As we discussed in the 1st blog in this series, Genesis opens with a majestic, broad sweeping account of God inaugurating the functions of the cosmos to establish a beautiful, abundant creation in which He will rule and reign and dwell with humanity. Here, humanity is made to flourish as they image God and partner with Him to rule and reign and bring order and abundance to the whole of creation. But, in just a few short steps past the opening scene of Genesis, the story takes a dark turn. As a result, the effects of sin warp how we interpret the world today as well as the ‘world’ inside us too.
In this series I want to highlight 4 aspects of this story that continue to impact us today as those seeking to grow as disciples of Jesus. In the first blog we looked at listening to stories of scarcity and placing function before beauty, we continue with points 3 and 4 below.
#3 Rule, Reign and Responsibility
When Genesis tells the story of Adam and Eve’s creation, ancient listeners would have clearly heard something that is easy to miss when hearing with our modern minds. The language used is royal language, it is the enthroning of royal rulers in the garden. Of course, not royal as the ultimate authority. Ancient understandings of Kings and Queens saw royal rulers as temporary extensions of the eternal ultimate authority of the gods, or in this case, YHWH (God).
There was a clear line of authority, and a clear role for each part of creation: there was order. God was the source and giver of all life; humans are placed as images, or the likeness of God to be like ambassadors for God’s ultimate rule and reign. Their task was to oversee, name and steward the continued growth of this good creation. Just as God created a context for growth and flourishing of humans and creation, humans were made to steward that creation context and ensure goodness and flourishing continued in partnership with God. We see this royal language emerge most clearly in English Bible translations in Genesis 1:28 when God gives humans the task to ‘rule over’ the creation.
In our modern age, due to a well-documented history of the abuse of power, we can tend to be naturally critical of power, hierarchy and structure. However, Jesus in the Gospels reveals the true character of Kingdom power when He speaks of humble service as the truest expression of authority. The God revealed in Genesis is already revealing Himself as the God who serves by inviting those that carry His name to be one’s that rule through service. That being said, just as good parents wield authority over children, not as power-hungry egotistical maniacs, but as ones who care enough to cultivate flourishing and goodness, we were also designed to wield servant-hearted authority and stewardship in creation.
Fast forward from God’s commission to rule and reign in creation to Eve’s description of what went wrong in Genesis 3:13. Eve explains to God that the ‘serpent deceived me’. The serpent, a creature in creation, has been allowed to disorder creation by being the One who gives counsel to those that were made to rule over it.
It is here that we see the ultimate failure of the Fall. Not only that the humans have done something morally bad, but they have foundationally failed at the task they were placed in the garden for – to take authority and to rule. Here the Genesis narrative teaches us that the character of our fallenness is not just what we fail to do, but who we fail to become.
- In what ways can you see the effects of sin in your life, not just as failed actions but a failure to play the role you were made for?
- Are there areas in your life you can pick up servant-hearted authority again where you may have laid it down?
#4 Shame, Contempt and Vulnerability
Very often we have arrived at Genesis with pre-conceived ideas about the issues it seeks to address. At this stage in history, we get to read the Genesis account in light of all of Israel’s history, the life of Christ and 2000+ years of Church history. As the saying goes, hindsight is 2020 but when it comes to reading the Genesis stories it may be the case that we can be missing the wood for the trees.
If we are primed that the ‘human’ problem of the fall is only moral or legal we will read Genesis this way, but if we pay attention to the language of Genesis we will see that the ‘problem’ as described in Genesis is much wider than either of these two categories can contain. In Genesis 2:25, we read that Adam and Eve were ‘naked and felt no shame’. But, by the time we get to Genesis 3:10 the human’s reply to a question from God about why they were hiding once they heard God’s voice is, ‘I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid’. The two verses are the primary descriptions of the state of humans before and after the fall. Nakedness and shame or hiding.
Shame is not something that comes to mind when we think about the Fall, but it is making something of a comeback in our modern consciousness through the work of people like Brene Brown. Brene Brown has the most-watched TED talk where she unpacks her work in the area of shame and disconnection (If you’ve never seen it, it is well worth your time here).
The reason for this viral interest, I think, is because of the deep resonance people feel that, in fact, shame is a deep and foundational human problem. As soon as sin in the form of shame enters the story, Adam and Eve are immediately hiding from and fearful of God. They become contemptuous towards one another and disconnected from their crucial role in creation. Sound like a world you are familiar with?
Shame has entered our world and it leads to mis-imagining God as ‘one to hide from’ in our pain, it causes us to become distrustful and blame those around us, it causes us to give up in our vocation and contribution to the world around us.
Dan Allender points out the way in which shame always gets expressed as contempt, which is itself a commitment to belittle others. In response to God, Adam makes 3 shame-filled and contemptuous statements in descending order of his understanding of their significance. The first, the one in the midst of his shame he considers most important; ‘The woman you put here with me’. Secondly, ‘She gave me the fruit’ and thirdly, ‘and I ate it’. We can hear how Adam’s contempt for God and for Eve puts himself at the back of the line of those to be blamed for this heinous and rebellious choice.
Nakedness leaves us exposed and weak. This, it turns out, is exactly the way that God in Jesus will come to save us from this wretched situation.
As Hebrews 12:2 puts it ‘For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame’. He enters our shame and lifts us back out of it, seating us with Him as beloved sons and daughters. One’s who no longer have to hide in our vulnerability, but as those who can walk out in the weakness yet unashamedness of those who have been reconciled to God and can boldly, yet humbly, live out our call in the world.
- Can you recognise shame responses in your own life? Sometimes they are not so much in our minds as manifest in our bodies – eyes look down, feel flush or flustered.
- Can you recognise any ways in which when you feel shame you turn in contempt and anger towards others or yourself?
- What would it take to offer these moments back to God and join him in courageous vulnerability on behalf of others?
This article was originally published as part of the Lectio Letter