Genesis 3:3 But God did say, “You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.”
“The Fall” theologians call it, but the event this chapter describes is really more like a crash. Although Adam and Eve have everything a person could want in Paradise, still a thought nags at them: Are we somehow missing out? Is God keeping something from us? Like all of us, they cannot resist the temptation to reach out for what lies beyond them.
Said journalist and author G.K. Chesterton, “There is only one doctrine that can be empirically verified: the doctrine of original sin.” Genesis gives few details about the first sin. Many people mistakenly assume sex is involved, but something far more basic is at stake. God has labeled one tree, just one, off-limits. The real issue is, Who will set the rules—humans or God? Adam and Eve decide in favor of themselves, and the world has never been the same.
The underlying message of Genesis goes against some common assumptions about human history. According to these chapters, the world and humanity have not been gradually evolving toward a better and better state. On the contrary, long ago we wrecked against the rocks of our own pride and stubbornness.
Nobody, including God, has been satisfied with human beings since that time. Though created good, humans disobeyed God right from the beginning, and we’ve been suffering the consequences ever since. Genesis helps us understand why the universe is so strikingly lovely, yet so terribly tragic. It is lovely because God made it. It is tragic because he trusted it to us—and we failed.
Did God Really Say?
Adam and Eve react to their sin as anyone reacts to sin. They rationalize, try to explain themselves and look for someone else to take the blame. The author of Genesis pointedly notes that they also feel the need to hide. They hide from each other by making coverings for themselves because they sense, for the first time, a feeling of shame about being naked. Perhaps the greatest change of all occurs in their relationship with God. Previously, they had walked and talked freely with God in the garden, much as one would with a friend. Now, when they hear God’s voice, they hide.
The three questions God asks Adam and Eve apply to anyone in hiding: (1) Where are you? (And why are you hiding from me?) (2) Who told you that you were naked? (And why did you believe somebody else, not me?) (3) What is this that you have done? (And are you ready to take responsibility for it?)
Genesis 3 tells of other profound changes that affect the world because the creatures choose their own way rather than their Creator’s: suffering multiplies, work becomes harder, and a new word—death—enters human vocabulary. Perfection is spoiled forever. All wars, all violence, all broken relationships, all grief and sadness trace back to this one monumental day in the Garden of Eden.
Have you ever felt hemmed in or stifled by one of God’s commands? How have you responded to this feeling?