Mom leaves the house cleaned up and goes out to visit a friend. When she comes home several hours later, the house is a mess. One plant is knocked over, there is dirt on the floor, water dripping from the counter and pieces of balled up newspaper all over the place. What is the first question she asks? “Who’s responsible for this mess?”
You set up your tent and organize your camp site and then get into the boat for a few hours of fishing. When you return, there is a rip in the tent, things are dragged all over the place, containers are opened. With fear in your voice, the question pops into your mind, “Who or what is responsible for this mess?”
God created a world which was ordered and organized. There was a place for everything and when he had finished creating everything it says in Genesis 1:31, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” Today we read about volcanoes ready to blow, gunmen shooting pre-school aged children in Argentina, a humanitarian crises in the Sudan caused by genocide and hurricanes killing over 1500 people in Haiti. Who is responsible for this mess?
That is the question which is answered in Genesis 3 and in numerous stories in the first 11 chapters of Genesis. In fact, I believe that these stories are written for the purpose of communicating how seriously and deeply sin has caused the mess that we are in today. As we examine these stories, however briefly, there are several things which I hope that we will learn. One is to understand the depth of sin, another the seriousness of sin and another the way of sin. As we examine this, it is not for the purpose of depressing us, but for two other purposes. One is to show us the desperate need we have of someone to help us out of this mess and the other is to equip us with tools to have victory over sin by knowing how it works.
I. Who’s Responsible?
Have you ever wondered to yourself, or out loud, what would it have been like if Eve hadn’t listened to the serpent and if Adam hadn’t sinned? Would we still be living in the garden of Eden? Would Adam still be alive? What would the world be like without the influence of sin? It is hard to imagine this because our whole world is so steeped in sin that we can’t escape it. When the effects of sin in our own life, or in the life of those around forces us to face discouraging and negative consequences, we sometime want to blame “this mess” on Adam and wish that he hadn’t sinned.
But he did sin. God had given the command in Genesis 2:16, 17, saying, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” After being tempted by Satan, Eve chose to disobey this simple command. We read in Genesis 3:6, “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” With this choice, the deed was done, the evil way had entered into the world, the path of sin was begun. But can we really blame Adam for the mess we are in? He was the first one to sin, but was he the only one? Did others after Adam and Eve sin because of Adam’s sin or are they as responsible for the mess we are in as Adam and Eve? What do the stories which follow tell us about this?
In Genesis 4, we have the story of the children of Adam and Eve - Cain and Abel. They were farmers, Abel keeping flocks and Cain working the soil. They both brought something of their produce as an offering to God. Why Abel’s was accepted and Cain’s was not we do not know for sure. Various explanations have been given, and the explanation that seems most reasonable to me is that there was something wrong with the attitude of Cain. What was wrong may be indicated in the text when it says that Abel brought “fat portions and some of the firstborn of his flock” whereas Cain brought “some of the fruits of the soil.” The difference is that of attitude. Abel may have said, “I am glad to thank God for his gifts.” Cain may have said, “do I have to?” Hebrews 11:4 suggests why there was a difference when it says, “By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings.” When Cain became angry because his offerings were not accepted, God warned him about his anger. It seems that at this point he had not yet sinned, that he still had a choice about his reaction. A critical verse is Genesis 4:6,7 - “sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” What that tells us is that sin was not inevitable because Adam had sinned. Cain had a choice. Cain, however, allowed jealousy to become anger, anger to become hatred and hatred to lead to murder. Just as his parents had chosen to sin, Cain also chose to sin. God held Cain responsible for his own sin.
What is worse, however, is that we see a progress of sin. When God confronted Adam, he responded with guilt. When God confronted Cain, he lied, was careless and sarcastic. “Cain rejects the divine entreaty and then grumbles about his sentence.” Sin not only continued by the choice of Cain, it also multiplied.
As we read the stories that follow, we see further choices to sin and a deepening evil. In Genesis 4:23,24 we have the story of Lamech. As we read his boast we realize that he is even more calloused about sin and much more violent. Eye for eye became eye for whole body. Retaliation and hatred and murder were multiplied and again we see how sin becomes worse.
By the time we get to Noah’s day, God’s evaluation of the people on the earth is declared in Genesis 6:5, “The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.” A similar evaluation is declared in Genesis 6:11,12, “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways.” The evil has now become so great that God intends to wash it all away and brings the flood to do just that.
After the flood, we hope for something better, but that is not the case. People continue to multiply in sin. In Genesis 8:21 God says, “every inclination of his heart is evil.” That evil is manifested in the story of Noah’s son Ham. He saw his father naked in his tent, after having gotten drunk. The story never comments on Noah the righteous man naked and drunk in his tent, but does comment on what Ham did. He sinned by failing to honor his father and instead of covering him up, went and gossiped about what his father’s condition was. The sin of humanity is once again seen in the story of the tower of Babel in which people made some conscious choices to do things without God and to “make a name for themselves.” The judgement of God in confusing the languages tells us that once again people had stepped over the boundary. One writer says, “the humanity that begins with Noah fully parallels the humanity that preceded the flood.”
The litany of evil multiplying as it does from Adam and Eve onwards speaks to the question of who is responsible for the mess we are in. In the midst of the many wicked people and multiplication of sin, there are a few who were righteous. Enoch walked with God and he was not for God took him. In the midst of a wicked generation, we discover that Noah was a righteous man. Their exception tells us that sin was not inevitable just because of Adam. Each person is also responsible for his own sin. We can’t blame Adam. Romans 5:12 says, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.”
Who is responsible for this mess? You are and I am!
II. How Sin Works
How could this come about? Why did Adam sin? Why are we so susceptible to sin?
A. Satan’s Part
The story of Genesis 3 says that the serpent came to the woman. I don’t know why it was a serpent that was used, but that the serpent is Satan is proved from Revelation 12:9, which says, “The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.”
Whenever sin happens, Satan is behind it. He is a deceiver and he uses deception to entice people to yield to temptation. That is what he did in the case of Eve. He deceived her by making it look like God was not being fair and by implying that it would be a far better thing for her to eat of the fruit of the tree.
He is a liar and lied by telling Eve “you will not surely die.” The danger of the lie was that in part it was true. Adam and Eve did not physically die as soon as they ate. Death came in a much worse form and a much more prolonged way. So Satan was right, they did not die right away, but he was lying, they did die.
Whenever we experience temptation, the same deception and lying of Satan is behind all our temptations. However, we are not defenceless. The best weapon we have to overcome the work of Satan is the spiritual armour given us in Ephesians 6:12-18. The truth of God and faith in God are the two primary weapons in this arsenal.
B. Temptation’s Tricks
Satan is behind temptation, but we should be careful not to give him too much credit. The temptations of Satan speak to wickedness in our own heart. The temptations work because we want them to work.
The beginning of temptation is always a questioning of the truth and the love of God. Satan began with the line, “Did God really say…?” This is how the path to sin begins. I am in favour of examining our faith. I am suspect of a faith that has never asked the hard questions and examined the depths of God. However, there is a subtle difference between a faith that goes deeper because it has looked at the hard questions and a faith that questions the goodness and love of God. When Eve replied to the serpent by saying, “you must not touch it” she had already begun to be taken in by the serpents questioning. She already had changed her attitude towards God. By the time Eve was reaching out to touch the forbidden fruit, she had moved from questioning God to doubting God’s goodness. So it is with us as well. When we question whether what God says in His word is really true, whether his way is best, whether it is really all that serious to sin, if perhaps we can sin and then repent later, we are walking down a dangerous path.
Furthermore, sin happened because of desire. Satan prompted some questions and Eve was ready to entertain those questions, but that was not the only thing which led her astray. We also read that she “saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye.” That is also how all temptation begins. It begins by answering a desire in our hearts. No matter how we have sinned, at its root is a desire for something that is not good or that is good, but in the wrong place at the wrong time.
So the beginning of sin is Satan’s lies, the next step is doubt about God’s truth and goodness which leads to questioning God and is heightened by the desires in our own heart. But up to this point, sin has just been entertained. Sin happens when a choice is made. Satan cannot force us to make the choice. He did not make Adam and Eve sin, he seduced her and she went along with the seduction. All the deception in the world cannot force us to make the choice. No matter how strong the desire is, we do not have to make the choice. Sin happens when in spite of all we respond to the deception and desire and make a choice.
When God confronted Cain and said, “but you must master it” he gave him a choice. When Cain said to his brother, “Let’s go out to the field…” he had already made the choice to murder his brother. His response was not merely one of passion, it was a pre-meditated murder, a choice to sin.
We have a choice to make. We must decide if we will submit to God or do it our own way. If we do it our own way, we sin.
III. The Consequences Of Sin
The consequences of sin come in the balance of chapter 3 and in what follows.
The first consequence of sin is that we find it almost impossible to admit that we have done it.
When God asked, “Where are you?” he knew perfectly well where Adam and Eve were. It was like playing hide and seek with a young child. Their face is hidden, but their bulky diaper is sticking out from behind the couch. God asked because he wanted Adam to acknowledge his guilt, but Adam failed miserably. He admitted that he was naked, trying to avoid the real issue, not realizing that this admission was an admission of guilt.
When confronted with his sin, Adam blamed Eve. He was not willing to admit that he himself was guilty. When Eve was confronted with her sin, she deflected responsibility to Satan. When Cain was confronted with is sin, he said, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
We are not much different. It always amazes me that people can sin so blatantly and then refuse to admit that they have done anything wrong. It amazes me until I catch myself doing the same thing. Pride prevents us from acknowledging our guilt. We don’t want to be seen for what we really are - people who have done wrong, people who have sinned.
B. Broken Relationships
The further consequence of sin is a series of broken relationships.
The first casualty of sin was that the relationship with God was broken. From the phrase in Genesis 3:10, “I heard you in the garden…” we gather implications about what it had been like. We imagine that there was a relationship between Adam and God that was pure and natural. They communed together and had a wonderful relationship, but as soon as Adam and Eve had sinned, that relationship was gone. Now suddenly Adam feared God. God confronted Adam saying, “who told you that you were naked?” Adam responded, “the woman you gave me.” With this response, he tried to blame God for giving him a faulty partner. This statement demonstrates the broken relationship with God. Something was wrong between them and that broken relationship with God continues to the present. All sin separates us from God because it is in the first place a rejection of the way of God and thus also a rejection of God.
There was also a broken relationship between people. The first indication of that broken relationship is found in the two statements surrounding nakedness. Before sin, Adam and Eve were naked and were not ashamed. As soon as they broke God’s commandment, they “realized they were naked” and began to hide themselves. The further broken relationship is seen when Adam blamed Eve for the sin saying, “The woman you gave me.” He was prepared to sacrifice Eve to promote his own innocence. The legacy of broken relationships surfaced quickly in the next generation when Cain killed Abel and even more when Lamech boasted about his multiplied revenge. It surfaced after the flood when Ham gossiped about his father. Every time we sin, someone else is implicated, someone else is hurt.
The third broken relationship is the relationship to the earth. In the beginning, God commanded Adam and Eve to care for the earth. After they sinned, we read that the ground is cursed because of them. Romans 8:20-22 speaks about the whole creation groaning, about it being in bondage to decay. How sobering to realize that even the awful things that happen in the physical world reveal a brokenness that comes directly because of our sin.
C. Death and Destruction
The ultimate consequence of sin is death. God indicated that they would die and indeed there is a sense in which they died immediately because death is a symbol of separation from God. But physical death also came as we read in Genesis 3:19, “dust you are and to dust you will return.” Genesis gives us the history of death. The death dealing consequences of sin are seen in the story about Cain. He killed his brother and then experienced death by being driven even further from God and subject to revenge by others. In Genesis 5:1-32, we have a list of the descendants of Adam and Eve. The story is told in such a way that we notice that they all died except Enoch. Although life was long, death came to every one of them. Later, God destroyed the whole earth in the flood because of it’s wickedness. Later still the lifespan of people was cut short, because of sin.
Whenever we sin, it leads to death in one form or another. Sin destroys - by its own consequences and by the judgement of God.
IV. Is There Any Hope?
We are fully aware of the mess in the world and the mess in our own lives. Is there any hope for this sorry state of affairs?
We all sin. We are implicated in the sin of the world and stand under the same condemnation as all others who sin. Death is the end of every person. The other morning, Carla and I were talking about healthy eating. We were thinking about foods which have trans-fats, which are bad, and it made me think about all the things in this world which can lead to death. It made me think that although I am in favour of exercise and good diet and taking care of the environment, ultimately, eating trans-fats, getting cancer, having a heart attack are not what cause us to die. What causes us to die is sin and we will all die because we all sin. There is no hope because of sin and the death.
But there is hope! The implications of hope are already present in these chapters. Hope is present when we realize that God did not destroy everyone right away. Hope is present in the promise made in Genesis 3:15 that the serpent would be crushed. Hope is present in the genealogies of Genesis. The genealogies are important because they point in a direction, they indicate that God has a plan, a plan which answers to the hopelessness of the current destructive situation of sin and death. There is hope in the flood story, knowing that God did not destroy the whole earth, but brought one man and his family through the flood to give the rest of humanity a chance. Before the flood, God declared the great wickedness of all people (6:5). After the flood, he made the same declaration in 8:21 when he acknowledged, “every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood.” But this time, he promised not to destroy the earth again as he had done in the flood. This too is an indication of hope.
God hates sin and will destroy it. We all deserve destruction and it is only the mercy of God which gives the possibility of redemption from sin.
In Genesis, we have been talking about foundational issues. Sin is a foundational issue. Every person in this room is a sinner. Every one of us suffers from the consequences of sin. There is a mess and that is the reason for the mess.
Yet God in His mercy has made a way so that we can be freed from bondage to sin and that we can have an eternal hope. The next time I preach I would like to speak about the promises of God which lead to this eternal hope. We want to talk about the plan of God which he gave from the beginning. Salvation is also a foundational issue.
As people who have experienced this hope, the reflection on sin is useful for another reason. It helps us understand how sin works and how destructive it is. When we understand how it works, we can be better equipped to overcome the deception of Satan and to understand our own sinful tendencies. When we know how destructive it is, we are encouraged to choose life instead of death.
May we all reach out for the gracious hand of God who forgives all our sins and leads us to eternal life.