Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. And the Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:8-9, 16-17, NIV)
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”…When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it….So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:1, 6, 23-24, NIV)
At present God’s creation is, quite obviously, no longer as it was in the beginning.
Tragically, death, disease, broken relationships, and injustice are currently part of our everyday experience as human beings. Things are not as they should be.
According to the Bible, the world’s current problems trace their origin to an early rebellion involving the parents of humanity, Adam and Eve, and a non-human rebel referred to as the “serpent” (Gen. 3:1). This rebellion, sadly, was but the first in a long series of treacherous revolts, acts of defiance, and sinful decisions on the part of humanity and other beings within the cosmos. Every time we refuse to listen to God and obey his commands, we follow in the rebellious footsteps of our forebearers.
According to the Bible, when God made the Garden of Eden, he put two special trees in the middle of the garden: The “tree of life,” and the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 2:9). The tree of life was God’s chosen means for keeping human beings continually renewed with life; so long as people had access to this tree, they would not die. The fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, however, was forbidden.
God gave a clear warning that violation of his command to not eat the fruit of this tree would result in death. Adam and Eve, however, did not heed God’s command.
One day the serpent tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, and Eve yielded to the temptation. Eve gave some of the fruit to Adam, and he ate, too. The door to death had now been opened. After placing a curse on the serpent, telling Eve that her pains in childbirth would be multiplied, and cursing the ground which Adam was to work (see Gen. 3), God banished Adam and Eve (and with them, all humanity) from the Garden of Eden and cut off their access to the tree of life (Gen. 3:22-24).
It was Adam and Eve’s disobedience through which evil and death first entered the world. After this first human sin, it did not take long for envy, deceit, lies, hatred, and evil thoughts to give rise to the first murder, when Adam and Eve’s son, Cain, killed their other son, Abel (see Gen. 4). In the days that followed, rebellion against God continued to escalate in the world to the point that God eventually felt so pained and angry that he came to regret having made humankind and decided to destroy the world with a flood. In the days before the Flood there was one man, however, who obeyed and remained loyal to God, named Noah. He and his family were the only human beings to escape God’s judgment in the Flood.
One might think that God’s judgment through the Flood would be sufficient incentive for humanity to forsake its rebellious ways and turn back to God in repentance. However, in the days after the Flood, human beings came together and once again acted in open defiance of God. Nimrod, the founder of the city of Babylon, became “the first powerful man on earth” (Gen. 10:8, HCSB), that is, “the world’s first great conqueror” (Gen. 10:8, TEV). His reputation as a “hunter” was such that it “became proverbial” (Gen. 10:9, NLT), while the people of the city he founded became obsessed with their own fame and reputation and were intent on accessing the divine realm on their own terms.
Since the time of Nimrod and the building of the tower of Babel, the peoples of the earth have felt the oppression of many Nimrod-like rulers and Babylon-like kingdoms.
The post-rebellion world has been ravaged time and again by human and demonic lust for power, control, and domination, and by a refusal on the part of both mankind and dark spiritual powers to heed God’s warnings and commands.
After Adam and Eve sinned, all creation was “subjected to futility” (Rom. 8:19, ESV), and, therefore, is presently in a state of “bondage to decay” (Rom. 8:21, NIV).
Over the centuries death has swallowed up generation after generation of Adam and Eve’s descendants. Death robs us of the people we love most, and it tears at the core of who we are as beings designed to live forever in God’s presence.
There is no nation or tribe on the earth that escapes its jaws. The effects of the curse are felt not only by human beings, however, but by other parts of the creation as well, such as the animal kingdom.
Although at the present time God’s will is faithfully carried out in the highest heaven where his throne is located (Mt. 6:10), in other parts of the heavens, and on the earth, too, his will is still resisted. These are rebel territories within the created order.
When God subjected the creation to futility and frustration by his curse, he did so not without reason or with the intent to keep it in such a state permanently, but with a long-term, restorative purpose in mind, namely, the creation’s eventual liberation from decay and corruption. God subjected the creation to futility “in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay” (Rom. 8:21, NIV).
Although God takes no delight in death (Ezek. 18:32) and never wanted it in his creation, he can still use it to accomplish an important work in the hearts of human beings.
Death is a pointed and deeply humbling reminder of our mortality apart from God, of our complete dependance on God, and of the dire consequences of rebellion against God. If we respond to the reality of death by humbling ourselves before our Creator, by recognizing his authority over us and the rest of the created order, and by repenting of our disobedience and rebellion against him, there is hope of regaining what was lost when Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden.
In other words, the creation’s current state of futility and frustration provides the context and “tools” through which God calls forth a response of repentance from human beings, and through which he prepares those who do so respond for the Day when he will liberate them and the rest of creation from slavery to death and decay.
The series of judicial pronouncements that together form “the curse” came about by God’s decision and decree in response to the serpent’s rebellion and Adam and Eve’s disobedience. After Adam and Eve ate some of the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, God came and confronted both them and the serpent concerning what they had done.
As part of his judgment, God not only cut off Adam and Eve’s access to the tree of life, but he also issued pronouncements by which he subjected the guilty parties to various kinds of difficulty (see Gen. 3).
Two of these pronouncements are explicitly referred to as “curses.” Only the serpent receives a curse directly upon himself; in Adam and Eve’s case difficulties are imposed, but God does not curse them directly. The serpent, for his part, would suffer humiliation (“eat dust”; see Gn. 3:14; cf. Mic. 7:17) on his belly and would face hostility from the woman and her offspring. As for Eve, she would suffer increased pain while giving birth, and would face hostility from the serpent and his offspring. As for Adam, he would suffer the difficulty of trying to grow food from ground on which God was now placing a curse, and whose productivity, as a result, would be severely limited. Although in later chapters of the biblical story God mercifully allows the ground to be more productive (see, e.g., Gen. 5:29, 8:21), the creation is still longing for the Day when it will be liberated once and for all from frustration, futility, and decay (see Rom. 8:18-25).