Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Alienation from God 2

A series overviewing the Bible. The first installment was 1 The Story of the Bible. The second installment started with Creation.

Alienation from God
Although Jews and Christians believe that God created a world that is good, Christians do not believe that the world is currently as it could or should be. Throughout the centuries, most Christians have looked to Genesis 3 as the explanation for why the world is separated from God, although some might prefer to say that it is more an expression of our current alienation from God.

Genesis 2 starts by giving us another perspective on God's creation of life, one that focuses especially on the creation of humanity. God creates a man first, "Adam," a word that is related to the word for earth. God in fact makes Adam from the ground. God takes the ground and breathes spirit into it, and Adam becomes a living being (Gen. 2:7). [1]

Then God creates the other animals, but he creates them in male-female pairs. Surely Adam begins to realize that there are pairs for all the other animals, but that he does not have a female like the other creatures. So God puts him into a sleep and creates a female from him, "Eve." She is to be at his side as a partner with him in the world. [2]

Chapter 3 then tells the story of humanity's alienation from God. God puts Adam and Eve in a garden, the Garden of Eden, and assigns them the task of taking care of it (Gen. 2:15). There are two very special trees there. One, the tree of life, would enable Adam and Eve to live forever.

The other is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God tells them not to eat from this tree. It represents a choice that Adam and Eve have. Will they serve God as God, as the most important being, as the absolute and final authority over everything? Or will they rebel and foolishly try to be little gods on their own?

In the end, they eat from the tree, seduced by a snake in the garden. [3] As a result, they are banished from the garden. And as they have turned from God, God explains to them the consequences of their rebellion (Gen. 3:14-19). Men will have to work hard to get the land to yield its fruit. Women will have painful childbirth and will find themselves subordinate to their husbands. Snakes will go on their bellies and will find in humans a mortal enemy. Most significantly of all, Adam and Eve cannot eat from the tree of life and thus face death as their fate.

Certainly the people of Israel, for whom Genesis was first written, could identify with this description of the human situation. In the New Testament, a writer named Paul would amply the story into an explanation of our fundamental human condition. After Adam and Eve, a power called "Sin" came over the world. Our weak human flesh does not stand a chance against this power. Even if I would want to do good, "I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do" (Rom. 7:19).

Like Adam and Eve, in our default human state, none of us can help but do wrong, to "sin." "All have sinned," Paul says, and we have fallen short of what God had intended us to be (Rom. 3:23). We all now inevitably do wrong like Adam and Eve did (Rom. 5:12).

But Paul's message in the New Testament--and the fundamental message of Christianity--is that we do not have to be stuck in this situation. If Adam and Eve were the ultimate cause of the human problem, Christ is the ultimate solution. We do not have to face death as our final destiny. Nor do we have to remain powerless in the face of evil. We do not have to remain alienated from God. There is hope!

[1] This story thus shows us how ancient Israelites looked at a person. We are all "dust," as ministers sometimes say at funerals: "Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return" (Gen. 3:19 in the King James Version). The breath inside us is "spirit." And with both body and spirit, we are alive, we are a living "soul," where in Hebrew "soul" means a whole living being (including animal beings).

[2] The word "helper" here in Genesis 2:18 does not imply inferiority. God is said to be a helper to us in Psalm 54:4.

[3] Jews and Christians would later come to understand this snake to be Satan, the supreme evil being in the world.

No comments: