So in investigating the first of the “foundations” described in Hebrews 6, I suggested that we can’t understand it (repentance of acts that lead to death), until we understand that second part: what are the acts that lead to death. Last week, I talked about what sin means in the context of creation and Sabbath, God’s purpose for us. This week I’d like to examine the actually episode of the fall in Genesis 3.
After having created the world and making it good, and after preparing the garden and placing the man and woman there to tend for as part of the Sabbath, God himself rested and communed with them. The Sabbath is interrupted, however, by Genesis 3.
The narrative begins with Satan asking the question about God’s command in a negative context. In Genesis 2 God phrased the command as “you may eat freely of every tree,” except the one in the middle of the garden. Satan, though, asks in a more restrictive sense “Did God say ‘you must not eat of any tree.” Immediately this begins to frame the conversation between the woman and the serpent in terms of what God is withholding, rather than what God has provided.
Next, the woman’s response is noteworthy for the absence of the “surely” or “certainly.” She says that eating from the tree results in death, but assurance of this action is gone from her telling. It should be noted that we have no record of God telling the woman this command. The command was given to Adam prior to the creation of the woman in Genesis 2. It may be the case that Adam failed to relay the command correctly or that the woman lacked the recall, in either case, though, the presence of Adam described at the end of the sinful episode (“She also gave some to the man who was with her“) indicates that both are at fault.
The serpent picks up on this lack of certainty, and uses it in his refutation of God’s command by saying (I’ve altered the translation to highlight the parallel visible in the Hebrew) “It is certainly not the case that you will die.”
We have not yet arrived at the actual sin, but it is important to note the things that led up to the sin: 1) thinking in terms of what God is keeping us from rather than his provision, 2) Being uncertain about God’s command regarding sin and so believing someone else who sounds more certain (even though, as the reader knows, they are not certain because they are lying). Now we come to the final element which leads to the actual sin. The serpent tells them that eating from the tree will make them “like God.”
Here’s the first problem with that statement: remember the end of Genesis 1? The man and woman are created how? In the image of God. They are already like God in the important sense. So the temptation offered by the serpent is layered. It is a denial of the goodness of God’s creation (the serpent suggests they are lacking in their nature). It is an unhealthy and selfish desire for more than what God has provided. It is a denial of their central task to act as God’s image. It is a desire not to be just like God, but to be God. It is idolatry or the denial of God’s authority, or prideful lust. Whatever the case it is rebellion against God to the extreme.
Following the act, the man and the woman are now naked and feel they must hide their nakedness. This is in stark contrast to the end of Genesis 2: “The man and the woman were naked and felt no shame.” Before they can begin the act of repentance, though, they must expose their nakedness before God. They are aware that appearing before God he will see everything about them, and so they attempt to flee God. This is the opposite of repentance. And their nakedness can only be adequately covered once they own up to their sin before God.
However, they don’t actually die. Eventually they do, but does that mean they would automatically had lived forever without sin? The mere existence of a tree of life in the garden seems to indicate that is not the case. So why don’t they die? What makes sin an act “that leads to death” as the author of Hebrews describes it or something that earns death as a “wage” as Paul describes it in Romans?
In Genesis 1 and 2 the picture we see of God is that he is the source of life. One thing I have been suggesting is that sin disrupts our fellowship (i.e. the Sabbath) with God, who is the source of life. In a very real sense, we die at that moment, as detailed in the cursings of Genesis 3. Following the sin, the result is the death of Sabbath. There is death in the joy of our labors as it becomes labor, one that many have described as something eating away or slowly killing them. Joy with children and bringing them up is now intermixed with pain and suffering and strife (the “pain of childbirth” refers not only to the act of giving birth, but the entire process of raising a child. I’m sure those with teenagers can attest to that pain on some level). There is now marital strife. The closest human relationship we have on earth (wife and husband) is now mixed with striving and difficulty. The fact that things are not worse, however, is God’s act of mercy. Even in the midst of our sin, as we are being punished, God stays his hand. God continues to sustain, and rather than wiping out these relationships completely, he allows us to retain a measure of their joy. This is instructive to us, it reminds us of the dangers of our sin (through the strife) and the joys that come from God. They are intermixed to help train us. Even God’s guardian over the tree of life is not meant as a punishment, but as a saving grace. We are now in a sinful state, slowly killing ourselves by our sin. If God allowed us to eat from the tree of life as we presently are, it would not be wonderful, but horrific. We would continue to live forever as we also continue to die. A continual process of dying without ever actually completing the process is not paradise, it is hell. God needs to transform our being, from our sinful core, out. Only once we are transformed can we enjoy the tree of life. Only then can we be saved. The first step in this transformation, then, is repentance, which I’ll address next week.
What do you think? Add your thoughts below