The Nature of Sin: Narratives from Adam to Babel

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Police Shooting. Genocide. World War. Terrorism. School Shootings. Bombings. These are just few devastating results of human irresponsibility. If God’s creation is supposed to be good, then why does it seems that the world is falling apart? Recently, there was a terror attack on Orlando, Florida that is now considered the worst mass shooting in the United States. Few people from social media ask, “how can someone do something so atrocious?” and “how can someone murder innocent blood?” However, there is one particular question that is worth mentioning: “Is the world worth saving?”

Is the world so corrupt, evil, and vile that the world cannot be rescued? Today, there are tragedies around the world, including natural disasters such as flooding, earthquakes, and hurricanes, which befall to human destruction. When adding human nature to the problem, it puts the world in such misery and agony. Recently, there were three devastating news after America’s Independence Day; on June 5th, a video was shown on social media of police shooting, on June 6th, a live facebook video reporting of her boyfriend’s last dying breath due to another police shooting, and on June 7th, an ambush towards a peaceful protest in Dallas killing few police officers. Is this effect the product of sin? How is the nature of sin equivalent to what is happening today? Four stories in the Old Testament point out how the nature of sin affects today’s society.

What is sin? Most pastors will answer that sin is “missing the mark,” The mark that is set for us and is the purpose of God’s intention for His creation. Bruce K. Waltke, lays out that sin is in a shape of disobedience. “Sin, is the perversion at the core of our being that causes us to disobey. Sin is the desire, the imagination, “to be like God” – the refusal to be human, to be creaturely – that causes us to disobey. Correlatively, sin is an inward, spiritual breach of trust in God’s character and his word that results in active disobedience” (263). Human beings have two options; obey or disobey. They are free to decide to themselves; it is an aspect of human nature being in God’s image. Four narratives, ones regarding the Garden of Eden, Cain and Abel, Noah, and the Tower of Babel, produce themes regarding the nature of sin.

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When did sin start? According to the Bible, the Fall in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3) is the pivotal downfall of humanity. John Goldingay suggests that the story from Eden to Babel comprises a narrative analysis of what went wrong with humanity in its relationship with God, in people’s relationships with their spouses, their siblings, their parents and their children, and in the lives of communities, nations and cities to generate the characteristics humankind still experiences (131). God gave them freedom to live good lives, but they also have the freedom to do the opposite.

One must begin to understand the nature of sin from Garden of Eden narrative. It started with the serpent questioning Eve. Satan, the adversary, is the serpent that poses himself as a theologian by asking Eve questions. These questions are proper and necessary, but they were designed to lead Eve away from God. Waltke points out, “the questions of interpretation designed to create doubt” (262). It is that doubt that influences Eve to choose to disobey God.

After eating the fruit of knowledge of good and evil, Adam was afraid to show his nakedness. In the Garden of Eden, humanity is designed to enjoy a relaxed friendship with God (Goldingay 136). Instead, Adam hides from God. Nakedness put both Adam and Eve into shame. When asked if they have eaten from the tree, Adam replied, “the woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it” (Genesis 3:13 NIV). The man blames God for giving him a helper. Gordon J. Wenman comments, “the man tries to excuse himself by blaming the woman and implying that it was really God’s fault for giving him this woman. Here the divisive effects of sin, setting man against his dearest companion and alienating him from his all-caring creator, are splendidly portrayed” (77). Thus, it was the beginning of blaming and irresponsibility. The couple that was supposed to be working together are now fighting one another. Given such disobedience, a punishment must ensue. Wenham quotes von Rad: “the man was placed in the garden to cultivate it but because of disobedience, his punishment consists in the hardship and skimpiness of his livelihood, which he must now seek for himself. The woman’s punishment struck at the deepest root of her being as wife and mother; the man’s strikes at the innermost nerve of his life, his activity, and provision for sustenance” (93). The man’s irresponsibility to protect his partner led to disobedience of God. They may not have died instantly, just like the serpent suggested; however, the devastating result of their disobedience besides banishment from the garden is death.

It is death that consumes the heart of human nature. It is also a significant role of the nature of sin. This narrative was considered the fall of humanity. If sin suggest falling short of a goal or failing, the negative counterpart of realizing a destiny or reaching a goal or succeeding, Genesis 1-3 would definitely seem to be a story about sin, the failure of human beings to realize their destiny and to realize God’s purpose or the failure of a test. It is then a story more about loss than one about a fall; about a loss of innocence, loss of relationship, loss of possibilities, and loss of life (Goldingay 144). Thus, the first curse occurs. The first curse is on the serpent. The curse is a word that takes away the power for life rather than granting it (Goldingay 139). Adam and Eve were not cursed. However, such a curse would fall upon one of their children. The nature of sin continues.

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The nature of sin in the Cain and Abel narrative displays the increasing penalties of sin. The narrative starts with a praise to the Lord for helping Eve bring forth a child (Genesis 4:1). Sadly, it ends with fatality. Genesis 4 gave an illustration of sin; sin that was crouching at Cain’s door. According to Wenham, sin is personified as a demon, crouching like a wild beast on Cain’s doorstep (106). God suggests to master the sin that desires to have Cain. Unfortunately, Cain gives into the sin and commits murder by killing his brother (Genesis 4). God questions Cain for his actions. However, his answer was an evasive denial of responsibility. Cain’s response. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” illustrates his denial of responsibility. When God puts Cain under a curse, Cain continues to act as a victim of his rebellion. John H Walton comments, “Adam and Eve were expelled from the sacred space of the garden and thus removed a distance from God’s presence, but Cain is expelled from God’s presence and protection” (265). The nature of sin grows rapidly.

The story of Cain and Abel shows that sin spreads like wildfire. It devours the person who chooses to disobey God. Waltke adds that Cain murdering his brother put him in a curse. Cain’s offspring repeatedly kill in unbridled revenge and debase God’s ideal for marriage with polygamy. It is stronger than Cain, and he cannot master it (276). Cain’s heart was already filled with such sin that it consumes him. Additionally, Cain’s act puts the world out of order. It is no longer in harmony. From the ground that received Abel’s blood will arise a curse that makes it impossible for Cain to grow anything (Goldingay 152). Once more, the curse continues to wreak havoc into God’s purpose. Death also continues to progress. Sin remains to thwart God’s blessing for humanity. As humanity lives on, the world becomes more corrupt and evil. Is there hope for humanity? Can God start over?

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In The Flood narrative, God purges. In this story, God intervenes by wiping the world clean. The earth was in violence and ruin. Everything on earth has gone bad. The nature of sin progressed to the point of evil in the Noah narrative. Genesis 6:5 says, “The Lord saw how great and wickedness of the human race had become on the earth and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (NIV). Eliminating humanity seems to be the only solution. Death and destruction of humankind seems appeasable. Goldingay points out that, while God set humanity on a journey at the beginning of its story, it has wrecked its prospects of any appropriate completion. It cannot get to the destination God had in mind in Genesis 1-2 (165). It is time for a do-over: to destroy the world and start again. However, God finds favor in Noah. He saved Noah and his family, thus also keeping the nature of sin intact with them.

The nature of sin in the Noah narrative is catastrophic. In account of Noah’s line, the universality of sin leads to universal destruction, but the righteousness of one man motives God to exercise his covenant loyalty to the faithful family and through him to spare his creation (Waltke 287). In Sunday School, the story of Ark seems a friendly narrative about animals. In fact, the story of the Ark is not just about rescuing God’s creation but also about eliminating sin through death and destruction. After the flood, God made a covenant with Noah. It seems that a fresh start is about to ensue. Is a reset the solution?

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Sadly, it would not seem to be. Noah gets drunk, and Ham’s irresponsibility causes Noah to curse Ham’s son, Canaan. Scholars struggled regarding the sin of Ham. Why did Noah curses Ham’s son? The text does not condemn Noah’s drunkenness. The parallel of the Fall in the Garden is in Ham’s action. There are comments that Ham’s sins is sexual relationship with his mother, homosexual activity with his father, or even castration of his father. These are only assumptions, for it is not written in the text. The text can be hinting more, but one cannot completely agree with these commentaries. The typical observation about Ham’s offence is that, instead of covering his father’s nakedness, he saw his father’s nakedness and lured his brother about it. Wenham points out that, “Ham’s actions show clear disrespect for his father, and this merited his father’s wrath. Uncovering oneself was dishonorable, and Noah’s son should have quietly covered him up rather than gossiped about it to his brothers (198-199). This action caused Noah to curse Ham’s son. Once again, curse continues despite God’s attempt at a start over.

The curse consumes Ham’s relationship with his father and affects his relationship with his son, who had received a heavy burden due to his father’s actions. It will also consume Ham’s relationship with his brothers, and his son’s relationship with his uncles and his brothers – his immediate family and his extended family (Goldingay 185). The nature of sin continues despite God’s do-over. Waltke points out that the sin of Noah sheds light on the human plight:

At one time or another, most people become disgusted with what is going on in the world – the intractable problems among people: hated, prejudice, and greed that lead to cruelty and war. The problems are insoluble because hatred and prejudice are burdens of our depraved nature and our history. Because we cannot change or forget, our nature and memory doom us. In response, the idealistic ones among us as: “What if we started over? What if we expunged history and wiped the slate clean?” The account of Noah puts the lie to that solution. Only through the second Adam (Jesus) and regeneration by his Spirit will the world be saved and humanity realize its dream and divine destination. (298)

Nonetheless, life continues, and so does sin. The Tower of Babel narrative gives the final illustration regarding the nature of sin. It is the climax of primeval history before the story of Abraham.

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The Tower of Babel narrative displays the beginning of nations. In the story, humanity is determined to build a city with a tower that reaches the star. There is nothing offensive about this plan except for the tower. They want to make sure they can stay in this one place and not be scattered all over the world. First, the towers described in the narratives are probably ziggurats. It is a Mesopotamian tower in which gods can come down to the people. The builders of this tower would likely to make a name for themselves (Goldingay 189). The story is a sad ending of Noah’s descent. It shows the effects of sin; pride, disobedience and selfishness of humankind. The builders were proud. Other commentators argue that the builders appear to be self-absorbed: “Let us… let us… let us.” Therefore, God confuses them. (Walton 375). According to Goldingay, God’s intention is a diverse humanity that can find its unity not in the domination of one city, one tower, or one language but in the blessing for all the families of the earth (190). God wants human to multiply and socialize. Waltke adds that their loss of communication divides them into nations. Given their original sin, the murder of a brother escalates to national wars. This resulting slaughter exacts more death than that though universal flood (311). Human starts to believe in themselves instead of God. People refuse to trust in God. God’s responds by confusing them. Walton adds that the Tower of Babel narrative shows that humanity is being corrupted; it is their view of a deity is being distorted and twisted beyond recognition (380). Today, there are racial wars and language barriers that separates people.

The Tower of Babel narrative signifies the beginning of horrific wars. Sin have enslaved humanity, obscuring minds, degrading feelings, and leading human beings to love themselves instead of God and others. The four narratives show the depravity of human. It tells how sin continues to curse God’s purpose for His creation, and death continues to seek mayhem.

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The nature of sin in the primeval history shows devastating effects. The sin of Adam and Eve resulted in them pointing fingers towards each other. Cain’s sin caused him separation from his family. In the Noah narrative, it would seem that even an attempted reset by God cannot diminish the sin of humankind. Finally, the Tower of Babel narrative leads into the division of peoples. God’s purpose of his creation is for humanity to multiply and be responsible towards another. However, sin puts God’s creation in danger.

The punishment from these actions, such as eating a forbidden fruit, lying, disrespecting one’s father, or building a tower in defiance of God, may be far too extreme. How can God punish and curse the earth for such things? These actions do not hurt other people. Still, Waltke emphasizes:

Fundamentally, sin is not about hurting people or doing wrong according to human evaluations, Sin is disobedience to God’s Word and cannot be severed from the spirit that gives rise to it; a breach of trust in the goodness of God’s character and in the truthfulness of his Word. Sin is a person’s rejection of God’ Word in order to establish his or her own rules. The search for rules apart from God’s Word is a symptomatic of sin because they demonstrate the degree to which humans have come to know good and evil apart from God. The refusal to bow to God’s rule in order to establish one’s own rule is rooted in pride, the essence of sin. (275)

Sin corrupted God’s creation. Today, the world is filled with terrorism, war, genocide, hate crime, and other despicable atrocities. The nature of sin continues to devour the heart of the world. Individuals still suffer from rape, abuse, neglect, murder, and other crimes. There are still famines, earthquakes, hurricanes, flooding, and other natural disasters that wreak havoc to this day. However, there is hope.

The calling of Abram in Genesis sets the tone of redemption. God makes promises and covenant to Abraham and his descendants that a nation will rise; in that nation, a savior will come. Jesus is the new Adam. He alone will save the world – all people who trust themselves to him. In Him, God’s initial purpose of His creation finds its fulfillment. In Him, human beings can master sin. In Him, they can obey God. In Him, they are saved. The sin in humanity can be eradicated. His blood wiped all the sins, and He defeated death. Today, the world is still in chaos, but knowing Jesus as the ultimate savior puts people in peace and leaves them with hope.

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Works Cited

Goldingay, John. “The Old Testament Theology: Volume 1: Israel’s Gospel.” Intervarsity Press. Downers Grove, IL. 2003. Print.

NIV Study Bible. Zondervan. Grand Rapids, MI. 2011. Print.

Waltke, Bruce K. “An Old Testament Theology.” Zondervan. Grand Rapids, MI. 2007. Print.

Walton, John H. “The NIV Application Commentary: Genesis.” Zondervan. Grand Rapids, MI.2001. Print.

Wenham, Gordon J. “Word Biblical Commentary: Genesis 1-15.” Zondervan. Grand Rapids, MI. 1987. Print.

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