3/1 Readings: Defection and Justification

1 Lent

Gen. 2:15-17, 3:1-7
Ps. 32
Rom. 5:12-19
Matt. 4:1-11

We were made from love and for love, and then we fell from love. What happened?

Genesis chapter three opens but leaves unanswered huge theological questions. How could evil and death enter a world created solely by an all-loving and all-powerful God? At precisely what point did it enter and who is to blame? The answer, to the extent there is one, seems to place the blame squarely on God: “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made” (Gen. 3:1). Indeed, when God examined the man after the Fall, the man blamed both the woman and God — “The woman whom you gave to be with me.” She then blamed the serpent. The question of theodicy – of why God permits evil – becomes a blame-game.

Genesis chapter three, however, is concerned primarily with the lived reality of a Fall, a defection from original goodness verified in all the evils that beset human beings. Original goodness is sensed in our protest against evil; we feel that something is wrong, or went wrong. This is very subtle, involving degrees of temptation and gradual steps away from God’s original and perfect will.

The serpent calls God into question, standing as if a judge over God, saying to the woman, “Did God say?” The serpent also distorts God’s prohibition, asking if God said that “you shall not eat from any tree.” The woman, defending God, answers that God said only that they shall not eat of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, but in her zeal she goes too far, saying what God had not said: nor shall you touch it. The serpent, craftier than any other wild animal and the woman, intelligent in her own right, both presume to stand outside the will and presence of God. They are the first academic theologians! God is a thing, a topic of discussion and debate.

Distancing themselves from God, the serpent and the woman gaze upon the forbidden tree. In a sense, this IS the Fall. Inner defection has already occurred and only awaits outward expression. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate” (Gen. 3:6).

The steps are subtle, but well known by experience. Gerhard Von Rad remarks in his seminal commentary on Genesis, “We rush through an entire scale of emotions. ‘Good for food,’ that is the coarsely sensual aspect; ‘a delight to the eyes,’ that is the finer, more aesthetic stimulus, and ‘desired to make one wise,’ that is the highest and decisive enticement” (p. 90). A new and better life is imagined outside the circle of providence, outside the garden of all good. But, alas, life without God is death.

A Second Adam loves the Father and lives in the will of the Father, is eternally begotten of the Father and returns the Father’s love. Drawn into the life of the Son by the Spirit, a disciple of Jesus discovers that God is no-thing. God is the life of everything. God gives, in Christ, the free gift of justification. “Just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification for all” (Rom. 5:18). The One Obedient Man assumed and recapitulated humanity, so that all are obedient, righteous, and justified in him by faith, in hope, and toward love.

Look It Up: Matt. 4:10

Think About It: Worship the Lord your God even when and if you presume to think about God. Careful!


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