How in the world did the world get to be such a mess?

If the Bible stories about God creating this perfect world inhabited by morally upright humans is true, what happened?


Well, the Bible’s story about the beginning of all things doesn’t end at Genesis 2. There’s another chapter that explains how we got into this mess.

And, fortunately, the whole story doesn’t end until we get to, well, the end. Revelation 20-22. That’s where we find out that one day it will all be put back together.

But let’s go back to the business about how things got messed up. That’s recorded for us in Genesis 3.


Before we jump into the dreadful story of how we got into this mess, let’s review.

This is the sixth in a series of articles written to help discouraged, defeated pastors get back on track. The idea behind this series of articles is to give pastors a framework for understanding, preaching and teaching the church what God is doing in the world. The purpose is to help a local church and the people in it understand how their private and corporate lives participate in God’s work.

Communicating God’s mission and the church’s vision is vital to any attempt to reverse decades of decline. The ability to understand and convey the mission and vision is one of the hallmark distinctions between those who revive dying churches and those who don’t. The first article in this series put it this way.

Because a firm grasp on mission and a clear sense of vision are hallmark distinctions between those who lead vigorous churches and those who don’t.

New research shows that there is a significant and measurable difference in “communicating the church’s vision with clarity and passion” between pastors.1 Those who pound the vision lead missionally effective churches. Those who don’t, don’t.

In our work as intentional interim pastors, trainers and coaches, my colleagues and I have seen the trouble that arises when pastors don’t pay continual attention to the mission and when they fail keep the congregation mindful of the vision.

The first five articles in this series show how the opening chapters of Genesis and the closing chapters of Revelation for a grand inclusio The creation ordinances established in Genesis 1 and 2 are restored the consummation in Revelation 21 and 22.

Okay, with that behind us, let’s dive into the dreadful story about how this world go so messed up in the first place.

The Lord warns against disobedience

When you understand that the creation narratives record the creation of a Kingdom you will also see that the fall of man in the Garden (Genesis 3:1-15) is an insurrection, a rebellion against God’s Kingdom principles.[1] Adam disobeyed the Word of the Lord, failed to exercise his subordinate responsibilities, and usurped God’s place for himself.

One regulation governed the relationship between God and Adam prior to the Fall. God gave Adam one rule to keep when God put him in the garden to tend it (Genesis 2:15-17). 

15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” 

The warning includes two items of note.

  1. “You shall surely die”
  2. “In the day that you eat of it”

The immediacy of the penalty

This is the first use of the term “commandment” (Heb. צָוָה) in the Bible. The Lord’s commandment to abstain from eating from the tree includes a stern warning. The Lord warns what will happen (certain death) and when it will happen (in that day). The phrase “in the day” (Heb. בְּ) may at times be vague, as in “when you eat,” but it typically emphasizes immediate action,[2] as it does here.

By paying attention to the timing of the penalty we’re better able to grasp the extent of the penalty. The warning of immediate consequences suffered on the same day as the infraction illuminates an important fact: something more than physical death was in view.

The pervasive scope of death becomes clear when we consider all the consequences that Adam suffered on that day. Death is far broader than physical death or  spiritual death.

The certainty of the penalty

Adam could not claim he didn’t understand the penalty. The Lord made the warning amply clear in the phrase, “you shall certainly die.” (ESV) This translates the infinitive absolute (Heb. מ֥וֹת תָּמֽוּת 3)in v. 17 which, in English, might be translated more literally as “dying you shall surely die.” 

The infinitive absolute expresses a speaker’s or writer’s certainty of and commitment to a promise or prediction of what would happen.[4] Adam knew he was without excuse. This is why he at first hid from the Lord and, when confronted, grudgingly confessed.

Rebellion against God’s Kingdom

The Word of the Lord disobeyed

The creation narrative in Genesis 1 illustrates that obedience to the Word of the Lord is an important Kingdom principle. Making the Word of the Lord an object of doubt in chapter 3 is tantamount to rejecting this principle.[5] 

In chapter 1 the creation obeyed the spoken Word. In chapter 3, instead of treating it as a command to keep, it becomes an object of discussion. Debate about the precise meaning[6] of the command (3:1-5) devalues God’s character. His goodness is no longer self-evident and presupposed. It becomes a proposition to measure before it is believed.[7] Is God good? Are His commandments worthy of obedience? This direct challenge places humans in the position of questioning the legitimacy of the Creator’s rule.[8]

Adam disobeyed by listening to Eve and not obeying the word of the Lord. Genesis 3:6 indicates that Eve took the serpent’s arguments into consideration but added her own observations and concluded that the fruit of the tree was “good for food” and that it was “pleasant to the eyes.” It is strictly a guess on my part, but it seems reasonable to suppose that she presented these arguments to Adam. The terse nature of the narrative at v. 12, “she gave “¦ I ate” calls for reading between the lines, as long as we don’t violate what is actually in the lines. 

It is hard to imagine that there wasn’t some sort of discussion between the man and the woman. His choice to eat was a considered decision based on the force of her arguments, or on the consequences that awaited her alone. Even if there was no deliberation between them she at the very least would have had to say to Adam, “Here, eat this” and he listened to her and not to the Word of the Lord. 

Humans forfeit dominion

Human dominion is another kingdom principle forfeited in the Fall. The humans failed to enforce the king’s will, a dereliction of their kingdom duty. The serpent was one of the beasts of the field (Gen 3:1) over whom they had a duty to exercise dominion. Recall that God told them to subdue “every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen 1:28). Instead of fulfilling their Kingdom responsibility they permitted temptation to arise from an inferior being that was subject to them.[9] Their failure gave the serpent a chance to urge mutiny within the Kingdom by holding forth the promise that they would assume God’s sovereignty;[10] no longer would they be subordinates in the Kingdom.[11]

When the man and the woman failed to exercise their dominion, the mediated kingdom was necessarily sacrificed; no longer would humans rule over the Lord’s kingdom, they would rule their own. No longer would they enforce the Word of the Lord without question; they reserved the right to decide if it is worth enforcing.

Thus the Fall is an insurrection. The king’s rule is overthrown. His subjects reject his regulations: the Word of the Lord is disobeyed; the king’s goodness is rejected; mankind fails to exercise dominion,[12] and God’s abiding presence is forfeited.[13] The creation begins a descent back into the chaos from which it had been redeemed, a descent that ends with its destruction in water (Gen 6).

Death: Humans forfeit Kingdom privileges

The Word of the Lord which had spoken the kingdom into existence is heard once again, this time in oracles of judgment (Gen 3:8-19) and the sentence of exile (Gen 3:22-24). God’s retributive justice declares that their dominion over the earth and their fellowship with the King would be forfeited. The kingdom was, for a time, lost.

Yet even in these oracles an important kingdom principle is reinforced: the Word of the Lord is sovereign and will be obeyed, even if those who have received delegated authority fail to enforce it. When sinners self-vindicating sinners are confronted with the Word of the Lord, they cannot escape.[14] Adam and Even finally confess, “I ate.” Then the Word of the Lord is heard once again, declaring how life will be henceforth.

On the day that Adam disobeyed the word of God he incurred the death penalty. Not only the sentence but its execution occurred that day. That death occurred in a number of domains

  • Spiritual alienation: The relationship between God and man, which had been previously characterized by familiarity and easy access, was ruined. Rather than welcoming God’s entry into the garden, Adam hid from God because he had experienced shame. Shame, guilt and hiding are the human response to sin.
  • Familial (and later, social) alienation: The harmonious relationship between the man and the woman was replaced by an unending struggle for control and power. This struggle would later extend to their children (e.g., Cain slaying Abel) and to the whole of human society (the details of which are sketched in Genesis 6).
  • Ecological alienation: The soil, which had been created to provide lavish fare with apparently minimal effort on man’s part was cursed. Henceforth it would only yield its produce grudgingly, which would require painful toil in order to scratch out a meager existence. After the Flood this ecological alienation was extended when animal life was made to fear mankind.
  • Dominion forfeited: Rather than ruling and subduing the realm as God’s deputy, mankind would henceforth be engaged in an unending struggle against the forces of evil. In addition, they were driven from the seat of their domain in the garden before they had had the opportunity to extend its frontiers.
  • Physical Death: Adam would not experience death’s final indignity for almost 1,000 years, but his disobedience had set in motion physical laws that would eventually lead to the tearing of spirit from body.

God prevented the man and the woman from continuing eternally in their evil condition. He insured that they would never have access to the tree of life, the fruit of which would condemn them to an eternity in misery and alienation from God.[15]


In the creation the Word of the Lord established a realm that was marked by numerous kingdom motifs.

  1. A perfect realm is created by the Word of the Lord, which is obeyed without question.
  2. Mankind is appointed to rule the realm in God’s behalf.
  3. God and mankind dwell together in face-to-face harmony

In the Fall the kingdom is undone

  1. The creation is corrupted by sin when the Word of the Lord is disobeyed.
  2. Mankind forfeits its position of authority over God’s realm.
  3. Mankind is ejected from God’s presence.

But, as we have seen already, the results of the fall will be reversed and the kingdom will be returned to the status quo ante.

  1. A new creation will be created
  2. Mankind will rule in God’s behalf
  3. God and mankind will dwell together in face-to-face harmony

The rest of the Bible, from Genesis 4 to Revelation 19, explains how God is in the process of making all things right and bringing about the consummation of creation.

Up Next

God introduces his plan to restore the Kingdom.


[1] Would those who reject the Dispensational view that Jesus withdrew his offer of the Kingdom, making way for the Church, balk at calling the Fall a diversion or re-direction of God’s kingdom plan? Does not Adam’s sin constitute a rejection of God’s Kingdom program and of God’s kingship just as Israel rejected the Messianic prophecies of God’s Word and with them, Jesus’ kingship?

[2] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15: Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas, TX.: Word Books, 1987), 68.

[3] The infinitive absolute consists of the Qal infinitive מ֥וֹת and the imperfect (with future reference) תָּמֽוּת. This construction intensifies the verbal idea, expressing God’s solemn warning about the certainty of death.

[4] “When a speaker has used this construction, a listener would not be able to claim at a later date that the speakers had not expressed themself (sic) clearly enough.” Christo H. J. MerweVan, Jackie A. Naudé and Jan H. Kroeze. A Biblical Hebrew Reference Grammar (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999), 158.

[5] Ross, Creation and Blessing, p. 131.

[6] The serpent exploited the woman’s less than precise recollection of the Lord’s command, see Ross Creation and Blessing pp. 133-135. Perhaps the “lesson learned” as embodied in the wisdom literature (e.g., Proverbs 23:12) was in Paul’s mind when he instructed Timothy to be diligent in his study and application of God’s Word (2 Tim 2:15), reminding him of its power (2 Tim 3:16-17), a theme repeated in Titus (1:9, 13; 2:15).

[7] Ibid. See also p. 135.

[8] Wenham explains the subtle nuances in the serpent’s question with the observation that “The serpent begins by asking an apparently innocent question, “˜Has God really said “¦?’ However, in the very first words ××£ ×›×™ “really,” there is possibly a touch of skepticism [sic] or at least surprise, which carries through into “˜you must not eat from any of the trees,’ a total travesty of God’s original generous permission (2:16). Yet taken as a question, the snake’s remark appears ingenuous enough”¦ Furthermore, in describing God simply as God (×להי×) instead of as the Lord God, which is characteristic of the rest of Gen 2″“3, there is a suggestion of the serpent’s distance from God. God is just the remote creator, not Yahweh, Israel’s covenant partner.” Wenham, Genesis 1-15, p. 73.

[9] Ross, Creation and Blessing, p. 134.

[10] Ross says, “In raising doubt about God’s integrity, the serpent motivated them to sin with the promise of divinity. The idea of becoming like God has an appeal that is almost irresistible.” Creation and Blessing, p. 136.

[11] By minimizing God’s lavish provision and adopting the serpent’s suggestion that God is somewhat distant and indifferent (thus simply calling him God instead of the Lord God), the woman seems to perceive the benevolent Sovereign as repressive and forbidding. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, p. 73.

[12] The humans are evicted from the capital of their domain in the Garden and exiled to the remote regions. The earth, which was to have provided lavishly, now feeds them begrudgingly, requiring their painful toil. The realm itself is corrupted (Romans 8:20-22). About this Baze has said, “Contextually, according to the divine curse pronounced upon the natural realm (cf. 3:17), the environment has been totally transformed from the original idyllic landscape of the Garden of Eden to a new cycle of death and decay.” See John M. Baze, “A Dispensational Model: The Essentials ““ Part II,” Conservative Theological Journal, Vol. 3 No. 8, p. 124.

[13] Weaver has observed that “during the period before the fall God appears to man in the garden by a theophany each day in the cool of the evening (Gen 3:8).” Gilbert B. Weaver, “The Doctrine of Revelation and the Inspiration of the Old Testament” Grace Journal Vol. 6, No. 1, p. 19. There he quotes Vos: “There was such an abiding presence of God with man in paradise. After the fall a certain remnant of this continued, though not in the old gracious form. The throne with the cherubim still stood in the east of the garden of God. God still walked with Enoch. With the flood all this is changed. God has as it were, withdrawn this sacramental revelation-presence into heaven.” Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology, p. 121.

[14] Ross, Creation and Blessing, p. 143.

[15] Ross, Creation and Blessing, p. 149.