Most Christians are generally familiar with the story of the Fall of Man as related in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve are placed in a garden paradise to live with only one prohibition: they are not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2.16-17). But then, the crafty serpent, who elsewhere in the Bible is equated with Satan, comes along and entices Eve to disobey God and eat the forbidden fruit. Eve shares the fruit with her husband and Adam violates the command of God as well.
Usually when we talk about this event, we focus on it in a couple of predictable ways: the disobedient act of eating of the fruit represents the first human sin, and as a result, the spiritual relationship between humanity and God is ruptured, and physical death comes to mankind as a result.
Both of those things—the disruption of our relationship with God and our mortality—are important, and are certainly presented as results of Adam and Eve’s sin in Genesis 3. But the consequences of sin don’t stop there; they are widespread, and affect all areas of life. To put it in other words, sin messes everything up, and as a result, we live in a messed-up world.
Genesis 3 indicates that sin has theological, personal, sociological, ecological, and physical consequences:
- Genesis 3.8-10: Adam and Eve hide from God because they are afraid (theological effects).
- Genesis 3.10-11: Adam and Eve realize they are naked (personal effects).
- Genesis 3.12-13, 16: Adam and Eve refuse to take responsibility and their relationship is changed (sociological effects).
- Genesis 3.17-19: Creation itself becomes cursed (ecological effects).
- Genesis 3.22-23: Adam and Eve are kicked out of the garden and separated from the tree of life (physical effects).
The point of this post is to help us take sin more seriously, and see how all-destroying it is.
A Separation Between You And Your God: The Theological Consequences of Sin
This category probably won’t require as much commentary as some of the others, since this (along with physical effects) tends to be the area we hone in on.
Simply put, what I mean by “theological consequences” is that sin affects our relationship with God. Just as Adam and Eve hide from the presence of God when they hear Him walking in the garden after they have eaten the forbidden fruit, so we too are unfit for God’s presence. Scripture repeatedly affirms that our sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59.2; Romans 3.23), and this is a big deal, because we were specifically created to live in relationship with God. With that intended relationship destroyed, people desperately seek out all sorts of ways of living out their desires in order to find meaning and fulfillment in life.
In the process, we become enslaved to sin (John 8.34; Romans 6), which is a powerful and disturbing image—the very desires that we chase after in hopes of finding fulfillment become our masters, and on our own, we are powerless to escape their bondage! It’s a desperate situation to be in, and in large part accounts for a society where there are so many people who are completely lost without any hope or direction in life.
Sin destroys our relationship with God.
What’s Wrong With Me? The Personal Consequences of Sin
Next, we focus on the personal consequences of sin (which, as we shall see, are closely related to the theological consequences). Returning to our text in Genesis 3, this aspect of sin’s destructiveness is hinted at in Genesis 3.7, 10-11 where Adam and Eve realize they are naked, sew together fig leaves to make loincloths and then, because of their nakedness, hide from God when He enters the garden.
What was so bad about Adam and Eve being naked? After all, it was the way God had created them, so clearly He had no problem with it! The problem came from Adam and Eve themselves: after they sin by eating the forbidden fruit, they become self-conscious and immediately feel that there is something wrong with them, and they are ashamed of themselves. Ever since then, men and women have felt the same way: we exist in a state of inner conflict, lacking the self-confidence and self-acceptance that we should have as God’s creatures.
Basically, the process looks something like this:
- Humans were created for the purpose of living in relationship with God.
- Sin distorts and destroys that relationship.
- Without a relationship with God, we are inherently unfulfilled, because we are not living out the purpose for which we were created.
- We feel bad about ourselves and follow all sorts of false avenues looking for fulfillment.
Just consider our world today. People desperately want to feel happy or significant or fulfilled, so they are willing to try anything: fame, fortune, career accomplishment, relationships, children, sex, drugs, sports, etc. Why do you think the self-help industry generates billions of dollars each year? It’s because deep down, we all feel like there’s something wrong with us. We struggle with self-confidence and self-image, and we are convinced that we are deeply flawed.
And, biblically speaking, people are messed up; we are deeply flawed. But flatter abs, a more secure retirement, or a better relationship with your boyfriend won’t provide the answer. Oh sure, these things might make you feel a little better about yourself for a while, but it won’t last. We were created to live in relationship with God, and only in the context of that relationship can we find the solution to our deep flaws.
Sin destroys the way we look at ourselves.
Can’t We All Just Get Along? The Sociological Consequences of Sin
Returning to our text, we can see the sociological dimension of sin clearly played out in verses 11-13:
“[God] said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.””
People were created to live in community with one another. Specifically, Eve was created to be the perfect partner for Adam (Genesis 2.18-25). But when God confronts Adam and Eve with their sin, something very significant (and unfortunate) happens: the unity that had previously existed between Adam and Eve is disrupted as Adam immediately blames his wife for the sin that they had committed together.
This brings a conflict and disharmony between them that would be passed down and magnified over time (v.16), and we can see it unfold in the pages of Genesis—Cain’s murder of his brother Abel, the continually evil humanity of Genesis 6, the depraved society of Sodom and Gomorrah, the broken relationships between Sarah and Hagar, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, and more. But the problems don’t stop there—this same conflict and disharmony continues to darken and distort our world today.
Our world is deeply flawed by sin, and this manifests itself everyday sociologically, as we treat one another in a wide array of horrible, messed up ways:
- On an international level, countries wage war and kill because of conflict over ideology or resources.
- Systemic evils such as poverty, abortion, racism, sex trafficking, government corruption, lotteries, and more stem from our exploitation of our neighbors in order that we might obtain our own selfish desires.
- Horrific acts of incomprehensible violence fill our news cycles. Mass shootings at elementary schools, the use of passenger airliners as terrorist missiles, and bombings at marathon finish lines shock and dismay us and cause us to weep.
- Our interpersonal relationships are a mess. Dishonesty, reckless ambition, and violence abound. The (supposedly) lifelong bonds of marriage are broken on a whim.
And the sum result: our society as a whole stagnates and decays, as people live lives marked by self-interest and fear of one another. The community for which we were created is broken.
Sin destroys our relationships with one another.
Nature, Red In Tooth and Claw: The Ecological Consequences of Sin
As mentioned above, we tend to focus on the theological and personal consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin while ignoring some of the other areas. I think the most ignored of those other areas is the ecological consequences associated with the sin in the Garden of Eden.
Men and women were created to live in relationship with God and with one another, and, in a sense, with creation as well. This is clear in the early chapters of Genesis. Genesis 1.26-30 recounts how Adam and Eve were to have dominion over creation, and Genesis 2.15 mentions that they were to work it and keep it. So in effect, Adam and Eve were to rule over creation, but to do so as stewards who would take care of what God had made.
But following their disobedience to God’s command to not eat of the forbidden fruit in Genesis 3, the ecological consequence is evident, as a curse is placed on creation in Genesis 3.17-19:
“And to Adam he said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’”
This curse makes it clear that the relationship between man and creation has been damaged as well. And that’s pretty easy to see, right? Rather than embrace our role as stewards of God’s earth, we tend to exploit creation to satisfy our own selfish desires. There are countless examples of companies that have carelessly polluted in order to cut corners and maximize profits, and even “little” problems like widespread littering show a basic lack of respect for the home God has created for us.
Furthermore, there is significant indication in Scripture that the problem isn’t all one-sided: creation itself doesn’t operate the way it was intended to. In Romans 8.20-22, Paul makes this point, speaking of creation in personified terms:
“For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”
A creation that is subjected to futility, bound to corruption and groans in the pains of childbirth seems distinctly different from the creation that God made and called “good.” I suppose this is ultimately unprovable, but my personal opinion is that the natural disasters that plague our lives—tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, etc.—are symptomatic of the problems Paul refers to, as creation lives out a cursed existence different from the one for which it was intended.
As I have written elsewhere, it is worth pointing out that there was a degree of chaos in creation from the beginning (creation was “good,” not “perfect,” the serpent was present and his temptation toward evil, and the Garden of Eden needed to be tended and kept), but it does seem clear that that chaos was intensified following Adam and Eve’s sin by the curse that was placed on creation. Adam and Eve are ultimately expelled from Eden, and outside of the Garden, creation is less than the good and hospitable home for humanity for which it was created to be, and we fail to care for it as we should.
Sin destroys our relationship with creation.
The Wages of Sin is Death: The Physical Consequences of Sin
As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, when we talk about sin in the Garden and the Fall of Man, we tend to focus on the theological and physical consequences. We began by examining the theological fallout from Adam and Eve’s fateful actions, and we will conclude by looking at the physical ramifications.
God had told Adam and Eve that if they ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they “would surely die” (Genesis 2.16-17; 3.3), and although they didn’t drop dead as soon as the fruit passed their lips, physical death did ultimately result as they were expelled from the Garden of Eden and deprived of access to the Tree of Life (Genesis 3.22-23).
This development should provide some clarity to our thinking on death. Often, we talk about death being a “natural part of life,” but although death is a universal experience to humans, theologically, it is not “natural.” God created us as mortals with access to immortality in the Garden. It was through sin that that access was taken away and that the reality of death came to be fundamental to human existence. No wonder that Paul can talk of death as an “enemy” in 1 Corinthians 15.26: death is not a part of the existence that God desired for us! It is a result of sin and it belongs to the realm of Satan.
Outside of the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve (and all of their descendants) are subjected to the futility of mortality. We have mutations in our DNA that lead to horrible diseases, we get sick because our immune systems don’t perfectly protect us, we grow old and weak, and ultimately, we die.
Sin leads to physical death.
Conclusion: Why Does This Matter?
The Bible presents sin as a destructive force with widespread ramifications, and I think having a robust theology of sin is important because it helps us to properly understand at least three crucial aspects of Christianity:
(1) What Jesus accomplished on the cross: Just as sin presents widespread problems, the redemptive work of Jesus on the cross offers a comprehensive solution. His sacrificial death makes possible reconciliation with God (theological). The resulting relationship enables us to live out the purpose for which we have been created and purge ourselves of self-loathing and existential uncertainties (personal). Indwelt by the Holy Spirit and developing His fruit in our lives (Galatians 5), we are empowered to love others and live in genuine, God-glorifying relationship with them (sociological), and to live as genuine stewards of God’s creation (ecological). Those who belong to God, although they die, will live eternally with him (physical).
(2) Christian life and mission: A fundamental part of the mission of God is to oppose and destroy the works of Satan (1 John 3.8), and understanding the widespread ramifications of sin helps us to see that our response to sin and evil in the world should be similarly widespread. Helping people find meaning and purpose in their lives, opposing poverty and racism, and caring for creation are all endeavors that Christians can and should be involved in as they seek to alleviate the consequences of sin.
(3) Christian hope: Regardless of the previous two points, the ultimate reality is that we live outside the Garden, in a world that has been tarnished and broken by sin. Despite the fact that we work to oppose evil and spread the values of God’s kingdom, suffering and heartache are a part of our lives. In these difficult circumstances, we are continually strengthened and emboldened by hope: we look forward to the time when Christ returns, when sin is destroyed, and when we live for eternity in perfect community with our Creator.
Come, Lord Jesus!
See, for example, Revelation 12.9.
One of the biggest problems I have with those who read the early chapters of Genesis—especially the account of Adam and Eve—as non-historical is that such a view strips away the Bible’s explanation for the reason why our world is the way it is. The Bible repeatedly affirms that sin is a huge problem, and our own observations repeatedly affirm that our world in its current state is fundamentally broken. Genesis 3 provides the biblical explanation for the enormity of sin, and a groaning creation (cf. Romans 8.22).
This post is based in considerable part on the lectures of Dr. Mark Powell in his Systematic Theology class which I took at Harding School of Theology.
It is important to note that, according to the biblical account, Adam and Eve are ashamed of their nakedness, not of their sin (it should have been the other way around). Sin had fundamentally changed the way they viewed themselves.
If my thinking on this is correct, then it also stands in judgment against the hurtful things that some religious people say in very public ways following a natural disaster such as “Hurricane Katrina was God’s judgment against the wickedness of New Orleans”. Natural disasters are a condition of our broken world, rather than God’s wrath against a specific people/place. Incidentally, I think the promise made to Noah following the flood (Genesis 9.8-17) that man and creation would not again be judged by a massive flood (and perhaps, by extension, other natural disasters) supports this idea.
I mentioned the general neglect of this topic, and I think that neglect is itself evidence of the distorted relationship we have with creation. In a significant portion of Christendom, discussion of creation care is dismissed as a political idea (specifically a politically liberal idea), despite the fact that environmental stewardship is a clear biblical principle!