Welcome to Week 2 of our devotional series on those common Christian beliefs that have been overlooked or misunderstood. Today, we’re looking at Genesis 3 — the great story of humanity’s fall into sin and the coming of evil into the world. How does God respond to human sinfulness? Just how are God and evil (Evil?) related? The very character of God seems at stake here, so let’s dig in…
God of Love! You are holy. You are good. Remind us today of these facts as we take a deeper look at our sin and the presence of suffering and evil in our world. Amen.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; 5 for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
8 They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.” 14 The Lord God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
cursed are you among all animals
and among all wild creatures;
upon your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
15 I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel.”
16 To the woman he said,
“I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children,
yet your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.”
17 And to the man he said,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife,
and have eaten of the tree
about which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread
until you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”
20 The man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all living. 21 And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them.
22 Then the Lord God said, “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”— 23 therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.
“Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed” — Lyrics by Isaac Watts; Music by Hugh Wilson; Performed by University UMC Worship (YouTube video for in-home worship: Click here for Video)
Alas! and did my Savior bleed,
and did my Sovereign die!
Would he devote that sacred head
for such a wretch as I?
At the cross, at the cross
Where I first saw the light
And the burden of my heart rolled away
It was there by faith I received my sight
And now I am happy all the day.
Was it for crimes that I have done,
he groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! Grace unknown!
And love beyond degree! (Chorus)
Thus might I hide my blushing face
while his dear cross appears;
dissolve my heart in thankfulness,
and melt mine eyes to tears. (Chorus)
On April 3, 1974, an F5 tornado — the largest and fiercest of its kind — blew through the center of Xenia, Ohio, killing thirty-five and injuring nearly 1,500. President Nixon, who personally surveyed the destruction, called it the most devastating he had ever seen. And it could have been far worse. Had the storm hit only a couple hours earlier, hundreds of students would have been strolling the halls of Xenia’s nine schools that were ultimately reduced to rubble. That these kids weren’t congregated together in the direct path of the storm probably saved hundreds of lives. But even with such silver linings, residents across Xenia and Ohio’s Miami Valley couldn’t help but wonder why God would allow such a thing to happen in the first place. Faced with a storm of such epic and even divine proportions, many were hard pressed to understand how such gratuitous evil could coexist with a good and all-powerful God.
The problem of evil, as we’ve come to call it, has caused many over the years to struggle with the Bible and Christianity in general. Indeed, the harsh reality of evil has been called the biggest roadblock to faith. David Hume once put it this way:
If God is able to prevent evil but does not, he must be malevolent.
If God is willing to prevent evil but does not, he must be impotent.
If God is both able and willing to prevent evil, whence cometh evil?
If God is neither able nor willing to prevent evil, why do you call him God?
And yet, we still do call God “God,” while at the same time also acknowledging his power and goodness and the seemingly ubiquitous presence of evil right alongside of it. Indeed, maybe the biggest “problem” of evil is the fact that the Bible doesn’t seem all that worried about why evil exists at all. Instead, the Bible is much more interested in what God’s planning to do about it.
Just take a look at Genesis 3. Sin and evil are virtually assumed. The snake is running around freely in the garden, as if it’s always belonged there. What’s more, God has literally planted a tree that bestows “a knowledge of good and evil” upon whomever eats its delicious fruit. Read through these first few chapters of the Bible, and it certainly looks as if good and evil have always existed together, competing for our attention. And so, when Adam and Eve take that forbidden bite of fruit and find themselves the fools of evil, nobody in Genesis wonders why God would have let that happen in the first place. What we hear instead is a prophecy about how God plans to destroy that same evil in the end: “The Lord God said to the serpent…‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.’”
This divine promise in Genesis 3:15-16 was quickly taken up by the first Christians as a foretelling of Jesus Christ, who defeated death through his cross and resurrection. For instance, at the end of his Letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul echoes God’s promise in Genesis when he tells his readers that “the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” Throughout Romans, Paul had been arguing that Jesus’ work on the cross and in the resurrection emphatically put the nail in the proverbial coffin of sin, death, and evil, even if their effects continue to linger. His point through it all is clear: God has fought against evil, and he’s won. By and large, this is the Bible’s take on evil. What it cares about is not so much why a good and all-powerful God would allow evil to exist but what God is doing (or what he already did) to get rid of it.
So, what are we to make of the problem of evil today? Why do bad things happen to good people, or why do they even happen at all? What are we to make of a mile-wide tornado slamming mercilessly into the sleepy town of Xenia, Ohio? How do we make sense of human sin in all its terrible forms, if God is truly the ruler of heaven and earth?
While the Bible doesn’t shy away from such questions — the Book of Job is wholly predicated on them — it suggests that we should be paying attention to a much more important one: What is God actually doing about evil? And the answer is not some philosophical proof that evil isn’t really evil or that God as God can do whatever he wants. Instead, the Bible tells a very practical story about how God, seeing all the destruction sin and evil has wreaked upon the world, loved us so much that he sent his Son, Jesus, to die for us and to heal everything with his resurrection life. That’s the “answer” the Bible gives to the problem of evil, and in the end, it’s the one that matters most for you and me.
Holy God, if you are for us, who can be against us? Be for us today against the evil of this world and the evil in ourselves. Amen.
– Peter J. Thuesen, Tornado God: American Religion and Violent Weather (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020).