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« Time-Saving Tips | Main | God’s Relationship with Adam »

The Relationship Broken

Jonathan Edwards’ classic sermon in 1741, “Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God,” sounded a tragic note in American culture.  It sowed an insidious seed in the nation’s conscience that God was an insulted, revengeful ogre who was about to lose patience with us.  This is not to say that righteousness and holiness are unimportant in the plan of God, nor is it an invitation to lose a healthy reverence for Him.  But the portrayal of an angry God who loathes sinners deeply compromises the essential reason why Jesus came to the planet in the first place.  He came “to seek and to save that which was lost.”  Contrary to Professor Edwards’s message, God is not looking for an excuse to condemn, but for a way to save.  The premise of salvation will always be love, grace, mercy and forgiveness.  Anything short of that message misses the entire point of redemption of the lost.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” John 3:16-17.

Vesta Layne Mangun, matriarch of the dynamic church in Alexandria, Louisiana, The Pentecostals of Alexandria, deeply impacted me with her message one year at the annual ministers’ conference sponsored by the church.  She said that God did not walk through the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve’s disobedience with an attitude of disgust and anger.  He didn’t spit out his question, “Where are you?” in rancor.  Rather, he asked His question with a sob.  In human terms, God had a broken heart.  Her characterization of God’s response to Adam’s sin forever transformed my view of the sinner and the wayward saint.  A broken relationship summons the love of God, not revenge; it activates forgiveness, not retribution; it puts God’s grace in motion, not a divine curse. 

The foregoing paragraphs set the stage for the drama of redemption, but the drama did not reach its culmination instantaneously.  It unfolded in a proper ordering of acts and scenes, opening with the prohibition to eat of the fruit of a certain tree.  “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; 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.’” Genesis 2:16-17.  Theologians call this the Edenic Covenant.  “A covenant is a binding arrangement between two or more parties that governs their relationship”.  (Bible Exposition Commentary - Old Testament).  Man is rewarded if he keeps certain provisions, and penalized if he violates these conditions.  The only condition of the Edenic Covenant was obedience.  If the man refrained from eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he would be rewarded by endless life, and that life would be sustained by eating of all the other trees and plants of the Garden.  If he disobeyed, death would follow.  The punishment, then, was based on rebellion and disobedience, not just eating the fruit. 

But, let’s explore the nuance posed here.  Why didn’t God want Adam and Eve to have the knowledge of good and evil?  Conventional wisdom tells us that all knowledge is good, but God forbade this knowledge to mankind.  Let’s look at this command from several perspectives.  First, this was a relationship scenario.  Adam and Eve already knew good because they knew God.  They did not need to eat of the tree to gain that knowledge.  God was trying to protect them from knowing about evil.  It would seem, then, that opening the door of knowledge activates the force of evil to begin its sinister work in an individual’s heart.  This is why we label the state of Adam and Eve before they ate of the tree as innocence.  They did not know about evil.  Even today, we place a high value on innocence and try to protect it as long as we can. 

The second perspective derives from the modern Jewish viewpoint.  Their theologians translate “the knowledge of good and evil” as the knowledge of the “union” of good and evil, or the confusion of good and evil.  In other words, God knew that if Adam and Eve ate from the tree, they would be confused about good and evil, and would internalize this confusion.  That is exactly what happened.  Since that day, unregenerated man has labored under this confusion.  It has been the source of the countless number of religions, creeds, philosophies and mythologies.  It has turned God’s moral law from an objective set of decrees into a subjective array of shades of gray.  Instead of this knowledge liberating mankind, it has become his bondage because it has obfuscated truth.  Jesus’ words, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” make a world of sense from this perspective. 

Last, let’s consider the perspective of abstract and concrete.  Perhaps the first humans had an abstract view of evil.  During Adam’s long association with God, the subject of evil undoubtedly came up.  This intellectual knowledge of evil, however, had no real impact on the lives of Adam and Eve.  It was only when they actually ate of the tree that the abstract became concrete.  The idea of evil changed into the practice or experience of evil.  The insidious thing about the taste of evil is that it is deceptive.  The fruit of the tree appeared to be harmless, and, in fact, desirable.  “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.” Genesis 3:6.  Immediately, they lost their innocence and hid themselves from God.  They did not, however, die on the spot.  They lived for hundreds of years afterwards.  Such is the nature of sin.  When its ultimate consequence is delayed, man gets the impression that God was wrong about it.  The front door of sin is often pleasurable and exhilarating.  “By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin.”  Hebrews 11:24-25. The back door, however, is hell itself.  These are all reasons why God did not want Adam and Eve to eat of this tree.  Partaking of the tree was part one of man’s fall; disobedience was part two.  We will now turn our attention to the story in progress.

It is no mystery that the story of the fall began with the Serpent, Satan personified.  The Bible gives him a number of names, i.e., the Devil, the Wicked One, Beelzebub and the Father of Liars.  He is strongly associated with darkness. “To open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.” Acts 26:18.  In Isaiah, however, he is ironically called Lucifer, or helel, which, in the Hebrew, means “brightness.”  Often, the word is translated as “praise” or “glory,” with the connotation of “light.”  The confusion mentioned earlier was found in its raw form in the personage of the Serpent, both darkness and light, both truth and lie, both good and evil.  Satan could assume the posture of goodness, not because he was good, but because it was a staged strategy of deceit.  Since he was the origin of rebellion, Eve was easily lured into disobedience under his influence. 

The next question is how did the serpent enter the Garden of Eden, God’s paradise on earth?  If it was the epitome of perfection, should he have been given entrance?  We will have to ask God for a clarification in that great eternal day, but for now, we need to understand that God always allows his creation to be tested.  Even Jesus Himself was subjected to severe temptation in the flesh.  We also have to remember that Satan appeared before God in the book of Job to request permission to test Job. “Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. And the LORD said to Satan, ‘From where do you come?’ So Satan answered the LORD and said, ‘From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it.’ Then the LORD said to Satan, ‘Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?’  So Satan answered the LORD and said, ‘Does Job fear God for nothing?  Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!’  And the LORD said to Satan, ‘Behold, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on his person.’ So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.”   Job 1:6-12. 

In the Garden of Eden, as opposed to Job, we cannot say that God approved a request of the serpent to test Adam and Eve; we certainly cannot say that God endorsed the encounter.  Yet, it seems that God purposely left an access door open to Satan to enter the Garden of Eden.  We must see this for what it is:  God’s relationship methodology.  The presence of the serpent in the garden serves as a prequel to the way God engages man in a relationship.  He makes His will known, but then allows all components of the decision to have a seat at the table.  God’s default position is always choice.  As Joshua said, “And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” Joshua 24:15.  There is an entire theology involving choice, and we will not launch into those deep waters in this setting, but we can, at least, conclude that God does allow man to choose the path he travels.  The more salient point here is that even though Satan had access into paradise, he was still there illegally.  As an intruder, he not only trespassed, he committed a crime against God because he alienated the affection, first of Eve, then of Adam.  “Alienation of affection is a legal action based on the willful and malicious interference with marriage relations by a third party. It typically occurs when two individuals are married and a third party does something to interfere with that marriage.”  ( While Adam and Eve were innocent, the serpent was not.  He knew precisely what he was doing.  It was a premeditated attempt to destroy God’s crowning creation, sever the relationship between God and man (an act that was motivated, it would seem, by both revenge and jealousy), and usurp the authority of God by preempting the divine command with his own.  With Adam and Eve now under Satan’s spell, the entire saga began to rescue man from his kidnapper, reconcile him to God and restore him to the place that God originally intended for him. 

Several details of Eve’s encounter with the serpent are especially relevant.  First, Eve was alone.  This was not a coincidence.  Without Adam, she was the weaker vessel (1 Peter 3:7) and Satan took advantage of her situation.  Second, God’s command to avoid the tree of the knowledge of good and evil to was given to Adam before Eve was created.  She only learned of the prohibition through her husband.  This points up the need for each person to have his or her own relationship with God.  A second-hand, or indirect connection will not suffice.  Third, Eve should have been incredulous that a serpent (snake) could talk.  The fact that she was not put off by this phenomenon indicates that she lacked knowledge, wisdom and experience.  Was Adam derelict in his duty as a husband?  Did he know that Eve, as the weaker vessel, was vulnerable to the wiles of Satan?  The Apostle Paul thought so. “But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.”  2 Corinthians 11:3.  Last, it is unclear where Eve was in proximity to the tree.  It is possible that the serpent lured her to the area of the garden where the tree was located, and then, when her mind was filled with illegitimate desire, he nudged her in the direction to which she was already leaning.  It is a sharp reminder that we must avoid even the “neighborhood” of things forbidden.  (Many years later, a man named Achan lost his life because he went “window-shopping” in forbidden territory.  Joshua 7:20-21.) 

The serpent’s line of conversation took direct aim at trust, the very heart of the relationship between Adam, Eve and God.  No relationship lasts long without the glue of trust.  Satan knew if he could damage this factor between man and God, the subversion of humankind was well on its way.  “Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, ‘Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?’ And the woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’ Then the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’” Genesis 3:1-5.  Notice that the serpent said “surely.”  He did not blatantly contradict the word of God, but he suggested that it may not be true.  He walked the middle ground between true and false.  But, to almost believe yields the same results as not believing, period.  Half a bridge is no bridge at all.  Today, some people profess absolute atheism. Others, however, claim to be agnostic, as though allowing for the existence of God is somehow less offensive.  Yet, both positions represent a lack of faith.  There is no middle ground.  “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” Hebrews 11:6. 

Whether Adam and Eve were deceived, tempted, lured, influenced, lied to, misled or tricked, God still held them responsible for their choice.  God’s responsibility was fulfilled in commanding them to not eat of the tree.  Adam and Eve were free to make their own decisions, but they could not escape the consequences of whatever decision they made.  Choices are always made with consequences attached.  “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.”  Galatians 6:7-8.

What were these consequences?  The visible and tangible results of the fall were spelled out by God.  “Then to Adam He said, ‘Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’: ‘Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life.  Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field.  In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return.’”  Genesis 3:17-19. 

But there was a consequence far more critical than these that impacted mankind.  The sacred relationship Adam and Eve enjoyed with God was broken.  “Therefore the LORD God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken.  So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the Garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.”  Genesis 3:23-24.   Gone were the long, leisurely days of companionship with God.  Gone was the intimate fellowship with his Parent, his Mentor, his Counselor, his Teacher and his Friend.  Humankind now had the corruption of something in their lives called sin.  Sin always destroys the union between God and man.  Much later, Isaiah wrote, “Behold, the LORD’S hand is not shortened, That it cannot save; Nor His ear heavy, That it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear.” Isaiah 59:1-2. 

This earth-shaking tragedy, however, elicited the sweetest response of all from God.  He did not cut mankind off forever and banish them from His sight as He did the fallen angels.  Instead, He found a way to restore the broken relationship.  The price He paid for our redemption incorporated all the shame, the suffering, the ignominy, the impoverishment and the humiliation that ever existed in the history of the world.  The immediate price involved the sacrifice of animals in making coats of skin to cover Adam and Eve’s nakedness, but that was only a shadow of the sacrifice of Himself to atone for their sin, and indeed, the sin of the whole world.  “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.  For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.  And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.” Romans 5:8-1.  Let us never forget that the privilege of restored relationship with God came at a price no one but God could or would pay.  He broke Himself so that He might bring us back from brokenness to be reconciled to Him.  

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