God created the “heavens and the earth” and then placed humanity to be his image (or eikon's) on the face of the earth. The interconnected relationships between God, humanity, and creation can best be described by the Hebrew word shalom. Some of the elements of shalom are:
- Absence of War
- Harmonious relationships
- Personal welfare of people and animals
- Peace of mind
Clearly shalom does not prevail in the world today. The biblical narrative explains how shalom was lost beginning in Genesis 3. A serpent engaged Eve in conversation by asking if God really said that she may not eat from any tree in the garden (knowing full well that only one tree had been prohibited.) By framing the question this way the serpent directed attention to what had been denied versus the amazing rich gift of creation that had been provided. Furthermore, the serpent suggested that there was a great benefit being denied Adam and Eve by the prohibition because if they would eat the fruit they would “… be like God, knowing good and evil.” Adam and Eve ate the fruit. In so doing, they disobeyed God. They distrusted and minimized God as they sought to be more than they were, but ended up becoming far less than they were intended to be. They were left in an existential predicament. With their eyes open, they realized that eating of the tree did not elevate them to gods. They could not go back to what they were before but they also realized they could not go back into God’s presence. So what did they do? They hid.
Chapter 2 of Genesis ends saying that the man and woman were naked and were not ashamed. There was total intimacy and transparency in their relationship. They were guilty and ashamed after disobeying God. Guilt comes from violating a moral precept. Shame comes when our actions reveal we do not match up to the model we have of ourselves. Adam and Eve were not only guilty; they were also cut off from God, the ground of their identity. They were broken eikons, unable to reflect God’s image. God appeared on the scene, called them out of their hiding, and inquired of Adam what had happened. Adam blamed it on Eve and Eve blamed it on the serpent. Had God asked the serpent, the serpent would no doubt have blamed it on God, since God had created the serpent. Denial and diversion became the human answer to their existential dilemma.
God explained to Adam and Eve the consequences of their actions:
Gen 3:16-19 (NRSV)
16 To the woman he said, "I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you." 17 And to the man he said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it,' cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return."
Then God made garments for them and expelled them from the Garden of Eden.
Peace of mind was lost as human beings sought to become more than they were but became less than they were created to be. Where harmonious relationships had once existed, denial, discord, and deceit would now dominate. The pronouncement to Eve revealed that endless power struggles will ensue within the most intimate of relationships. What should be the most joyous outcome of the most intimate of relationships, the birth of another, would now be accompanied by significant pain and suffering. Injustice would emerge and community would be fractured as delusional behavior became the norm.
The pronouncement to Adam makes clear that the exalted and glorious call to have dominion over the earth has been reduced to a laborious toilsome battle for survival. Creation appears to have been altered in some way that contributes to this curse (see Romans 8:18-25) but surely an anticipated consequence was the fracture of authentic community due to jealousy, greed, hate, oppression, and ultimately murder and war. On top of all this, beings that were meant for eternal community with God would now face the annihilation of death as well as the loss of meaning and purpose experienced in death.
In short, the eikons rebelled and shalom was horribly marred. According to the biblical narrative, this is the world we live in today. So what is humanity’s response? What is God’s response?
(Note: I am relating the Genesis stories here as historical events. It is beyond the scope of this series to address if these events were factual, allegorical, or something else. For my purposes, I am relating a narrative account of God's involvement in history. I would invite readers not to get lost in historicity issues and instead "enter" the story.)