Genesis 3 and The End of a Golden Era

Golden Era is a time we look back upon with fondness, a time we think of as having something special about it. We might think of the golden era of cars, which for me would be the 1980s as I could still do my own oil changes on the cars I owned from that era. Since those cars I have not even been able to find the oil filters never mind change them. And we might think of the golden era for music.  Eighties again with bands like U2, and REM, and other bands I could easily spell. As for the Bible, there is no doubt that Genesis chapters 1 and 2 are a golden era. In those good ole days God “saw that it was good.” Also, Adam was over the moon about his new partner Eve and both of them could enjoy a full relationship with God. All is good. But it didn’t last very long. In fact in my edition of the Bible there are 1048 pages and the golden era is done by page 3! So what went wrong?

We might jump to the conclusion that everything went wrong when Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit and that this is primarily a matter of obedience. However things began to unravel before that and in fact the disobedience was a symptom of a bigger problem. What is the root problem? Let’s look at where it all starts going wrong:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”  2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,  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.'”  (Genesis 3:1,2 NIV)

You can’t hear the serpent’s tone but you can imagine it: “Did God really say . . ?” I imagine the tone to be one that sows ominous seeds. It is a bit like my Dad’s complaint about how the Irish (which includes my Mum, my brother and I) will ask a question while giving the answer they want to hear: “you don’t really want to do that, do you?” On the lips of the serpent to Eve, “Surely God didn’t say something as silly as that, did he?” The seeds of doubt are sown. Eve corrects the snake somewhat, but then comes the punchline:

“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman.  5 “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  (Genesis 3:1-5 NIV)

The seeds of doubt give way to a blooming assault on trust.  The serpent’s words may as well be “God is a liar, listen to me for I know better.” This is not merely a matter of obedience, this is primarily a matter of trust as Eve and Adam end up placing their trust in the serpent rather than God. Not only that but Eve trusts her own judgement, and Adam likewise, over God’s:

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.  (Genesis 3:6)

We live in a time and place where the serpent’s words are like an echo that keeps coming back like a broken record (did I mention record players and the golden era of musical gadgets?); “God didn’t really say that, did he? God doesn’t really even exist, does he? You don’t really believe that, do you? Your religion is full of fools who are lying to you, trust us.” Seeds of doubt in previous generations have given way to a blooming assault on trust in our day. How must we cope as we see the core problem of the fall in Genesis 3, misplaced trust, replayed over and over again in our day? Two things:

  1. Training in apologetics. With Adam and Eve the problem was not merely that they stopped trusting God, but rather that they placed greater trust in the serpent and in their own ideas. And so today, I don’t think the problem is that people stop trusting God, or fail to place their trust in God, so much as they place greater trust elsewhere. Experts say this and that about such and such, and “we trust that, end of story”. However, there are many wonderful experts who have much to say about the same things from a Christian perspective and who evidence a wonderful trust in God. We do well to learn this stuff! There are many great resources for apologetics available, we might even call it a golden era of apologetics (email me for recommendations if you like).
  2. Follow Jesus. Just as there was a temptation at the beginning of humanity, there was a temptation at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. If you take a moment to read Luke 4:1-13 you will see something remarkable. With every temptation Jesus responds to the devil with “it is written” and a quotation from the Old Testament. “Actually, what God says is . . .” and Jesus begins his ministry with a complete trust and confidence in the Father.

As we live in such a skeptical society as ours, assaulting trust on every side as if we are somehow stuck in Genesis 3, let us commit to being more knowledgeable Christians who follow Jesus closely. And remember, by the grace of God the golden era is ahead of us!

Sexist in the Beginning? A Quick Look at God’s Creation of Women in Genesis 2

In our Canadian society there may be a tendency to read the Bible’s account of the creation of humanity and find it sexist. Adam was created first and then Eve from which we might get the impression that women are secondary. If you believe that arriving later makes you secondary or worth less, then you must not have been one of the millions of people who pre-ordered or stood in line for the new iPhone 5 this past week. Often what comes next is far better than what came before. As for me, I’ll likely wait for the iPhone 9 before upgrading. But with regards to the Biblical account of creation and sexism, there is a way to look at this passage that might well surprise us, or rather bring back the original surprise.

That most cultures in ancient times (and unfortunately today too) have been sexist, there is little doubt nor any surprise. I remember well my first paper in Classical History class which was to be about the first democracy, Athens. I argued that it was hardly a democracy considering the majority of residents, women and slaves, didn’t get to vote. When we remember this tendency towards sexism in the ancient world we get a different perspective on Genesis 2. We tend to look at Bible passages from our own perspective, with our own knowledge, coming out of our own culture. It is helpful if we can get closer to the perspective of the people to whom the revelation was first given. If we assume that the book of Genesis came to be in the time of Moses, or we very safely assume it came to be anytime during the Old Testament period, we remember that the Israelites would be under the influence of the very patriarchal societies they were immersed in and surrounded by. The Israelites themselves had become a very patriarchal society. Women didn’t matter much, or as much.

Enter a revelation that at the beginning “God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27 NLT) The very first mention of humanity contains a very striking message in a patriarchal society: “You don’t have a monopoly on God’s image, lads.” And notice in the next chapter the emphasis on how the first woman is not like the animals, but is like the man:

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.” So the LORD God formed from the ground all the wild animals and all the birds of the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would call them, and the man chose a name for each one. He gave names to all the livestock, all the birds of the sky, and all the wild animals. But still there was no helper just right for him.

So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep. While the man slept, the LORD God took out one of the man’s ribs and closed up the opening. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib, and he brought her to the man. (Genesis 2:18-22 NLT)

The message to a highly patriarchal society is clear; respect women as fully human. Oh, and women are your partners in fulfilling the command to reign over the earth and it’s creatures, they are not among the creatures to be ruled over (see 1:28-31). This is made even more clear by Adam’s response:

“At last!” the man exclaimed.
“This one is bone from my bone,
and flesh from my flesh!
She will be called ‘woman,’
because she was taken from ‘man.’” (Genesis 2:23 NLT)

From our perspective this may seem sexist and I’ve heard complaints of these verses being about men taking over the privilege of the first birth. But to a culture steeped in patriarchal attitudes this would come across not as a statement of man’s privilege, but woman’s equality: “bone from my bone, and flesh from my flesh,” i.e. the same. This is surprising actually. We might expect a patriarchal society creating a god in its own image to say something different, or indeed to not make much of a fuss about women at all. Interestingly, the societies surrounding Israel don’t have as strong a focus on the creation of women in the their accounts of creation. In Genesis we do not have a society creating a god in its own image, we have God teaching Israel to think and be different.

This passage gives us what we might call a “theological seed”, that is, an important truth that is dropped into a time and place which will challenge the people of that time and place and point forward to a much better time and place. In this case, the Genesis passage is pulling a patriarchal society away from its misconceptions of women as inferior, and is pointing toward a society where women are known as equals and treated as equals. We see great progress in that direction in the New Testament: “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28 NLT) And we have seen progress since, though sometimes we have regretfully regressed.

Now you might be thinking “what are we to be thinking about the fact Eve is created to be a ‘helper’? Does this not prove that Eve just exists for Adam’s sake in a subservient role?” First, the Hebrew word for helper is often used of God helping humanity. Second, let us keep in mind that Adam was created for a purpose and with work to do. We should not jump to the conclusion that Eve is helping Adam with whatever he wants. She works alongside Adam for a higher purpose. Eve does not exist to help Adam with his agenda, rather she is helping with God’s agenda. This is subtle but significant. I daily thank my Lord for a loving wife who works alongside me as we seek to fulfill God’s God’s agenda . . . and who often helps me see the folly of my own!

So is the Bible sexist in the creation account? Quite the opposite, the Biblical account points the way toward a much better sense of equality, planting a seed that would bear much fruit. I hope that you and I have journeyed down that important path and are bearing fruit yet.

Genesis 1 and Our Demotion

Apparently in our secular society we have been happy to have been demoted. If atheists are correct, then not only does God not exist, but we are therefore not created in the “image and likeness” of God. This has profound consequences in several ways, but for the purpose of brevity in this post I’d like to narrow in on one; ethics.

I came across an interesting article this summer that speaks to where morality goes without God. To quote the author quoting Richard Dawkins:

I want to raise another question that interests me. Why are we so obsessed with monogamous fidelity in the first place?
…. The underlying presumption — that a human being has some kind of property rights over another human being’s body — is unspoken because it is assumed to be obvious. But with what justification? . . . . From a Darwinian perspective, sexual jealousy is easily understood…. Sexual jealousy may in some Darwinian sense accord with nature, but “Nature, Mr. Allnutt, is what we are put in this world to rise above.”

. . . . Why should you deny your loved one the pleasure of sexual encounters with others, if he or she is that way inclined? I, for one, feel drawn to the idea that there is something noble and virtuous in rising above nature in this way.

So this is where atheism leads? A ‘make up your morality based on what’s in your noggin’ kind of thing? Where did the heart go in the moral discussion? Delete God and morality has a shaky foundation indeed, in fact it has no foundation. But worse, with atheistic Darwinism not only is there no longer a ‘why?’ to the ‘why not?’, it seems that, for some at least, there is justification for behaving badly. “Don’t fuss dear, just rising above evolution, we have evolved to be smarter than monkeys after all.”

Monogamous fidelity is important to the Christian (or ought to be), not as an issue of “property rights” as Dawkins puts it, but as a matter of covenant love. Marriage is about covenant, and the sign, the proof of that covenant is not the ring we wear, it is sex. Now in the letter of the law we read “you shall not commit adultery” (Deuteronomy 5:18), but the spirit of that law is to love one’s spouse faithfully. And what a deep and sacrificial love we are to have: Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).

As Christians we do not remain faithful as a matter of property rights. We remain faithful because it is what God does, and we are created in His image. As Christians we do not experience jealousy as a matter of property rights. We experience jealousy because it is what God does, and we are created in His image. Jealousy is part of the language of love, the alternative being to say “whatever” and this is the language of apathy. I am grateful that the Lord is not an apathetic God, but a jealous God, a God who gives Himself to us and for us.

From the whole Biblical story we learn that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). We are created in the likeness and image of God. This may refer to many things, but just as “God is love” we must be a people of love. As we walk in our secular culture I hope that we don’t find ourselves demoted, acting as if we not created in His image or as if we don’t care. Perhaps you are ready for a promotion?