Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Degeneration of the World through Adam’s Disobedience to the Word of God

If Gen 1 tells us that the word of God generates light, order, and the fullness of life in the world (as argued here: “The Generation of Light, Order, and the Fullness of Life through God’s Word”), then the rest of the Old Testament can be thought of as being a multifaceted case study in the degeneration that results from disobedience to the word of God. Through disobedience to God’s word, the world in effect reverts to varying degrees (depending on the situation) back to the default situation of the darkness, disorder, and absence of life inherent in the original chaotic mass of Gen 1:2.

The Degeneration of the World through Disobedience to the Word of God

I have argued previously that, on the basis of Paul’s teaching in Rom 5:20, the Old Testament is primarily concerned with two falls: the fall of Adam, and the fall of Israel (see “The Law Came in to Increase the Trespass: The Story of Two Falls in Romans 5:20”).

In relation to Adam, the importance of the word of God was symbolized for Adam and Eve in the command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When God created Adam, he told him that he could eat from any tree in the garden except one (Gen 2:16–17). The fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was forbidden to eat. It was called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil reflecting the Old Testament idiom which is similar to the concept of discerning good from evil, which has to do with being wise (1 Kgs 3:9; see also 2 Sam 14:17). The wise person knows right and wrong according to God’s definition of right and wrong. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was given its name because it would function as a test for Adam and Eve and their descendents: Would they be wise or foolish? Would they be obedient to the word of God, or would they disobey? Obedience is the way of wisdom and life; disobedience is the way of foolishness and death.

Adam and Eve, therefore, form the first major test case of the Old Testament. Would the people that God had created fulfill the creation mandate through obedience to God’s word, or would they take the world back to darkness, disorder, and emptiness, which now would also include death? If the word of God is the key to light, order, and life (as Gen 1 indicates), then the whole of human society must be founded upon and directed by the word of God the Creator. The test in the garden centered around the fact that obedience to God’s word leads to life and blessing, whereas disobedience results in the total opposite.

Sadly, we know the result of this test case. Adam and Eve failed the test. Genesis 3 records how Satan in the form of a snake tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit (Gen 3:1–6). Importantly Eve also gave some of the fruit to Adam to eat (Gen 3:6). Thus, the first human beings sinned against God, and lost the privilege of living in the presence of God in the garden of Eden.

It is significant that Gen 3:23 records that “Yahweh God banished [Adam] from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.” The ground from which Adam had been created lay outside the garden of Eden. A straightforward reading of the Hebrew in Gen 2:7–8 takes the content described in v. 8 as being chronologically subsequent to the content of v. 7. In other words, Adam was created by God even before God had planted the garden of Eden. The second clause in v. 8, which says and he placed there the man that he had created effectively confirms this reading. Adam had been created by God before the garden of Eden was established. Subsequent to this, Adam was taken from outside the garden, and graciously set by God to rest inside the garden (Gen 2:15). But because of sin, Adam could no longer remain in the garden. He had violated the principal law of the garden, that God’s word rules. So he was expelled from the garden, along with his wife. Adam was kicked out of the garden to return to the wilderness, the place from which he had come. By disobeying the word of God that gives order and life, our first ancestors suffered the negative consequences. Instead of living life in an orderly world, experiencing life and blessing, they had to live in a world that had reverted back closer the default situation of the original chaotic mass, a world where darkness, disorder, and death threatened their existence.

But sadly, according to the biblical record, this rebellion on the part of Adam and Eve did not solely affect them. It had massive implications for their descendents. All members of the human race, being children of Adam and Eve, just like Cain and Abel, have been born outside the garden of Eden. This means that we have been born into a world of disorder and death, a world in which the forces of darkness are seeking to destroy the harmonic influence of the word of God.

The consequences of Adam’s failure are not a pleasant to consider; but it makes sense from the biblical starting point, which is that the word of God created light, order, and the fullness of life in the first place. If it was the word of God that set things up in the beginning, if it is the word of God that creates the positive effects of light, and order, and life, then to disobey God’s word leads to the unleashing of the negative effects of darkness, disorder, and emptiness in the world. If the world was generated through the word of God, then disobeying the word of God must result in the degeneration of creation.

One of the key messages of the Old Testament, therefore, is that disobedience to the word of God results in degeneration. This is Christianity’s explanation as to why the world is the way it is. Suffering and death exists in our world because the human race back in the beginning rejected the enlightening, ordering, and life-giving word of God.


Anonymous said...

Hi Stephen, Randa here, thanks again for your reflections, I was thinking about the significance of the garden of Eden (physical or spiritual) - it would seem that both aspects are inseparable and significant.

Steven Coxhead said...

Hello Randa!

Thanks for your comment. The Word of God brings light, order, and life. In this way we can easily see how Jesus, the Word of God, restores Eden, but on a worldwide scale.

Many blessings!