Did the Fall Really Matter? Reflections on Genesis 3

Posted by on Apr 26, 2016 in Blog | 2 comments

If you have ever been impacted by the pain of life (and is there anyone who has not?) you might well have asked the ‘why’ question. Why is life so difficult? Why is it so hurtful? Why can it be delightfully enjoyable one moment, and then swing around and devastate us the next? While there are no easy answers, the story of the fall found in Genesis 3 is usually cited by theologians as representing a key building block of any explanation.

We are busy with a mini series on Genesis 3, and in the first post looked at 4 views of why eating the forbidden fruit in Eden’s garden was (or in one view wasn’t) wrong. In this post we explore the consequences of the fall as outlined in Genesis 3 – and the list is more comprehensive and shattering than we often imagine.

A quick recap of Genesis 3… It speaks of the dramatic day when things changed for the humanity. Adam and Eve, representatives of the human race, are given an idyllic garden to tend. Their restrictions are few – they are not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, else they have free reign. There is not much that can go wrong – but they find the one thing that can – and my oh my – it was the day that changed everything. We often label it ‘the Fall’ – the fall from grace… the fall from basking in God’s delight, the fall from paradise, the introduction of sin, evil, suffering, death, struggle. It was supremely the day things changed… and when we ask, ‘why do we suffer so?’ the Bible points back to this day when the human race chose disobedience, setting in train a string of horrible consequences that impact us to this day.

Now some of you may at this point say… let’s pause there. Sorry, I don’t get it. You are saying that because some ancient ancestors ate some fruit they weren’t meant to, we are now stuck with suffering and evil. Come on – what is so bad with eating some forbidden fruit? I live in Australia. We’re the convict colony. We’ve all done things far worse than snitch a piece of fruit and not thought twice about it. Surely a scolding would have been enough – why this cosmic catastrophe for this minor act of defiance? And to try and understand why this act was seen as being so bad, can I refer you to my earlier post on that topic. But in this post I will focus on the consequences of that day…

So what were the consequences of that day?

The biblical account suggests certain significant consequences were the result of eating Eden’s forbidden fruit. In rapid fire order, here are some of the key consequences outlined in Genesis 3

  • V7 – Adam and Eve became uncomfortable with their nakedness. The very first consequence was that they were no longer comfortable with their bodies. This remains an obsession to this day. I remember reading a survey of some of the film stars who at the time of the survey were considered amongst the world’s most glamorous. Over 95% of them said if given their way, they would change at least some aspect of their appearance. Some were dissatisfied with the size of their ears, or eyes, or wanted to be 2 inches taller – or shorter. If they had brown eyes they would have preferred blue; if blue, brown seemed more desirable. Many had actioned their dissatisfaction undergoing one face lift after another, or having teeth restructured or chins made a little more prominent… and these are the people we consider the most beautiful… and yet they are still uncomfortable with their appearance. Why? The Bible points back to this first act of defiance, after which humans were ashamed of their nakedness. It is not just their nakedness that was the source of shame. The other part is that from this point on sex became complicated. It was no longer a source of innocent delight. We struggle with this to this day…
  • V8- they were no longer comfortable with their relationship with God, and try to hide from God’s presence. That which until then had brought such joy, now becomes a relationship to shun and fear (v 10). Don’t miss how dramatic this is. They were made in the image of God (click here for a link to an earlier post that explores this). Hiding from God was hiding from the one in whose image they were made, and therefore was, in some sense, hiding from their true self – or the relationship through which they could find their true identity. Hiding from God meant they could no longer really know who they were… or in whose image they were made.
  • V12-13 Blaming becomes a new norm in relationships. When God asks Adam and then Eve why they have acted as they did, both revert to blaming. Adam’s excuse is that Eve made him do it… and as he says this, he notes that it is God who made Eve, the implication being that his disobedience was both Eve’s fault and God’s (because God made her). Eve goes on to blame the serpent – and implicit in that excuse she also blames God (what were you thinking of when you made a serpent – who in their right mind creates a snake!) Neither assumes responsibility. A new normal becomes ‘it’s everyone else’s fault – everyone except me’. It is a song that has continued ever since.
  • V14-15 Snakes become scary. An odd little one this, but one which most of us would say… totally agree, snakes are scary. Naturally the implication is a little deeper than enmity between humans and snakes. They had been tasked to name creation and to work to build a beautiful garden. Now their relationship with the environment and with animals in particular, becomes conflictual.
  • V16a Childbirth becomes painful. Actually, chp 4 makes it clear that it is far more than this. Children and family – originally meant as a source of great joy – can become a source of our greatest pain. The account in Gen 4:1-8 is deeply tragic. Cain kills his brother Abel, and for the remainder of their lives, Adam and Eve live with the pain of this. Adam raised a Cain – as the words of the song go… and oh the pain in that.
  • V16b Male -female relationships become twisted. Until now Adam and Eve had worked side by side. Now men start to rule over women, and that is seen as a punishment and a distortion of the way things were meant to be. It is important to notice that male dominance was seen as a punishment, not as the intended order for life. Those who continue to justify and support this dominance ignore the fact that they thereby reinforce the consequences of the fall – rather than seeking the redemption from the fall offered in Christ… but more of that in our next post.
  • V17-19 Work becomes painful and difficult. Up until then work was a source of pride and satisfaction. Adam had named the animals. Together Adam and Eve had been told to be fruitful and multiply and to fill the earth (Gen 1:28). They had a massive job – but it was creative and filled with joy… as work was always meant to be. But now it would be filled with drudgery and pain. The language of the passage is evocative. Now the earth will only produce thorns and thistles. We were made to be image bearers of God, but now all our efforts simply amount to what? Growing thorns and thistles…
  • V19 Death enters the world. This is the most painful of outcomes. Rom 6:23 expresses it clearly – the wage of sin is death. It is the penalty earned as a result of our defiant disobedience. It is not just that death enters the world. Note how harrowing the first recorded death is. It is found in Genesis 4 where Cain kills Abel. Death – and death by murder… and death of a brother by murder. Soon it would spread to warfare amongst the human race.

Genesis 3 is probably the most sobering chapter in the Bible. I realise that some who read this will be saying – yes, but I don’t believe this chapter is true. You can’t expect me to accept that the events described here are historic fact. Actually, (in my opinion) the debate about this is of little consequence. It is neither here nor there. If the story carefully depicts historic fact, or if it simply engages the imagination by creating a story with explanatory power, the conclusions remain the same. The story is included in scripture because regardless of its historicity, it is our story. It is the way we are to understand life. We know that life is fractured at every level. This story says that the reason flows from our alienation from God. The impact can be seen in every sphere of life. It is a story that tells of the day that everything changed… the day we became uncomfortable with our bodies, with God, with one another, with snakes (and the created order), with having children, with male-female relationships, with work – and when death was suddenly always only a short distance away. We live in a world like that. This story gives an explanation why…

A seriously bad news story… or not?

This is a seriously bad news story. But there is one flicker of hope in it, a little sign of grace in the passage. You find it in v 21 The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.

God is about to banish Adam and Eve from the garden forever. But looking at them, and seeing the pitiful fig leaves they are using to cover themselves, God realises they will never survive in the tough environment outside the garden. Even while punishing, God is saying, ‘although you are now excluded from Eden, I am looking out for you. Even though you wanted nothing to do with me, I am ensuring your survival. I am helping you, even though at this present time you can only see the pain.’ It is a remarkable action. Note, God is prepared to be described as seamstress in this remarkable image. God makes the clothes for them. Even when punishing, he is ensuring their survival. It is a little pointer to the direction the story would take in the future – a future that would lead to Calvary. But that’s the topic of our next post: Genesis 3 in the light of the Cross…

Until then, nice chatting…

 

2 Comments

  1. Brian, I wonder if the consequences of the fall are primarily communal rather than individual?
    As the wise sovereign investigates their crime, he explains that it results in struggle with the animals, struggle against each other, and struggle with creation. It is a struggle they ultimately lose. Sure enough, this struggle plays out with Cain and Abel (and within the community that Cain founds).
    Do you think we should read Gen 3-4 as a single pericope like that?

    • A very good point. While I think we tend to default to reading biblical texts as though they apply to individuals (and secondarily, communally) I think it actually works the other way round (so we should think communally first, individually secondarily). In the first instance, this is a communal verdict for humanity – which explains why we don’t all struggle with everything on the list. But taken as a whole, it applies to humanity and is generally true. I do think we should view Gen 3 and 4 as closely related – a single pericope if you like. I think we should sense the continuity of flow between expulsion and the events which take place afterwards.

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