5. Autonomy and Alienation

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Introduction

As we have studied the account of Creation and the imago Dei it should become clear that what is described there does not totally correspond to our present experience of reality. Indeed this disparity is the reason for our second worldview question, “What went wrong?” Answering this question is critical to making sense of the world in which we live and understanding how God will fulfill His creational purposes. This is the question we aim to answer as we examine the fall of man, the spread of sin, and God’s subsequent judgment.

I. The Fall in Context

Again we come to this text with the realization that it was written by Moses sometime after the exodus from Egypt and sometime before his death. This narrative is just as important for ancient Israel as it is for us. It explains why, in light of God’s good creation, they experienced 400 years of death and slavery. It reinforces their solidarity with Adam and the whole of humanity. We noted earlier that the creation narrative allowed Israel to understand that the “God who rescues Israel from slavery is the God who has made all things, the creator of heaven and earth.”[33] In the same way this narrative connects us and Israel before us, to Adam and Eve in a way that we are subjected to the curse and plagued by the same fallen nature just as they were. With this as the intent of the text we must realize that this text does not address all of our questions concerning the origin of evil and the serpent.

II. The Account of the Fall

In Genesis 2:16-17 we read, “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’” Here we see that man “was to learn the good in its clear opposition to evil, and the evil in its clear opposition to the good. Thus it will become plain how he could attain to this by taking either fork of the probation-choice.”[34] Ultimately, we find that man chose to know good and evil and by becoming evil. They rebelled against God and His Word “not by consciously making Satan their new final authority, but by taking that function to themselves.”[35]

Would someone read Genesis 3:1-13?

Because of the role of the Word of God in creation, it is not surprising then that the fall of man is a result of the questioning and doubting of this word.

In what ways is the encounter between the woman and the Serpent an assault upon the Word of God?

There is a brief addendum at the end of this chapter which discusses this dialogue in slightly more detail.

Would someone read Genesis 3:14-24? In what ways does God curse the Serpent, the woman, Adam, and creation?

III. The Fall and the Imago Dei

“Though man is still in the image of God, in every aspect of life some parts of that image have been distorted of lost.”[36] Structurally man’s mind and heart has become darkened (Romans 1:21; 2 Corinthians 4:4) and his conscience has been seared (1 Timothy 4:2). Functionally man fails to exercise dominion and rather than mastering creation, he is mastered by it; as Geerhardus Vos explains, noting the climactic nature of the curses found in Genesis 3 he translates it as, “thy hard labor will finally slay thee.”[37] Relationally man has been alienated from and is hostile towards God (Romans 5:10; Colossians 1:21; Hebrews 10:26-27), a hostility that not only sets man against man (Romans 1:28-31) but also sets a man against himself (James 4:1). The effects of the fall upon the imago Dei are pervasive; man does not cease to be an image bearer, and yet every aspect of that image is distorted by sin and the curse.

Profoundly affected by the fall, man is something less than human; he is something less than what he was created to be. Man is by default an image bearer and yet the image he bears is distorted and corrupt; it is an idolatrous image bearing witness to a false God.

IV. The Outworking of the Fall

Rather than simply examine Genesis 3 and the curse described there we need to recognize the narrative form of this text and continue reading to see the pervasive effects of the fall among the descendants of Adam and Eve.

A. Cain and Able

“Strangely, at first, the serpent seems to be right: Adam and eve do not immediately die. Or do they? One of the things this story should do is to make us reflect long and hard on just what ‘death’ means.”[38] This is very true and it should cause us think, yet death does come and it comes relentlessly and with great violence and horror. Immediately after the curse we read in verse 21 “And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.” The very animals which Adam had previously named were slaughtered to cover their shame with that death and bloodshed entered God’s creation.

Turn with me and read Genesis 4:1-8. The relational effects of the fall are clear as we see that by this point animal sacrifices are a normative way of interacting with God. Then as Cain slaughters his brother Able, as one would slaughter and animal, death comes violently upon mankind. Turning to chapter five the genealogies echo the horror of this reality:

  • “Thus all the days that Adam lived were 930 years, and he died.” (Genesis 5:5).
  • “Thus all the days of Seth were 912 years, and he died” (Genesis 5:8).
  • “Thus all the days of Kenan were 910 years, and he died” (Genesis 5:14).
  • “And he died” verse 17.
  • “And he died” verse 20.
  • “And he died” verse 27.
  • “And he died” verse 31.

B. The Flood

Would someone read Genesis 6:11-14 and 7:17-24? Has anyone ever been in a flood?

The only thing I could liken this to would be the tsunami in 2004 or hurricane Katrina and the stories and pictures of devastation and heartache. The problem of sin grew so severe that God killed every living thing on the earth save Noah, his family, and the animals on the ark. Can you imagine the horror of this? Can you imagine people who knew Noah beating on the side of the ark as the waters rose in search of salvation and finding none? Can you imagine the stench when the waters subsided and they exited the ark?

What does this teach us about sin, humanity and God?

C. The Tower of Babel

Continuing on through the Genesis text we arrive in chapter 10 we read a genealogy which describes the various clans and nations that came from the son’s of Noah and spread abroad on the earth. In chapter 11 we find that humanity has one language and has gathered together to build a tower and make a name for themselves so that they will not be scattered over the face of the earth. “Name in Scripture stands for identity. With this city and tower, the people have sought a false identity, a reputation built on human autonomy (11:4).”[39] God thwarts their rebellion again His command to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” by confusing their languages and scattering them over the face of the earth.

Conclusion

The reality of sin and God’s subsequent judgment sets the stage for man’s redemption and the restoration of the imago Dei. We will return to these same texts next week as we see how God’s mercy is mingled with His judgment as we learn to see these passages as both words of warning and words of hope.

What did this narrative teach Israel? What is it teaching us? How does this affect our understanding of creation?

Excursus A: Examining the Dialogue between Eve and the Serpent

At some point following the completion of creation the man and the woman are approached by the serpent who immediately begins to cast doubt on the word which God has spoken. He begins by asking, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’” (Genesis 3:1)? In his initial inquiry, the serpent not only aims to bring God’s Word into question he also distorts the word which has been spoken. The woman then replies and corrects the serpent; however, she then adds to God’s prohibition against the tree of the knowledge of good and evil saying, “neither shall you touch it, lest you die” whereas God’s prohibition was only against eating its fruit. Now that the woman has both responded to the serpent’s attempt to cast doubt on God’s Word and added to that Word herself the serpent directly challenges God and His Word. He says to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4-5). Then the woman saw that the tree was good for food, which should not be surprising as God has declared all of His creation to be good, took and with her husband ate and their eyes were opened.

[33]Bartholomew and Goheen, The Drama of Scripture, 30.

[34]Vos, Biblical Theology, 42.

[35]Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 104.

[36]Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 444.

[37]Vos, Biblical Theology, 48.

[38]Bartholomew and Goheen, The Drama of Scripture, 43.

[39]Ibid., 53.

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