Image adapted from image on Wikimedia
Soldiers of an Australian 4th Division field artillery brigade on a duckboard track passing through Chateau Wood, near Hooge in the Ypres salient, 29 October 1917. A graphic image of our fallen world.
Adam and Eve’s walk with God in paradise didn’t last. There came a day when they sinned against Him. Evil entered our world. But what exactly is sin and evil? How did evil come into being? How did it enter our world, and why did God allow it to do so? And what has evil and sin done to us and our world?
We’ll take time now to try to answer these questions. We need to do this in order to understand the rest of the Bible. That’s because the whole of the rest of the Bible tells the story of what sin has done to us and our world and how God put everything right. Don Carson comments: “. . . the entire drama of the Bible’s storyline turns on understanding how abominable sin is and what must be done to end it.”
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Summary of part 4
At the end you’ll find Bible passages to read and questions for individual or small group study.
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Things are not the way they ought to be. Sandra Richter comments: “. . . all of the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve somehow know . . . that there is something profoundly wrong with the world as it is.”
That fact has been demonstrated perhaps most terribly in the 20th century. In 1939, after the Spanish Civil War and as world war threatened, H.G. Wells wrote: “. . . the spectacle of evil in the world . . . the wanton destruction of homes, . . . the cold blooded massacres and mutilations . . . , the rapes and filthy humiliations and, above all, the return of deliberate and organized torture, mental torment and fear . . . has come near to breaking my spirit altogether.” And – apart from God’s intervention – we have no reasonable hope that our present century will treat us more lightly.
Nor is Nature spared. It suffers alongside us – pain and disease and natural disaster and untimely death throw a dark shadow over this beautiful world. To borrow C.S. Lewis’s words, “Nature has all the air of a good thing spoiled.”
The temptation in the garden
In our last session we marvelled at humanity, made in God’s image, precious to Him and “crowned . . . with glory and honour” (Psalm 8.5). They walked with Him in the Garden of Eden.
But Adam and Eve’s walk with God didn’t last. There came a day when a wily serpent entered the garden. John calls Satan “that ancient serpent” (Revelation 12.9, 20.2), thus pointing us to this creature in the Garden. That serpent was at least a mouthpiece for Satan. It may have been Satan himself in disguise. Satan, ever the deceiver, veiled his true nature.
Satan tempted Eve to eat of the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” . This was one of two special trees in the garden (Genesis 2.9). God had forbidden Adam and Eve to eat from this tree.
Eve gazed at this tree’s fruit. She sensed how luscious it was. She saw how captivatingly lovely it was. We can imagine her contemplating the fulfilment and satisfaction that Satan promised it would bring. Eve took the fruit and ate, and gave some to Adam. He ate. Sin entered our race.
Eating this fruit was much more than just a physical act. To eat from this tree was to say to God, in effect: “I know better than God. From now on I’ll decide for myself what’s good and what’s bad.”
What is sin? It isn’t just breaking God’s rules. Those are just the symptoms. Sin goes much, much deeper than that. Adam and Eve made a ‘unilateral declaration of independence’ from God. It was an act of mutiny. C.S. Lewis declared: “. . . fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms.”
Michael Reeves explains: “our problem is not so much that we have behaved wrongly, but that we have been drawn to love wrongly” . Instead of loving God, Adam and Eve turned away from Him and began to love themselves and do what they wanted to do. In so doing they dethroned God from His rightful place in their lives.
So sin isn’t a force. It’s a relational, personal thing. At root, sin is the rebellion of a personal being against the personal God. So only personal beings – humans and angels – are capable of sinning. Animals may appear to do ‘evil’ things; Tennyson famously wrote of “nature, red in tooth and claw” . But animals don’t sin when they eat other animals. It’s part of the present created order. It isn’t evil. Nature, too, appears to do ‘evil’ things. Earthquakes, tsunamis, and hurricanes destroy lives, livelihoods and property. But nature is only affected by evil (see Romans 8.19-22). Nature has not become evil.
That first sin in the garden was different from any other human sin. Since the Fall, every human – except Jesus – has been born with an inner compulsion to sin. They’re ‘natural born sinners’.
But this wasn’t so at the beginning. In the beginning, Adam and Eve had no natural urge to sin. They could be tempted. But they need not have sinned. But having sinned once, they were no longer innocent. It’s as if they lost their virginity in relation to sin. From that moment they were tainted by an inward urge to sin. They were now in bondage to sin and could never return to innocence. That’s what made their first sin so unique and terrible. That one sin defiled the entire human race – only Jesus was exempt from its effects.
The fallout from the Fall
After they ate the fruit, Adam and Eve’s eyes were “opened” (Genesis 3.7). What they saw was their own shame. A hasty cover-up with fig leaves offered no real relief. When God approached, the guilty pair hid. God called to Adam, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3.9). God knew where he was hiding. But rather than flushing him out, God draws Adam to Him. Then our righteous God investigated the facts of the case and passed sentence.
He cursed Satan. What does this mean? Bernard Bell explains: “no matter how hard Satan tries to thwart God’s purposes he will ultimately be unsuccessful” .
Then God pronounced judgment on Eve (Genesis 3.16) and on Adam (Genesis 3.17-19). To Eve He said “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” To Adam He said: “. . . 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, . . . to dust you shall return.”
Before they fell, Adam and Eve could eat the fruit of the tree of life. This tree (like the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) seems to have been an ordinary tree with ordinary fruit. But, like the other tree, the tree of life had spiritual significance. If Adam and Eve ate its fruit (and refused the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) it would show their desire to love and obey God. And so God would have given them eternal life.
But now Adam and Eve were sinners. Had they eaten from the tree of life in their sinful state, it would have had appalling consequences. They would live for ever – but without fellowship with God. Immediately God drove them out of His garden and cut off access to the tree of life. This was an act of grace as well as judgment. We humans have never forgotten the Garden of Eden. Deep in our innermost beings we are homesick. We long to return to paradise.
Adam and Eve’s act of rebellion had colossal repercussions. The terrifying consequences of that rebellion confront us daily in a thousand ways. The effects of sin are staggeringly huge and wide-ranging.
Adam and Eve’s act of rebellion unleashed consequences they were utterly powerless to put right. No purgatory, no penance, no good works, no recompense, could ever possibly put things right. We owed a debt we could not possibly begin to pay. What did God need to do to put everything right? The answer to this question sets the scene for the rest of the Bible story.
The search for the Serpent Crusher
Our gracious God didn’t abandon humanity or this world He had created. Immediately, He launched His plan to rescue mankind, defeat Satan and all his evil hordes, restore this Earth, and establish His Kingdom on Earth.
And He would do all this through a descendant of Eve. This descendant would crush Satan’s head and put everything right. In Vaughan Robert’s words, “The rest of the Bible can be seen as a ‘search for the serpent-crusher’” .
Bible passages and questions
Read Genesis 3.1-24, Psalm 51.1-17, Romans 3.9-26, 5.12-21, 8.18-23.
?The knowledge of “good and evil” seems a good thing. So why does God forbid Adam and Eve to eat from “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” ?
?What tactics does the serpent use to persuade Eve to eat the forbidden fruit?
?What are all the consequences of sin – both for humanity and for this world?
?Think of all the violence and pain and misery and death that have blighted human existence ever since the Fall. So why didn’t God step in and deal with sin immediately after Adam and Eve’s rebellion?
?God clothed Adam and Eve in “garments of skins” . What’s the significance of this?
?What does God mean in Genesis 3.15: “he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel”?
CREDITS ► Text copyright © 2017 Robert Gordon Betts ► All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by HarperCollins Publishers. © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.