The Fall - What a name for a church doctrine! In two words, our tradition has tried to convey exactly what has gone wrong with the world. Although the name isn’t actually found in the Bible, it sums up the basic problem with humanity - we’ve messed things up by allowing sin into the world. Sin is that which breaks shalom (holistic peace) between us, God, one another, and creation.
But how should we actually read Genesis 3 - the story of Adam, Eve, the serpent, and the tree?
The last two blog posts have focused on the creation of the world in Genesis 1, which partly reveals the nature of God, and the vocation of humanity found in Genesis 2. Both of these creation stories give us a glimpse into a world that we can’t truly imagine, simply because any harmony and shalom we experience now is mixed with brokenness and sin.
The world is no longer as it was in Genesis 1 and 2; the story in Genesis 3 offers us a way to explain why things changed. And what does the story tell us?
Adam and Eve seemed to have it all. They lived without shame in a paradise that God made. They communed together in relationship and took care of the garden. But there was something that they weren’t allowed to do. In the centre of the garden were two trees - one was the tree of life and the other was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God told them they weren’t supposed to eat of the second one because if they did, they would die.
One day, Eve encounters a serpent who starts talking to her about this tree. The serpent questions whether what God had said about the fruit of the tree was actually true. He tells her that the fruit would make them like God. Eve begins to doubt what God told her and eats it. Adam, who seems to have been beside her the whole time, also eats it.
Adam and Eve’s nakedness is exposed and they feel shame for the first time. They cover themselves up with fig leaves and hide from God. When God shows up, He calls them to reveal themselves. They confess what they did before God, but they tried to pass the blame to each other and to the serpent.
But what God said about the consequences was true. Adam and Eve weren’t allowed to continue living in the garden. With that came the curses of sin that brought enmity to the relationships and vocation of humanity. Initially, multiplying and tending to creation was what humans were blessed to do; now, it would cause pain and bring division. After being banished from the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve no longer had access to the tree of life, and eventually, they died.
It’s an epic story, but what do we make of it? Are we supposed to track down the literal garden in order to find the tree of life so we can live forever? How do we interpret the serpent? Do we have the right to blame Adam and Even for the broken condition of the world?
There are too many questions to be addressed in one blog, but part of the answer lies in asking the same kinds of questions of Genesis 3 as we asked of 1 and 2. What does this story tell us about God, ourselves, and our relationship together?
First of all, let’s think about God. Why would God create the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and tell Adam and Eve not to eat from it? Why not just take away the temptation? By giving this command, God makes available the opportunity to obey God or not. Without it, we wouldn’t have free will to decide our own actions. For whatever reason, it seems that God was much more interested in having a genuine relationship with people who choose to love Him rather than creatures that are forced to do it.
However, we must realize that the commands God gives are not meant to be oppressive. God’s first intention was flourishing and blessing, and God’s first command was to eat of all but one of the trees of the garden. God isn’t taking away the fun and not the one killing people when they choose wrong, but He’s warning humanity of what happens when we decide to live without Him.
That was the temptation that Adam and Eve faced in the garden. The serpent made them question whether the word of God was actually trustworthy or not. So they disobeyed God by eating the fruit. Was it a literal fruit? Probably not. The best interpretation I have heard is that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is a figurative representation of trying to be wise without God. The serpent was also not a literal snake but was most likely a representation of Satan.
When Adam and Eve chose to eat the fruit, they thought that they were wiser than God and that they could make their own decisions about what was right and wrong. They weren’t unique in the choice they had to disobey God as we have the exact same choice in front of us every day. This is at the core of all human sin. Whenever we think that we know better than God and follow our way by disobeying what God has instructed, it leads us away from God’s plan for life and flourishing and into darkness and brokenness. That’s what sin is.
The antidote to sin is trust - a trust in God that His word is actually true and that His way actually leads to life. God’s wisdom is so much better than our own attempt to be wise, and when we choose to trust in God, we can truly live into the potential of flourishing that God has given us.
It’s important to note that the story doesn’t end with God killing Adam and Eve. They chose their own path, a path that would lead to death, but God still responds to them with kindness and mercy. God doesn’t give up on them. He makes them comfortable garments so that they can cover their shame, replacing the ones they made of itchy fig leaves. He sends them out of Eden and blocks the way to the tree of life so that Adam and Eve wouldn’t be cursed to live in the brokenness of sin for all of history. And through the rest of that history, God initiates a plan in order to reverse the curse of death upon humanity so that we could once again experience shalom. What became undone through Adam and Eve is made right through Jesus Christ.
In the next blog, I will bring Genesis 1-3 together in order to show how these stories can shape our understanding of God and our place in His story.