Romans (Part 41) – Atonement Part 2 (13:11)
Before moving on to step 3 in our building blocks of the atonement, I want to make a couple more points about our human existence before sin. The multiple-in-one construct we talked about for God (and thus extended to his created image bearers) is a necessity of being. We have talked about his essence and existence separately, but that should not make us think of them as separate entities—as if God is a four-in-one construct of Father, Son, Spirit, and Essence. The essence of God is not a person as Father, Son, and Spirit. There is no separate conscious existence of mind and will. The persons of God—his existence—depend on his Essence to function, and his essence empowers but also depends on his existence for expression. And so also are we, as image bearers, not two beings of body and spirit, but we are rather one being necessarily existing in combination. And that idea is important to keep hold of: just as God is not God only in person but requires his essence of infinite TGB, so also are we not beings only in person (spirit) but require our physical essence to complete our beings.
In the Garden, God set up the relational interaction through covenant. A covenant is an agreement of sorts. Many times it is described much as a legal contract; however, I think stressing that analogy tends to move us away from its purpose. Calling it a legal construct makes us think of a pre- or post-nuptial contract involved with a marriage. The marriage agreement is a covenant, but inserting a pre-nuptial contract into it stresses individual protection in what is supposed to be a covenant of unity. Just so, thinking of God’s interaction in the Garden in terms of a legal contract tends to lose the relational aspect of the covenant intent. I believe thinking of a covenant in terms of promise is much more beneficial toward understanding its purpose.
The Covenant of Life God instituted was about promises made for the creative purpose of everlasting love relationship. God promised to provide his truth, goodness, and beauty—those necessities for life(i.e., relationship with God)—as Adam and Eve promised to rely on him for that TGB, which they were made to crave. As we discussed elsewhere, the Garden itself pictured the covenant of life. After all, the purpose of having a newly planted garden as home for Adam and Eve was not because the rest of the world was just not good enough for habitation. Of course, it was; God had just created it all and pronounced it good. But the Garden was given to emphasize God’s covenant promise—that he would provide TGB for his image bearers. So the Garden of Eden(i.e., pleasure, or more precisely to purpose, the pleasure involved in relationship) overflowed with these true, good, and beautiful provisions for Adam and Eve as they began to grow in relationship.
The intended intimacy of relationship with God was not instantly there upon creation. As we know from any relationship we build, those who are not omniscient need time to learn about the other. It is that growth of knowledge that founds relationship. And so Adam and Eve had begun a journey to know this true, good, and beautiful God more intimately. That idea is also behind the purpose for the tree—the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil—standing in the middle of the Garden. Neither had God made an evil tree nor one for a capricious obedience test. The tree’s name, after all, included the knowledge of good, and certainly God did not want to withhold the knowledge of good from his image bearers. But God’s intent was love relationship, and that had to grow as Adam and Eve trusted him for that knowledge of what was good and what was evil. Specifically, good and evil are directly linked to those things that build relationship with God or conversely tear it down. Thus, dependence on God for that knowledge was a necessity. If Adam and Eve would ignore God to seek TGB on their own, it would hurt relationship with God; it would result in separation from God, that is, death. And so, Adam and Eve are told not to jump ahead of God, which would be symbolically shown by eating of the fruit of that tree. So God issued the command, “Don’t eat; rather, trust in me.”
And, as an aside, it is this point of definition of death (separation from God) that compels me to understand the Genesis beginning for the earth and humankind as a short period—along a more literal view of God’s interaction as recorded rather than a duration of ages building to the point of the Garden scene. The whole Bible consistently speaks of death as the negative result of creation’s curse for sin. And Paul talks about the curse coming through the one person, Adam. To lay that emphatic biblical concept aside to accept the idea of a death process as the natural creative activity of God, to my mind, makes a mockery of the Bible’s narrative not just here at the beginning but throughout as life and death (relationship with and separation from God) are shown as the backdrop for the whole book. I, of course, have great respect for many of the sincere God- and truth-seeking Christians who do accept an old-Earth creation idea, but for the reason I explained, I have to disagree with them.
So then, in this good Earth, in the bountiful Garden of God’s loving care, just beginning on the journey to intimate love relationship, Adam and Eve begin to walk. But immediately, their steps are halted by a break of covenant—a break of promise—a break of relationship (step 3 of our discussion).
Genesis 3:1–6 records Adam and Eve’s downfall—how death came about. Essentially, they removed from God their faith in him to provide the truth, goodness, and beauty they were designed to desire. But let’s look at exactly what happened for each of these, our first parents. Eve is near the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Was she near it because she was already tempted by it? curious about it? or did she just happen to be strolling by? Who knows? But Satan took this opportunity to attack. In the guise of a serpent—one of physical creation’s forms, Satan strikes up a conversation with Eve, wondering (or acting so) about the tree and its fruit. Eve says they cannot eat of it, or they will die. (She adds that they cannot even touch it—an embellishment perhaps confusing an encouragement by God or of Adam and Eve’s own conversation about the best way to avoid it, but certainly it shows her strong awareness that the fruit offers relationship harm.)
Satan, that “Father of Lies” (Jn 8:44), tells her she won’t die. Now, what was Satan trying to do with his lie? Well, of course, we understand his ultimate goal to get these image bearers to sin, but what does he envision as the path to that sin? Does he want Eve to turn on God, disregarding him? I believe many have preached that kind of narrative. But getting Eve to switch from trusting God to turning away from God in disregard doesn’t seem to fit the “most cunning” description of Satan’s attack. And although not impossible, it seems a bit of a stretch to see Eve turn from enjoying the pleasures of the Garden to a disdain for its provider simply because Satan briefly urges her to without any word against God himself.
Rather than trying to get Eve to build contempt for God, I think Satan’s deception here is to downplay the importance of the act. Eve appears set against eating that fruit that will cause her death. But we should remember that death in her understanding is not the same as what we would be saying should we escape a car accident, crying out, “We could have been killed!” Death is defined as separation from God, and so it is separation from God that Eve is trying to avoid. Satan’s statement, “No, you will not die,” therefore, is an attempt to ease her mind by saying, “Don’t worry, you won’t be separated from God. You won’t lose that covenant of life relationship you enjoy. This garden and everything it represents will still be here for you. God is your heavenly Father, who loves you. It’s okay. No, you will not die.”
Satan continues in his deception by next saying that not only will she not lose relationship with God, but in fact when she eats the fruit, she will be like God. With this lie, we may think Satan is trying to get Eve to pursue the same course he took in his arrogant pride as he thought himself as great as God and worthy of all honor and adoration. But again, I don’t think so. I think he is continuing his deception of easing Eve’s mind in reducing the gravity of the activity of eating the fruit. After all, what was Eve created to be? She and Adam were image bearers. What are image bearers? They are meant to bear the image of God; they are meant to be like God!” So Satan here is telling Eve that she will fulfill her created purpose: she will more perfectly image God; she will be like him.
This attack reminds us, of course, of Satan’s attack against Jesus at the beginning of his ministry. Satan didn’t pounce on Jesus trying to get him to renounce God. Satan kept trying to get Jesus to jump ahead of God by holding out the desired result as justification for the wrong course. For example, God certainly wouldn’t want Jesus starving in the desert. Jesus needed to complete his mission. He needed to save the world. So, Satan urged, turn the stones into bread to continue the mission! Or, since the desired result was for Jesus to be King of kings, Satan offers that to him by way of bowing down to Satan. But that wasn’t God’s way, Jesus realized. And Jesus would depend on God rather than contrive a way on his own to accomplish God’s work.
Eve, though, didn’t think like Jesus. She found her mind eased by the lies. Perhaps eating that fruit was not as big a deal as she had imagined. She’d still have relationship with God; she’d still enjoy the Garden; she’d be what God wanted her to be—his image bearer. And when she thought about it—seeing it was good for food (Goodness), delightful to look at (Beauty), and desirable for obtaining wisdom (Truth), she concluded it all fit exactly into God’s plan for her. So she bought in to the deception (as Paul confirms in 1 Timothy 2:14), and she ate the fruit.
Now, Adam performed the same sin of eating the fruit, but he took a bit of a different course. There is not much in Genesis 3 that plainly records Adam’s decision-making process, but we have enough hints in this passage and from elsewhere to understand how Adam made his choice. We read that Eve gave the fruit to Adam who was also there. But interestingly and importantly, Paul also tells us in 1 Timothy 2:14 that while Eve was deceived, Adam wasn’t. Thus, Adam heard Satan say that they would not die—they would not break covenant, they would not be separated from God. But Adam didn’t believe the lie. He was not deceived. He did believe he would be separated from God if he ate.
So the situation is that he receives the fruit from Eve. He knew Eve ate. He knew the result for Eve would be separation from God. Therefore, in the choice before him either he would not eat and maintain his relationship with God but lose his relationship with Eve (since she would be separated from God), or he would eat and lose his relationship with God but perhaps maintain his relationship with Eve. And in the choice, then, for maintaining relationship—in the choice of what seemed to him to satisfy his own desire for TGB—he tragically chose for Eve and rejected God.
He was not deceived; he knew what he was doing. And in so doing, we learn (in the only verse that mentions curse in God’s accounting of the consequences of the sin), God curses physical creation for Adam’s choice in favor of physical creation over the Creator. As Paul had said in Romans 1:25, “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served something created instead of the Creator.”
We come now to step 4 in our buildup to the atonement. Step 4 involves the consequences of breaking covenant. God had established three relationships in creation: the relationship of the image bearers with God, the relationship of image bearers among themselves, and the relationship of image bearers with the rest of physical creation (human essence). In all cases, relationship was broken. With TGB not sought from God, ultimately, eternal death (separation from God) would result.
The brokenness of relationship of humans with humans is seen in God’s statement to the woman in Genesis 3:16b: “Your desire will be for your husband, yet he will rule over you.” The construction is exactly the same as that given in 4:7b. There God is warning Cain, after Cain became furious over the non-acceptance of his offering. He is told, “[Sin’s] desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” We see in that construct that the “for you” phrase indicates that sin’s desire is to rule Cain, but in contrast Cain must rule sin. Taking this pattern back to 3:16b, we find that women desire to rule men, yet men will rule women. Note that this is the broken result of the fall. The desire of women to rule is a selfish desire, which is the opposite of God’s intent for communal love. Likewise, the latter part of the statement that men will rule also shows that same selfish desire to rule rather than operate as intended in a giving of self in love. Thus, this picture of discord between Adam and Eve is a representation of the discord to exist among their offspring—in husbands and wives, men and women, and all people.
But the greatest emphasis given in the Genesis 3 consequences is on the brokenness of relationship between humans and physical creation—a brokenness within the humans themselves between spirit and essence. We saw that all of physical creation is cursed because of Adam’s choice for creation over God. Although said to the male that the land would cease to cooperate with him and result in his physical death, it is true for the female as well. Women will be at war with their own bodies in having offspring. In effect, they (their spirits) would no longer hold dominion over their essence (physical creation) as promised in Gen 1:26–28. Rather, physical creation now dominates them influencing them ever onward to sin and death. The only hope is given in the enmity spoken of between the serpent (representing physical creation) and the woman. That difficulty in a general sense is promised to be resolved in the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. The seed of the woman here spoken of is Christ. The seed of the serpent is the cursed physical creation. Christ would be bruised in the heel (living in the sin-influencing cursed flesh), yet because of his devotion to God, he is able to crush the head of the cursed physical creation in his triumph over death.