STUDY TWELVE: GOD, MAN, AND SIN – GENESIS 3
© Rosemary Bardsley 2013
In the beginning there was
A definition of the authentic human life – we were created in the image of God, that is we were created to reflect God’s nature and God’s glory [Genesis 1:26,27]
A clearly defined two-fold responsibility –  to be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth and  to subdue the earth and rule over the creatures [Genesis 1:28].
A statement of rest, blessedness and holiness [Genesis 2:1-3]
A single prohibition – not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil [Genesis 2:17]
A single warning – that disobedience to the prohibition would result in certain death [Gen 2:17].
In these the meaning and the boundary of authentic human life are defined. This authentic human life is of necessity a life lived in positive relationship with God.
A. GOD’S ONE PROHIBITION
In Genesis 2:17 God confronted man with one prohibition. The existence of this prohibition is an essential companion of creation in the image of God. It distinguishes man from:
 the inanimate creation, which functions in a mechanical manner,
 the animate creation, which functions by programmed instincts.
Created in God’s image, man has the freedom to act by choice, within the realms of what is possible. This freedom included the freedom to obey and the freedom to disobey. Here in this command man, created in a relationship of communion with God and trust and rest in God, is asked to live in the reality of that relationship by choice. To love and obey God by choice.
When we ask the question ‘Why did God create Adam with the ability to disobey, that is, to sin?’ we are in effect inferring that we wish God had made us without the ability to choose, without the freedom to choose. We are wishing that he had made us either like the animals or like the inanimate creation: pre-programmed, predetermined. We would then have been less than human, less than the image of God.
God did not create us sinners. But in creating us free, unprogrammed, undetermined creatures he created us with the ability, the possibility, to sin. Nor did God create sin. But in giving the word of prohibition ‘but you must not eat ...’ God implied by this prohibition and exclusion that sin was possible. God did not create suffering. But by stating the consequences of sin – ‘you will surely die’ - he revealed that suffering was possible, and that it would happen, if we chose disobedience, if we chose to attempt to live independently of God.
Let us note that sin had no independent existence or reality of its own: it existed only as a possibility dependent on our choosing to disobey the word of prohibition. Sin – our disobedience to the divine command, our refusal of the fundamental creature-Creator distinction and roles, our refusal to love God – is something to which God said ‘No.’ So also are all the flow-on effects of sin.
Genesis 3 records our rejection of the creature-Creator relationship that is taught in Genesis 1 and 2. In response to Satan’s deceptive suggestions the first humans exchanged
Obedience to God for disobedience.
Dependence on God fo independence.
Submission to God’s word for rebellion against God’s word.
A God-centred life for a man-centred life.
Belief for unbelief.
Trusting God for trusting oneself.
The truth for a lie.
Life for death.
The impact of this choice is catastrophic.
B. THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOOD AND EVIL [Genesis 2:17; 3:5]
God’s prohibition of eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was a prohibition with our well-being in mind. This is obvious from the stated consequence ‘you will surely die’. Satan, however, deceived Eve into thinking that God was withholding something good and desirable, that God’s prohibition stemmed from mean and selfish motives in God [3:5]. The tree itself was insignificant, God could have said ‘Don’t do this’ or ‘Don’t do that’ and what ever he prohibited would have been the focus of the ‘knowledge of good and evil’, for the ‘knowledge of good and the evil’ consisted in our rejection of his word. Disobedience to the word of God, rejection of the authority of God, catapulted Adam and Eve into an experiential knowledge of evil and of the distinction between good and evil. Having disobeyed the command, having refused to love God and to rest in God, attempting by their choice to exist independently of God and his Word, they now know by immediate experience what ‘evil’ is: it is, in essence, disconnection from God. This experiential knowledge of evil [of sin and suffering] has characterized human life ever since.
Task #1: Track the progress of Satan’s deception of Eve. What tactics did he use? How did he manipulate Eve?
A Note about Temptation: Reading Genesis 3 in retrospect, with our access to the rest of Scripture, we know that Satan was a key player in the real-life drama that unfolds there. But this is not apparent to Adam and Eve, just as it was not apparent, nor ever explained to, Job in the midst of his sufferings and pressures. The immediate identity of the tempter is really and fundamentally irrelevant. It is our response to the temptation that is highly significant. Rarely does Satan confront humans as he did Jesus Christ – in direct face-to-face attack. He comes in whatever form and through whatever agency it takes to get us to comply with his agenda, even in the form of an angel of light [2Corinthians 11:14].
C. DEATH AND DIVISION [Genesis 2.17; 3:7-13]
God warned in 2:17 that ‘death’ would surely come on the heels of disobedience. By this word ‘death’, as we will see below, are included all forms and levels of suffering.
Task #2: What happened? What has changed?
C.1 Death and division within [Genesis 3:7]
Satan had promised ‘your eyes will be opened’ [3:5], and indeed they were. But not to a better perception. The ‘knowledge of good and evil’ he promised brought a destructive self-awareness within the individual that tortures and fractures people right up to the present. Our rejection of God and his command brought a death and a division within our own being. No longer are we connected to God: we broke the connection, we severed ourselves from him, and now we have to live without that vital, life-giving, defining, identifying, relationship that gave meaning, purpose and significance to us. We are now alone. Adrift. Cast upon ourselves. And we do not know who we are. We do not have what it takes to be truly human, so we are our own worst enemy. Always trying to be what we never can be by ourselves. Always looking within for a meaning and identity we will never find there. Always demanding of ourselves what we can never provide. And so consistently embracing self-destructive thought patterns. We live with a sense of self-rejection and a self-focused fear of rejection by others. Even in our pride there is a constant necessity to promote ourselves. We are riddled with psychological problems. We are lost. We are vulnerable. And all of our inadequacies and inabilities are exposed for all – our fellow humans, the created world, the great deceiver, and God – to see. So we try to cover ourselves. And there is no rest.
Task #3: Make a list of ways in which this destructive self-awareness commonly manifests itself today within the hearts and minds of individuals. [One is listed to start you off].
C. 2 Death and division in interpersonal relationships [3:7,12]
Accompanying this separation between man and his own being is a parallel separation between man and his fellow man. The relationship of peace and unity and mutual acceptance that characterized the relationship between Adam and Eve in 2:25 is shattered. Their now destructive self-awareness translates into a destructive awareness of, and vulnerability in the presence of, the other and the other’s opinion. Their inner shame and division has automatically created a division between them, separating them from each other. They now feel compelled to protect, defend, preserve and justify themselves, even if it means further severance and disconnection from the other. Instead of peacefully fulfilling their God-given role of imaging him they now, having chosen life cut off from God, live cut off from each other, with the perceived necessity of presenting and preserving their own image.
Task #4: Discuss how does each attitude expresses the death and division that occurred as a result of rejecting God.
Criticism of the other
Refusal to admit guilt
Shame in the presence of the other
Efforts to cover-up wrong-doing
Pre-occupation with one’s own survival and reputation
Insensitivity to the feelings and reputation of the other
Although it is not mentioned in Genesis 3 we can legitimately conclude that the divisive, destructive attitudes expressed there inevitably generate fear between man and woman. This conclusion is validated by both history and experience. In modern terminology these expressions of this death of interpersonal relationships, if persistent, are labelled in the category of emotional and verbal abuse.
A second factor in relation to fear, is that the above expressions of death and division both within the individual and in interpersonal relationships are generated by fear. This primary fear is the fear of loss of identity – and it is in fact a valid fear in man severed from God, for in rejecting God we have actually rejected our fundamental identity as his image-bearers and as his dependent creatures.
Task #5: Discuss the roles and expressions that fear has in inter-personal relationships generally.
C.3 Death and division between man and God [3:7-13]
[To be read together with C.1 above.] In this point we come to most significant impact of our fall into sin: separation from God. It is this disconnection that automatically generates the other disconnections. We were created to live in relationship with God and dependence on God; we can only fulfil our God-given identity in face to face relationship with God. To try to live in independence from God, which we sought in our disobedience of the 2:17 command, is to try to live as humans severed from the very source and meaning of our existence as humans. It is to reach for an impossibility.
The life lived by every human being since Genesis 3 is not human life. Not the life for which God created us. The caution of 2:17 ‘you will surely die’ tells us that this ‘life’ in which we survive as humans beyond our choice to separate from God, is actually ‘death’.
Task #6: Write out and memorize these Scriptures that identify us as ‘dead’
This fact of our existence as ‘death’ is verified by the gospel promises that in union with Christ we gain ‘life’ or ‘eternal life’, and by the gospel statements about regeneration or being ‘born again’.
The choices made in Genesis 3:1-6 separated man from God: they constitute a rejection of God and his word, a turning away from a dependent, trusting, face-to-face relationship with God. In this rebellion man becomes severed from his source, his sustenance, his purpose/goal and his identity as human. The resultant isolation, exposure, disorientation and alienation are expressions of this ‘death’.
Alone, cast adrift by his own choice, he who was made for relationship with God and with his neighbour, now, as well as the inner and relational severances noted above, also experiences:
Fear in the presence of God [3:8,10]
Guilt in the presence of God [3:8,10]
Separation from God [3:8,10].
D. PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS OF THIS DEATH AND DIVISION
Keeping in mind what you have learned in previous studies, thoughtfully work through the exercises below.
As you do, don’t despair, the whole situation is imbued with hope for those who believe in Jesus Christ.
Task #7: Discuss the following questions:
Does this separation from God negate the value that creation in the image of God gives to man? Validate your answer.
Does this separation from God negate the dignity that creation in the image of God gives to man? Validate your answer.
Is it possible for this man of Genesis 3, who is separated from God, to fulfil his God-given identity as the image of God? Validate your answer.
Is it appropriate to describe the man of Genesis 3:1-13 as ‘vulnerable’, ‘fragile’ and ‘fragmented’? Validate your answer.
What connection has the word ‘lost’ with the separation from God that resulted from the Genesis 3 choice?
In what ways do the words ‘threat’, ‘threatening’ and ‘threatened’ apply to this dead and divided man of Genesis 3:7-13?
What impact has Genesis 3:1-13 had on the equality and unity of the sexes seen in Genesis 1 and 2.
What impact has Genesis 3:1-13 had on the mutual interdependence between the sexes in Genesis 1 & 2.
How has the final statement about the creation of the world [Genesis 2:25] been changed in Genesis 3:1-13?
E. MORE ON THE CHANGED RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD
John 1:4 says of Jesus Christ, the Word, ‘In him was life, and that life was the light of men.’ The Genesis 3 choice severed man from God, and hence, by God’s decree, automatically and inevitably, from life. God, in his grace, still gives and preserves physical life for a season; but that spiritual life that consisted in a positive relationship with God, and on which our real identity as the image of God depended, was severed in Genesis 3. From that point on we are, according to the scripture ‘dead in transgressions and sins’ [Ephesians 2:1,5], and in desperate need of regeneration by the Spirit of God [John 3:3-7] and of the eternal life which is repeatedly promised to those who believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
In Genesis 3:
The relationship between man and God became negative.
Instead of human reflection of the nature and glory of God there is human rebellion against God, and human corruption of the concept of ‘god’.
That which before was only a possibility became a reality: we became sinners, and both sin and suffering entered the world.
In this changed relationship and these changed conditions God is now the Judge and the Lawgiver. The presence of sin and suffering radically changed the way that God relates to us. In our primal innocence we knew nothing of God’s justice and wrath. [Also in our primal innocence, though we knew ‘love’, we did not realise that that ‘love’ contained a surprising, immeasurable and incomprehensible element called ‘grace’, which the presence of sin highlights.]
Having become sinners severed from God by our choice to sin, we now experience the evil that we have chosen: a life of separation from the One who is the source of our life; a life of fear and guilt in the presence of God; a life of condemnation and judgment in which the wrath of God is constantly upon us; a life of ever-multiplying sin and suffering; a life of lostness and darkness in which we are alienated not only from God, but also from each other and even from ourselves. And all of this totally inescapable – a bondage, a slavery, a hopelessness, in which we are ever striving to retrieve the unknown something that we have lost, a hidden memory, an instinctive knowledge that this is not what life was meant to be. In our severance from God we put all manner of impotent substitutes in his place from which we seek to gain identity and hope, but each of which he, the one true God, prohibits by his command, because he knows they are useless and empty.
From our human perspective, God, the one place where we could, if we chose, find and recover our identity, is now the enemy, not the Father. The One to blame when things go wrong, not the One to run to for sustenance and solace. The One to defy, not the One to depend on. The One to flee from in the presence of guilt, not the One to enjoy in the presence of innocence.
Task #8: Discuss this changed relationship with God.
F. GOD – THE RIGHTEOUS JUDGE
The prohibition of Genesis 2:17 assumes the right of God to mark the boundaries. He, our Maker, defines the rules. He, our Maker, knows how human life was made to function. It was not that the fruit of the tree had any specific destructive quality. The tree itself was insignificant, God could have put any point of prohibition here, and what ever he prohibited would have resulted in the ‘knowledge of good and evil’, for the ‘knowledge of good and the evil’ consists in our rejection of God and his word.
God, as our Maker, is thus also, of necessity, our Judge. He sets the rules. He sets the penalties or outcomes [and at a deep level the penalties are the inevitable outcomes of disobedience.]
From that single initial command/prohibition and its accompanying penalty in Genesis 2:17, defined in the absence of sin to those who were then innocent, a dramatic shift took place in God’s relationship to those who are now guilty. In the presence of sin and guilt, not only is the imposition of the penalty inevitable, but also the imposition of law is necessitated to identify and expose our sin and to regulate and limit the expression of our sin. As guilty sinners, we can only survive if law is present. And, as the Bible reveals later, it is law that will eventually be a key component in the restoration of the relationship with God for which he created us.
Task #9: Discuss the necessity of law in a fallen world.