But Then an Evil Serpent…

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“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” C. S. Lewis

I have always appreciated this quote. I think Lewis does an effective job of concisely communicating the sense of longing that causes us to chase after satisfaction and fulfillment, and the futility of the pursuit. But as I consider the quote in light of our study of Genesis 1 and 2, I realize that he was probably off target on the last bit of it. If we understand Genesis 1-3 correctly, we recognize that we don’t long for another world, but for the world that we presently inhabit before it was wrecked and ruined by sin.

Genesis 1-2 explains the origins of our longing: we were created to inhabit God’s very good creation of perfect harmony, purity, and peace not only as subjects of the High King of Heaven but also as the children of a good and loving Father. In that perfect world for which we were created, there was NO SHAME (Gen. 2:25), and no grief, because there was NO GUILT.

Genesis 3 introduces us to the origins of our grief and sense of loss: SIN. What is sin? The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines sin as “any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.” I appreciate how Michael D. Williams’ words help us to understand the nature of sin. In Far as the Curse is Found: The Covenant Story of Redemption, he says,

“The law is the personal God’s declared will for his creatures. To violate it is to rebel against God himself. Consequently, Scripture often describes sin in relational terms. Sin is man’s betrayal, desertion, faithlessness, breach of covenant relationship, and treachery, directed against a personal God. (p.66) In essence, sin is man’s flight from God.” (p. 65)

Sin is not impersonal. It is relational.

Set against the perfect goodness of God’s design, and the opportunity man was given to live in eternally harmonious relationship with Him and one another, we see clearly that sin doesn’t make sense. It is irrational, absurd. As we talked about in our lesson, sin is an intruder.

Throughout the first two chapters of Genesis, Adam and Eve had known ONLY goodness from God: they enjoyed God’s perfect and generous provision, had a good work to do, a beautiful garden to tend and keep, and relationship with God and one another marked by intimacy and uninhibited openness. God’s words to Adam in Genesis 2:16-17 give both abundant provision and a single, solitary prohibition: “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.” (emphasis added)

The remainder of Genesis 2 describes God’s creation of woman, and his bringing her to the man, culminating with the words “and the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”  While the last verse of Chapter 2 describes the pinnacle of human purity and peace, Chapter 3 introduces us to a new character and opens with an entirely different tone.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”

No. That’s not what God actually said at all. But the serpent’s words planted seeds of doubt and distrust in Eve’s mind. God had given Adam and Eve every tree of the garden but one. God had been abundantly lavish in his provision, and if we read Genesis 2:17, we see that what he had withheld was a knowledge of evil. A good and loving parent withholds that which would harm the child!

But here we see the insanity of sin play out in Eve’s actions. She has every reason to trust God, and no reason to doubt him. None, that is, but the serpent’s word. It is interesting to note that in her reply to the serpent, Eve adds a prohibition not recorded in God’s words from Gen. 2:17.

And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” (Genesis 3:2-3)

Eve’s reply introduces the possibility that the serpent’s suggestion has influenced her perception of God. Having used his cunning to hint at a malignancy in God’s character, he now openly challenges and contradicts God’s word.

“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 3:4b-5)

Here the serpent holds out the shining fruit of Eve’s desire – and of ours as well. Rather than living under the perfect protection of God as king, and the perfect provision of God as father, Eve is enticed by the serpent’s suggestion that she can be autonomous, independent, like God. Why live under ANY prohibition, why submit to even a good and loving king/father if we can enjoy the freedom of self rule?

We know from Genesis 3:6 -7 that Eve took a closer look at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When she did so, she “saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desired to make one wise, [so] she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.”

Sin brought shame. And shame drove Adam and Eve to hide, and to blame. Sin devastated all that was good and pure and right in Eden. The gravity and burden of loss in Genesis 3 is crushing. But God does not allow his children to hide in their shame and sin without pursuing them. As the scene unfolds, we are introduced to another aspect of who God is: righteous judge. God calls to the man and his wife, and pronounces a sentence upon each of the guilty parties (including the serpent!). Sin is never without consequence, and it is responsible for all of the brokenness of humanity and creation that we see around us today. God didn’t only deliver a sentence in Genesis 3, though. He said one would come who would bruise the head of the serpent, whispering the first hint of the gospel even amidst the devastation in the garden. And he made Adam and Eve garments of skins and clothed them. He covered their nakedness, and their shame, and sent them from the garden to keep them from partaking of the tree of life, and thus prevent them from living in a state of sin forever.

“The gospel is the story of God covering his naked enemies [rebels], bringing them to the wedding feast, and then marrying them rather than crushing them.” Ed Welch

In summary, consider our “take aways” from last week’s study:

– Our enemy always tempts us to doubt God’s word and God’s goodness

– There is no rational answer for sin; it is absurd and makes no sense in light of God’s goodness.

– Sin leads to shame and hiding, but God call us out and covers us.

– Curse is not God’s ultimate answer to sin; redemption is.

– It is the mercy of God not to leave us in the state of sin forever.

I am praying for each of us this week, that the Lord will shape our understanding of sin and help us, who are in Christ, to enjoy the grace of walking in joyful obedience to our Father. Psalm 19: 7-14