A while back, I asked my daughter about the Garden of Eden. She’s only 10, but she’s heard that story many times. And I wanted to see what she’d understood from the story. She got the “sin” and “consequences” part just fine. But when I pressed a bit further, things didn’t exactly go as expected.
Me: What did God do after Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden?
Daughter: He punished them.
Me: Yes, but else did he do?
Daughter (after a long pause): Um, he tortured them?
Okay, that wasn’t exactly what I was looking for (and I also need to find out what she’s been reading lately). But I can understand her problem. Apparently we’d done a great job talking about God’s disappointment and righteous anger in the garden. But we’d completely neglected making sure she understood how much more there was to the story. And I think many of us do the same. We see the wrath, but we miss the grace.
What did God do when Adam and Eve sinned? I think he showed grace from beginning to end.
1. In the Garden, God speaks
What did the almighty God of the universe do when his creatures sinned against him? He searched for them, he found them, and he spoke to them (Gen 3:9).
That’s an amazing statement all by itself. In Genesis 2, God entered into a very special relationship with his people by speaking to them. With the rest of creation, he simply spoke it into being. With humanity, he spoke and created relationship. He made us his people.
And even after we sinned, God still speaks. They rejected him, but he has not rejected them. He could have destroyed them, which is precisely what I would have done. But he didn’t. Instead, he looked for them, he found them, and he spoke to them.
2. In the Garden, God promises
Speaking to the serpent, God declared, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen 3:15). We don’t get any more information than this for now. But what we do have is a promise that someone is coming who will destroy the tempting serpent, and the sin and evil associated with it. And, with this promise, God declares that he has not given up on his plan. He promises that one day he will send someone who will strike back against the sin and evil that threatens his creation, his people, and his plan. Although he doesn’t come right out and say it, the suggestion is that one day things will again be the way that they were supposed to be. One day….
So again God demonstrates his faithfulness to his people. Despite their sin, he promises a solution. He didn’t have to. God could have allowed them to suffer the dreadful consequences of their action without hope. But, that’s not how God does things.
3. In the Garden, God provides
One of the first consequences of sin is that Adam and Eve become aware of their nakedness in a new way. In Genesis 2 their nakedness proclaimed that they were innocent and unashamed, standing in complete openness before one another. But now shame, guilt, and alienation have replaced the intimacy that God originally intended for them. So they immediately hid from one another, covering their nakedness and the shame that it now represented. What a tragic expression of their fallenness.
But God does not ignore their need. “And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them” (Gen 3:21). He does not leave them in their shame and nakedness, but he provides a covering. It is still tragic that God’s people need to be covered before one another, that they can no loner stand openly before each other. But even in the tragedy, God is there.
.4. In the Garden, God curses
And finally, God demonstrated his grace by cursing everything and kicking Adam and Eve out of the Garden.
That’s right. God cursed his people, and it was grace. God excluded his people from his Garden, and it was love.
Have you ever considered what an odd thing it is that God cursed creation itself after Adam and Eve sinned? I can just imagine the ground sitting there, listening to God, and agreeing with everything he’s saying. “That’s right, you should get cursed. Stupid humans, messing everything up.” Then all of a sudden God busts out with, “cursed is the ground because of you.” “Yeah, that’s righ….Whoa, what was that? Cursed is the ground? What did I do? I was just sitting here minding my own business. This isn’t my fault. Stupid two-legs.” And Paul tells us that all of creation was so impacted by this curse that it groans under the burden of sin, eagerly anticipating the day when the curse will be removed (Rom 8:20-22).
God cursed creation and in the process he changed how we experience it. Rather than ruling over creation and taking care of it to the glory of God, we now struggle against it, forcing from it what we need to exist. Where there once was harmony, glory, and shalom, we now have pain, strife, and toil. Look around you. As beautiful as this world is, it is also a deadly and evil place. It is a place where sudden tragedy can swallow thousands of people, destroying communities and ravaging families. It is a place where disease and famine sweep through entire regions of the world, leaving in their wake the starving millions with their sunken eyes, shriveled flesh, and hopeless souls. And, at every turn, creation screams, “This isn’t right! This is not how it was supposed to be!”
I suppose it’s possible that God could have allowed Adam and Eve to go their own way without having to face the depravity of a world under the curse. He could have allowed them to stay in the Garden, with its comfort, beauty, and serenity. Sure they would still have lost the intimacy they’d once known with each other and with God, but their physical needs would have been taken care of, and the beauty and peace of their surroundings would have remained unchanged.
And that would have been the real curse. That would be more like the captain on a sinking cruise ship deciding to make the passengers as comfortable as possible while the ship goes down, rather than disturbing their peaceful existence with blaring alarms and screaming people. I don’t know about you, but if the ship is going down, I want to someone to unsettle and upset me. Or it’s like a person with a terminal illness. That illness probably has all kinds of symptoms—noticeable signs that something is not right with the body. The symptoms themselves aren’t the real problem. They can be rather unpleasant, even downright awful, but they are still just symptoms of a deeper problem.
The cursing of creation is God’s way of providing indications that things are not how they’re supposed to be, signs of a deeper problem. The cursing of creation powerfully declares that humanity has rejected the God of creation and stands guilty before him, alienated from the source of all that is good. The symptoms are tragic, but the alternative is worse—not being constantly reminded that we have fallen away from the living God.
The cursing of creation, then, was a judgment with a redemptive purpose. God doesn’t judge and punish because he thinks it’s fun. God wants us to recognize our brokenness and desperate need. The last thing he wants is to make us comfortable in our alienation and death. He doesn’t want to help us enjoy ourselves as the boat sinks, as the illness spreads. So he cursed us.
And it was grace.
In the Garden, God’s people turned their backs on him and pursued their own glory. In the Garden, night fell and darkness descended on the world. In the Garden, God’s people fell and died.
But in the Garden God was faithful—speaking, promising, providing, and cursing. Right away, we see that this is still a story about grace. There is good news in the garden: the good news that God is still God and he has not given up on his plans, his purposes, and his people. He is still a God of glory and grace. That is good news indeed.
As we said at the very beginning, this is a story about grace. Any other story is not good news at all.
[This is an excerpt from a book that I’m writing about the gospel, Good News for the Living Dead: A Fresh Take on the Gospel Story. You can read the other excerpts and keep track of new ones as they become available on my blog.]
About Marc Cortez
Theology Prof at Wheaton College, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.