What Christ Does For Us, Part 3: The Extent of Brokenness

God created us for relationship with Him, and with genuine moral significance as part of our makeup. We turned away from Him and broke that relationship. Our connection to the true source of life and love was broken, and death and alienation entered our experience. This we learn from Genesis 1 through 3, as covered in the first two posts in this series (see the Series list below).

The first chapters of Genesis illustrate God’s holiness and justice without actually using those terms. The full picture of these facets of God’s character emerges later in His word. God’s holiness speaks of his purity, his righteousness, his perfect moral character. It also connotates separateness from all that is evil or impure. Habakkuk 1:13 says God’s eyes are too pure even to look on evil. It’s metaphorical, obviously, but the point is that God cannot in any way approve evil. In Psalm 5 we read,

“For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you.”

God’s justice is that which demands that right be rewarded and wrong be punished; that moral actions have fitting moral consequences; that we do indeed “reap what we sow.” It is on the one hand a source of tremendous hope for those who have been oppressed or wronged. On the other hand it stands in front of all who have done wrong, which is each one of us.

The consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin were given to them out of God’s righteous holiness and justice. (And mankind has been railing against holiness and justice ever since.) This is not all there is to say about God’s character, for He is also a God of mercy, compassion, love, and forgiveness. How he can express both mercy and justice will be the subject of a future post in this series.

Meanwhile we need to take note of further results of the first humans’ rebellion against God. Not only were they separated from God, not only did they become subject to death, they also experienced the curse of their sin. We’ve all been experiencing it since.

For the woman the curse mostly had to do with pain relating to children and men. For the man it had to do with the painful frustration of labor and production. The world would now fight back against these rebels; and people in their alienation would fight each other. When we speak later of what Christ has done for us we will touch on reconciliation between people, which begins when people relate to one another in Christ. Reconciliation with the frustrations of the natural world is yet to come, in a future state after the return of Christ.

The tempter (who later in the Bible we understand to be Satan) was also cursed, and in that curse the first hint of a promised redemption comes to us: the seed of the woman would crush his head. The seed (offspring) of the woman–notably not the seed of the man–was the coming Christ, born of a virgin, whose work would include destroying the works of Satan.

Now, I am fully aware that this exposition will raise questions and objections from some loyal non-believing readers here. My purpose in this post, as in the previous two, has been to present a brief outline of what we know about the root of humanity’s dignity and brokenness, as background for explaining what Christ has done about it. You who may question or object to this, I ask to read this for what it is: an exposition of a belief, a viewpoint on the condition of humanity.

I believe it is a true viewpoint; I know that you do not. I ask that you approach this for understanding and not primarily for dispute. You who object to Christian beliefs, this is your chance for a deeper understanding of their source. I hope your questions will be that: requests for clarification. This is not the time for me to prove to you that Genesis 1-3 tell a true account of where we came from. It is a time to focus on the account itself and what it means, taken for what it is.

Part of a Series: What Christ Does For Us

Related: How To Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions — a post that elicited a short question, to which I’m writing a long answer

Comments

  1. Jordan

    Why would a perfectly just God punish all of humanity for the sins of two people who weren’t even armed with knowledge of good and evil? How am I responsible for Adam and Eve’s supposed sin? Why don’t we all get a shot at innocence the way Adam and Even did? Why didn’t God give Adam and Eve knowledge of good and evil right from the start? None of it makes sense to me.

  2. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    I appreciate those good questions, Jordan.

    Adam and Eve were not so unarmed as you suppose. They had knowledge of good, and they had knowledge of God. They knew what His instructions were, and they knew that violating it would cause them to die–it was right there in the warning He gave.

    The heart of their sin was that they thought eating from that tree would make them “like God.” It was a violation of the relationship they had, a usurping, setting themselves up as rivals instead of as the created and loved ones they were.

    How are you responsible for their sin? You aren’t, you’re responsible for your own. When they sinned, as it says later in the book of Romans, “sin entered the world, and death through it.” It became part of the way the world is, until Christ fully defeats death, sin, and the works of the devil.

    Why don’t you get a shot at innocence? Are you pretty sure you would do better, that you would fully obey God? You could try that right now as a test, for 2-3 days if you like. Remember that full obedience is not just outward but it includes a heart that is fully God’s. My record on this is not so good: I’m sure I’ve never passed that test myself. That’s why I know I knew what Christ does for us.

    God did give them a knowledge right from the start. They had absolute experiential knowledge of good, and they had His warning, His information on evil. They did not have experiential knowledge of evil from the start, because God would not have forced that on them! It came only when they chose it.

    I hope that helps clarify some things.

  3. ordinary seeker

    What were the plants and animals doing before Eve ate the apple (actually the fruit in the story wasn’t an apple, btw)? Were they acting as plants and animals do now–growing and eating each other and dying–or were they, too, perfectly good and immortal?

  4. doctor(logic)

    Tom,

    Do you believe that Adam and Eve were two real people or are they just symbols for what happens to all men and women?

    Why did Adam and Eve eat the apple? Why did they want to usurp God’s power when they had everything? I assume that they thought it was worth risking death for something they lacked. Maybe they didn’t want to be God’s pets, even if they did live in a gilded cage. Whatever it was, the element of human character that made Adam and Eve eat the apple was placed in us by God. It wasn’t our invention.

    If you create a creature that will be incapable of following your orders, then it really makes no sense to do cause mortal suffering to that creature for its disobedience. And if the inevitable disobedience is such a crime, then don’t create the creature in the first place, for that would be to create evil where none existed.

    You see that was the other option. God could have decided not to create us because he must have known that, one day, after enough temptations, the fruit would have been eaten and all of this tragedy would ensue. God created evil, and he didn’t have to. He supposedly had plenty of good about the place before hand.

    Finally, if humans were not designed to withstand temptation, and would not have eaten from the tree without Satan’s bad behavior, then why is it our fault?

    I seek in vain to find any hint of good or justice or consistency or desirability in this story.

  5. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    There are many things we can’t know about that pre-fall world, because we just don’t have the information. And I don’t think any of us could really imagine what it would have been like. I’m mystified myself by the question of why the first humans would have been willing to give up all the good they had. I just don’t know. But apparently they did.

    I’ll try to explain what I do understand about your questions. There are different opinions on this. Young-earth creationists have no problem there; they believe there was no death (no animal death) before the Fall, and all animals were herbivores.

    Old-earth creationists have a variety of answers. The one that seems most reasonable to me is that the death that entered the world with Adam and Eve’s sins was particularly human spiritual death–radical loss of innocence and of relationship with God, and loss of eternal life with God. Animals could well have eaten animals, and other loss of animal life before this was quite possible. Adam and Eve in this view would still be the first fully human creatures, so there would have been no prior humans to have lived perfect lives and passed from the scene.

    If you create a creature that will be incapable of following your orders, then it really makes no sense to do cause mortal suffering to that creature for its disobedience.

    Here, dl, we come back to our difference of opinion on free will. I believe that free will means that whatever decision we make, within limits of physical possibility, we could have decided otherwise. I think it would have been possible for them to have obeyed, but they did not.

    God could have decided not to create us because he must have known that, one day, after enough temptations, the fruit would have been eaten and all of this tragedy would ensue.

    Perhaps so. I wonder about that. This much is clear: that God had a plan to bring good out of it, and has been accomplishing that plan through Christ. This of course brings up that other very large question, about evil, so all I will do now is recall to your mind that Christians have argued that God had a morally sufficient reason to allow (not to create, as you said, but to allow) evil.

    Finally, if humans were not designed to withstand temptation, and would not have eaten from the tree without Satan’s bad behavior, then why is it our fault?

    Ask yourself that as a parent: is it your child’s fault if they do something they know is wrong when goaded to it by other children?

    As I said, I do not pretend that all the answers here are easy or plain. I understand there are barriers here for some people; it’s hard to take it all at one swallow, obviously. Here’s the main thing: God created us for perfect fellowship with Him, and we had a chance at it. We blew it–which happened in history, not just in metaphor–and now we suffer greatly for it. That’s the ongoing effect. It’s the main point of the story for today, the minimum I would ask a nonbeliever to consider deeply.

  6. econ grad stud

    I’m fairly agnostic about Genesis 1-3. I believe the text is spiritually meaningful but I’m uncertain how literal it should be taken.

    I think we can all agree with the moral message it provides.

    Man has chosen evil and death implicitly. This choice has locked mankind into a lifestyle of scarcity and struggle. It eliminated the ability of Man to follow God. Man became a puppet of his deranged will.

  7. doctor(logic)

    Tom,

    Here, dl, we come back to our difference of opinion on free will. I believe that free will means that whatever decision we make, within limits of physical possibility, we could have decided otherwise. I think it would have been possible for them to have obeyed, but they did not.

    I don’t see how this helps, and not only because of our differences on free will.

    In theory, a 3-year-old is capable of eating a 2-scoop ice cream cone without making any mess. But would you expect a 3-year-old to do so? Are human adults any more capable of living without sin than a 3-year-old is capable of cleanly eating an ice cream cone?

    Ask yourself that as a parent: is it your child’s fault if they do something they know is wrong when goaded to it by other children?

    But it is not justice to impose a harsh sentence on someone when (a) there’s no victim (I do not believe that God is a victim any more than a parent is a victim when a child spills milk), and (b) when education is an alternative. We are not on Earth to learn anything. We are here to suffer and die.

    When a child misbehaves, our goal in punishing them is to correct them. Yet, the kind of “correction” we get on Earth is ineffectual. God does the correcting with magic later. So the whole exercise is pointless.

    This much is clear: that God had a plan to bring good out of it, and has been accomplishing that plan through Christ… all I will do now is recall to your mind that Christians have argued that God had a morally sufficient reason to allow (not to create, as you said, but to allow) evil.

    Well, I’m just saying that all the elegance is gone by this point, as far as I am concerned. Christ is not bringing good out of this because the evil was unnecessary in the first place. Allowing evil is negligence.

    You see, it seems as though your goal is to sacrifice your own free will. You want God to act through you. To take you over and make decisions for you. You want to work to God’s plan. You want to be his puppet. And that’s probably the state in which the obedient Adam lived. The same goes with the afterlife. The same aesthetic defects seem to exist in the Christian idea of the afterlife.

    I do think I’m getting a clearer picture. Maybe Adam and Eve wanted freedom, and God gave them freedom in exchange for their immortality. Hmmm. Raises more questions. Did Adam and Eve have a desire for freedom just as we do, or is that desire something that we got during the fall?

  8. doctor(logic)

    econ,

    Man has chosen evil and death implicitly. This choice has locked mankind into a lifestyle of scarcity and struggle. It eliminated the ability of Man to follow God. Man became a puppet of his deranged will.

    The choice you refer to is like the choice of a toddler to stick a fork in an electrical outlet. Apparently, the fall was not the thing that caused us to deviate from God. That cause was already in Adam, and God put it there. God just forgot buy those little plastic caps to cover his electrical outlets. Still, it might be better to be a puppet of my own deranged will than a puppet of God’s, for at least I have a will in the former case.

  9. Charlie

    Adam and Eve were not the equivalent of curious 3 year olds who didn’t know what they were doing. They were brilliant adult human beings. When asked, Eve stated what would happen if she even touched the tree at the centre of the garden. They knew the promised consequences but chose to disbelieve the One who had told them. They thought that God might not be all-good, that He might be misleading them, that He might not have their best interests in mind, that they might be able to better determine what was right for them. They did this willfully, chose to make gods of themselves, and cut the spiritual connection they had with God.

  10. Charlie

    “We are not on Earth to learn anything. We are here to suffer and die.”
    But many are educated. Many see the folly of the rebellion and seek to follow God. They entrust their fate to Him, enter into eternal life, and do not die.

  11. SteveK

    They thought that God might not be all-good, that He might be misleading them, that He might not have their best interests in mind, that they might be able to better determine what was right for them. They did this willfully, chose to make gods of themselves, and cut the spiritual connection they had with God.

    Not to pick on DL personally, but you can see this sort of thinking in his comments.

    “Christ is not bringing good out of this because the evil was unnecessary in the first place. Allowing evil is negligence.”

    The created is at odds with the Creator. The clay jar thinks the Potter doesn’t know what he’s doing. I know very little about The Golden Compass movie, but I understand this is what it’s all about.

  12. doctor(logic)

    Charlie,

    They thought that God might not be all-good, that He might be misleading them, that He might not have their best interests in mind, that they might be able to better determine what was right for them. They did this willfully, chose to make gods of themselves, and cut the spiritual connection they had with God.

    So God created Adam and Eve with tragic flaws: a love of freedom and desire for knowledge?

    Sorry, it just doesn’t make any sense to me. Why did they not trust God? And if they had reason not to trust God, then is God against rational behavior? God had the ability to undo any damage done by eating the fruit, but decided to kill them instead.

    But many are educated. Many see the folly of the rebellion and seek to follow God. They entrust their fate to Him, enter into eternal life, and do not die.

    This being a discussion about aesthetics, I’ll not bother to contest your premises. I will say that God’s education plan is a lot worse than we would expect from a human parent. Furthermore, this is really about living one’s days in God’s gilded cage. It reminds me of the lyrics of a song by Trademark:

    It’s better for you, you’ll recover
    It’s better for you, you’ll discover
    Don’t make any fuss, just toe the line

    Except for the ‘recover’ part, of course.

    Have you seen the original Star Trek pilot, The Menagerie? Do you believe that Captain Pike was right to rebel against the Talosians?

  13. doctor(logic)

    Steve,

    Not to pick on DL personally, but you can see this sort of thinking in his comments.

    Can you be more specific?

    I am skeptical (I don’t want to be fooled by myself or others), and wish to improve myself. Christianity sees these tendencies and desires as sinful. That just won’t work. If you give up skepticism, you give up on the truth.

    I know very little about The Golden Compass movie, but I understand this is what it’s all about.

    It was about confronting organizations that demand submission to authority and that punish critical thinking.

  14. Charlie

    So God created Adam and Eve with tragic flaws: a love of freedom and desire for knowledge?

    God created Adam and Eve free and with access to true knowledge. It is belief in God that that led to the great freedom movements in history. It is the freedom of obeying God that frees us from our worldly pursuits. Nobody is free who seeks to satisfy the pleasure of the flesh and makes Nature their master.

    Sorry, it just doesn’t make any sense to me.

    It does to me. And to countless others far more intelligent.

    Why did they not trust God? And if they had reason not to trust God, then is God against rational behavior?

    You’ve piggy-backed your non-sequiturs. They chose not to trust God because they had choices and moral freedom. Having some kind of reason to turn from God does not mean there is also no reason (the greatest) to trust and have faith in Him. Disobeying and suffering the consequences is not a matter of rational versus irrational. God is all about rational behaviour – as His creation (and the science, math and logic that rely upon it) attests.

    This being a discussion about aesthetics, I’ll not bother to contest your premises.

    Cool.

    I will say that God’s education plan is a lot worse than we would expect from a human parent. Furthermore, this is really about living one’s days in God’s gilded cage.

    No, it’s about living one’s days in alignment with reality.

    I have no reply to your poetry or Star Trek references.

  15. econ grad stud

    Doctorlogic:

    The choice you refer to is like the choice of a toddler to stick a fork in an electrical outlet. Apparently, the fall was not the thing that caused us to deviate from God. That cause was already in Adam, and God put it there.

    I don’t suppose you’re familiar with under determined systems? There exist situations where there are the possibilities of multiple outcomes. In the Genesis account God saw fit to allow the possibility for man to succeed or to fail. That meets some requirement of his that we’re not informed of in Genesis. The role of God in allowing the possibility for evil is not an emphasized part of the text.

    God just forgot buy those little plastic caps to cover his electrical outlets. Still, it might be better to be a puppet of my own deranged will than a puppet of God’s, for at least I have a will in the former case.

    You know, you’re not gaining much from this type of approach. I’d suggest you might learn more if you approached Genesis as myth (as obviously false but representative of perceived truths). You might find it worthwhile to examine why the account in Genesis has been so significant in Western culture and what the underlying themes are. I suspect you’re too close to Christianity (as an opponent of it) to examine Genesis disinterestedly as a compelling and unique myth.

  16. doctor(logic)

    Charlie,

    Your response doesn’t address the problems.

    So Adam and Eve knew all the facts, knew what would happen, but were merely irrational? They made a computational error? Or didn’t get enough sleep the night before? Didn’t God know they had the potential for irrationality?

    Human adults are never rational all the time. We’re simply incapable of that. So why set a standard humans cannot meet and invent such draconian penalties for breaking the rules? It’s like the death penalty for locking your keys in your car. It would have been more good for God to never have created us. Our lives are just a sick joke to this God of yours, or we would be if he didn’t already know how everything would turn out.

    Imagine a being that’s 5000 years old, has seen life come and go, has science and technology beyond our own, intelligence an IQ of 100,000, more awareness, and greater rationality. Would humans not be akin to 7-year-olds to such a creature? If so, then we are still like little children to God and he ought to cover those electrical outlets.

  17. doctor(logic)

    econ,

    In the Genesis account God saw fit to allow the possibility for man to succeed or to fail. That meets some requirement of his that we’re not informed of in Genesis.

    So the Fall is presently inexplicable. That will render Christianity is incoherent. There’s this very strange story about Jesus dying for our sins when we cannot even say whether any of this was our fault in the first place. Are you saying we ought to just accept without proof that it is our fault and not God’s?

    The role of God in allowing the possibility for evil is not an emphasized part of the text.

    Then good and evil are left unexplained. What went through God’s mind in creating us through evolution is unknown.

    It’s not enough to call “the mind of God” an explanation when it’s only an explanation if you can say what was going on in that mind. God is a name for an explanation you would have if you knew the mind of God.

    Given that the myth has no explanatory power, what is it that you find compelling about the myth?

  18. Tom Gilson

    Charlie quoted doctor(logic) and then answered,

    Sorry, it just doesn’t make any sense to me.

    It does to me. And to countless others far more intelligent.

    For me it depends on what you mean by “making sense.” I really don’t understand why Adam and Eve gave up that perfect existence. I’m sure they had free will, which meant the capacity to rebel against God was there, but I do not get what their motivation was.

    Again, on one level it does make sense. It’s quite clear that they wanted to be like God, and they sought to shake off their dependence on Him. They wanted independent knowledge of good, apparently not realizing that good is in God and cannot be known independently of His person and His works. I doubt they had any idea what they were asking for in the specific aspect of knowledge of evil. They had been warned they “would surely die.” Did they understand what that meant, fully? No, for they had to acquire that knowledge the hard, tragic way.

    So I understand some of what they were after in eating the forbidden fruit. I understand it especially because I see in myself the same rebellion against God, even though I know He is still the source of all love and good and true life. I can very personally relate to all that they did. What I don’t think I can know is what it would have been like to make that decision, starting from their perfect original state.

    So there is mystery there. The actual temptation and sin make so much sense, though, as does the rest of the story flowing out of that–the salvation history (Heilsgeschichte) that led through the Hebrew nation to Christ and down the centuries to God’s people everywhere–it all makes so much sense that I can rest in not grasping it all.

    And how should we expect to know what life was like, and what motivations were like, when mankind was so different, so uncorrupted? All we know now is the corrupted yet still highly significant, dignified condition of man. If the earlier state is unimaginable, that unimaginability at least is not incoherent with what we know now about life and reality.

    Econ wrote,

    I’d suggest you might learn more if you approached Genesis as myth (as obviously false but representative of perceived truths). You might find it worthwhile to examine why the account in Genesis has been so significant in Western culture and what the underlying themes are. I suspect you’re too close to Christianity (as an opponent of it) to examine Genesis disinterestedly as a compelling and unique myth.

    I’m going to surprise some people by agreeing with this approach. I don’t agree that Genesis is obviously false. But Econ’s approach is similar to what I wrote earlier:

    Here’s the main thing: God created us for perfect fellowship with Him, and we had a chance at it. We blew it–which happened in history, not just in metaphor–and now we suffer greatly for it. That’s the ongoing effect. It’s the main point of the story for today, the minimum I would ask a nonbeliever to consider deeply.

    If you can’t accept the historicity of the story in this exact form, at least consider that it explains how we humans can be so glorious and yet so screwed up. We were created for one thing, we became another. The original purpose has not faded away or been lost. We’re just lost the way to it. And that’s where the rest of this story will come in, when I get the chance to write more on it.

  19. Charlie

    Hi DL,
    You’ve returned to your “we’re akin to children before God”, and while this is true it is not relevant to the question.
    A 3-year-old, or a 7-year-old, is well below an adult in knowledge and understanding but this does not diminish what they do know.
    Adam and Eve did know that they were not to eat from the tree. This was not ambiguous.
    They did know that God told them they could eat from every other tree but that eating from this particular tree would cause them to die.
    They were not confused on this issue.
    Their problem was not a matter of the intellect (although your objection du jour would attempt to weave such a catch-22) but of faith.
    They chose to follow their own base desires and they chose not to believe in God.
    Is this rational? You tell us every day that it is. I say it is rational to put your faith in God.

    The draconian penalty is the natural result of following your own way. When you break the spiritual bond to God and rely upon the physical you become a new species and you live accordingly.
    In the real world there is real justice and there is real holiness. Those who choose not to trust in God get their wish. And they can live it forever.

    Is it better that we were never created? Hardly. Life is good. It is a joy and a blessing and every beautiful thing and every longing shows us only how much better it is going to be. The beauty is that life, and only real life, with its pleasure and its hardships, along with death, point us back to God. And in wanting to return to His family we are not thwarted because He has, by Grace, provided for our return.

    The pessimism that says that life is not worth living if we do not get everything our own way or are not protected infinitely from our bad decisions is very telling. This is exactly the kind of barrier we are talking about.

    Might there have been a better way? Why do you suddenly elevate yourself to the level of God instead of the appropriate level of the 3-year-old now, when the issue is actually relevant?

  20. SteveK

    Might there have been a better way? Why do you suddenly elevate yourself to the level of God instead of the appropriate level of the 3-year-old now, when the issue is actually relevant?

    Nice catch, Charlie.

  21. econ grad stud

    Just as clarification I’m not saying Genesis is obviously false. In some manner I believe that it’s true. I’m saying that an atheist won’t understand why the themes of Genesis have been so important in Western art and culture unless they take the question of factual truth out of bounds for a moment.

    An atheist will simply miss most learning about mythical material if they insist on a materialist dialectic.

    They should approach the story of Genesis as we approach the story of the Iliad.

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