This sermon is part of the sermon series "The Gospel in Genesis". See series.
When I was about ten years old, my dad, a medical doctor, received a special gift from one of his patients: a beautiful globe with shiny sequins. The globe spun around on its base and played one of my dad's favorite songs. My dad proudly demonstrated how it worked: grab it by the base, slowly wind it counter-clockwise, and then release it, letting it spin clockwise while playing beautiful music. He told us, "You can touch it but don't wind it because you might break it."
A week later, while my dad was at work, I found the globe and brought it to my room. And although I heard my dad say, "Don't wind it up," I decided to wind it up anyway. I gave it a little twist and let it play. It played, but only for five seconds. So I gave it another twist and another twist and five more twists and then—snap! The globe separated from the base. I tried desperately to put it back together again. I forced the two pieces together. I tried gluing it. I tried taping it. Finally, as I stared hopelessly at the two pieces of the globe, I realized it was broken beyond repair. So I went into my closet, shut the door, and hid.
It was Genesis 3 all over again. Although I believe Adam and Eve were real people, they are also "mythical people" in the sense that we don't just read Genesis 3 as a distant, hazy story. Every day of our lives we are living in Genesis 3.
It's a story that started with Genesis 1:1—"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." And after God completed his work of creation, he surveyed it all and pronounced it "very good." The first two chapters of Genesis declare God is good—so good that it ought to make us like the kids in Willy Wonka, running through a candy heaven saying, "Oh, look at that. And look at this. And taste this. God is good!" Then, in Genesis 2, God shapes Adam and gives him the breath of life. God also gives Adam a garden with rivers, fruit trees, and animals. There is work to do, so God also gives Adam a beautiful counterpart named Eve. She causes Adam to causes say: At last, she's bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.
But we don't live in this world, do we? Our world is like the broken globe: it's been twisted too far and we can't put it back together again. Relationships break, our sexuality breaks, we're slowly breaking the Earth. Our hearts break, nations break down and go to war, our health breaks, our politics break. All the glue, tape, and positive thinking can't put it back together again.
So I want to explore two questions: (1) How did we get here? (2) Is there any hope for us?
The rejection of God's goodness
We learn a few things about the Serpent in these verses. First of all, the Serpent is God's unequal sparring partner. That's why when Jesus came, he gave his followers authority over Satan. Secondly, the Serpent is crafty. He's good at what he does—i.e. the art of seduction. This means the Serpent is much smarter than you. In a game of wits with the Devil, you'll go down every time. He's suave, smooth, urbane, and hip.
Notice his craftiness: "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden?'"
And the LORD God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die."
That's remarkably clear. But notice what the Serpent does: First, he begins to objectify God. The Serpent and Eve have a theological bull session about God, but no one actually talks to God. Then the Serpent begins to sow seeds of mistrust with a simple question: "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden?'" The Devil is saying: What kind of God is that? That's not a good God; that's a cosmic killjoy or a prude!
Do you see how this all begins to unravel with a simple, tiny question: "Did God really say …?" Everything hangs on that one question; with it, the Serpent begins to chip away at the rock of God's goodness.
It's the central question behind the story of Genesis and the story of your life: Will I trust God or turn away from God? For the Christian, this is the taproot of every disorder of the human soul: Can I trust God? Can I take God at his word? Jesus said, "I am the Bread of Life, he who comes to me will never go hungry" (John 6:35). Can I trust that, or do I have to go looking for my own bread to satisfy my spiritual hunger? The Bible says, "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7). Can I trust that, or do I need to find another place to bring my cares and anxieties? The Bible says, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). Do I believe that, or do I have to work harder to get my sins cleansed before a holy God?
For most of us, it's not always an easy question. We have doubts. We've been told, "You have to rely on yourself. People won't be there for you. You are alone. Trust leads to betrayal, so keep your heart closed." Some of our doubts come from deep wounds—abuse, abandonment, rejection, betrayal, or disappointment. Like arrows, these actions have pierced our hearts with sorrow, hurt, and fear. So we numb our hearts and don't trust.
On top of that, God seems to act in ways we don't understand. We want God to fix our problems and make our lives smooth, but then God says things like, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds" (James 1:2-4). Huh? What did you say, God? You want to give me trials and then you want me to count it all joy? Doubt is part of the spiritual journey, but will the doubt drive us toward God and his goodness—sometimes arguing, lamenting, crying out to God—or will it drive us away from God?
Will I trust God or will I believe the biggest lies in the universe: You are alone. You must make it on your own. You must grab the fruit for yourself.
Is God good? It is the question that has haunted me most of my life. When I was 14 years old, I concluded God wasn't good. I thought he was out to get me and make my life miserable. I remember one occasion when I was playing basketball, and the ball rolled underneath my parents' car and jammed against the muffler. I pulled and pushed on the ball, but I could not loosen it. After about 20 minutes, as my frustration and anger level escalated, I finally raised my eyes towards heaven and let loose a violent streak of curses against God. I told God I hated him and wanted him to leave me alone. I told God things I can't repeat in church. I was firmly convinced God was the kind of God who would intentionally wedge my basketball under a car muffler just to make me frustrated and miserable. I could fear that kind of God, but I could never trust him.
Eve is like most of us: she trusts God—sort of. The world is full of evidence of God's goodness, but she's also starting to distort the truth of God's goodness. She begins by saying, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden …" Actually, God said, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden." "Free" and "any" are the key words. The emphasis is not on the restrictions but on the freedom. Mankind was made for freedom. In verse 3, Eve misses the point again when pointing out that God said, "and you must not touch it." God never said that. She distorts the goodness of God.
So the Serpent keeps chipping away at the rock of God's goodness, whispering into Eve's ear: Did God really say that? What kind of God is that? You can't trust that God. You have to look out for yourself. You have to grab that fruit because no one will do it for you. Look at it hanging there; it's yours for the taking.
The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was a profound symbol about the right to determine good and evil—the right to form the standards for right and wrong and even the right to dethrone God, taking his place. The Serpent is really whispering: You can do that. You'll never get what you want in life unless you look out for yourself.
Finally, all of this starts to make sense to Eve so she buys the lie. She thinks, I am on my own; I can't trust God. I have to look out for myself. I need to exchange roles with God.
Notice, then, the rapid succession of verbs: She saw, she took, she ate, she gave, and he ate. Everything starts to unravel.
Sin looks good. Taking from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—deciding our own right and wrong—looks like a great option. But there is a price to pay, laid out in verse 7. As the Serpent promised, Adam and Eve's eyes were opened, but it wasn't what they bargained for. Their eyes were opened to their own nakedness, and with the nakedness, came shame. Shame is that feeling where we know we haven't measured up—that we're defective and inadequate. So Adam and Eve try to make clothes out of fig leaves in a pathetic attempt to cover themselves. Then they run away and hide from God.
The amazing thing is that no one takes responsibility for any of this. Everyone evades and excuses and blames. First, look at Adam. Where is Adam in this story? Is he wandering around the garden totally oblivious to this scene? Probably not. All of the pronouns in verses 2-5 are in the plural. After Eve ate the fruit, Adam seemed to be right there. He's watching his wife have a friendly bull session with Satan, and he keeps his mouth shut. He's nice and sensitive. He never interrupts his wife and says, "Honey, I really don't think we should be talking to the Devil." Nor does he say, "Uh, Eve, I don't mean to correct, but actually, that's not quite what God said." Human history is going down the cosmic toilet, and Adam stands to the side and looks the other way.
Why didn't he do something or say something? In verse 10, Adam tells us the motivating force behind this scene: "I was afraid because I was naked." That's it, guys. That's why we hide. We're afraid. Fear dominates us, controls us, and makes us run and hide. We're afraid of conflict, afraid of people, afraid of getting it wrong. And we're afraid because we're naked and ashamed. Shame says, "You don't have what it takes. You'll get in the battle and you'll lose it. You'll fail, so stick with stuff you know you're good at.
If we unravel Adam's bad example, we find out what we're supposed to do. In terms of Genesis 3, we're supposed to stand between the Serpent and our family. How does a man do that? First and foremost, he must become a man of prayer. He must cry out to God from the depths of his weakness and brokenness and say, "Abba, Father, help me! My family is under attack, and I need you. I'm standing between the Serpent and my family, and a great battle is raging. You've called me to stand up and speak, but I'm terrified and I want to run away. I have no idea how to stand or what to say. Father, teach me! Help me! Guide me! Pour your strength and power into this weak vessel."
And then he must arise and go forth as a man—a broken, wounded, sinful man—who has nevertheless been touched, filled, inflamed, and empowered with the presence of Jesus himself. You will make mistakes—lots of them—but you won't be an Adam, looking the other way.
What does Adam do instead? He blames God. He blames Eve. He has willingly participated in the whole mess, and all he can say is: Well, God, it's the woman that you gave me.
He doesn't own any of it. He just gets defensive.
Eve isn't much better. God turns to her, and she says: I'm just a poor little damsel in distress, and the big bad Serpent tricked me. My worthless husband just checked out. I can never rely on him to be the spiritual leader of our home.
Technically, that's all partially true, but the Serpent deceived her because she was already distorting the truth. She invited the Devil in for a nice chat, and she wanted that forbidden fruit. Eve is like all of us: surrounded by beauty, goodness, and God's provision, but the one thing she really wants—that tree right in the middle of the garden—is denied her. That one thing that we think we really need—a date, a husband who really listens to me like my girlfriends or Dr. Phil, parents who love me and act cool, a dream home, a sexual fling with the air-brushed woman, the perfect body, straight A's—God denies us.
Neither Adam nor Eve take responsibility. Both of them are locked into blame games, excuses, and general defensiveness. In marriage counseling, this is called a "cycle of negativity." Once this cycle gets revved up, no one wants to admit responsibility.
This is the beginning of the world's brokenness. It's a mess, isn't it? In the midst of God's good creation, there is a pattern that looks like this:
It begins with seeds of mistrust toward God and a distortion of his character so the God who is for us is seen as the God who is against us.
This leads to an acceptance of the cosmic lie: you are on your own.
With this mentality, anything that looks good, we go after.
We find a man who checks out and a woman who acts like a victim.
No one takes responsibility, but instead, they both slip into blame, evasion, and denial.
There is an anxious and hurried flight from God that results in the breakdown of a marriage, friendship, and community.
We see the beginning of shame and the need to cover it up—all an attempt to prove we are not naked and defective.
The New Testament has a name for this scenario: the "law of sin and death."
How to get back to the Garden
How can we get back to the Garden? Our mistrust has grown deeper. Our shame and blame has become more intense. Is there any hope for us? The Bible says, "Yes!" It's called the Gospel. The New Testament says another law has entered the cosmos: the "law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus." Romans 8:1-2:
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.
Did you hear that amazing Good News? There is another law available to you, and it's a law that leads to freedom. The Gospel is the story—God's story—of how God won our freedom back through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Jesus died because we were locked in a hopeless downward spiral called the law of sin and death. The spiral started in the Garden and has been repeated for thousands of years. Christ died for us because we were trapped in sin, shackled by death. Christ came as a warrior—better than Superman or Spiderman or Jack Bauer or William Wallace—to set us free from the law of sin and death. He lived and died and rose again so you can call out to him, "Lord, Jesus, I truly believe you are the one who can set me free from the law of sin and death. I trust in you!" What does that mean? As one great Christian writer wrote, it means we can "walk Adam's dance backwards."
It means I can trust God because God is for me and not against me.
It means God's heart toward me is always good and kind and compassionate, and I can rest in his father heart of goodness towards me.
It means there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. The law of sin and death is still there, but it isn't the truest thing about you.
It means I can be content with what I have; I don't need to always crave more.
It means I don't need to check out, and I don't need to act like a victim.
It means I don't need to evade responsibility or blame others. I can stand before God and others and say, "The law of sin and death has a grip on me. It drags me down. I need help. Please forgive me.
It means I don't have to hide behind my shame. I don't have to create fig leaves to cover my nakedness because the Bible tells me I am clothed in the righteousness of Christ himself.
It means I can give myself away to others in love and service, ministering to the poor and lost because God will take care of me.
When you come to Christ and place your faith in him, there is a miraculous renewal of your person. You're no longer just in the grip of the law of sin and death. Christ has set you free. Live your freedom. Celebrate your freedom. Worship the one who has set you free. And share that freedom. Be a signpost of God's mercy, the hope of Jesus, in the midst of this broken world.
Matt Woodley is the pastor of compassion ministries at Church of the Resurrection in Wheaton, Illinois.