God’s grace is the only antidote for our sin
James Knight explains what he believes we can learn from the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis.
Humans are culturally primed to take responsibility for their own misdemeanours. If Celia in Liverpool is caught speeding, we wouldn't expect Carol in Newcastle to get sent the speeding fine. If Jack in Bristol assaults someone in a nightclub, it would be unfair if the judge gave Tom in Manchester a prison sentence.
The story of Adam and Eve, then, even if one takes it as a non-literal myth intended to convey powerful truths about humankind, (as I believe we are meant to take it), is an interesting illustration of what it means to be humans under sin.
Taken literally it would be a silly story; one man sins, and because of that original sin the imputation falls on everyone who lives. That's even more unfair than my illustration of Carol in Newcastle getting the speeding fine for Celia's offence. It's more like Carol in Newcastle getting the speeding fine for someone who was caught speeding before she was even born.
How are we supposed to take the Adam and Eve story then? I have a rule about reading scripture - I think it all has to be read through the lens of the grace of Christ on the cross. Every book and every chapter is bound to be read anaemically unless understood in relation to God's awesome grace - even the difficult parts.
With that in mind, here's a suggested way to view the Adam and Eve story. We know from our present day lens of understanding psychology, biology and neuroscience just how inevitable it is that people will make a mess of things in life. Our heredity, or psychological damage, our emotional weaknesses and the other numerous human shortfalls are now understood to be key components in how we screw up. Or, to put it another way, the world is full of things that are bound to make us fall.
In contrast, the scene set for Adam & Eve is a paradisiacal backdrop, where we're told none of these earthly afflictions would have been a danger to them. They had no insecurities, no other people to damage them or bring out the worst in them. But yet even in paradise, susceptible to none of these faults, they were disobedient - they chose 'self' over choosing God - the primary sin that leads to all other sinning.
Perhaps the main message the story is conveying is that if paradisiacal Adam and Eve can slip up under their conditions, it shows just how hopeless our attempts are at avoiding sin. If even the two safest people ended up sinning, it is quite unsurprising that relatively unsafe people like us were always going to sin.
But with that comes the realisation of how the grace lens is brought to bear on our affliction. We are all so naturally screwed by ourselves that the only possible antidote for us is the same antidote for paradisiacal Adam and Eve - the love and grace of God, given to us through the death and resurrection of Christ as the free gift that we had no chance of earning.
James Knight is a long term contributor to the Network Norwich & Norfolk website and a local government officer based in Norwich. He is also a writer for the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.
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