If, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! (Rom.5:17)
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.’ (Gal.3:13)
How long can we study the doctrine of creation before the incongruity of the situation becomes unbearable? We study and reflect, discuss and learn, and realise increasingly that our experience of creation bears little, if any resemblance to the Bible’s teaching. We have hinted at this more than once in our studies to date. It is time to look it straight in the eye.
Creation is not as it was when God declared it to be very good (1:31). We can safely assume that God would not look at the world as it is and declare it ‘good’. We are not as God made us, and the world is not as God made it. Standing between that original creation and us is the cosmic trauma of the fall. In Genesis 3 we see the formless chaos, the barren emptiness of Genesis 1:1 creep back into the world. We aren’t surprised by this. It is the DNA of this creation that it begins in darkness and desolation, and becomes by the work of God, a place of light and life.
But what does that darkness and desolation look like? What will life be in a world of sin and death? What does God make it? It is worth noticing that the new dynamics of the curse are determined and proclaimed by God. The same God who has called creation into being, now decrees what that creation will be like in its fallen state (3:14-20). It is He who curses it. This is the point Paul makes in Romans 8:20, ‘Creation was subjected to frustration not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it…’. This is not simple cause and effect, impersonally implemented by a latent law of the spiritual universe. God is personally and deliberately involved. What had only been the capacity for death and degeneration becomes its experience.
There is clear knowledge that something has gone desperately wrong. Humanity knows shame. They seek to hide themselves from each other (fig leaves) and from God (among the trees He caused to grow, 2:9). There is fear, evasiveness and guilt. The psychology of Adam & Eve is different. Their eyes were opened. They not only saw, but knew, experienced and imbibed evil. They become sinners. Bearing His image, but no longer in His likeness.
The LORD God’s invitation to confess and repent is spurned, blame is passed, responsibility abdicated. But ‘Death and Destruction lie open before the Lord – how much more do human hearts!’ (Prov.15:11). He too sees, and He judges. The serpent’s every move will be characterised by humiliation and will bear the mark of defeat. And for humanity, the very dignity of their image-bearing, and the mandate that came with it, becomes the pain and humiliation of their curse. The privilege of fruitfulness, the command to increase in number and the decree to fill the earth are blighted by pain and sorrow. The unity of husband and wife will be a perennial source of frustration and struggle. The exercise of authority will become abusive and self-serving. Dominion over the earth will result in creation’s resentment of feeding us. Our quest to subdue is subverted, and life is now to be lived under the encroaching shadow of death.
But even in the degradation of exile there is hope. Before the curse there is the promise. ‘Take, eat’ will eventually become the anthem of salvation. But before that can be the case, there must be another Adam, another Image-bearer, another garden, another battle with temptation, another tree. Born of a woman, crowned with thorns, with sweat like drops of blood, He returns to the dust. The second Adam bears the curse, becomes the curse and redeems us from the curse (Gal.3:13). In His death will be the death of death. It is only after the promise that she will bear the serpent-crusher, the death-killer, is given that Adam gives his wife the name ‘Eve’, mother of the living.
But there is yet one more act of grace. Death strikes its first blow. The LORD God Himself acts as Priest, and slays the first animal. God will clothe the sinner, but only at the cost of sacrifice. To open the way to the tree of life once again, the LORD God will plunge the flaming sword into His own breast on the tree of death, that His Bride might be clothed with His own life, the dwelling place of God may be among people (Rev.21:3), and the purpose of creation find fulfilment.
Can we really expect people to take the Bible seriously when one if its deepest stories that claims to explain the crisis of creation centres on a talking snake?
How much should we work for environmental renewal and causes when we know that fundamentally the problem is theological and spiritual?
From Genesis 3, how would you respond to the argument that people are basically good, and that evil comes from our environment?
Read Genesis 3:1-24
How much time do you think has elapsed between the events recorded in Gen.2, and those in Gen.3?
Was Satan already a fallen creature before his approach to the woman in 3:1?
What are the mechanics of temptation? How does the serpent move Eve to a place where she is prepared to disobey her God? What can we learn from this for our own battles with temptation?
In Gen.1:26 God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…’. The LORD God’s lament in Gen.3:22 is that ‘the man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil’. Humanity is like God both before and after the fall. So what has changed?
Is God over-reacting? What would you say to someone who thought the curse was too extreme a response for one mistake?
Have you heard of the idea of ‘original’ sin? What do you think this is about? Do you think it is something the Bible teaches? Do you agree with it as an idea?
How badly has humanity been corrupted by sin? How does that affect your view of people who aren’t Christians? How does it affect your view of the cross? How does it affect your view of your own experience of sin?
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
For Further Reflection:
We will be coming back to spend the whole of our next JCL term reflecting on the Bible’s teaching about sin. We don’t need to figure it all out in this one study. At this stage we are simply trying to get a handle on what happened at the fall, on getting the story straight, and beginning to draw out some of its implications for the life of creation (including humanity).
But it is worth noting that no-one has ever over-estimated the effect of the fall, and the unleashing of sin and death into creation. No matter how terrible a thing we think this is, I suspect we aren’t even close to grasping the horrific extent of the impact of these moments recorded for us in Gen.3. In fact, quite the opposite. Most of us have never got close to appreciating how much changed on that day.
Our view of ‘sin’ tends to superficiality (in part because we have no real sense of the height from which we fell). We minimise the sense of its impact on God, on us as human beings, but also on the entirety of creation. The problem with doing this is that it leaves us with an inadequate explanation for both our experience of creation as it is now, and for the cross of Christ. Put bluntly, if sin isn’t that big a problem, the cross isn’t that big a solution.
We need to keep a delicate balance. We desperately need to recognise the catastrophe of sin and death for what it is. But if that is all we have in view we will despair. We must also keep hold of the glory of our origins, and of our destiny. These give us an unassailable hope in the love of God for us in Christ. It is to the question of our destiny that we turn for our last study in this series.