Another One Bites the Dust (Part 2)
This post is part of series exploring God’s Story: God’s Story (Part 1)
The next chapter of God’s Story is one that’s been riffed on in countless ways over the generations: the story of how humanity ate forbidden fruit. Some portrayals are better or more memorable than others, but whatever the specific flavor of the story, the account of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is part of our cultural consciousness.
We’ve got some parts of it wrong, of course. For example, the forbidden fruit almost certainly wasn’t an apple. We just usually picture it that way, either because that’s what John Milton said it was in Paradise Lost or because the Latin word malus happens to mean both evil and apple (or both). But most of us know the basics: how Adam and Eve were tempted by a serpent and disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit.
But even though it’s a familiar tale, the story of the Garden of Eden is—for many of us—mythological at best. It comes right on the heels of the oft-contested account of creation, after all, and it doesn’t portray us in very good light. What do Adam and Eve—if they even ever existed—have to do with us? Why should I care about the temptations of a snake that happened eons ago? To answer these questions, we turn to Genesis 3.
The Fall (Genesis 3)
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” 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.” The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them. Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.
That’s only a little depressing. (Go back and read it if you didn’t. It’s depressing. Really.) There are plenty of moving pieces here, but the gist is this: Adam and Eve are tempted by the serpent and they disobey God’s command, which results in what most Christians call The Fall. The world that was created as very good now has something very bad introduced. Because of what happens here, humanity has been cut off from God by self-centered rebellion against him. In the words of Pastor Eugene Peterson, “A catastrophe has occurred. We are no longer in continuity with our good beginning. We have been separated from it by a disaster. We are also, of course, separated from our good end. We are, in other words, in the middle of a mess.” Sin, suffering, and death are introduced to the creation—and nothing will ever be the same.
As we tell God’s Story, then, this is a dark turn from the good beginning we heard about last article. With the Fall, God’s Story continues something like this: In the beginning, God created the universe, but humanity brought distortion and death into creation. This is what the Fall brings: distortion and death. Every story includes conflict—something that goes wrong and needs to be fixed. And the Fall brings about the central conflict of God’s Story: the calamity of sin and death that mar the goodness of creation and stain with evil everything that follows. It’s a dark moment for humanity, a darkness that spreads throughout creation.
But that’s not the only bad news that this part of the story brings. Consider some of these other story lowlights:
Story Lowlight: The Pervasiveness of the Fall
First, we see that Fall affects everyone and everything. Because of the Fall, everyone now lives under the conditions of brokenness and sin. We all turn away from God, we’re all corrupt, none of us do good. (Psalm 14.3) The effects of the Fall are pervasive. Consider something as fundamental as human relationships. As humans, we are in four basic relationships: with God, with other human beings, with the world around us, and with ourselves. And the Fall affects every single one. In verse 8, Adam and Eve hide from God—their relationship with Him has been warped. In verse 12, Adam blames Eve for their sins, the first time that interpersonal relationships face tension. In verses 14-15, God curses creation and reveals that there will be enmity between humans and animals, showing fractures in the relationship with the created order. And in verses 16-19, the vocations of Adam and Eve are said to be damaged, affecting their internal relationship with themselves. Everything has been warped, distorted, and alienated by the Fall.
Because of the Fall, everyday life is like trying to wear someone else’s glasses. Have you ever tried that? If the glasses aren’t too strong, you can usually handle it for a minute, straining and stretching your eyes to see through the lenses. But in short order, it becomes difficult—if not impossible—to see properly. I wear contact lenses currently, but I used to only wear glasses. And one time, my optometrist gave me a prescription that was too powerful. Now, contrary to popular belief, if you need glasses and they give you a super-strong pair, you don’t start seeing through walls—instead, you get distorted vision, headaches, and basically lose the ability to see at all. After a day, we realized the problem and went to get things fixed. But while I was wearing those glasses, everything I saw was wrong, it was warped and not quite right. And that’s what sin does to humanity. It affects everything we see—and everything we do and feel and experience. Even if we’re not “looking through the lens of sin,” that’s our status quo and our vision remains distorted. Sin changes everything—and it changes it for the worse.
Everything has been distorted and warped by the Fall: the world around us, family dynamics, our daily work, childbearing, deciding what’s for dinner, all of it. This is something to keep in mind as you go through life. We live in a distorted world, and we need to live like that’s true. It’s fine to think (and hope?) that people are fundamentally good and that the world is going to get better. But that’s not the story that Genesis tells us. Though some shard of goodness remains, we human beings are fundamentally sinful. We willingly choose evil; we’re selfish; we’re bent toward destructive tendencies. Now yes, not everyone becomes Hitler. But left to our own devices, we’re all capable of evil. The Fall affects everyone and everything—and we need to remember that reality.
Story Lowlight: The Fall Brings Death
Genesis 3 also tells us that the Fall brought death. Not only did sin enter the world and change how we see things, it also brought another devastating change: death. In verse 19, God delivers news of the consequences of man’s disobedience: 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.” Adam (whose name literally means dirt, by the way) was taken from the dirt and brought to life—and because of the Fall, He eventually ceased living and returned to the dirt. Because of disobedience, physical death has become the destiny of all human beings, however hard we try to avoid it. And unfortunately, we’ve all encountered death—parents, siblings, friends, extended family, colleagues. (Some of us recently, in these past few weeks and months even.) People we’ve loved. People who were here one minute and gone the next. Physical death is separation from physical life, and it’s terrible in every circumstance.
But one of the presumptions of Genesis 3 is that death is not the way that things should be. We should never be okay with death. Of course, we need to process our grief and come to some sort of new normal without the person we love in our life; but that should never be the same as being okay with death. Death is always a reminder that something is deeply wrong with the world. When Jesus’ friend Lazarus died, He didn’t say, “oh, it’s okay—death is a part of life.” No! He wept! Because death is unnatural…. Yes, death is part of living in a fallen world. But even as we experience it around us, we must remember that it’s not the way things are meant to be. And there’s more than just physical death that came into creation through the Fall—there was also spiritual death. Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, the prophet Isaiah says. The consequences of sin are both physical death and spiritual alienation—separation from God. And both are in need of remedy. But more on that in a moment.
Story Lowlight: The Fall Reveals the Villains of the Story
Because we need to consider one more lowlight from Genesis 3: that the Fall reveals our adversaries—the main villains in the story. So far in the first two acts of God’s Story, we’ve encountered our protagonist (God), the setting (the world), some key characters (humanity), and our main conflict (sin marring creation). But here we also encounter our antagonists—those who are opposed to God.
In popular culture, that’s obviously Satan. Satan is roving around with his demonic hordes, causing all kinds of trouble and mischief. In popular imagination, Satan is at war with God, and their two armies are equally matched. And if you look at what Genesis seems to say about Satan’s influence, that’s not far off. Traditionally, Jewish and Christian interpreters have identified the serpent of this story with Satan. In this view, Satan spoke through the serpent in order to usurp God’s good creation. Genesis 3 is simply the ongoing spiritual warfare between God and Satan brought to Earth, and the temptation was sort of a guerrilla-warfare tactic that paid off big when the humans fell for it hook-line-and-sinker. And that’s not a wrong way to think about it—but it’s also not the entire story.
Historically, Christians such as Augustine of Hippo have thought of evil not primarily as a source of power or a particular being like Satan, but as a privation of Good. In this view, evil has no power of its own—it’s always parasitic, always dependent on the Good. If that’s the case, Satan isn’t some being who’s nearly as powerful as God—he’s just a warped misfit, someone who’s so engrossed in himself that he tries to undermine God—but without any real power. In other words, Satan is a cheap magician with flimsy gimmicks—the best he can do is trick or distract us. When we make Satan (or his demons) the boogeyman in the closet or the whispering influence on our shoulder, we actually give him more power than he really has. Satan may self-style himself as the Prince of this world—but we follow the King! And last I checked, Kings hold more power and authority than princes.
One More Villain
Scripture is clear: there’s more to reality than we can simply observe and measure physically, and there are spiritual forces that oppose God (see Eph 6.12); but Scripture is equally clear that it’s not just Satan who opposes God. It’s also us.
The serpent questioned God, spoke half-truths, and tempted Eve, yes. But ultimately, it was Adam and Eve who bear responsibility for their actions and disobedience. [Eve] took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to [Adam] who was with her, and he ate. (Verse 6) It was their decision, it was their desire to be God-like, it was their self-focus that drove them to sin by eating of the fruit. They are punished for their sins (vv.16-19)—it’s on them. It’s not just Satan who is the antagonist in God’s Story—it’s also human selfishness. Sinful humans interject their own desires into the story, causing all sorts of problems in the process.
We don’t need to cast blame on Satan for our mistakes and issues—most of the time, we just need to look in the mirror. Because we do just fine sinning on our own. Satan and our selfishness both oppose God—and we need to resist both. In the words of James 4.7, Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Or even more strongly stated: Put to death, Colossians 3.5 says, what belongs to your sinful nature…. Don’t just blame Satan for the way the world is. He’s part of the predicament, but our own sinful selfishness is right there beside him in causing problems.
Those are some pretty low lowlights. The Fall affects everyone and everything, distorting our relationships and ability to function in the world. The Fall brought physical and spiritual death—separation from life and separation from God. And the Fall reveals our true adversaries—not just Satan, but our own selfishness. Even though in the beginning, God created the universe, humanity has now brought distortion and death into creation. Clearly, this isn’t our finest hour.
But it’s also not the end of the story. And it’s not an act of the story without hope. Perhaps you missed it amidst the gloom and doom of the Fall, but there are actually some hopeful moments here too. There are a couple of small things: like the fact that Eve is named Eve, which means life. Or that God doesn’t actually curse Adam and Eve like He does the serpent and the earth—their lives are affected, to be sure; but the Fall functions more like a disruption than a condemnation.
But there’s also one really important look into the future that comes in verse 15, where God says to the serpent, I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall crush your head, and you shall bruise his heel. That is, someday, a child of the woman will totally and utterly defeat the serpent. There is hope for our fallen world—a hope that God will communicate to and through the descendants of Adam and Eve. But for that chapter, we’ll need to continue with God’s Story in our next article.
Image courtesy of BibleWorld.net