I was listening to a friend’s sermon the other day and it caused me to reflect on the grace of God. Specifically, I was reminded of the grace that God displayed in the Garden of Eden and especially when Adam and Eve fell into sin. Though it seems to be rarely preached, that whole episode just drips with grace and mercy. I’m indebted to Dr. Gerry Breshears for many of these insights.
First, I think it is real important to understand the nature of the Garden. It was a ‘dispensation’ that was marked, if by any description at all, by the word “freedom.” The Garden, was full of wonderful things: “The LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; .... Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food;” The landscape was lush and pleasing, the garden was a source of four rivers, and God told Adam, eat whatever you want; there was only one exception. But, in our weird pathological way, we focus on the exception rather than the overwhelming provision and freedom that God gave Adam.
God was pretty clear about that exception – if you eat it, you will die. Now most preaching gets this part pretty wrong. Most preaching seems to put these words in God’s mouth: “If you eat this, I’ll kill you!” This makes God a vengeful person waiting to squash people. This is wildly inconsistent with God’s own description of himself in Exodus 34:6-7. By the way, did you know that passage is the most quoted verse in the Bible by the Bible? This statement of consequences should be stated this way: “Don’t eat that fruit or you’ll suicide.” It was a warning; very akin to Grandpa saying to his five year old grandson, “Don’t try to use that power saw in the garage or you’ll hurt yourself!”
Well, we all know what happens next. Lucifer, in the form of a ‘serpent,’ manages to get Eve’s attention and both Adam and Eve sin. Let’s not forget that Adam clearly knew the deal about that fruit and still chose to eat it.
After Adam and Eve sinned by exercising faithless autonomy in the eating of the prohibited fruit, God exercised grace in several ways.
Speculatively, we can say that God did not destroy them (including the serpent) immediately. He generously allowed all of them to draw another breath and their hearts to continue beating.
First in the text, we read that God came to them (Gen. 3:8). He did not force them to come to Him; He initiated contact with his now-sinful children. God didn’t make a power play, God came to people. As we think about Christmas, shouldn’t this echo in our ears? God with us – “Emmanuel.”
Second, we read that God called out to them (Gen. 3:9). He did not immediately declare punishment; but He sought communication with them. He asked where they were. He asked for an explanation. He patiently interviewed all the parties that he was interested in.
Well, it was obvious that Adam and Eve had disobeyed and there were consequences. God had three curses to hand out. He began with the serpent.
The third point of grace is that God can’t even get through the first curse without holding out the prophetic hope that humans would get their – well, 'revenge' would not be too strong a word (Gen. 3:15b). God promises that humans, though bruised on the heel, would strike back at the head of the serpent. This is amazingly hopeful! Women are cursed with painful childbirth and strained relationships with their husbands. Men are cursed with work that is toil and knowlege that they will physically die and disintegrate.
The fourth point of grace is that God sees the shame they feel regarding nakedness and provides coverings (Gen. 3:21). This is significant in that innocent animals had to die for these coverings. God shows grace by his provision, even though his kids had really wrecked everything.
Lastly, God protects Adam and Eve from the Garden by hiding it from them. They are in a state of spiritual death and need to be protected from the Tree of Life. Think of it, if they were allowed to continue eating from the Tree of Life while in a constant state of spiritual separation from God, it would be unthinkable in its spiritual horror that Adam and Eve, and all their descendants would continue to biologically live in some sort of zombie-like state. We can only speculate at the real terror of that. In any case, God protects them from something awful, maybe some sort of sacrilege, by hiding the Tree of Life. But, not to worry, the Tree of Life shows up again at a time when we will be better able to metabolize it. Look at Revelation 22:1-2.
So all of this tells me that God’s grace was pervasive even in the midst of “The Curse.”