The Image of God and the Fall



The gift of freedom
As we have seen in previous articles, when God created humanity He gave us a tremendous privilege and responsibility to act as His stewards in the world, as well as amazing gifts to empower us to complete the work He gave us of developing the earth, creating culture, and in essence bringing to completion the work that He began. Among those gifts was free will. 

Human freedom is essential if we are to carry out God’s purposes in producing culture. God does not want automatons, so He gave us the gift of freedom and creativity and the scope to exercise our gifts under His authority. Even more, freedom is necessary for us to develop as persons who reflect God’s own character. God wants us to be virtuous, and that means that we must have the freedom not to act virtuously. If the potential for vice does not exist, we cannot be praised for being virtuous. 

Similarly, God wants us to love Him, but love that is coerced is not love. Love must be freely given or it is not love. So to be the people that God wants us to be, as well as to carry out the work He made us to do, we must be free. 

A test failed
The Bible tells us in Genesis 2 that God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and provided everything they needed to flourish: abundant food, close companionship, meaningful work, an open relationship with Him. He only placed one restriction on them: they could not eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen. 2:17),[1] because on the day they did, they would die. Here was a test of obedience, self-restraint, trust, and love, with clear consequences for disobedience.

We failed comprehensively. 

It started off with the serpent getting Eve to doubt God (Gen. 3:1-4). The “ice breaker” question was whether they could eat fruit at all, to which Eve replied they could, except for the fruit of one tree—and then she went beyond what God told her by saying they could not eat it or touch it or they would die. Eve’s first mistake was a Pharisaical misinterpretation of the commandment that prohibited more than was commanded. 

Then the serpent outright called God a liar and questioned His love for Adam and Eve and concern for their well-being, suggesting that God was keeping something from them out of His own self-interest. Thus deceived, Eve began to think about the fruit—it was visually appealing and edible—and so she decided to eat it. Not only that, but she gave some to Adam as well (Gen. 3:6). 

Adam knew full well that what they were doing was wrong—he wasn’t deceived by the serpent—but knowingly and intentionally decided to disobey anyway. John Milton in Paradise Lost suggests that Adam did this because he couldn’t stand the thought of losing Eve, and thus “completed” the first sin that his wife had begun. Whatever his motive, however, Adam’s action sealed the deal: they had betrayed God, first by lack of trust in His goodness and love, by doubt of His Word, by believing the deceiving serpent more than God, and finally by open rebellion. 

Results of the fall
The results were disastrous. The first and obvious one was shame (Gen. 3:7) and an effort to cover over what they had done by using their creativity to fashion clothes of fig leaves. Their open relationship with God was broken, so that they hid from Him out of shame and quite likely fear of the consequences of their actions (Gen. 3:8).

When God graciously sought them out and tried to coax a confession from them, we see that sin not only resulted in psychological damage to them individually, but shattered the unity that Adam and Eve had previously enjoyed in their marriage. Adam put the blame on Eve and on God Himself: “the woman you put here with me gave me the fruit” (Gen. 3:12). For her part, Eve blamed the serpent (Gen. 3:13). 

And so God pronounced His judgment. The serpent was cursed to live in the dust, to unending hostility with Eve and her offspring, and ultimately to death at the hand of the “seed of the woman” (Gen. 3:14-15), a topic to which we will return in the next article. 

Blessings lost
Neither Eve nor Adam was cursed directly. For Eve, God’s blessing was turned to a source of suffering. Prior to this, blessing was always associated with “being fruitful and multiplying;” now, Eve would experience pain in childbirth

Further, her relationship with Adam changed. Rather than the equality between the two that existed prior to this, Eve was now in the difficult position of “desiring” him.  This was a reference to her sexuality and thus her inability to escape the first part of her judgment, as well as to her desire for the kind of psychological and emotional intimacy that had been lost—but also became subordinated to him so that he would now “rule” over her the way they had together “ruled” over the other creatures (Gen. 3:16).[2] 

Perhaps as a result, “the woman” (as she is known up to this point) is given a new name by Adam and only now becomes known as “Eve” (meaning “living”), since she would be the source of all subsequent human life (Gen. 3:20) 

For Adam, the curse fell on the earth itself. As God’s steward, it was Adam’s responsibility and privilege to “tend the Garden,” growing his food and developing culture; now, what should have been a wonderful and joyful task would turn to drudgery. This struck at the heart of what it meant to bear the image of God and to a critical element of man’s self-identity.

Just as Eve’s role as the bearer of children was now filled with suffering, so the work necessary to fulfilling Adam’s purpose became tainted with frustration and struggle. Moreover, the prospect of death enters the picture, as God reminds Adam that he would return to the dust from which he had been taken (Gen. 3:17-19). 

And so in Genesis 3, we see sin breaking our fellowship with God, creating psychological problems within ourselves, striking at the heart of our families and our most intimate relationships, bringing pain into childbearing and struggle and frustration into our work, and even damaging our bodies.

But all of this is only the tip of the iceberg. Sin affects every part of our being. It corrupts the desires of our hearts so that we do not want the things we should; since our desires form our will, we choose to do the wrong rather than the right; our corrupted hearts also blind our reason so that we refuse to see what is plain to us about God and the moral order (Rom. 1:18-32) and lead us to use our creativity to devise ways to do evil.[3] Like Eve we do not trust God enough to obey Him, and like Adam we openly defy Him. 

Original sin and the problem of sin
Because of the sin of our primordial parents, we all have “original sin,” that is, an inborn tendency to disobey God. To understand this, consider different breeds of dogs: some are natural hunters and have behaviors bred into them that enhance their ability to do this well; others are hopeless as hunters but amazing as herding dogs, again with different sets of behaviors they inherit from their ancestors.

Just as dogs have been bred for specific behaviors, so are we. Only in our case, we’ve been bred to sin. Thus Seth, the progenitor of the godly line after the Fall, is described not as the image of God as Adam had been, but as the image of Adam (Gen. 5:2-3), indicating Adam’s sin had been passed down to him. 

But the problem of sin is even bigger than that. Since we are the image of God, His representatives and regents on earth, even the natural world has become tainted by human sin (Rom. 8:20-22). Our failure means that God’s intent for the world to be developed, for the Garden of Eden to become the City of God, was delayed and even threatened. 

But God’s will cannot be thwarted. Even though Adam’s offspring were in his fallen and sinful image, the image of God was not lost—it was marred, but it was not completely effaced. Even after the Flood, God affirmed to Noah that human beings were all made in His image (Gen. 9:6). So we remain God’s regents here, even though this is a much more painful and difficult job to do so since we have to fight not just the cursed ground but our own nature as well. 

Further, God had His contingency plans in place for Adam’s disobedience. Though Adam was reminded of his mortality, he did not die on the day He ate the fruit. But something did: God Himself replaced the fig leaves with clothes made from animal skins for Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:21). Our parents’ guilt and shame was covered by an animal that died so they wouldn’t have to—a substitutionary sacrifice for their sin that pointed the way ahead to the time that the seed of the woman would destroy the serpent but be wounded Himself in the process (Gen. 3:17). We will examine that in more detail in our next article. 

For more insight to this topic, get the book,
Why You Think the Way You Do, by Glenn Sunshine, from our online store. Or read the article, “Satan’s Designs: The Corrosive Power of Sin,” by T. M. Moore.

[1] It was not apple. That idea came from a Latin pun: the word for “evil” is malus and the word for “apple” is mālus. When the pun got translated into popular culture (and the vernacular), it was taken literally.

[2] This is not God’s intent for marriage or a command about how things should be; it is a statement of what would follow. In the New Testament teaching about marriage, we see a restoration of much of the equality and mutuality that prevailed before the Fall.

[3] This is what Calvinists mean when they talk about “Total Depravity,” not that we are as bad as we could be, but that every aspect of our being is affected by sin.



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