16. Genesis 3:17-19

I. B. 3. continued

d) The Consequences for the Man (Genesis 3:17-19)

Finally God turned to Adam, the one ultimately responsible for all the others’ suffering and death, the one whose devastating choice ruined all things for all people for all time. The change in His tone of voice is remarkable. Note how differently God addressed Adam: “Because you listened to your wife and have eaten of the tree…”. He addressed Adam in the same tone He had used with the serpent. Only with Even was there no formal accusation, no crime named. He made it clear that in Adam’s case He had arrived at the root of the crisis. Unlike the woman, unlike even the serpent, Adam bore the weight of responsibility.

And the first statement God made to him was utterly devastating: “Cursed is the ground because of you.” In other words, “the whole of creation has been brought into death by you”. All that had been good, by God’s own verdict, was now corrupted through Adam’s choice, because Adam was a bearer of the covenant. The serpent himself (and demons generally) bore the consequences of his deed; the woman herself (and women generally) bore the consequences of her foolishness; but the whole creation, everything and everyone, bore the consequences of this man’s crime.

This may seem unfair, that all creation should be damaged by Adam’s choice, this is the nature of reality within a covenant. It is the process we see working out in all of history. No person’s choices are for himself alone.  What New Age people celebrate as the “circle of life” is the Covenant structure of the universe in a trivialized form. In a Covenant relationship, the evil choices of one person damage everyone, and the wise and good choices of one person bless everyone. Personal relationships in this creation are not “two way streets”; they are billion way streets, a web of cause and effect that links all things morally as well as physically. We are all of us captured by the consequences of other peoples’ choices, and we all inflict the consequences of our choices on the people around us. No one ever merely suffers for his own sin; no one even mainly suffers for his own sin. We each suffer for the sins of the people around us, and they are the ones who suffer for our sins. It is the weight of death that we all participate in killing each other, just as it is the weight of glory that we all participate in redeeming each other.

It is the king who decides to go to war, but it is his people who die in the battles. It is the adulterer who chooses to break his or her promise, but it is the family, the children, the friends who bear the brunt of the pain. It is the murderer who ends the victim’s life, but it is  the victim’s family, the bystanders, the witnesses who see the violence that walk away with the pain. And the pain is not healed by the execution, the divorce, the victorious battle. The pain subsides eventually but the damage goes limping along through all the years of our lives. And thus, when Adam sinned, the entirety of the creation, everything connected to him, was murdered. Adam’s sin was against God; but it was also a sin against reality, against the fabric of the created order. It was cosmic as all evil is cosmic. But his was the first.

The death of the creation meant that Adam’s work, the good gift of work that God had shared with Adam, became mere drudgery. Not only would the work be exhausting, it would be impossible. Tending the garden had been only a small part of Adam’s real task. His dominion over the creation had been primarily one of supervising the Covenant and the relationships among the creatures, but now there was no working covenant. The relationship of the creation to the Creator was ruined, but also all of the internal relationships within creation had begun to unravel and they could not be retied. From this point on, people would live within a dysfunctional creation. The creatures would no longer cooperate; they would fight. The dog eat dog world had begun.

Work had been given to Adam before Eve was formed and was part of his essential nature. Work was especially a gift to Adam, not as exclusively as childbearing had been given to Eve, but more especially to him. Men have a need for work that is qualitatively different from the need women have for work. This is a generalization, and varies from individual to individual, but it is not necessarily sexist to observe that men and women are different. At the risk of stereo-typing, for women the need to work is frequently subsumed under the need and desire for family; for men, this is much less frequently the case. There are men who have little or no desire for work of any kind and are family oriented, just as there are women who have little or no desire for children and prefer to pursue a career.  We are speaking in generalities here, in statistical averages, and the tendency is for women to find their identity in family and men to find their identity in work. To what extent is this socially determined? To what extent do our expectations of men and women determine what they are like? The answer is not clear, but I suspect that social conditioning accounts for a lot, but not all, of the roles we play. The tendencies are built into us and get accentuated or minimized through our lives.

At any rate, after the Fall and especially for men, death would always be mingled with the joy they might have had in their work and would taint everything they did. As Eve would give birth to children only to watch them suffer and grow old, Adam would toil away to “accomplish something” only to watch it all crumble before his eyes. In modern terms, men are subject to the fear, the inevitability, that they will be failures, losers. Our society certainly exacerbates this psychosis in men. Everything we do decays and the rubbish heaps of the world are filled with our plans, our dreams.

But it is not merely the results of work that became subject to decay; the work itself became trivial, degrading, debilitating. This has always been true, but in modern times we have refined the art of trivializing work. How many people do you know who truly love their work. Many of those who say they love their work really mean they love the lack of serious effort required by their jobs, or they love the paycheck, or they love the benefits, or they love the sense of security. There is not one man in a thousand who is fulfilled in his work, just as there is not one woman in a thousand who is fulfilled by her marriage or her children. If the work is not vacuous, leaving the man spiritless in his old age, then it sucks him dry with hard labor and leaves him empty and weary beyond the power of any rest to heal. Good work and good marriage are still the very best that this world has to offer. Good work and a good marriage were the gifts of Eden, but it is only the most blessed of us that ever gets close to such things.

However the curse on the ground goes far beyond merely spoiling our work. Part of the Covenant of Creation was God’s setting up of the order, the physical laws that would govern the ways of the world. The Fall ripped apart the fabric of those laws. That the laws of nature themselves were changed is also hinted at in Romans 8 where Paul says that the creation was subjected to futility, and that it would be set free from its slavery to corruption in the end. This is what is being suggested in the next verse, that “the ground will produce thorns and thistles”. This refers to the introduction of competition as the fundamental principle governing relationships among the creatures. The web of covenant relationships had been destroyed. From this point on, every creature had to compete to live. They could no longer live together, they could no longer trust each other. Now they must fight each other for the chance to live, and to live short meager lives at that. The Age of Evolution had begun.

The “circle of life” is only a spoiled shadow of the Covenant. The circle of life as we have it now is more accurately called a “circle of death”. It must be fed with the deaths of its creatures just to keep it moving. It was the original Covenant that was the circle of life, without any taint of death. But at the Fall the principle of the survival of the fittest came into its own and not merely among the animals. The principle that God had built in to men to care for the creation had become a principle of competition in them. Henceforth the dominant desire in men would be for control.  No longer would men represent God to the creatures; now they would insist on being god to the creatures. At first their drive was to control more of the world for their own comfort, but when their lives were comfortable enough, it was control for the sake of control.  And when they controlled as much as they could handle, they found they needed to control more of the world than other men controlled.

The Fall had introduced the principle that would come to be called Evolution, but all of the laws of physics were altered as well. Whatever the creation is now is radically different from what it was, even down to the basic laws of matter and energy. If the very laws of physics changed at the Fall, there are several conclusions that follow and that ought to be considered carefully. Science assumes the uniformity of natural causes, meaning that it assumes the laws of physics do not change over the course of time, or from place to place in the universe. Some modern scientists, if I understand them correctly, allow that the laws of physics  may change in a continuous and predictable way, a change that is determined by yet another law which itself doesn’t change. Something like the uniformity of cause and effect is a perfectly reasonable assumption to make; otherwise science would be un-do-able. One cannot hope to capture the laws of nature unless the laws can be counted on to be laws. What I am suggesting is that, on the contrary, the Fall brought about a sudden, dramatic discontinuity in the laws of physics, and that this perfectly reasonable assumption at the foundation of science is false in fact.

Such a change in physical law would necessarily be undetectable; we can’t go back in time to actually check the laws that operated in the past.  Such a discontinuity is even more so undetectable because science assumes that it never happened; it is hard to find something if you don’t believe it exists. What I am suggesting then is something that is essentially outside the scope of science. My interpretation of the Scripture implies that all of science concerning itself with the origins of the universe is invalid because the laws do not extrapolate back beyond a certain point. This is a bitter pill to swallow, and I cannot blame scientists for finding the idea indigestible.

Because I believe the Scripture implies that physical laws have changed since the beginning, I naturally do not expect the science of origins to “agree” with the Scripture. They could not agree with each other about the beginning of the world because they are discussing two different things. One is talking about the early universe as one with an entirely different physics than what we live under now, and the other is talking about the early universe as an extrapolation of this universe to the remote past. If I were a scientist studying the origins of the universe believing what I do, I would still continue to make as a scientific assumption what I can not make as a theological or philosophical assumption. Whether true or not, the uniformity of natural causes is necessary to pursue science, and it is worth making the assumption just to keep the game going. Science is in itself a beautiful work of human art, and I personally love what it is and how much it has done. It has a beauty and integrity that deserves the respect of everyone, Christian or not, and it seems to me to not be a fatal flaw that it cannot attain to ultimate and absolute Truth. That was an unrealistic expectation to begin with.

The point of arguing as I have done to arrive at this important observation: science requires just the sort of non-rational leap of faith that scientists have so often scorned in religion. It is important to note that each set of presuppositions, of science or of Christian theology (my version, at least), depend on faith, on trust. The scientist will subscribe to the belief in the uniformity of natural causes over time because he must if he is to do his job; he trusts in the power of human intellect, in himself. The Christian – at least the one who follows my line of thinking – will subscribe to the belief in the radical changing of the system of natural cause and effect because he must in order to submit to the revelation of Scripture; he trusts in a God who created the universe according to His absolute will. Our presuppositions always arise out of some necessity imposed on us by our ultimate commitment. Or put another away, our faith arises out of who or what we worship.

Returning to the main point, Adam along with Eve along with our whole world was condemned to a life of hard labor. We are condemned to exist in a world that had been fragmented, that is at constant war with itself and with us, until finally we dissolve back into the dust we came from. Not only is the world in a constant state of warfare, we ourselves are in a constant state of warfare within ourselves and with ourselves. Physical death was the last consequence of the Fall, but all the consequences of the Fall are actually aspects of death. Our bodies die, not because the laws of nature require death, but because we are dead people inhabiting our bodies. From the moment of conception the principle of death is in control; it just takes death a few decades to work its way out to the surface. And death is holistic. Our deaths involve every dimension of our existence: emotional, spiritual, intellectual, volitional, as well as physical.

In short what we see as the result of the Fall is that death infected every aspect of the Covenant which we enumerated previously. Here is a summary of those terms of the Covenant and how they were changed.

  1. Adam and Eve, and therefore we ourselves, now possessed the knowledge of good and evil, but from the stand point of evil-doers.  They knew, and we know, evil from the viewpoint of natives of that realm, but we know good only as aliens.
  2. Creatures, including people, continue to have offspring in their own image, but the image now is not what it was created to be. Disobedience changed the relationship of humanity to God, and in so doing changed what humans are. After the Fall death became part of us, part of our genetic makeup, part of what had been the image of God; and so death spread to their descendants and down to us. When Adam and Eve had children, they had a son in their own image (5:3), in the image of the dead. And the effects of the Fall spread outward and downward like a cosmic tsunami. The word “sinner” means, not a pattern of behavior, but a particular kind of animal.
  3. Human authority over creation was spoiled. It was no longer “natural” nor enjoyable, but it was hard labor. The creation would be co-operative no longer, and we became abusive and exploitative toward the creation. The rule of mankind over the earth was never given as the simple right to do what we pleased with the earth, but we had become our own gods, ruthless in our greed.
  4. The institution of marriage was undermined; the man was given a power over the woman that inevitably became abusive, and the woman’s co-dependency made it the norm. For many men and many women marriage became a prison rather than a context for companionship, and for many women it became a form of slavery. Sexual relationships became matters of manipulation and exploitation rather than of joy, and within marriage the politics of sex replaced the covenant.
  5. The Sabbath was changed in character. Though the Sabbath was not mentioned again in this passage, when God did choose to pick up the idea of the Sabbath once more it became the sign of a future hope that the creation would be restored and that there would be rest at the end, the sign of God’s promise of a rescue of the creation from the Fall. What had begun as a sign of God’s finished work, became a sign a future completion of all things.
  6. The very laws of nature were changed. The ground produced thorns for the first time, symbols of the new need to compete for survival. Death and entropy dominated all things.

And thus we come to the ruin of all things. The Covenant with the creation, the marriage of God and creation, had ended in divorce. More accurately there was a separation, for He was not willing to lose her. It is the first chapter in the greatest story line of all time: The boy met the girl and fell in love; they were married and unutterably happy, the perfect love story; then in the most tragic possible way she was seduced, ran away with her lovers, and he lost her. What will he do to win her back? How far is he willing to go to restore the love he had? That is how the Bible begins our story and that is what the rest of it is all about.

4 Comments on “16. Genesis 3:17-19”

  1. godanalytics Says:

    “Science is in itself a beautiful work of human art, and I personally love what it is and how much it has done.” This made me laugh. This would make others very angry. But how many times have I said this and people just don’t get it. Why is the idea (ha) of Science so much more believable in contrast to the idea of Faith, for some? Maybe that’s not what I meant to say….but, anyway.

  2. godanalytics Says:

    I like #4. It seems like I read somewhere on this blog that “traditional” publishers were not open to this as a mainstream book. I worked for a man who published “Megashift” and he had the same problem as well, but ended up self publishing. You mentioned something in this post or another about “quietly working toward righteousness in this world”…something like that. This seems to me, what you are doing by diligently posting these elaborate thoughts on God & humanity. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, so I decided I should start writing. But I also feel that there is part of me that is a “fundamentalist” writer and part of me that is a “Traveling Mercies” or “One Thousand Gifts” writer, etc etc…..I think that most successful published authors are the ones that can stick to ONE identity. I have a problem doing this. So to sum it up, what is wrong with your “theology” in mainstream Christian publishing? I think that if you took one of your “positions” and elaborated a whole book from that which is narrower in its reach, it would be published. Honestly, what do I know? I’m not published. But I do read published books. 🙂 I was just reading God’s blessing on Isaac (or Abraham..can’t remember) and he promised “fame.” So perhaps there is nothing wrong with wanting your writing to become renowned, if even God considers THAT to be a blessing. The problem for me in “quietly working for God” is that it can be discouraging when you don’t get any affirmation that you’re on the right track. It’s just like if I plant an apple tree, I eventually want to be able to eat one.

  3. arkvet Says:

    An elegant explanation of the difference between the discipline of science and the philosophy of scientISM.

    • Drew Says:

      I’d like to bounce some ideas off you regarding your article. If you don’t mind, shoot me an email, and we can discuss further,


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