Foundations: The Fall of Man
Something has gone wrong and everyone knows it. Not everyone agrees on the source of the turmoil, but they recognize it's there.
Despite how many charities are started, tears are cried, wars are fought, how educated we become, or who is elected to office, suffering, injustice, anxiety, fear, tragedy, sickness, pain, and evil seem to continue. Why? The fall.
The Book of Genesis
God created the world in a perfect state and declared it "very good." Even those who don't believe the Bible long for that initial perfect state--for something better. All of humanity exists as image-bearers of God, so there is a whisper in our souls of how things were immediately following our creation.
One of the most important chapters in the Bible, Genesis 3, explains why the longing for something better is present in every person's soul. It describes the source of all the tragedy we see in the world as it quickly and painfully unfolds the narrative of humanity's rebellion against God. In a single chapter, the first sin takes place and chaos is unleashed into a perfect creation.
Our first parents, Adam and Eve, were created by God and placed to live in a perfect garden called Eden. Eden was absent of sin and its' effects, so they experienced a glorious freedom to enjoy all that God had created. God revealed himself as a loving Father and close friend. God gave them only one restriction--do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Bible scholars agree that this command communicated the necessity for Adam and Eve to refrain from elevating themselves to God's place. The term "the knowledge of good and evil" refers to the ability to determine truth, moral uprightness, and holy conduct. Adam and Eve were instructed to leave those decisions to a perfect, holy, and loving Father. Let God rule as God and simply enjoy all that he created.
Creation was thrown into chaos by the appearance of the Serpent, who we know is Satan (Rev. 12:9;20:2). He speaks only twice, but that is enough to plant seeds of doubt and temptation into Adam and Eve. Satan's' statements directly contradict the words of God and the theme of the first two chapters of Genesis. In chapters one and two, God shows he will provide all good things, especially his presence, for human beings if they will only trust and obey him.
Satan shows up and implies that God is keeping good from humans rather than providing it. He seeks to deceive our first parents into thinking that their Creator is denying them true joy and freedom.
Satan's lies, which should have been rebuked by Eve, were entertained. He had led her to believe that by disobeying God her and Adam could become gods themselves. Although they were already like God from being made in his image, Eve found Satan's statements overwhelmingly tempting. When faced with the decision of either trusting God or her own judgment, Eve made the wrong choice. She believed the lies of Satan over the promises of God and partook from the forbidden tree.
Rather than cover his helpmate and lead her away from temptation, Adam soon joined her. Their rebellion against God brought immediate brokenness in their relationship with each other and with God. Their nakedness was now accompanied with shame and guilt, and they sought to cover themselves with leaves. Rather than run to God and enjoy communing with him, they ran from their Creator. Every person since has been seeking to cover their sin on their own as they run from the God who created them.
The Consequences of Disobeying God
Romans 5:12 states that sin, death, and evil entered the world through one man--Adam. Our first parents' decision to disobey God in the garden introduced a brokenness into the souls of humanity. It has been passed down from generation to generation and can be traced all the way back to Adam and Eve's original sin in Eden.
Although every person who enters the world retains the image of God, all parts of our humanity are affected by sin. Sin is described in various ways throughout the Bible. It is spoken of as a rebellion, a breach in a relationship, missing the mark, being unclean or becoming polluted, and as a legal transgression. Our minds, hearts, conscience, will, emotions, and physical bodies feel the effects of each and every definition of sin. Humans can, and still do, perform acts of love, kindness, and goodness, but they are not holy or done for God's glory.
Blessing was replaced by eternal punishment, trust by fear, self-sacrificing by self-centeredness, and hope by despair. Humanity went from viewing God as friend to viewing him as an enemy. We forfeited the freedom to obey God and became slaves to sin and disobedience.
Every human has four main relationships that make up their lives. Humanity is constantly and primarily relating to others, God, creation, and self. The clearest picture of the effects of sin come from observing how humanity interacts with each of these relationships as a result of the fall.
When God came looking for Adam, holding him responsible for the act of disobedience, we see firsthand how human relationships are broken. Adam blames Eve for his sin and even blames God for making Eve. Eve also fails to repent and blames the Serpent for her sin. Since that moment, humanity has sought to blame others for their own sin. This causes friction, betrayal, and brokenness in our interactions with others. We try to dissuade our guilt and shame by shifting the responsibility onto someone else.
As part of the curse given by God in response to the original sin, God notes that females will struggle with the tendency to manipulate and rule over their husbands rather than submit to his leadership as God intended. It is also easy to see that males struggle with the sin of being domineering towards females, acting as if they can control and rule over them. Because of the fall, every human will struggle and experience some degree of heartache in their relationships with others.
Before the fall, Adam and Eve enjoyed God's close presence in their lives. There were no feelings of guilt and shame that kept them from enjoying God's friendship. We can only speculate how they anticipated and eagerly awaited spending time with their Creator "walking in the cool of the day." It is easy to imagine them running to him when they heard him walking in the garden, ready to converse and enjoy the majesty of fully experiencing God's presence.
After the fall, a drastically different interaction takes place. When Adam and Eve hear God in the garden they try to hide themselves from his presence. They experience a separation from their Creator. They know and sense that their disobedience has created a breach in their relationship with God. This breach continues on today. Humanity's relationship with God, although he is loving, caring, and seeks to repair this relational breach, is marked by confusion, doubt, and unbelief. We still seek to cover our sin and shame while living apart from God--the greatest mistake a person can make.
Adam and Eve enjoyed God's creation prior to the fall without viewing the physical, created world in the wrong way. Creation is a gift that was meant to be enjoyed and partaken of with thanks and gratitude to God. When God lays out the consequences of sin in Genesis 3, he states that humans will now struggle and experience brokenness as they interact with creation. Males, because the ground is cursed, will experience frustration as they work their jobs. As they seek to pay their bills and exercise their God-given dominion over creation, they will be continually disappointed. To the woman, God notes that she will experience increased pain in childbirth.
Humanity's relationship with creation often goes down a path that ends in devastation. Romans 1 explains our tendency to elevate the created world above the Creator. Our greedy, sinful hearts are drawn to worship this temporal, material-driven world. Rather than give our allegiance and worship to God, who alone is deserving, we waste it on "stuff." Humans, in all cultures and throughout all times, have desperately tried to make creation fill a void that only God can.
Humans were never intended to have self-esteem or pride issues. The way we view ourselves was designed to be informed by God and his words to us. Instead, the fall has corrupted the way we view self. We are tempted to view ourselves too highly, or as if we are not made in the image of God. The emotions of guilt and shame, and how we deal with them, are realities we have to face as a direct result of the fall.
The Right View Is Important
Having a clear and Biblical understanding of the fall is important for a number or reasons:
Our real problem becomes apparent. Many people think the only thing that is standing in their way of happiness is having more money, success, popularity, and material. They spend their lives trying to obtain something, or correct something, only to find out that it was not what was needed for peace, joy, and contentment. Humans are masters of misdiagnosis. Understanding the fall leads to having a realization of humanity's real problem, sin and separation from God, so we can take the proper steps towards wholeness.
It puts us in the proper starting place. To begin and develop a relationship with God, personal sin must be addressed and taken care of. Viewing the fall rightly helps us start in the proper place, crying out for help and mercy, when considering our relationship with God.
It gives us hope. It may seem strange to think that the doctrine of the fall should bring hope to our lives, but it does. Understanding it means we no longer have to speculate about what is wrong. We now know what type of answer we are looking for. The Biblical account also shows us that it did not take God by surprise. Although the world is in turmoil, God is still in control. He offers the answer and promises that one day all the effects of the fall will be redeemed and done away with!
It prepares us for battle. The doctrine of the fall should be sobering. When we see just how far-reaching and serious sin and its' effects are, it prepares us to battle temptation more earnestly. We will be less likely to distrust God and listen to the voice of the Serpent when we understand the pain sin has caused in the world.
We can respond to sin in the proper way. It's easy to hold sinful views of sin. We can wrongly think the response to remedy evil is something we can do, think, achieve, or say. When we understand the fall, we know that the only response to sin and evil is to include the God we have chosen to exclude.
It calls us to evangelize the world. As a result of the fall, humanity is lost and will remain so for eternity if God doesn't intervene. The good news is that God has always had a redeeming plan through his Son, Jesus. Without placing faith in Christ, and asking him for rescue from the fall, a person has no chance of being reconciled to God. Understanding this is the condition of all people, we are compelled, out of love and compassion, to share the life-changing message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Final Word
Although this doctrine lays out some bleak realities, sin and the fall do not have the final word. God was quick to come to Adam and Eve, cover their naked bodies, and deal with their sin. He is still quick to do so today for sinners everywhere who call upon him. Despite what others say, and what the world looks like sometimes, God is in sovereign control.
He is working all things for good, graciously redeeming the world from the fall one rebellious sinner at a time.