What Went Wrong

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Genesis 3:7-19

The Bible explains what’s wrong with the world. It all started with a tree, a serpent and some forbidden fruit.

What in the world happened? The earth that God created was a world of harmony, peace and bliss. Humans lived in intimacy with God and oneness with nature. They lived in unity as male and female, complete and fulfilled, the man and the woman each enjoying the perfect love and trust of the other, and both of them enjoying perfect fellowship with their Creator. Adam and Eve were supremely happy, their home a garden paradise.

But where is Eden now? It’s all changed, all gone. We live now in a world of strife and hostility, a world of greed, jealousy, suffering and loss. In nature we fight pests and pollution, floods, fires and a long catalogue of other natural disasters. In our families, communities and nations we face an equally appalling set of man-made disasters: violence, broken relationships, sickness, pain, strife and warfare. In ourselves we experience weakness, confusion, loneliness, often emptiness. We no longer naturally love our neighbor, we no longer instinctively know our Creator. Indeed, it seems as though God has packed up and gone away. Our world is broken, and we are alone.

So what in the world went wrong? The Bible traces it all back to something that happened in the Garden of Eden. Genesis 2 portrays the beauty and perfection of the original creation; Genesis 4 shows the world as we know it, our world, where brother hates and kills brother. In between is Genesis 3. The New Testament summarizes the significance of the story told in Genesis 3 with one terrible sentence: “Sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned” (Romans 5:12). According to scripture, through Adam and Eve’s act of disobedience all humanity sinned. In some profound but mysterious way which the Bible does not fully explain, Adam and Eve’s sin affected the whole human race. Not only that, its effects spread to the other creatures and even the earth itself. People are no longer perfect, as God created them. Now we are born sinners. And we live in a hostile environment.

GOD’S COMMAND DISOBEYED

Genesis 3 tells us that sin came from humanity’s free choice. The Bible says the world and everything in it was originally good. When a Christian looks at evil, he or she can’t say just, “That’s the way things are.” We have to say, “That’s the way we are.” It’s not the world that is to blame – it was created perfect. It’s not God who is to blame – he made us upright, pure and free, and blessed us with every good thing. It’s not even the devil who is to blame – his temptation could have been resisted. No, sin is humanity’s fault – our fault – and nobody else’s. Adam and Eve were absolutely free to choose, and they chose wrongly.

And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may freely 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 die.”

Genesis 2:16-17

God could not have been more clear. The nature of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil didn’t matter – it did not offer our first parents anything they needed. What mattered was the choice which the presence of that tree in the garden gave. The question God presented to Adam and Eve was whether they would simply obey him or not.

Their failure to obey God’s command brought devastating consequences which are all too obvious. So why didn’t a good God prevent that sinful act? Why did God give Adam and Eve the chance to disobey him? When disobedience produced such tragic results, why didn’t he protect them from it? Couldn’t God have made a fool-proof world? Why create the tree at all? The answer is because with that choice, God was giving human beings an opportunity they could have in no other way: the opportunity to love him freely. God did not put the tree of knowledge in the garden to tempt people to fail, but to create for them the possibility of freely choosing to love him. How could Adam and Eve show God they really loved him except by choosing to obey him? And how could they choose to obey except by having the freedom not to obey?

A machine can’t love because it can’t obey. It only works or fails to work; it has no will, no choice, no decision to make. When you throw the switch on a machine and things go wrong, you can’t really blame the machine. You have to blame its maker. Machines do not have free will, they can’t choose, therefore they can’t have responsibility – and if they can’t have responsibility, they cannot have relationships.

God didn’t create humans to be machines, but persons who could love him and enjoy a relationship with him. That’s why God originally made humans responsible and gave them both the opportunity and the ability to either obey or disobey him. This, wrote novelist Charles Williams, “is the only method by which [God] can praise his creatures; if they are not to be allowed to choose, neither can they enjoy his will nor he theirs.”

GOD’S WORD DISPUTED

The story of the Fall in Genesis 3 also shows us how human sin is grounded in unbelief. It’s true that Adam and Eve were responsible for their sin, but they were also deceived and seduced by the devil. Satan was very subtle in his approach. He didn’t walk up with pitchfork in hand, twirling his tail and announcing, “Hello there. I’m God’s great enemy, the devil. I’m a monster of evil and I’m here to destroy you and ruin your paradise.”

No, he approached Eve cautiously, using the serpent, one of God’s creatures, as his instrument, and inviting her to a serious discussion of spiritual things. “Let’s talk,” he said. The devil usually operates in disguise. If he didn’t mask his true identity by innocent appearance, if he didn’t hide his true intentions behind plausible-sounding arguments, he would never succeed. Satan usually looks and sounds like someone who is on our side, and his temptations often seem at first to be harmless or even wholesome ideas.

As the devil’s temptation unfolds, he prompts unbelief by suggesting three things to Eve. First, he suggests that she dispute God’s command: “Did God say you shall not eat of any tree of the garden?” he asks (Genesis 3:1). The serpent begins by raising questions about the Word of God. He even subtly distorts God’s commandment to entice Eve into a discussion of it. “Did God say you must not eat the fruit from any tree in the whole garden?” No, in fact God did not say that, but it served Satan’s purpose to exaggerate. What he wanted to do was to suggest a train of thought in Eve’s mind that would lead her to debate the meaning of God’s commandment. “Did God really say that about the fruit? Surely you must have understood his meaning. That wasn’t meant to be interpreted so simplistically. You mustn’t be such a biblical literalist. If you think about it, I’m sure you’ll agree that God couldn’t have intended to forbid you the pleasure of eating fruit, for instance, the fruit from this nice tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

And so the debate goes on in our own mind: “Did God say . . .” Did God say you must be born again? Did God say no one can come to him except through Jesus Christ? Did God say you shall not kill, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not lie? Did God say the wicked will not inherit his kingdom? Did God say that unless you repent you will perish? Did he actually say those things? He cannot really have meant them, can he?

GOD’S JUDGMENT DENIED

Second, Satan suggests to Eve that she deny God’s judgment: “But the serpent said to the woman, ‘you will not die’” (v. 4). There is a flat contradiction; it’s the devil’s word against God’s. Satan is telling Eve she does not have to take God seriously, she can relax, loosen up a bit, enjoy life. Disobeying God won’t hurt, it will do no harm. Everybody likes to be told they’re taking things too seriously, they’re being too strict, that it’s alright for them to go easy on this morality stuff. “Don’t worry,” the devil says, “God’s commands aren’t that important. It isn’t a matter of life and death. Just as you don’t really need to take God’s commandment seriously, so you can afford to ignore his penalty. You won’t die! There’s nothing to be alarmed over, no judgment, no hell. You don’t really need Christ or repentance or faith. Everyone can pretty much do as they please and everything will be OK in the end.”

GOD’S GOODNESS DOUBTED

Third, the devil suggests that Eve doubt God’s goodness: “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (v. 5). “Well, yes,” Satan is now suggesting, “God did tell you not to eat the fruit. But do you know why? He did it because he knows what the fruit could do for you. It’s wonderful . . . marvelous . . . it will make you just like God. You can even become his equal. God is afraid of that, you know, and so he tried to prevent you from eating it. He is jealous, and cruel, and selfish. He doesn’t really want you to be happy or to enjoy life. He wants to keep you from growing wiser and stronger and achieving your full, God-like potential.

This is the devil’s biggest lie, the lie so monstrous and preposterous that it takes our breath away. But Satan uses it effectively, because if he repeats it often enough and loud enough, some will believe it. So by suggesting that we first dispute God’s commands, then deny his judgment, and finally doubt his goodness, the devil prompts the unbelief which leads us to disobey God.

GOD’S CHILDREN DIE

Satan breaks off his conversation at this point with the woman. He changes his tactics at the strategic moment, turning from Eve’s mind to her body and moving from the realm of ideas to the realm of the senses. He shows her the fruit. She looked at the fruit long and lovingly, and 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. It was so appealing – her mouth began to water. It was so fascinating – her curiosity began to stir. “Why should God keep this good thing from me?” Eve thought, “It looks so appealing. . . I want it . . . I’ll take it!”

And then these fateful words, “. . . she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate” (Genesis 3:6). Such a little thing! Adam and Eve didn’t scream defiance at God; they didn’t sign a declaration of independence to celebrate their rebellion. They still believed in God, they still wanted to go on as before, living in the garden. They didn’t hurt anybody, they had merely bent the rules a bit. Such a little thing seemingly, but what a world of woe followed!

Adam and Eve, God’s perfect children, did die that day when they ate the forbidden fruit. They died spiritually, for they were cut off from God, whom to know is life. They died psychologically; their natural innocence and inner goodness died. They died relationally, as the wonderful unity and harmony they enjoyed with each other turned into the world of dog-eat-dog. Eventually they would die physically as well, and since that moment death has held sway over the whole creation. So people got what they wanted – the knowledge of good and evil. But it turned out to be not at all what they expected. We now know good only as an impossible ideal, and we know evil as a bitter, all-pervading reality. Thinking to become like God, we’ve become like Satan instead. Now by nature we are dead, dead to God, dead to hope.

But listen – God is a God who raises the dead. He knew what would happen if he created people, yet he went ahead anyway. He knew what it would cost in the end, especially what it would cost him, yet he determined to pay the price. And pay it he did, when he took the consequences of our sin upon himself, when he died our death upon the cross. The tree of Calvary cancels out the tree of Eden. And at the Lord’s Table Jesus turned the words “Take and eat” from a curse of death into an invitation to eternal life.