There’s two creation stories in the Bible, one which begins “In the beginning.” The second, found in Genesis 2, begins with the phrase “these are the generations of,” it’s a formula found in Genesis which marks the start of a new narrative thread. Genesis 2 holds a profound focus on relationships, and concludes with the statement, “the man and his wife were both naked, and unashamed.” It’s beyond a signal of human sexuality, it’s a beacon declaring that relationships were exactly the way they were supposed to be for life to thrive.
Genesis 3, which is known as “the fall,” sees a wrench thrown into the story. It provokes readers to ask, “What happens when relationship go awry?”
This question isn’t hypothetical. The question Genesis 3 both asks and answers speaks to much of the struggles we face in our world. On a personal level, human beings have a strange tendency toward estrangement. We can be estranged from one another, even from those with whom we would ideally be deep relationships. We can be estranged from the world God has made, isolated from the beauty all around us. And, certainly, we can estranged from the God who has made all of this. Estranged relationships, when applied to nationalities or ethnic background, have lead to all sorts of systemic injustice. We can see this through racial tensions, the current refugee crisis, economic injustice, and the ever-present specter of hate crimes.
Christian theology tells us all this estrangement is the impact of sin. It poisons the good which the LORD God has made and injects fear, uncertainty, and doubt into the social bonds which should hold us all together.
And estranged relationships permeate all of Genesis 3. When the woman is deceived by the crafty serpent the relationship between humanity and God is strained because they begin to think maybe God doesn’t have their best interests in mind. When the man and the woman disobey and both eat the forbidden fruit they suddenly feel shame at their nakedness, which begins to weaken the bonds which hold them together. First they hide from each other using fig leaves, and then they hide from their Creator when they hear the LORD God in the garden. When confronted about his actions the man tries to spin the blame back on his wife and on to God, “The woman, who you put here with me.”
Sadly, Genesis 3 depicts a reality we can recognize. We have all felt estranged from some other person at some point in our lives. We’ve probably all heard children trying to pawn off misdeeds on to their parents. We’ve all been tempted to deflect our own guilt on to someone else, “It’s not me, it’s them 1. And, if we’re honest, we’ve all engaged in actions and behaviors which have caused relationships to become estranged from us.
I believe the wisdom Genesis 3 holds for us is recognition. When the relationships begin to fall apart, we can look and see our world. Why on earth would we want to do something as depressing as that? Because it reminds us we are not always the hero, as much as we would like to be, and that realization calls us to see ourselves with humility. We may be created in the image of God, and that is amazing. But in the end, as the LORD God points out to the man at the end of Genesis 3, we’re dust. A bag of dirt 2.
But the story of the fall, sad and recognizable as it is, is also why the Gospel is so splendid. The LORD God told the woman that there would be enmity between the woman’s seed and the serpent’s. And in that statement the serpent is said to strike the heel of the woman’s descendants, but in turn have its own head crushed. Theologians have called this the “protogospel,” a promise that all that has gone wrong in the fall will be set right.
In the story of the Gospel, Christian theologians see Jesus crushing the head of the serpent. Through his life, death, and resurrection Jesus overcomes sin and death. How does he do this? He resists the same temptation the man and the woman are unable to resist. He remains in right relationship with his heavenly father and teaches people how to walk in his ways. He dies, and is then raised from death. Jesus’ resurrection is the proclamation of a new creation because, suddenly, death is not the end. That’s wonderful! But how do we experience this new creation, where a new story is being written, for ourselves?
We die. Or, more specifically, we die to ourselves. There’s a lot of pop-psychology out there which assumes that dying to self is about devaluing one’s self. This isn’t true–we are the image of God. We are valuable and are created for a beautiful and noble purpose–to extend the beauty, and care for the well-being, of the wonders God has wrought. Dying to self, which is a process Christians submit to in baptism, is about dying to the brokenness which haunts us. When we die to ourselves we learn to let go of the selfishness we use, even inadvertently, to drive people away. When we die to ourselves we learn to forgive. When we die to ourselves we begin to see that we are bound in relationship to all of humanity, because we are all the image of God, and so begin to treat people with more dignity. This process of dying to self is life-long. Frankly, it’s hard work, and those who submit to the process will often screw it up. But there is hope. Hope that folks really can be made new, and this new creation can touch others in this world for their good–repairing relationships and healing those who have suffered.
This hope is what binds me to the story of Jesus.
- Even worse, this seems to be the only narrative our current political process is able to tell. The current sniping by partisans in our country is the adult of the equivalent of, “Oh yah? Well if I’m stinky, you’re poopy.” ↩
- I find myself wishing the Bible used an pun invoking water to describe humanity. Then I could say the Bible calls us “ugly bags of mostly water,” and that would make me happy. Also Star Trek: Picard is amazing. ↩