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Some see the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden as just that—a story without any historical basis—while others understand it as recorded history. How did the early Church of God understand the garden encounter with a talking serpent, recorded in the third chapter of the book of Genesis? And what, if anything, are we to learn from it? The answer to the second question has implications that go far beyond what most imagine, and is also the answer to another one of mankind’s most troubling questions.
Was Adam a real person? The New Testament scriptures confirm that he was, and that the details we read about his life were also real. We see the lineage of Jesus stretching all the way back to the first man, Adam (Luke 3:38). Jesus’ half-brother Jude recorded that Enoch was the seventh from Adam (Jude 14). The Apostle Paul saw Adam as the first man (1 Corinthians 15:45) and affirmed that Adam was first formed, then Eve (1 Timothy 2:13).
But what of their garden encounter with a serpent that spoke to them? Is this too much to swallow? You and I have not heard a serpent speak; does this mean it did not happen? Consider this: Even today, you can find people who believe they hear voices telling them what to do. Should we dismiss their testimonies? Regardless of what we may think or believe about them, one fact is certain: The source may very well be supernatural, but—based on what they often claim is said—it is obviously never the loving God of the Bible!
The New Testament confirms the exchange between Eve and the serpent. It also explains why Adam is considered the one held accountable. “For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression” (1 Timothy 2:13–14). Adam was not deceived. He knew better, but gave in to his wife!
Why is this account so important? What are we to learn from the sin of Adam and Eve? And what implications does it have for you personally?
Satan appealed to our first parents’ emotions and desire for independence. “For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). In other words, the devil claimed that God was not telling Adam and Eve the whole truth and that they ought to be able to decide for themselves what is right and what is wrong—no need to rely on God’s instructions!
Notice how the devil got to Eve: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate” (Genesis 3:6). These same temptations fall upon us today. That is why the Apostle John gives this warning: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh [fruit that will taste good], the lust of the eyes [fruit that is beautiful and appealing], and the pride of life [fruit that will make one wise]—is not of the Father but is of the world” (1 John 2:15–16).
What was the result of our first parents’ rebellion? The tree they chose is a tree of knowledge based upon human reason apart from God—the fruits of which are a mixture of good and evil. In choosing that tree, they rejected the tree of life and the choice to be led by God’s perfect commandments. Adam and Eve chose to determine right and wrong for themselves, and they would thereafter eat the fruits of their decisions.
The same choice faces all of us, as God explained through His prophet Moses: “I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; that you may love the Lord your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days” (Deuteronomy 30:19–20).
A survey of world conditions reveals suffering on a scale we cannot fully take in. How can our minds wrap around genocides and wars where people are brutally hacked, bludgeoned, burned, and blown apart? Closer to home, grief overwhelms us when we see a loved one suffering the ravages of terminal illness. Many a parent has never gotten over the loss of a child from a drug overdose, a crushing vehicular accident, or a rare disease.
This brings us to the crucial question so many ask: How can a loving God allow suffering on a worldwide scale? This is a roadblock to belief in God that many cannot get past, but let us take a closer look. When God caught Adam and Eve in rebellion, how did they react? Adam blamed Eve, but beyond that, he blamed God. “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate” (Genesis 3:12). Eve then blamed the serpent.
Yes, it always seems to be someone else’s fault when the choices we make don’t work out. And let us be honest: We as human beings love determining right and wrong for ourselves. We love war, whether we fight it literally or vicariously through gory and violent video games. We love our own “holy days,” whether the weekly day of worship that Constantine chose—Sunday—in opposition to God’s seventh-day Sabbath, or yearly holidays steeped in paganism. Humanity loves its politics, always believing that a new hero will save us from the last, now-tarnished hero. Humanity loves to eat anything that looks good, even when it brings disease and suffering. Many love pornography and every sexual perversion imaginable, and many even cheat on their husbands or wives. Many love mind-altering drugs and getting drunk.
Is mankind ready to listen to its Creator? Clearly, no—even though the ultimate result of disobedience is terrible pain. The suffering of mankind springs from the choice to do things our way instead of God’s way.
But what is the point of it all?
The answer is found at the very beginning—the first chapter of Genesis. “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness’…. So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:26–27). Do you understand the profound significance of that statement? It is easy to overlook, but the Bible is full of other statements that corroborate it. The truth of God’s plan for humanity ought to slap us in the face:
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption [sonship]. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him [as a result of obeying God and facing hostility from this world] so that we may also be glorified with him (Romans 8:14–17, New Revised Standard Version).
God is creating a great family. We are not to become angels, but are to become God’s very children who will share eternity with the Father and the Son. Paul understood this and put our temporary suffering into proper context. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:18–19).
Yes, there is coming a time when “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying” (Revelation 21:4). First, though, we must learn the lesson of the garden encounter: God is the supreme Authority and it is He who determines right from wrong. It is His perfect way that produces blessings and good results. We must be willing to reject the wrong and choose His way.