By Mary Wenzl
When I was fairly young, 6 or 7 years old, I remember being fascinated by a large family bible we had in our home. I still have that bible today. It initially belonged to my great grandfather and was published in 1882. The book is large, leather bound, 5-6 inches thick and must weigh at least 100 pounds, at least that is the way it felt when I was a child. What fascinated me about the bible were the illustrations. They were mainly black and white, very detailed, and some had an extra thin sheet of paper covering them, to protect the drawing. One particular illustration caught my attention. It was a very elaborate etching depicting Adam and Eve being forced to leave the Garden of Eden. Their escort was an angel carrying a flaming sword. I can still visualize that drawing in my mind’s eye to this day, even though it has been over 25 years since I last looked at it.
The story of Adam and Eve, their creation, and what led to them being forced out of Eden is the subject of Genesis 3. I thought the story was very familiar to me having grown up in a Christian home and “forced” to attend Sunday school each week by my parents. It is a sad one. Adam and Eve were created by God, and lived in this beautiful garden setting, a sanctuary, where they did not want for anything. Evil did not yet exist in the world, so their daily life must have been totally carefree. And then Eve listened to the serpent (Satan), ate a piece of fruit from a tree she was supposed to leave alone, shared the fruit with Adam, and they were kicked out of Eden for disobedience. Harsh. At least that is what I thought as a child. The story is actually much more complicated than is revealed in a simple reading of the scripture.
Genesis 3 starts by telling us the serpent “was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made.” He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’” He was trying to elicit doubt in God from Eve. This is the first mention of the serpent, which we understand to represent Satan. Jen Wilkin, author of God of Creation, A study of Genesis 1-11, encourages us in our study of Genesis to interpret the scriptures ourselves. She wants us to glean our own understanding of the scriptures before turning to the interpretations of Bible scholars.
With that in mind, I first asked myself, “Why would Satan want to tempt Eve to do something that God had forbidden (eat fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil)?” My opinion is that Satan wanted to corrupt God’s creation. Satan was jealous of God. He wanted to be the ruler. This gave him motive to put a seed of imperfection into God’s otherwise perfect creations. Humans need to feel doubt, fear, shame, or guilt in order to be vulnerable to Satan’s whisperings. So Satan was trying to create a kernel of doubt in Eve as to the truthfulness of God’s words.
Before sin entered the world, nature was perfect, and man was totally innocent in his thoughts and actions. Genesis 2:25 states that “the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” I imagine Adam and Eve experiencing a sense of inner peace at all times. Disobeying God by eating of the forbidden fruit did cause “death” as God stated it would. It was not an immediate physical death, but a death of the spirit of man—death of joy, self-confidence, and sense of inner peace that was present initially in Adam and Eve. (We get these back when we fully accept Jesus’ gift of salvation. His death on the cross resurrects us from the death of our spirit which was the consequence of initial sin.)
So, Satan’s seemingly simple act of asking Eve to question God’s restriction on eating a specific fruit in the garden has now resulted in Adam and Eve experiencing for the first time shame, guilt and fear. Throughout history, shame, guilt and fear have caused literal physical death in people eliciting suicide, murder and other violent acts. So, in essence, eating of the forbidden fruit did cause physical death through the consequences of it being the original sin. Satan accomplished his goal of making humans vulnerable to sin.
Genesis 3: 12-13 relates further consequences of sin. Man’s need to pass blame to others in order to avoid consequences or taking responsibility for his own actions is shown in these verses. Blame shifting happens when a person fears consequences for his/her actions, is trying to avoid responsibility, or is feeling guilty. It is also a form of lying. There had not been any form of punishment in the world yet for disobeying God. None is mentioned in the first two chapters of Genesis. So, why did Adam feel the need to find someone else to blame for his action of eating the forbidden fruit? I speculate what was happening was that Adam and Eve’s imagination was running wild due to the effects of sin now existing in man’s life. Man was feeling an internal horror of the unknown. Man did not know what bad thing might happen if he/she admitted the truth or took responsibility for his mistake.
In summary, disobeying God by eating forbidden fruit resulted in several firsts for Adam and Eve: feeling shame, guilt, fear, and also the ability to make errors in judgment by not following God’s rules. This last new “ability” shows man taking actions independent of that ordered by God, in other words, being a God to themselves—autonomy from God.
The one simple act of questioning God’s word, questioning if God really meant man not to eat fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil to avoid death, resulted in an overabundance of sin-related consequences. Satan picked well in choosing a way to corrupt God’s perfect creation.
The consequences resulting from man’s act of disobedience were great. Pain, struggle and death will now be part of man’s future. Man is driven from the Garden of Eden so he will not become immortal by eating fruit from the tree of life. Cherubim and a flaming sword are positioned at the entrance of Eden to keep man from returning to Eden. My reaction to the expelling of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden was mixed as a child. I saw it as a harsh punishment. However, in our study with Jen Wilkin, I learned something new about this expulsion. I initially thought it was to keep man from being immortal like God, but there is much more to this story which exemplifies to me part of God’s character. Man was kept from eating from the Tree of Life because, had he done so, man would have been frozen in a state of sin forever. Man would not have been able to be redeemed through the work and death of Jesus Christ. This act actually shows God’s loving nature towards us.
The character aspects of God that I learned from studying Genesis 3 were many, but specifically, God is Just and God is Loving.
Just: “God is fair in all His actions and judgments. He cannot over-punish or under-punish.” This is proven to me through God’s pronouncement of judgments over Adam and Eve for their disobedience in eating the forbidden fruit. It was the only thing God restricted them from doing. God’s punishment for Satan (the serpent) also shows He is a Just God. What Satan did, tempting Eve (and Adam) to disobey God, resulted in undermining God’s authority. It had life-long consequences for God’s creations.
Loving: “God feels and displays infinite, unconditional affection toward His children. His love for them does not depend on their worth, response, or merit.” This is shown in many ways, starting with the initial creation of the Garden of Eden for the benefit of man. When man sinned by disobeying God, God could have reacted in a wrathful way. He could have literally killed Adam and Eve. He had indicated that they would “surely die” on the day they eat of the forbidden fruit. He chose not to. Yes, there were consequences, but the consequences foreshadow the ultimate redemption of mankind through the actions of Jesus Christ, who would be born of a woman. God also showed his love by providing clothing made of skins for Adam and Eve. This was the first time an animal’s death is mentioned in the scriptures, so this action is significant. It shows God really valued man as he surrendered another part of His creation for man’s comfort. God could have left man wearing fig leaves.
In conclusion, knowing that God is Just and Loving, shows that I am deeply valued by God, and that I never have to fear that any chastisement by Him for sinful actions I might take will be too harsh or unbearable.