In the beginning, the world was good.
I know, I know—the last post started with the same sentence. But that is where the Creation chapter of the biblical story leaves us heading into the this chapter. The world is good. In fact, it’s very good. Not only is everything—everything—functioning the way it’s supposed to, but humans, the part of creation that bears God’s own image, are now in the world, ruling over it, caring for it, and making something of it to the glory of God.
It’s shalom. Everywhere.
But not for long. Humans, along with the rest of creation, existed in perfect freedom. But this freedom isn’t quite like we might expect it to be. We often define freedom as the ability to do whatever one wants. Even a quick, cursory reading of the opening chapters of Genesis make it clear that’s not what is going on in the Garden of Eden. There are boundaries. Lots of them!
At the outset of the creation story, “the earth was without form and void” (Gen. 1:2). We see here a formless, chaotic creation on Day One. Then, God separates light from darkness, day from night. On Day Two, he separates water from sky. Day Three, water from land. He’s drawing boundaries, giving his creation form. Then, God makes plants and vegetation spring up from the earth, and he designed trees to produce seed, “each according to its kind” (1:11). Apple trees don’t make oranges, peach trees don’t produce papayas. More boundaries. Day Four, he puts the great lights in the sky, the sun “to rule the day” and the moon “to rule the night” (1:16). Day Five, God puts fish in the sea and birds in the sky, specific creatures designed to exist in specific environments. And like the plants, these creatures will reproduce “according to their kinds” (1:21). More boundaries. Day Six, God makes land animals, and again, they are made “according to their kinds” (1:25).
Every part of creation has its place; everything has it a role. To depart from these role would prevent flourishing, certainly for that specific part of creation (you’ve probably seen a fish out of water), but for the entire cosmos (you probably know what would become of earth without the sun in its place).
So by the time we get to the creation of humans later on Day Six, the concept of boundaries is nothing new. God puts boundaries in place, not as arbitrary rules, but in order for the flourishing of all of his creation. Everything thrives when it exists within the created bounds and limits God has designed. In God’s creation, this is the definition of good.
What are the boundaries given to humans? What is their specific role? As we reflected in the Creation chapter, they are called to have dominion over the rest of creation and to reflect his image in the world. We know about that rule about that tree, but even before that, they are given a command, a task, and boundaries within which to remain. It is within these boundaries, and only within these boundaries, that humans can thrive. To step outside these boundaries is to invite death into the world.
So when God tells them they are not permitted to eat the fruit of one particular tree in the garden, we may see this as a weird, silly, arbitrary rule given to mess with their minds. But it’s more than that—this command, this particular boundary, is symbolic of God’s good design. The question of whether or not they will eat from the tree is really the question of whether or not they will remain within God’s design.
And the answer is no, they won’t. They choose a design of their own. They decide their desires are better than God’s plan. They step outside of the boundaries they have been given, and the natural consequence of this is death.
And everything—everything—is broken because of it. Creation cannot flourish outside of God’s design, and shalom is shattered. The humans hide from God, recognizing their broken relationship with him. They point fingers at each other, harmony in their own relationship destroyed. In the curse, the earth begins to work against them, instead of the abundant flourishing they once knew. They even turn on themselves, unable to see the goodness they had been created with, ashamed of and horrified by their own God-formed bodies.
Sin isn’t simply a theological construct; it isn’t just an idea. Those first humans thought this choice would lead them into freedom. Instead, it destroyed freedom. We have thought the same twisted thought, and we, too, are deeply wrong. There is no freedom in sin. There is only death.
So here we are: the Fall. We see it all around us. You and I feel that same shame when we look at ourselves. Instead of cultivating and caring for the earth, we pillage it to fill our selfish desires. We put ourselves in tribes and war against everyone else, with physical weapons, with our words, and with our innermost thoughts. And we, even the most “religious” and “good” among us, spit in the face of God, again and again choosing our plan, our design, and rejecting his.
Because of our sin, we are not free to flourish in God’s design. We are in shackles, and everything is broken.
—Sam Levy is a CCO campus minister in partnership with Gateway Church at Slippery Rock University and Grove City College. He loves his family, baseball, cheese, and walking with college students as they pursue the God who is making all things new. Follow him on Twitter at @sdlevy13.
For a powerful reflection on the brokenness the Fall brings to the world today, see Jena Lee Nardella’s Fall talk at Jubilee 2016.
This is the second post in our Biblical Narrative series. You can also read Chapter 1: Creation.