This post is part of an ongoing series. You can find links to all the posts here.
Last week, we looked at some New Testament texts that point to the idea of cosmic redemption—when Jesus returns, it’s not just faithful men and women who are going to be “saved”; in some sense, the redemptive work of Jesus reaches beyond humanity to the rest of creation as well. We looked at several passages that are frequently overlooked, but together, they present a fairly consistent message: God’s salvation is restorative and holistic. It is restorative in that it fixes what went wrong with creation, and it is holistic in that God intends to restore “all things” in heaven and on earth, including our bodies and creation itself.
In this post, we are going to look at a similar idea, but we’re going to go about it in a different way: we’re going to examine how Genesis 3 describes the far-reaching consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin, and then look at what God is going to do to address those consequences.
Here is the basic premise, the underlying questions that we want to consider:
- Do we believe that God, through Jesus, is going to overcome and defeat sin?
- If so, shouldn’t that mean that whatever God does to overcome and defeat sin should address all of the different types of consequences that sin produces?
Sin’s Far-Reaching Consequences
Genesis 3 is going to be central for our thinking in this post, but really, we shouldn’t just drop down into Genesis 3, because the story actually begins in Genesis 1. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, and we have an account of what was created on each day. On the sixth day, God creates humanity. And everything God creates He calls good.
Humanity is special: God creates humans, male and female, in His own image, and gives them a task. Humans are supposed to rule over and take care of creation. This was the plan: God has created this wonderful place where humans can live, and where God can also dwell in relationship with them.
But things go badly very quickly.
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 (elsewhere in the Bible identified as 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 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 breaks everything, and as a result, we live in a broken 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 and are ashamed (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 3.22-24: Adam and Eve are kicked out of the garden and separated from the tree of life (physical effects).
We will look at each of these categories individually in order to see how the Bible portrays sin as an incredibly serious problem. Sin is all-destroying.
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 to stand in the presence of a holy God. 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.
The Personal Consequences of Sin
Genesis 3 also describes personal consequences of sin (which, as we shall see, are closely related to the theological consequences). 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. 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 image-bearers.
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 is because deep down, we all feel like there is 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.
The Sociological Consequences of Sin
Returning to our text in Genesis 3, we can see the sociological dimension of sin clearly played out in verses 11-13:
11 “[God] said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 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 counterpart 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, nations 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.
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 (at least, in the Christian circles in which I reside).
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:
17 “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; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 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, carelessness and consumptive greed leads to the extinction of plant and animal species, 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 (a text that we considered last week), Paul makes this point, speaking of creation in personified terms:
20 “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 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. 22 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, and, yes, global pandemics—are symptomatic of the problems Paul refers to, as creation lives out a cursed existence different from the one for which it was intended.
It’s worth pointing out that there was a degree of chaos in creation from the beginning (creation was “good,” not “perfect,” the serpent was present along with 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 which it was created to be, and we fail to care for it as we should.
Sin destroys our relationship with creation.
The Physical Consequences of Sin
As I mentioned earlier, 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. Because of sin, that access was taken away and 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.
The Remedy to Sin’s Consequences
As you can see, sin is like a pervasive cancer, a sickness spreading throughout the world that causes damage and devastation in all sorts of ways. The consequences of sin certainly include separation from God and physical death, but they are much more widespread and far-reaching than just that.
Going back to something I said at the beginning:
- Do we believe that God, through Jesus, is going to overcome and defeat sin?
- If so, shouldn’t that mean that whatever God does to overcome and defeat sin should address all of the different types of consequences that sin produces?
And thus, the main point of this post: if sin is this widespread, then the remedy for sin must also be this widespread.
Otherwise, sin is not overcome. God does not defeat it. God does not win.
Now, I don’t think we always do a good job talking about all these different consequences of sin, and we also struggle to talk about how God, through Christ, fully and systematically defeats sin. But the Bible actually gives us a picture of how, in the end, all of these consequences of sin are undone:
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
Revelation 21.1-5 (and really, all of Revelation 21-22) is a major passage that reinforces the NHNE perspective that we have been examining in this series. We are not going to examine it in detail in the post, and we will continue to touch on it in coming weeks, but you will notice in the few verses above that there are several ideas present that we have discussed previously:
- The language of “a new heaven and a new earth”; our eternal location is not described as “heaven”
- The holy city, new Jerusalem comes down out of heaven
- It is described as “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (remember, “I go to prepare a place for you”)
- God will dwell/tabernacle with His people, as He has done throughout the biblical story
- The One on the throne says, “Behold, I am making all things new.” He doesn’t say, “Behold, I am making all new things.” See the difference?
But what does this passage and the wider context of Revelation 21-22 have to say about the defeat of sin? If we look closely, we can see that this portrayal of the New Heaven and New Earth clearly announces a solution to the widespread effects of sin.
The Remedy to the Theological Consequences
3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.
22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
(Revelation 21. 22-27)
The relationship between God and humanity has been restored. God dwells eternally with His people.
The Remedy to the Personal Consequences
4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
No longer will we feel shame and revulsion about ourselves. The crying and the pain will have passed away.
The Remedy to the Sociological Consequences
1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
The removal of our crying and pain (21.4) obviously has implications for our sociological strife as well, but 22.1-2 goes even further: the leaves of the Tree of Life are for the healing of the nations. No longer will nation war against nation, or brother against brother.
The Remedy to the Ecological Consequences
3 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.
After a discussion of the new creation, with the river of the water of life and the tree of life with its fruit and healing leaves (22.1-2), we are told that there will no longer be anything accursed. The curse that set creation in bondage is no more. Creation has been redeemed, and has obtained “the freedom of the glory of the children of God (Romans 8).
The Remedy to the Physical Consequences
5 And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
Death has been removed from existence. God’s people will live and reign with Him eternally.
Conclusion: Does God Defeat Sin…Or Not?
The biblical narrative describes a pervasive sin problem that affects every aspect of existence, but it also provides a conclusion to the story where every consequence of sin has been overcome, including the curse placed upon creation.
Renewed eschatology adequately addresses all of the different consequences of sin that Scripture describes, but on the other hand, I simply do not see how the traditional understanding, where God’s good creation is destroyed and thrown away, does. If sin damages creation itself, then the remedy for sin must fix creation; it cannot simply destroy it.
A creation that is destroyed is simply not what the biblical story anticipates. It is a result that allows the power of sin to remain unvanquished.
But, thankfully, Scripture assures us of a different outcome: God does win, sin is defeated, and all of its consequences are put to rights. Our relationship with God is restored, our shame is taken away, we are enabled to live in harmony with one another, creation is renewed, and we dwell with our Creator for eternity.
Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.
Or, to put it in terms we hear frequently, salvation is not just about saving human “souls.”
See Revelation 12.9. Some argue that when Satan is identified as the “ancient serpent” in Revelation 12.9, this is a reference to Leviathan, the chaos monster of various Ancient Near Eastern texts (including the Book of Job), rather than the serpent of Genesis 3, who (according to this view) is just another of God’s animal creations.
I struggle with this argument. While not denying the importance of the chaos monster in ANE thought, I am not convinced that this archetype would be more prevalent in the minds of John’s first-century audience than the serpent of Genesis 3. Furthermore, the serpent of Genesis 3 is clearly an element of chaos! He brings disruption and distortion into God’s good creation. With that in mind, it seems possible to me that this is a case of both/and rather than either/or: Satan is a chaotic, malevolent force that seeks to disrupt the order that God built into His creation. We see this in Genesis 3.
These thoughts on the widespread devastation of sin are 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.
It is probably more accurate to say that different segments of Christianity emphasize these various types of consequences to different degrees. For example, more progressive Christians spend a great deal of energy addressing issues like racism and the environment (sociological and ecological consequences), while more conservative Christians tend to focus less on such issues. On the other hand, conservative Christians are more likely to focus on sinful behaviors (theological consequences) than their progressive counterparts.
From where I sit, we would all do well to acknowledge the widespread devastation of sin, and seek to address it in all of its forms.
Speaking as a theologically conservative Christian, I think the general neglect of the ecological consequences of sin is itself evidence of the distorted relationship we have with creation. The sad reality is that, all too often, 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! We must do better.
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”.
God is sovereign and can bring judgment in any way He chooses, but it is incredibly presumptuous for humans to proclaim what God is doing when such has not been revealed. Natural disasters are a condition of our broken world, and while God can use these events to accomplish His purposes, it is theological malpractice to rush in when such an event occurs to declare why God supposedly brought it about.