Eternal life is innocence restored (Journey to Eternity #1)

There has been so much extra-Biblical speculation about the implications of the Garden of Eden story that it’s very hard to read the story on its own terms. When I was a kid, I couldn’t get over how ridiculous it was for God to be mad enough to burn billions of people in hell over a stupid apple. Well, it would be ridiculous if that were the truth. But if we read the actual text of Genesis 3, it offers us a brilliant allegorical illustration of the loss of innocence and trust that every human being goes through and which God is . A written summary for last weekend’s sermon is below. Here is the audio:

There’s an uncomfortable question we need to ask first about the Garden of Eden story: did the serpent tell the truth to Eve or did he lie? God had told Adam: “On the day that you eat of [the fruit] you shall die” (Gen 2:17). But the serpent says to Eve, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:4-5). So in other words, the serpent is saying that God’s real agenda is not to protect Adam and Eve from death, but to keep the knowledge of good and evil for Himself.

So what happens? Adam and Eve don’t die, and their eyes are opened. God seems to confirm the serpent’s suspicions about his motives when he repeats the serpent’s statement almost word for word in verse 22: “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever.”

Notice that verse 22 wouldn’t make any sense if the man was already immortal before eating the fruit. The tree of life would be redundant. If God’s curse were the means by which Adam and Eve were rendered mortal (when He says in verse 19, “You are dust and to dust you shall return”), then there would be no reason to kick them out of the Garden of Eden.

So it seems like the serpent is the one who is telling the truth and God is just a big bully who wants to keep humanity stupid so that He can run the show by Himself. And then God punishes the serpent and Adam and Eve for catching Him in a lie. It’s critical for this to be one of the possible interpretations of the story. Why? Because the serpent’s story, both in the Garden of Eden and in our lives, is a legitimately plausible interpretation of the universe that is backed up by a mountain of facts and statistics. It is going against the grain to reject the serpent’s story.

According to the serpent, God is a capricious, selfish figure, which is why it is appropriate for us to live capricious, selfish lives. In our world today, we could add to this the question of whether God even exists at all; there are plenty of cynical “facts” that could be thrown out to disprove the existence of God. The serpent is the original social Darwinist (the irony of course being that many Christians today justify their social Darwinism by worshiping the selfish, capricious monster that the serpent portrays God to be).

To believe that God is telling the truth or even that a God exists at all requires interpretive imagination both in the Garden of Eden and today. If we take God at His word, then some kind of “death” must have occurred as a direct result of eating the fruit of knowledge because God tells Adam that he will die on the day that he eats of it (i.e. not just that he will become mortal, but that his “death” will happen that day).

So what happens when Adam and Eve eat the apple as its immediate consequence? Genesis 3:7 says, “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.” Eve had thought based on the serpent’s advice “that the tree was to be desired to make one wise” (v. 6). The only “wisdom” she receives is the shame and fear of knowing her nakedness. Genesis 2:25 had said, “The man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.” So the “death” that happens when Adam and Eve’s eyes are opened is the death of their innocence.

This is a death that every single one of us goes through in our growing-up process as humans. When Jesus says that the kingdom of God belongs to children and that we can only enter the kingdom if we receive it as children (Mark 10:14-15), it’s because children have a form of life that we have lost. Children know how to worship God even though they don’t know that’s what they’re doing, because they delight in His creation in innocence. They live in a universe of complete trust until something happens to “open their eyes to their nakedness.”

When our eyes are opened in this way, a curse falls upon us. We no longer dance; we no longer chatter; because we are preoccupied with how we look to others. We find bushes to hide our nakedness like Adam and Eve did when God came walking in the garden (Gen 3:8). Everything we do after this point is a performance that we are living for the sake of our imaginary audience. Even if we dance and chatter again, it will never again happen without self-consciousness. The fear and shame of our self-consciousness is the reason that our sin calcifies and sticks to us, because instead of confessing it and learning from it, we try to justify it. We hate having our nakedness exposed above all else, so we seek the darkness instead of the light (John 3:19-21).

All of the curses that God names for Adam and Eve are the consequences of living according to the “wisdom” of the serpent with a neurotic self-consciousness and a cynical mistrust of the universe. Eve’s curse is that her insecurity will cause her to cling to her husband and accept a hierarchical, abusive set of power dynamics in their relationship (Gen 3:16, note that gender hierarchy is a curse, not God’s intended order). Adam’s curse is that he will no longer live as a hunter/gatherer who eats the fruit of creation’s garden blissfully unaware of how it gets there; from now on, his anxiety with self-preservation will force him to take up agriculture and see nature with all its droughts and thorns and locusts as his mortal enemy (vv. 17-18).

The story of humanity is the story of God’s efforts to undo the death of our innocence, to win back our trust and convince us that the serpents in our lives have not told us the truth about Him or the world He created. The reason that we can only enter His kingdom if we receive it as children is because we need to regain the innocence that we lost when our eyes were opened to our nakedness. This is not merely innocence in the sense of a courtroom verdict, but innocence in the sense of regarding our universe with a genuine sense of trust and peace. The courtroom verdict of innocence we receive through Jesus’ cross is relevant insofar as it cultivates the deeper innocence of trusting in God.

When God is able to win back our trust through Christ, then the bitter plantation of self-consciousness and self-preservation that we have created for ourselves by listening to the serpent’s story is converted back into the beautiful garden that God has never stopped creating. He can restore us to a life in which we worship and trust without hiding in the bushes when He walks past. So the first thing we can say about eternal life is that it is innocence restored. This weekend, we will talk about the gift of God’s Torah (teaching/law) and how we abuse it.

17 thoughts on “Eternal life is innocence restored (Journey to Eternity #1)

  1. Pingback: Is morality the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil? | Mercy not Sacrifice

  2. Pingback: Can we define sin as “that which causes death”? | Mercy not Sacrifice

  3. Ben, you wrote:
    Jesus said I am THE way THE truth and THE life — not A way, A truth, and A life.

    No argument here. Like a man in the process of surviving a tsunami, I cling to his very person. He provides me with an air pocket and an immovable shield which keeps me from being ground to carrion by heavy debris.

  4. I’d like to see you interact with Romans 5 in light of your thoughts.

    The old Adam (1 man/ sin/ death) and Jesus (1 man/ sacrifice/ eternal life) comparison that Paul sets up seems to be difficult to square with anything other than the traditional western orthodox position, leading to Augustine and subsequently Anselm…

  5. RE: Bill Guptill,
    Over the last decade or so I have been studying the Biblical narrative on my own. What I’ve found is that it can be “spun” in a variety of different ways depending almost entirely upon what pre-suppositions one brings to the text. It’s impossible not to. If you are already convinced that the Western theologians (both Catholic & Protestant from the time of Constantine onward)) are right, then that’s what you’ll affirm from the text.

    I began to see the Almighty not as an angry potentate who must exact punishment and vengeance on his beloved & beautiful humans, but as a horrified parent who is heartsick that his gorgeous kids threw a monkey wrench into the works. That’s my pre-supposition and it’s changed the whole dynamic of Scripture for me.

    • RE: Mitt Potter,
      There is nothing in your statements that I disagree with. One thing I would note in addition is that the Bible does contain truth. Truth is mutually exclusive to non-truth. Jesus said I am THE way THE truth and THE life — not A way, A truth, and A life. While many will and can twist scripture, it does have one, true meaning and we can use the tools available to us to determine what that is. We can use good Biblical hermeneutics, context, and an exegetical approach. After all, the Bible is a love letter from God to us – human beings are it’s intended audience, and the God who created us knows our capability to understand it.

      • “It does have one, true meaning.” That’s where you go wrong. God can use the same words to speak many different truths to us at different times in our life of discipleship. Otherwise, it would be sufficient to read every verse in the Bible only once. Jesus’ statement that He is the way, the truth, and the life does not have anything to do with the multiple possibilities of interpretation that each verse has. I’m not saying that any old interpretation is valid, but to try to say that there’s only one has more to do with a need to be in control than submission to God’s authority.

      • It may have been better to say there are things it does absolutely mean, and things it certainly does not mean. There is certainly Truth in scripture which absolute and not relative. Perhaps I should have said “it does have at least one, true meaning.” Moral relativism is antithesis of scripture.

        • There is a range of possible meanings, but it’s not infinite. Some verses more so than others. But it’s absolutely not a relativistic situation where I just get to decide what I want it to mean. God decides and speaks through what I read into my life at that time. I decide whether or not to listen.

  6. Jesus said, John 8:44 “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

    The track you propose here is – in my opinion (which you may dismiss at your leisure) – is the root of all deception and lies.

    The answer is “no, the serpent did not tell the truth.” The serpent lied about death, lied about their equality with God. Jesus said he murdered the human race with his lie.

    Rom 5:12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:

    God declares his creation “very good” at the end of the 6th day of creation. Yet in 1 Cor 15:26, he calls death an “enemy”. How can something that is full of death and suffering be declared “very good?”

    1Cr 15:20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.
    21 For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead.
    22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.

    Now regarding Genesis 2:17 “but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”

    The phrase “you will surely die” can be literally translated from the Hebrew Biblical text as “dying you shall die.” A relevant passage to this discussion is found in Numbers 26:65. There we find “they shall surely die” (literally: dying they shall die). These are the same Hebrew verbs and the same grammatical construction as in Genesis 2:17. God told the Israelites shortly after they came out of Egypt to go into the land of Canaan and take possession of it, as it had been promised to Abraham. In Numbers 26:65 God says that because the adult Jews refused to trust and obey God and go into the Promise Land, they would die in the wilderness over the course of 40 years (one year for every day that the twelve spies investigated the Land—see Numbers 13:1-14:10). But those rebellious unbelieving Jews did not all die at the same moment. Their deaths were spread over that whole 40-year period. So, dying they did all die and that death occurred at various times some years after God’s pronouncement of judgment.

    Furthermore there was indeed the first death of Nephesh Chayah life on that very same day:

    Gen 3:21 The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them.

    God killed an animal to cover them – thereby instituting she shedding of animal blood to cover human sin and setting up the notion of substitutionary atonement. But the life of an animal could never permanently cover Adam and Eve’s sin because Adam and Eve were greater than they were in God’s order of authority.

    Up until this point, Adam and Eve were vegetarian. You claimed Adam was a hunter, but this wasn’t so. God told them that plants were for food, not animals. It wasn’t until after the flood that God gave the animals for food as well.

    Additionally, your logic is unsound regarding the idea that Adam and Eve must have had death in them already if God had to banish them from the garden to prevent them from eating the fruit (by the way – a pet pieve of mine – the Bible doesn’t say “apple” it says “fruit”) of the tree of life. God had just introduced death as a punishment for Adam’s sin. The scripture just got done describing the curse of death God pronounced on Adam, and it’s at this point He says they need to banish them from the garden lest they also eat from the tree of life and live forever. This is VERY important in Christian theology… the body has to be able to die physically or Jesus could not have had his redemptive work. Additionally, this is the only way to punish sin with death thereby creating the possibility of eternal life:

    Rom 8:3 For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh:
    4 That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.

    Rom 8:10 If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness.

    Do you see what God does here in Romans 8? He basically banishes all sin from a person’s spirit (when they are “in Christ” their body is “dead” but their spirit is alive) and condemns sin in the flesh… in the body. See what Romans 8:4 says? That The Law is fulfilled in us. There are 2 ways to fulfill the law – keep the law and live, or break the law and die. By the death of our bodies, The Law is fulfilled in us.

    Rom 6:7 for he who has died is freed from sin.

    Rom 6:9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him.

    Rom 7:1 Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives?

    1Cr 15:36 You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies;
    37 and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else.

    1Cr 15:42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body;

    1Cr 15:53 For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.
    54 But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory.
    56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law;

    1Cr 15:26 The last enemy that will be abolished is death.

    You see, our spirit is alive in Christ, so in effect we “survive” the death of our body. Then, we are given a new, immortal body. We can never die again because by the death of our body, we have been freed from the law. Of course we could never have done this on our own. Without Christ’s sacrifice, we’d be lost.

    If the death in Genesis 3 is just our “innocence” then Jesus would not have needed to die physically. This is a slippery slope to denying the physical death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Moreoever, what hope do we have for eternal life if death was a part of the original design? If the death we die in Genesis 3 is innocence, then the life we live in Christ is innocence.

    • “This is VERY important in Christian theology… the body has to be able to die physically or Jesus could not have had his redemptive work. Additionally, this is the only way to punish sin with death thereby creating the possibility of eternal life.” This is but one of the many examples in what you wrote of letting your extra-Biblical theological system dictate your reading of scripture. Your system tells you how have you to read each part of scripture, rather than scripture telling you what your system ought to look like.

      I’m just taking the story at face value. The story never even identifies the serpent as the same entity that Jesus is talking about in John 8:44. That’s our presumption.

      Regardless, the nature of the serpent’s lie is paradoxically is that it’s technically true. The author of Genesis would not have gone to the trouble of using the exact same wording in the serpent’s accusation and God’s response if we were not supposed to make a connection between the two. Many lies in our world come about when people manipulate data to create a story that is technically true but misrepresentative. That’s one of the lessons we can learn from this story if we allow ourselves to recognize that the serpent was being technically truthful amidst his deceit.

      • “This is but one of the many examples in what you wrote of letting your extra-Biblical theological system …”

        To what extra-Biblical system are you referring? I gave you scriptures supporting my hypothesis (ie Romans 8). I truly see this sermon of yours as anti-Christ and completely against scripture, and I demonstrated for you – from scripture – why I think so. That may sound overly harsh, but I assure you I don’t throw terms like that around. You are quite literally turning the truth of God into a lie.

        “Your system tells you how have you to read each part of scripture, rather than scripture telling you what your system ought to look like.”

        Quite the opposite is true. In fact, this is precisely what you have done! You have ignored a tremendous amount of scripture that directly contradicts your ideas and have – instead – setup Satan as the giver of truth and God as the deceiver. This is exactly the opposite of what it is intended to convey, and it is the opposite of reality.

        “The story never even identifies the serpent as the same entity that Jesus is talking about in John 8:4”

        It says “from the beginning”. This refers to Genesis 1-3. Furthermore, (and once again) you have to ignore a lot of other scripture to reach your conclusion.

        Rev 12:9 And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.

        Rev 20:2 And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years;

        “Regardless, the nature of the serpent’s lie is paradoxically is that it’s technically true”

        Once again, I disagree. To be as God to know good and evil is false. God knows good and evil because of His omniscience, not because he has the experience of doing evil. Satan’s lie was that they could have equality with God…. his lie was that God was a tyrant keeping the best from them. The lie was that God was withholding knowledge from them. But God didn’t withhold it from them… as soon as they ate, their eyes were opened…. the knowledge was not withheld.

        Gen 3:4 The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die!”

        But they did die… immediately death entered the world, and they began to die. By the way, notice that the woman got it wrong in her answer… she added “or touch it” (referring to the fruit) which God never said.

        I’m curious, you say you are taking the story at face value – here is a test of that.: Do you believe the Earth was created in 6 literal days about 6000 years ago or do you believe we evolved over millions of years? A straightforward, face value reading of the text shows it to be written as literal history, but something tells me that you reject the face value information presented in the text. Hopefully, I’m wrong about that.

  7. I’ve never thought of the garden story quite like that. Very interesting!

    I have a 2.5 year old daughter right now and I see that innocence every day. It will break my heart when she loses it. I guess I’m getting a glimpse of how God feels about us.

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