Original Sin or Original Grace?

We often point to the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 as The Fall or The Original Sin which explains a level of theodicy: how a benevolent God would make us live in our own personal hells. 

It goes like this: God made the world good and we screwed up.  God kicked us out of Eden in retribution for the original sin.  Thus, we have to live in a mess of our own making. The God of Wrath was angered by our sin and kicked us out forever.

Have you ever noticed that's a lot of emphasis on what we did...and if biblical stories are anything like my hazy memories of being a perfect child, blamed for everything, guilty of nothing, then perhaps our actions as recorded are not reliable.  Humans wrote the bible and perhaps our memories are a bit biased towards blaming snakes and women.

But this is not just human memory, it is the Old Testament: a testimony of a people's relationship with God.  Have you ever read Genesis 3 and focused on what God did?  Let's see:

  • God curses the snake (v.14) and the ground (v.17) but doesn't curse the humans.  The humans are the ones who messed up, but God curses peripheral things.  Humanity is untouched by God's curses and is given a huge portion of God's grace.
  • God closes off the Garden not out of spite or wrath, but out of care that they not be tempted by the other Tree of Life also (v.22).  God removed temptation out of care, not removed everlasting life out of spite or wrath.

Sure, the original humans screwed up.  I'm not some whitewashing liberal who discounts human accountability.  But when I look for this God of Wrath that kicks humans out and curses us forever...I don't see it.  In fact, I consider the evidence of God's goodness, grace, and love to be overwhelming against the traditional interpretation of God getting T-O'ed and kicking the kids out. 

God of Wrath this isn't.  

Indeed, there's a sort of sadness that is glossed over in the narrative:
  • God takes the first life in the world.  God fashions "garments of skins" (v.21) to clothe the humans.  This skin could only come from a dead animal.  So God killed one of God's creation to provide for the humans. 
What sadness must have filled God's presence to snuff out a beings' life that existed for only a few days after Creation!

God of Wrath this isn't.  This is a God of Grace, who cares for the humans even as they see their actions hurt people (and animals) in ways they didn't expect.

Stories like this one are equal parts explanation of why things are the way they are and testimonies to the actions of God in the history of a people.  We often point to human activity in these stories, but why not focus on God's actions?  And God's actions are not angry but delicate, not spiteful but graceful, not condemning but articulating how the world will be much more difficult now but all is not cursed and irredeemable.

As we hack Christianity, we go back to the beginning, peel back the layers of tradition and history, and rediscover the God of Grace that has been there all along.  Perhaps then it is when we also clothe the naked, when we also help those who toil on the cursed ground, when we also mourn the collateral damage from our sins...perhaps then we are closer to the God of Grace who still wanders in the garden alone.


Anonymous,  August 12, 2009 at 11:05 AM  

What a beautiful post! Thanks for sharing this today, I found it so inspiring :D

Blake Huggins August 12, 2009 at 12:30 PM  

I've always really resonated with the prevenience of God -- or original blessing at Matthew Fox puts it -- in the Genesis story. And really, I don't think emphasizing that negates or diminishes human responsibility and culpability at all. I actually think it underscores it much better than a position that begins with depravity and an evil human nature.

Anonymous,  August 12, 2009 at 8:20 PM  

I have enjoyed this RSS feed for several months now.
In trying to understand why God does what he does, I think the curse on the ground (unpleasant, less productive work) forces cooperation. Though not exactly "love thy neighbor", forced cooperation to survive is a start. Just what would we learn if we could selfishly eat from the garden anytime, without regard for anyone else? A good punishment is not mean, but designed to correct bad behavior. As a side note "work" is not cursed. We will have the pleasure of work for eternity, it just won't suck. Imagine working on what you have been designed to love, forever?

Elizabeth Sweeny August 14, 2009 at 1:46 PM  

Thanks, Jeremy. I'd never thought about God's action in Genesis 3 in this way before, but it makes a lot of sense, and I really love your closing thought about following God's model.

I'm reading The Shack (inorite?) and the epigraph for Chapter 5 made me think of this post:
"We routinely disqualify testimony that would plead for extenuation. That is, we are so persuaded of the rightness of our judgment as to invalidate evidence that does not confirm us in it. Nothing that deserves to be called truth could ever be arrived at by such means." -Marilynne Robinson, The Death of Adam

LeaderCast August 17, 2009 at 2:48 AM  

I think Gods actions just go to show how much He cared for us, since we were created in His image. I decided to give us grace.

Catie August 20, 2009 at 8:41 AM  

I think Gen. 3 is a good example that given the choice between life or death, man will choose death every time.

jl December 7, 2009 at 5:27 PM  

Wonderful post Jeremy, Cristian root is the teachings that Jesus conveyed during his life and didnt take hold as a religion until almost 100 years after his death. My questions stem from earlier cultures 5000 years old, believing in aliens and astronomy. 12000 year old atifacts in north America, native American's believing in aliens, native americans worshiping serpents. Other cultures that worship serpents the world over, granted not all our ancestry is nice but we cant forget the deffinate things we find from the earliest civilizations. With many floods and many falls of previous civilizations at many different points in history... What are we to believe to be fact at all, considering all that religion and goverment have kept from us, too keep blinders upon us, to set us in THIER own motion of forward. Was God truely forgiving? or was it more like the frustration of a parent who wants to punish a child almost too severly and demands that the child be put out of sight for fear of the urdge of the severity... either way it would be some-what forgiving huh. Although I wouldn't ban my child from my home for any time period if he/she made a mistake, I would try to teach them myself, and deffinately not send them into this world blind. But ofcoarse thats me.

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