between Adam and Christ in Romans 5, showing the contrast of death coming through one man, Adam, and subsequently life something through one man, Christ. This notion of death, which came through man’s rebellion and sin, being reversed back to life, as it was in the garden, is very important in Christian theology. The good news is not complete without the message that Christ rose from the grave, defeating sin and death (I Corinthians 15). Thus it is important to talk about the plan of redemption when we are discussing the fall, for the two are intimately related.
God, being omniscient, knew that man would fall. This is why he had a plan from the beginning (see I Peter 1:17-21) for redemption and salvation. God’s original plan to dwell with his creation in harmony would not be thwarted by the fallibility of man. This is why a proper understanding the plan for Jesus to give his life as a sacrifice is crucial to our theology. From the outside, it might not make a lot of sense why God sending his son to die on a cross would do anything for our sin, even if his son was innocent. However, we must not miss this important detail- Jesus is God. God is not just sending his son to bear the punishment, but rather God is coming down to earth, in the form of humanity (Phil. 2:5-8), to do what we had failed in doing. We have failed to live perfectly righteously (Romans 3), and because of the holiness and righteousness of God, our failure by definition separates us from Him (see Is. 59:1-2). We would not expect, for example, a righteous judge to let a murderer off the hook just to be nice, especially if that murderer had killed a family member of ours. There would be nothing righteous about that. Thus, our sins demand punishment.
But God is also all loving, and because of this, he came down to bear our sins for us. This is the difference between Christianity and all other religions. Other religions teach that man must get their lives together to a point where they can be holy enough to see God. Christianity teaches what everyone knows in practice- there is nothing we can to to be in the presence of perfect holiness- for we all sin. Thus, God comes to us, as opposed to us going to Him. This is embodied in the redemption of Jesus, God on earth.
With Jesus’ death and resurrection, he defeated both sin and death, and calls to us to find salvation in Him. It is in this hope, the hope of our resurrection just like his, that we are saved (Romans 8:24). The plan of redemption reverses the curse, and sets us up for the renewed, global Eden, which John speaks of in his revelation (Rev. 21-22). As we said last time, the saga of the bible ends where it begins, with God and man dwelling together again in harmony and love. Oh what a day that will be.
Suggested Reading: Genesis 3, 6, 11, Romans 5, I Corinthians 15.
Praise God for his salvation.
1. Why did God create man?
2. What was man’s first given task? Why do you think man was given this task?
3. Do you think Eve added to the words of God? Why or why not?
4. Can love exist without a choice? Why or why not?
5. How does the fall manifest in our lives each day?
6. Are we tempted with the same temptation of Adam and Eve?
7. What ramifications did Adam’s sin have on subsequent humanity? (Rom. 5)
8. What were the sins of Genesis 3, 6 and 11? How are they similar? Different?
9. What were the curses of Genesis 3, 6 and 11? How are they similar? Different?
10. Does Genesis 3 contain a messianic prophecy? Why is this important?
11. What makes Christ’s sacrifice so important? How did it reverse the curse?
12. Why was Christ able to prevail over sin and death?
13. What is our hope grounded in?
14. What does our redemption look like in the end?