Genesis is the foundation for our understanding of who God is and who we are. God is Creator who has the inherent right to tell us how to live. We are creatures made in His image. As such we are accountable to Him and need to submit to His sovereign will. Genesis is the foundation for life. It gives purpose and meaning to an existence that is otherwise lost and confused.
Genesis matters because it is also the foundation for salvation. Here is where we learn of the first sin, along with its consequences (Gen. 3:1-6). It is vital for us to try to understand the significance of this problem. I donít mean simply that there are all of these horrible sins out there that we can commit (and there are). I mean that we need to go back more foundationally to try to understand what sin really is. To do this, we start with Genesis 3.
Superficially, one might look at Adam and Eveís sin as eating a piece of forbidden fruit, followed by Godís severe response of kicking them out of the garden and pronouncing their death. Without understanding what sin really is, one might see this as an over-reaction on Godís part. People would portray Him as unfair, dishing out punishment that does not fit the crime. After all, all they did was to eat a piece of fruit, right? Whereís the real harm in that?
Yes, they ate a piece of fruit that God said not to eat. But thatís not ultimately what this is about. Itís about an underlying attitude exhibited by Adam and Eve that cuts much deeper than whether or not they really liked how the fruit looked and tasted. Eating the fruit was the symptom of a much greater problem. But to see this we need to dig a little more.
Sin is described in the Bible as a transgression of Godís law (1 John 3:4). But is it just that we violate a few arbitrary rules that have been set down in writing? If we see Godís law as just a bunch of arbitrary ďdoís and doníts,Ē then we have really missed something vital. The law of God is a reflection of God Himself. God wants His people to be holy because He is holy (Lev. 11:44-45; 1 Pet. 1:13-16). The law shows Godís holiness and thus is a reflection of His very character. To violate the law of God is to violate Godís character. Law is not arbitrary; it is necessary as it flows from Godís holiness.
Romans 3:23 informs us not only that all have sinned, but that in sinning all have fallen short of Godís glory. ďGodís gloryĒ needs to sink in. If in sin we violate the law of God, and in violating the law of God we fall short of His glory, then Godís law is a manifestation of His great glory. Law and Godís glory are tied together. And Godís glory is what creation and existence is supposed to be about. Just as the heavenís declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1), so the revealed will of God declares His glory. To violate it is to insult and demean the God of glory who created us. It is to fall short of why we are here. It is to fail to proclaim Godís excellencies (1 Pet. 2:9).
The point is that we need to try to perceive how bad sin really is. C.S. Lewis made this point in his book, The Problem of Pain: ďWhen we merely say that we are bad, the wrath of God seems a barbarous doctrine; as soon as we perceive our badness, it appears inevitable, a mere corollary from Godís goodnessĒ (p. 58).
To follow this, when we merely say that we are guilty of sin, then the ideas of what sin really is and what it does along with the punishment for it become a vague concept and makes little sense to us. We donít understand why itís such a big deal. We donít make sense of the punishment for it, thinking perhaps that punishment is too severe. But when we perceive the glory of God, and how sin is a falling short of this, it takes on a different meaning. I am guilty of sin, yes; but what I am really guilty of is failing in my primary task of why I am here Ė giving glory to God Himself. I have taken the image of God in which I was made and marred it, having no respect or honor for the Creator who made me.
Paul points out that the essence of idolatry is to exchange the ďglory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creaturesĒ (Rom. 1:23). It is to exchange the truth of God and His glory for a lie. How insulting to God! How degrading and perverse for man to attempt to lower God to such a state and exalt himself above God! How arrogant to try to take away the glory of God and give it to self. Yet this is exactly what sin in all its ugly forms is. Is it any wonder that death is the proper punishment for it?
When Adam and Eve sinned, then, it was not just about a piece of fruit. It was about an effort to rebel against Godís character and glory. Satanís clever ploy was to tempt them to think that by eating the fruit, they would no longer have to listen to God. They could decide for themselves what is right and wrong, good and bad. They could figure out morality apart from God. The ploy worked, and it has continued to work ever since. Whenever we lift up ourselves over Godís will to do what we want, then we have supplanted Godís glory for our own. It matters not if the sin is ďlittleĒ or ďbig.Ē Any attempt to exalt self over God is to be detested.
And this is why God couldnít just ďlet it go.Ē Rebellion against God and His glory is no small issue, whether outwardly manifested by eating forbidden fruit or by committing murder. To say that God could just let it go is to misunderstand His character. God is just and holy, and He cannot just let sin pass without response. Yet the response must be severe in order to match how ugly and horrible the nature of sin really is. Once we see something about Godís glory, perhaps we can understand why the consequences must be so severe.
It is also in this understanding of the horror of sin contrasted to the glory of God that should help us appreciate the salvation God offers. That God would even be willing to forgive is amazing and wonderful. He owes us nothing. We owe Him everything. Yet what He has done for us is beyond comprehension. Genesis matters because it is here that we learn how great God is, how horrible sin is, and how wonderful Godís grace is.
In fact, Genesis 1-11 demonstrates that mankind, left to its own devices, will only spiral downward deeper into sin. If there was ever to be a way to save mankind, God is the only One who could have offered it. We could not have come up with a plan of salvation on our own. For us to be saved at all from the terrible consequences of our sins, God had to initiate the way out. And He did just that. We are forever indebted to God. Not only is He our Creator, to whom we are always accountable; He is our Savior. To begin to appreciate that, we must begin to appreciate how bad sin is. Genesis matters because it gives us this vital perspective.
(Doy Moyer preaches regularly for the church in Cork, FL.
He is a professor at Florida College in Temple Terrace, FL.
He has his own web site located at http://studywell.org.
You can write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)