Thing #2: Adam & Eve
The creation story in Genesis is full of embarrassing things that a modern, educated, intelligent person is expected to run away from: Adam and Eve, Adam’s rib, the talking serpent, the magical tree…You simply can’t say you believe these stories are true and remain in good standing in a modern academic environment. Because academia has something much more modern and intelligent to believe. (Namely, the magical world of evolution, where life spontaneously springs from non-life, and the statistically impossible has accidentally happened millions of times over to bring us to where we are today.)
To be an academic, one must be intelligent, literate, and capable of rigorous thought. Academia is an elite and exclusive enterprise, to which one must earn entry. By contrast, the stories in the Torah read like children’s stories: God caused Adam to sleep, and while he slept took one of his ribs and made it into a woman. Really? A rib? How insulting to intelligent people. What could be more ridiculous? (I mean, other than the idea that the first woman accidentally evolved from dead matter as a result of non-directed, mindless processes.) Why must the creation account read like a children’s story?
Well, one reason might be that our relational Creator has universal truth that He wants to communicate to “every tribe, tongue, and nation” of the world. God is not elitist. The stories in the Torah deliver content very effectively. There are some 1 billion illiterate adults in the world – about a quarter of the earth’s adult population. I know missionaries who are sharing God’s truth through Bible stories right now, with illiterate people groups.
But does the fact that the Bible can be understood by uneducated people mean that the Bible is anti-intellectual? Not at all. One of the amazing things about the Bible is that it makes sense at a literal, story level, but at the same time there is spectacular depth for those who bother to search it out. Centuries of Rabbinic Jewish scholarship recorded in the vast literature of the Talmud attests to this, for example.
The Genesis creation account contains way too much profundity for a single blog post, so I want to share one, big idea from the creation story that ties into my previous post on the triune, relational nature of God. After you read this, you may never view life the same way because this is one of the most profound ideas in the universe!
Here it is: According to the Bible, our relational Creator defines life and death in relational terms.
Please bear in mind that, regardless of whether or not you consider this to be true, I’m simply presenting an internally consistent idea that runs throughout the whole of scripture.
What is death?
In the creation account we are first presented with our relational Creator’s understanding of death:
- God places Adam in the garden, giving him responsibility over it, but instructs Adam not to eat the fruit of a particular tree, saying, “…for in the day that you eat of it you shall die” (Gen 2:17)
- A very cunning creature tells Adam’s wife that, actually, God is essentially being selfish and arrogant, and is lying to them. He says, “You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:4,5.)
- So the first couple decides to eat the forbidden fruit. Then it later says that Adam lives to be 930 years old!
What’s the deal? The serpent is supposed to be evil, but it looks like he was the one speaking the truth! Not only did the man and woman come to know good and evil, they did not die that day. Furthermore, after this, God drives them out of the garden so that they can’t eat from a second tree, the tree of life, which apparently wasn’t even forbidden originally:
‘Then YHWH God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever” – therefore YHWH God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man…’ (Gen 3:22-24.)
It appears as though God is afraid of human beings becoming wise and eternal, like Himself.
The key to the story has to do with relational unity from start to finish. The biblical concept of death has to do with separation. Conversely, life has to do with unity, both on a spiritual and a physical level. On a physical/biological level we may think of death as the cessation of biological function. But every known culture also understands that this entails a separation of the physical body from some non-material part of us. Certainly the Bible teaches the existence of a non-material soul/spirit that is separated from the body at physical death.
So death is separation. But for human beings, physical death is merely the inevitable result of a more fundamental, spiritual separation. In all of creation, human beings are unique in that we are both physical and spiritual beings. We were designed to live in relational unity with the fountainhead of life – our Creator. When the first couple chose to disregard God’s will regarding the tree, relational unity was broken. This is the death of which God spoke when He said, “…for in the day you eat of it you shall die.” In separating themselves from the source of life, the first couple did in fact die a spiritual death. The physical death that later followed was an eventual consequence.
Contrary to the serpent’s words, eating the fruit did not make Adam and Eve more like God at all. It made them more like the serpent – relationally cut-off from their Creator, and facing evil they were unequipped and unable to successfully deal with.
Is this view of death simply one possible interpretation? Does the Bible speak explicitly of humans being physically alive while spiritually dead? Yes – this is exactly how our state is described:
- “And you He made alive, when you were dead through your trespasses and sins…” (Eph 2:1; also 2:5.)
- “And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all out transgressions…” (Col 2:13.)
- “She who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives” (1 Tim 5:6.)
What is life?
If the Bible describes death in terms of relational separation from God, then we might reasonably expect the Bible to define life in terms of relational unity with God. This is exactly what we do see:
- “This is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou has sent” (Jn 17:3.) This is a key statement by Jesus, often overlooked. Here He defines eternal life – not as “living forever,” and not as “going to heaven.” He defines it in purely relational terms, while referencing His own relational unity with the Father (v 1,4,5.)
- “For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son also to have life in Himself” (Jn 5:26.)
- “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying , ‘Abba! Father!’” (Gal 4:6.)
- “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:3.) It is this spiritual rebirth that reconnects us with our Creator, who is Spirit.
The problem of relational disunity is universally recognized. Every religion and ism that I can think of either seeks to bring about relational unity, or seeks to convince us that we are already one, and to live accordingly. But I contend that other religions and isms seek to accomplish unity by means of human effort, often by coercion. One can call to mind the efforts of Communism. Or Islam, which sees peace and unity as arriving only when the entire world is Muslim, and seeks to accomplish this through human effort. Only the Judeo-Christian scriptures present relational restoration with God as impossible through human effort. Instead, Salvation is something God Himself has accomplished for us, which He then offers to us freely as a gift (Eph 2:8,9.) Once relational/spiritual unity is restored, we then do good out of love and gratitude, not to earn points. This is the opposite of religions which require good deeds and sacrifices in hopes of earning God’s favor.
A word about resurrection.
In keeping with the above teaching of Jesus and His apostles, resurrection, then, is not some random, fairy tale hope about people coming back to life. Resurrection is part of what salvation means for the whole person, as humans are meant to be spirit, soul, and body, in unity. Resurrection follows logically from restored relational unity with God as God reverses events that occurred at the fall in Genesis:
- Adam immediately died spiritually when right relationship with God was broken. Physical deterioration, death, and decay eventually followed as a result.
- Today, when right relationship with God is restored through spiritual rebirth in His Messiah, we are made eternally alive immediately. Physical resurrection with imperishable bodies will eventually follow as a result.
“For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written,
‘Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death where is your victory?
O death where is your sting?’” (1 Cor 15:53-55)
By His great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…(1 Pet 1:3)