Genesis 3 is an account of the human rebellion that plunged creation into chaos. And it portrays God as a genuine participant in unfolding events.
In Genesis 2, God placed the humans in the garden as his “image,” commissioning them to spread God’s order of flourishing beyond the borders of the garden. They were to subdue what was non-ordered or chaotic.
As Genesis 3 opens, the humans encounter the serpent, a representative of chaos. Their responsibility toward this character is clear: they were to subdue it. How they would have done this is not clear, but they apparently would have been able to figure it out through discussion or even asking God for counsel.
As it happened, the humans did not subdue the serpent, but succumbed to the temptation to grasp for the super-wisdom offered by the fruit that God told them not to eat.
Rather than embodying and manifesting God’s sovereign kingship as God’s “image,” they bought the lie that they were the “image” of something else (Rom 1:23, 25). Instead of representing the transcendent king’s rule over creation, they became representatives of the serpent. They did not spread shalom, but chose to become agents of the chaos God commissioned them to subdue.
When God entered the creation to encounter the humans, as he had done before, the humans hid themselves (Gen 3:8-13). This was not the norm, since they had only known visits from God as delightful encounters. God asks a series of questions in a conversation with the humans.
God then announces curses and consequences, and banishes the humans from the garden.
I’ve kept this brief in order to focus on some conclusions we may draw from the narrative.
First, the text presents God as a character who seeks to determine what has happened. Something has changed and he wants to know what it is.
We may think that God already knows what has happened, and that perhaps God is leading the humans to admit what they have done.
That is both a poor reading strategy and it represents poor theological method. It does not let the narrative shape how God as a character should be understood, but makes assumptions about the character that come from outside the narrative. Good reading lets the narrative inform understanding.
And it is poor theological method because it does not move from the text’s presentation of God to an understanding of God as Christians should know him. It prefers some other starting point for thinking about God.
Letting the text inform how we think about God will indeed lead us toward a complex understanding of God and his relationship to creation, as I mentioned in a previous post. We may prefer one that is simple and that makes sense, but thinking about God from our preferences leads inevitably to idolatry.
Second, and related, God is a genuine participant in events as they unfold. By genuine participant, I mean that his questions are sincere and his further questions follow straightforwardly from what he hears. He is presented as a guileless character, one who is trustworthy and not a hypocrite.
God is seeking to determine just what the humans have done, since what has happened should not have happened. He then considers what he will do in response. Genesis 18 presents God in the same way (cf. esp. Gen. 18:21).
We may think that while the text presents God in this way, in reality he is controlling the situation and directing it.
But that is a posture of resistance to the biblical text in that it prefers some other way of thinking about God than how the Bible reveals him. Further, it regards the Bible’s revelation of God with suspicion, in that while Scripture portrays God as it does, we can’t really trust it.
And it assumes that God is deceptive when he relates to humanity. While the humans think God is relating to them genuinely, that is not really the case.
The narrative does not invite us to ask whether God is in control or if he has allowed this to happen, nor whether he already knew it would take place. Our search to answer these questions is a way of thinking about the scenario that runs against the grain of the narrative. It is a way of not paying attention to Scripture.
Third, the humans chose not to bring God’s order of flourishing to creation, but rather to cast their lot with chaos. The narrative is an explanation of why our experience in this world is filled with pain and suffering, and is one that God did not intend for us.
We will experience this world as chaotic and filled with hardship, pain, suffering, and conflict. In a sense, we inhabit a “God-less” world, one in which we do not experience God’s presence as God intended for us.
To say that “God is in control” stems from the desire to make this world make sense. We assume that God’s sovereign kingship must mean that the world is well-ordered and we should be able to find an explanation for everything.
But that is a way of thinking that does not come from the Bible, and it is a way of thinking that the Bible seeks to correct.
The world will only make sense in the future when God fully redeems it at the day of Christ. Until then, the only explanation we have for suffering and chaos is that it is the result of humanity’s rebellion against God’s intentions. And we respond to chaos and suffering not by explaining that it all makes sense, but by praying that God would come and make all things new.
Scripture commends some other responses and I hope to explore those in future posts.