Unexpected Failure

4-6 mins (1180 words)

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This essay was originally written in German. (I'd always recommend the primary language for my posts, but I try to write good translations.)

There are some stories draw me again and again. One of them is – to say it most dramatically – the one that explains how exactly all of humanity failed. Yes, it’s about Adam and Eve (whose names are emphasized to be Human and Life at this point in the story). Perhaps I’m drawn by this incident because it is the uncontested winner in the category of world-changing – for even the resurrection gets the depth of its meaning from the drastic consequences of this dreadful failure.

In itself it’s a simple thing: The creative God creates man as a representative of himself. In the blooming heaven on earth, Eden is the name of this garden of community between God and man, the local representative of divinity is tasked with creative activity. Not as hired workers, but as owners, Adam and Eve work to upkeep this garden. So, it’s hardly surprising that every fruit is freely available to them – only one is inexplicably withheld from them.

It comes, as it must, at least that’s how they say it now, and the temptation of the forbidden rather quickly leads to the failure of the enthroned. Immediately, the empty promise falls apart, and what remains is broken trust, cracked marriage and the heart-breaking retreat of God’s proximity.

But did it really have to happen? For a long time, I wondered why this single act had to have such severe consequences. Is this a good, merciful God? Why was it so easy to cross the line? Surely I don’t have all the answers, but two short thoughts: First, love to God is void of meaning without the option of another choice; Second, the ramifications of this one act speak to the incredible calling of the commissioned. (More on these questions in my blog on grace.)

Failed in best Conditions

A new question rings in my head: How could this even happen? Regardless of God’s role in this disaster, I wonder if it’s really just a matter of time until the voice of temptation transcends rationality, as if it was a logical necessity.

King David, suddenly aware of his unbelievable failure, looks at the broken pieces of his morality and confesses openly: I know I’ve been a sinner ever since I was bornPs 51:5. Like many before and after him, he confesses his own mistake but points to the initial disadvantage that comes with citizenship of a broken planetRom 3:23; Jer 17:9. Right in this hopeless reality, the message of hope cries for our response to grace.

Only Adam and Eve, they could not point back to this. Later it says that through their one mistake, sin entered the worldRom 5:12 – and they could not point to any inherited brokenness.

Even more, the two had a crucial advantage: They knew God, without any filter, distortion, without pain or shame. While we get to believe that God is good, they only knew Him this way. They knew the unconditional love of the father, that most of us only really see in the middle of our own inadequacy, despite their initial sinlessness.

Fallen by Shame

Fallen by shame, that’s my thesis. In their first encounter with the Almighty after the obvious violation of His command, the humans come up with an entirely new idea: They hide. It sounds ridiculous, and the searching question of the All-Knowing seems to turn the conversation into holy comedy. Tarnished by the new perspective, Adam withdraws from God’s closeness and love. With sin, shame enters the world.

Where there used to be natural community, a new image of God is prevalent. I believe it was the same voice of temptation that told the two of them immediately after their failure that they now squandered God’s goodness. And while this (unchanging) good father puts a saving plan into motion right away, Adam and Eve have to bear the consequences of their mistake.

Sure, this sin had – just like any breach of trust – inevitable consequences. Yet I wonder if it was shame, that finally dispelled the humans from the immediate proximity of God. Clearly, freedom from shame does not set free, for it alone cannot put anyone back into right standing with God, but perhaps it was shame that stood in the way of generous grace even back then.

I wonder what would have happened, if Adam had run to his good father and taken ownership for his mistake. Instead of taking responsibility, the two shift blame to others, and maybe lost responsibility over the planet that way. And instead of choosing community, they run from the presence of God and throw away in a moment of shame exactly what later generations would search for at the cost of their lives.

What would have happened, if the two had declined the temptation of shame and cleaned up their mess together with God? I find myself in this question, me who’s somehow called new creation, yet who doesn’t always choose the direct path back to his presence in those big and small moments of failure.

Broken Relationships

But back to the first question for a moment: How could this even happen? In the mind of most readers, the sequence is like this: The woman was deceived by the snake, and then pulled the man into her sin. Yet after looking just a bit closer, it’s obvious the husband “was with her”Gen 3:6.

Adam remained a mute listener – and when his wife passed him the fateful fruit, he had given up his own responsibility before he ever took a bite. What would have been, had Adam quickly interrupted the cunning conversation: Eve, this is not for you, please just don’t touch it. And what could have happened, had Eve broken the shame-filled silence: Adam, what are we doing here, please, let’s go to the father.

In the middle of the breaking relationship with God, the relationship between the two has already been broken. It is no coincidence that at this moment of their greatest failure, the two made for unity no longer hold each other to the truth.

The lie itself – you will be like God – is a joke to the two made in the image of Him. In short, it was their first failure to stop reminding another of this truth.

And what could our new lives look like, if we reminded another of who we truly are instead of silently watching each other fail? What would it feel like if we no longer fought the voice that divides us from God and others with a defeated shrug? What would happen, if we wouldn’t take Adam and Eve for an example, but stepped out of the bushes without cover-ups but full of courage towards a good father?

Bible References

  • Genesis 3:6
  • Psalms 51:5
  • Jeremiah 17:9
  • Romans 3:23; 5:12