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T H E G OD W H O S AC R IF IC ES H I S

DESIR E A ND G I V E S H O PE T O
A L L C R E AT I O N: A N EXEG ESIS
OF G E NES IS 2 : 4 b – 3 :2 4

Lyle A. Brecht  March 2008


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“Houston, we have a problem”1

Who is this God, YHWH, anyway? How can God allow “a world fascinated with

idolatry, drunk with power, bloated with arrogance” that produces such profound

suffering?2 Has God hidden his face as punishment to humanity? Do we suffer because of

our sins of apostasy, hubris, pride, disobedience and transgression in the Garden? 3 “Lord,

you who are everywhere, have you been in Villa Grimalde too?”4 Or has God voluntarily

removed himself/herself from the universe that humankind inhabits, becoming a God

who runs away (deus absconditus)?5 Christians believe that Jesus became incarnate to

reveal truth about the anthropology of God: For this I was born and for this I came into

1
The tagline for the 1995 film - Apollo 13 that portrayed the life threatening situation that
developed on the U.S.’s Apollo 13 moon flight, the third manned lunar landing mission that lifted
off from earth on April 11, 1970. The film portrayed how the crew of John Swigert, Jr., James
Lovell and Fred Haise Jr., fought for their lives when a faulty oxygen tank left the life-support on
their spacecraft non-functional. The origin was this bland exchange by Lovell: 'Houston, we've
had a problem. We've had a main B bus undervolt.'
2
Abraham Heschel, The Prophets (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1962), 183.
3
“Mipnei khata’einu – ‘because of our sins’ became the general explanation for all disasters of
Jewish history” as revealed by the prophets of the Hebrew Bible who gave the Israelites hope by
declaring that this was, after all, God’s will for their sins and all the Israelites needed to do to
reclaim their land was to repent and follow God’s torah (teachings). “God has hidden his face
(hester panim) as punishment” for the sins of the Jews. See Mark S. Smith, The Memoirs of God:
History, Memory, and Experience of the Divine in Ancient Israel (Minneapolis: Fortress Press,
2004), 36; Yehuda Bauer, Rethinking the Holocaust (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001),
192.
4
Villa Grimalde was the most notorious of Chile’s clandestine torture centers under Pinochet.
Quoted in William T. Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist (Challenges in Contemporary Theology;
Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), 1. Today, we could ask the same question about Abu Garib,
Guantanamo, and the CIA’s gulag archipelago of unnamed ‘black-sites’ and clandestine prisons.
5
Tzimtzum posits that God removed himself from History to permit the world to exist: “God
withdrew himself so that human free will could exert itself, for good or evil” (Bauer, 189).
However, “By choosing to be absent, he may be held responsible for the evil he permits, and we
can call it evil by setting it against the moral standards” set in Scripture (Bauer, 190-1).
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the world, to testify to the truth (John 18:37).6 Could truth be that instead of The Fall

from relationality with God, with self, the other, and with creation that Paul exegetes (or

more accurately, exegetes of Paul) in Romans (Rom. 1:18-32; 5:12-21; 7:7-13) from his

reading of Gen. 2:4b-3:24,7 instead, maybe the J writer of Genesis 2-3 had something else

in mind, something that anticipates a Messianic hope for humankind?

Could it be that for today’s world, we might best take into consideration Krister

Stendahl’s caution to assess the “public health aspect of interpretation.”8 Could it be that,

as Wittgenstein so aptly describes, the purpose of the text of Scripture is to frame reality

beyond what one might normally imagine; to provide training (Abrichtung) for what we

can understand.9

Can we imagine a God of Gen 2-3 that is not engaged in retributive justice, but instead is

a God who “enters into the depths of human life, shares human suffering, and redeems

evil by personally suffering?”10 Might this be a God who models kenosis, a kenosis his

6
Stephen Finlan, Problems with Atonement: The Origins of, and Controversy about, the
Atonement Doctrine (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2005), 124.
7
By relationality we mean I/Thou rather than I/It encounter with the other that begins with an
ethical address to God, an address where this encounter with God establishes the self as ‘other’ as
God remains ‘subject’ (‘the eternal Thou’) and never is treated as ‘object.’ See Martin Buber, I
and Thou, new trans. by Walter Kaufman (New York: Scribner, 1970), 53, 54, 67, 69 in Anthony
C. Thiselton, The Hermeneutics of Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 199, 234.
8
Krister Stendahl, “Ancient Scripture in the Modern World,” in Scripture in the Jewish and
Christian Traditions: Authority, Interpretation, Relevance, ed. Frederick E. Greenspahn
(Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1982), 205 quoted in Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza, “Paul and the
Politics of Interpretation,” in Richard A. Horsley, ed., Paul and Politics: Essays in Honor of
Krister Stendahl (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press, 2000), 43, 50.
9
Thiselton, 83.
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Son will later exhibit during his incarnate stay on earth and participation in the human

condition, to the point of death. In the endeiktikos of his letter to the Romans, Paul

attempts to convince his listeners of the truth that Christian hope lifts-up humanity and

the gifts of creation to endure such miseries. This is accomplished through the

‘awakening power’ of the Spirit, an unearned gift of God’s saving justice and gracious

care to the body of Christ, the ekklesia. Essentially, the Spirit offers the possibility of

moving beyond the past as the determining boundaries of one’s life, letting oneself be

determined by the future. So Spirit may be called the power of futurity.”11

Paul’s vision of Spirit is one that awakens the ekklesia to an alternative relationship from

the polity of empire: to love God as God.12 Could J’s message be so dramatically

10
Finlan, 106.
11
Rudolf Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament, vol. 1, 335 in Thiselton, 260.
12
The empire that Paul formed ekklesia as a counter to was the Roman Empire: Pax Romana
(“peace and security”) was the official theology and propaganda “motto of the Roman world after
the establishment of the Principate, that is, after Augustus’ miraculous termination of the civil
war and his establishment of ‘universal peace’” and economy supported, to a large extent, by the
slave labor of conquered peoples. The Principate was a political theology that assumed that the
Roman empire contained “the chosen people of God” and was the divine vehicle to defeat the
forces of chaos in the world and to restore heavenly order in the form of a return to the “garden”
[see Carolyn Merchant, Reinventing Eden (New York & London: Routledge, 2004)] of the former
Republic. In this theopolitical realm, the emperor was the paterfamilias of all the people (called
“Father”), deified and became the sole ruler of a universe where taxis (order) was the primary aim
of social and political structures achieved through a culture of meritocracy based on paideia
(concept of heroic engagement and sacrifice for the good of the state), competition, and nomos
(the law) imposed through coercion and force. All this is documented in the Acts of Augustus
written in Greek on the walls of the numerous temples to Augustus, recounting the salvific power
of the gospel of Caesar. This was a gospel that singled out the elite individual set apart by
success--allegedly for the benefit of the whole society. For example, “Following the violent death
of Claudius, the senate decreed his consecratio i.e. not only his life after death but also his
assumption and apotheosis” (the elevation or exaltation of a person to the rank of a god). The
most penetrating political commentary on this system of empire occurs in the letters of Saint Paul
contained in the Bible’s New Testament. Paul challenges the soteria (salvation from the forces of
chaos) represented by Caesar and his empire by claiming that pistis (God’s loyalty/faithfulness) is
universal and democratic, that it applies to all people regardless of their class, race, gender,
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different, presenting such a foreign and unforgiving God in Gen 2-3, or might Paul’s use

of Gen 2-3 to make his point about Christ’s incarnate presence as the saving second

Adam have sent some early Christians off on the wrong path, a path that if we continue

down may only bring collapse to human civilization? For instead of a fallen humanity,

one drenched with the original sin of alienation from God, today, given the calamities we

face (the present critical Time; Rom. 8:18, Jewett), we need to resurrect a new humanity,

one capable of becoming an object for hope and renewed relationality.

My premise is that this new vision of hope can begin with a repristination of the message

of Gen 2-3, a message that may actually have been resident in the hermeneutical

experience of some of the very earliest listeners to and readers of this narrative text, post-

exile from the Babylon captivity.13 Instead of purely a message of alienation and lost

hope for an Edenic paradise, a state of perfect happiness or bliss, my premise is that the J

writer may have had something very different in mind and that the narrative of Gen 2-3

wealth or accomplishments and status in the world and this is expressed in God’s dikaiosyne
(solidarity and justice) with the entire human race, not just the elite. Paul describes how those
who claim to be superior or privileged, instead of making the world better, just cause more chaos
and bring on catastrophe {echoes of the snake in Gen 2-3 that offers ‘superior wisdom’ that leads
only to disaster]. Instead, Paul offers Jesus as the exemplar of an archetypal human/divine being
who, through his faith of God, signifies what real peace and security looks like - not a hegemony
or authority of domination and oppression, but the prototype of a community pledged to life. Paul
goes on to describe this community pledged to life, the ekklesia, an exemplary community of
those who are set free from the false precepts of empiric power where, instead, identity is shaped
by a radical democracy of justice, difference, freedom, equality, and solidarity that set the ethical
conditions; where the critical events “for the fate of the universe does not come to pass in heaven
with God or among the gods. It does not involve force or violence or even the Law. It takes place
within and through a community held together by faith, love, and hope.” See Dieter Georgi,
Theocracy: In Paul’s Praxis and Theology, trans., David E. Green (Minneapolis: Fortress Press,
1991), 28, 34, 45, 59, 66, 67, 68, 71, 76, 86, 97, 99.
13
Around 500 BCE or after the Deuteronomistic History was written and the Succession History
of 2 Sam 11-20; I Kings 1-2). See Tryggve N. D. Mettinger, The Eden Narrative: A Literary and
Religio-Historical Study of Genesis 2-3 (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2007), 11.
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may actually celebrate a God who sacrifices his desire in a dramatic kenotic act to give

hope to humankind and all creation.

This rhetorical-ethical interpretation of Gen 2-3 imagines the expulsion from the Garden

as a saving act of a God that accepts his self-limitation: an act that sets in motion a desire

for communion with the divine on the part of humanity and of all creation. This expulsion

from the Garden may have been the only way for humanity to understand the limiting and

limited nature of human action: “All that we can choose is the way in which we will be

ourselves, at least within limits.”14 And, from the J writer’s perspective, given that this

narrative was added, most likely, after the people of God’s return from exile, to remind

the listener that human weakness is to participate in, with acquiescence, corporate sin that

promises a better world;15 “but in the end brings nothing but death (the message of the

entire Deuteronomistic History; also Rom 7:11; cf. Rom 3:23).16

Isn’t building better worlds the excuse of all empiric pretensions and excuses to oppress,

to subjugate, to exclude, to create ‘states of exception’ from normal moral order (e.g. the

Patriot Act that suspends habeas corpus), to condone violence, and to make war? Isn’t

this a more salient lesson to learn from J’s Gen 2-3 than humanity is fatally flawed

because we carry the genetic legacy of original sin? There is nothing in Gen 2-3 that

14
Wolfhart Pannenburg, Systematic Theology, vol. 2, trans. G. W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans and Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1995), 260 quoted in Thiselton, 308.
15
One of the better illustrations of this understanding of corporate sin in postmodern media
parlance is the recent Joss Whedon movie, Serenity.
16
Panneberg, 266 in Thiselton, 308.
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suggests that humanity’s basic nature was altered by God’s expulsion of humanity from

the Garden. P’s revelation in Gen. 1:27 that God created [humankind] in His image, in

the image of God He created him; male and female He created them (JPS) still stands.

Might the narration of Gen 2-3 by the J writer be revealing something about God in how

the earthlings are portrayed? For example, could a rhetorical-ethical understanding of

Jesus’ kenosis (self-limiting; emptying) be seen “not just as the blueprint for a perfect

human moral purpose, but as revelatory of the ‘humility’ of the divine nature…. Jesus

displayed the self-giving humility which is the essence of divinity.”17 What if God’s

command (waysaw, Gen 2:17; rather than speaks wayomer) to not eat of the tree of good

and bad (Gen 2:16-17), a hendadys meaning ‘everything,’ that results in the eyes of the

two of them were opened (Gen. 3:7), but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you

shall not eat, for if you eat of it you shall certainly die (Gen 2:17; trans. Mettinger)

portend a consequence of humanity’s desire for building better worlds, a world that only

recently used this “knowledge of everything” to construct nuclear weapons, sufficient to

destroy all of God’s very good creation, the entire bā r ā ’ of Genesis 1 (Gen, 1:1; 1:21;

1:27; 2:3). Although the number of nuclear weapons today is down from the 70,000

nuclear devices during the Cold War, we still possess 31,732 nuclear devices controlled

by nine nuclear states18 and more than 40 states19 retain 3,755 tons of weapons-usable

17
Sarah Coakley, Powers and Submissions: Spirituality, Philosophy and Gender (Challenges in
Contemporary Theology; Oxford: Blackwell, 2002), 10.
18
This estimate includes all known tactical (battlefield – suitcase and backpack weapons, atomic
land mines, air-defense warheads, atomic artillery shells, etc.) and strategic (sitting atop missiles
aimed at military installations and cites) nuclear (fission) and thermonuclear (hydrogen fusion)
devices in the inventories of nuclear states: Russia (20,000), U.S. (10,600), China (400), France
(350), United Kingdom (200), Israel (100), India (40), Pakistan (40), North Korea (2). Iran is
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fissile materials, enough to construct another 240,000 nuclear weapons.20 What if God

banished humanity from the Garden to wake-up his earthlings to what suffering might

really entail if we do not use God’s gift of the tree of knowledge for wise, creative

purposes that serve God, but for ill? For without the corporate memory of suffering that

humankind has endured throughout the ages since human history began, a history by the

way that begins only after the expulsion from the Garden,21 is there anyone among you

who can rightly claim that the powers and principalities of empire would not have already

used the hydrogen bomb to accomplish some inhumane purpose.22 Hasn’t our expulsion

from the Garden, in some way, contributed to our compassion, to our love and to our

presently engaged in a nuclear weapons program and Saudi Arabia and other non-nuclear states
are presently debating the option to acquire a nuclear deterrent, but these states do not yet possess
them. See Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) nation reports available at
http://www.nti.org/e_research/ profiles/index.html (accessed 9/09/04).
19
Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
speech to the IAEA general conference in Vienna, Austria, September 20, 2004 as reported by the
Chicago Sun-Times, September 21, 2004 available at www.suntimes.com/ output/news/cst-nws-
nuke21.html (accessed 9/21/04).
20
The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), run by former U.N. weapons
inspector David Albright, estimates that at the end of 2003 there was a total of 1,855 metric tons
of plutonium and 1,900 metric tons of highly-enriched uranium (HEU) globally. It takes ~10 kg.
of plutonium-239 or 16-25 kg. of HEU enriched to ~90 percent uranium-235 (U-235) to fuel a
weapon. See ISIS, “Global Plutonium and Highly Enriched Uranium HEU) Stocks: Summary
Tables and Charts (June 30, 2004)” available at http://www.isis-
online.org/global_stocks/summary_tables.html#chart1 (accessed 10/05/04).
21
“Human existence in history begins with this, that the person is where God is not.” All of
human history is outside the Garden. There is no prelapsarian state from which to Fall. See
Claus Westermann, Genesis 1-11: A Commentary, trans. John J. Scullion (Minneapolis:
Augsburg Publishing House, 1984), 270.
22
The atomic (fission) bomb dropped on Hiroshima August 6, 1945 that killed 140,000 human
beings and on Nagasaki August 15, 1945 that killed 80,000 human beings are approximately
100X to 1000X less powerful than a hydrogen (fusion) bomb that, so far, has never been used in
complete war, because, as Ronald Regan said once: “nuclear war cannot be won and must never
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desire for one another in our loneliness and in our desire for perichoresis

(interpenetration and indwelling) with the divine?23 Might the expulsion from the Garden

been a consequential gift rather than retributive punishment? Might this gift be the

forcing of theological discourse24 on humanity, a discourse that would never have arisen

if the adam (.‫ אָדָם‬earthling/ earth person)‎ and Eve (‫‏‬,‫‘ חַוָּה‬Life-Giver’), as universal

representatives of humanity, had stayed ensconced in the Garden? And, might God have

anticipated that this theological discourse could evolve towards a future economy of

grace:25 a spatially defined eschaton ‘outside the Garden’ of unmediated discourse with

be fought.” Quoted in Jonathan Schell, The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the
Will of the People (New York: Henry Holt & Co, Metropolitan Books, 2003), 334.
23
John Zizioulas describes the fall toward sin as a “rupture between truth and communion.” For
Zizioulas, communion is an ontological state of both God and humans. That is, both God and
humans are dependent on communion for being. This relationality is essential to what defines
them as either God or human. Thus, “living in truth” requires that humans first open themselves
up to communion – with self, God, the other, and with creation. I have just added an emphasis to
this relationality by bringing in the idea of perichoresis to describe the depth of humankind’s
desire of relationality with the divine, especially as recounted in Gen 2-3. See John D. Zizioulas,
Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church (Crestwood, NY: Vladimir’s
Seminary Press, 1985), 102 in Thiselton, 306.
24
The underlying assumption is that a theological discourse is even reasonable in that “in the
totality of our being on earth, in time, and with others we are encountering the ineffable God
whose being and goodness cannot be inscribed with the human project. In all our interactions,
there we are also interacting with the divine.” See William Schweiker, “Imagination, Violence,
and Hope: A Theological Response to Ricoeur’s Moral Philosophy,” in David Klemm and
William Schweiker, Meaning in Texts and Actions: Questioning Paul Ricoeur (Charlottesville:
University Press of Virginia, 1993), 221.
25
Augustine’s definition of grace (gratia) was the gift of “God’s operation in the world…through
which thy [angels and humans] are moved to know and love God” “not as a created disposition or
accident but rather as the operation and dwelling of the divine being within the created spirit….
This gift moves the Christian to appreciate and desire God above all else and to love self,
neighbor, and all lower goods for the sake of God’s goodness.” See J. Patout Burns, “Grace” in
Allan D. Fitzgerald, O.S.A., gen. ed., Augustine Through the Ages: An Encyclopedia (Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 391, 393. Kathryn Tanner defines grace as “God’s favor and all the
ways God’s favor is expressed – in creating the world, forgiving and redeeming son, offering
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the divine, that challenges the very foundations of an autonomous, interiorly directed

self.26 Could it be, as Kathryn Tanner recommends, that “Just as the creation in its

essential meaning does not refer to what happens in the beginning (in contradistinction to

what happens after), so the central claim of eschatology must not refer to what happens at

the end (in contradistinction to what happens before).”27 The eschaton refers primarily to

“a new level of relationship with God” where ‘life’ “refers to fruitfulness and abundance,

longevity, communal flourishing and individual wellbeing.”28 Although “death enters the

course of life as the threat of such things as sickness, suffering, poverty, barrenness,

oppression, social divisiveness, and isolation”29 isn’t “Death [also] a sphere within God’s

power, God’s reach and therefore (one presumes) the dead are not lost to God.”30

For a Christian reading Gen 2-3, can we imagine that “death makes no difference to that

life in God in the sense that, despite our deaths, God maintains a relationship with us that

continues to be the source of all life-giving benefit? Even when we are alive we are

therefore dead in so far we are dead to Christ. Separation from Christ (and from our

fellows in Christ) is a kind of death despite the apparent gains that might accrue to one in

spiritual and moral sanctification, and so on.” See Kathryn Tanner, Economy of Grace
(Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2005), 5.
26
For example, the “self that is the object of interpretation is one interacting with and responding
to other powers and their claim to goodness.” “The self that is the object of [this] interpretation
would then be the one known in response to the divine. Self knowledge would entail
understanding one-self as one is known….the self is known as it exists in relation to the divine
and to others” (Schweiker, 218, 220).
27
Kathryn Tanner, Jesus, Humanity and the Trinity: A Brief Systematic Theology (Minneapolis:
Fortress, 2001), 104.
28
Tanner 2001, 104-5.
29
Tanner 2001, 104-5.
30
Tanner 2001, 107.
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virtue of an isolated simply self-concerned existence.”31 In choosing life (as opposed to

death), “God’s attributes become in some sense our own; they are to shine through our

lives in acts that exceed human powers and in that way become established as part of a

reborn sense of self.”32 This new self, an esse qua esse bonum est (being as being is

good) is a spatially conceived self, a self outside the Garden that is defined by its

relationality with God, with neighbor (the ‘Other’), and with creation.33 God’s barring of

the way back to the Garden by placing a cherubim holding a flaming sword to guard the

way to the tree of life (Gen 3:24) in the middle of the garden (Gen 2:9), paradoxically,

may have been just the means for God to gift immortality to humankind in the only

manner available to biological creatures.

That is, as Second Isaiah so eloquently puts it in his post exilic response to suffering (Isa.

40-55) that Israel, the servant of YHWH, has a mission to reach out to all the world and

become a light to the nations (Isa. 42:6; 49:6) so that all people can see what work God is

doing through his chosen people.34 The J writer confronts us with a radical choice: to

listen to God’s voice in our lives or to follow our own self-interested way. But, as Gen 2-

3 illustrates, even when we disobey, does not mean that God, through his freely given

grace and his refusal to abandon us, this does not continue to provide for us what we truly

need (Gen. 1:1-2:3; 2:6-9; 2:18-22). So let us listen:

31
Tanner 2001, 108.
32
Tanner 2001, 111.
33
“In theological terms, grace, not violence, is the primordial origin of our sense of ourselves as
responsible beings; Creation and not the Fall is the fundamental backing of our moral claims.
Ethical norms are not generated simply in reaction to violence; they are to formulate our response
to the goodness of beings” (Schweiker, 222).
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It is to the silence you should listen


The silence behind invocation, allusions
The silence of rhetoric….
What I have written
I have written between the lines35

For God is still talking to us, still revealing his purposes to us. He did not stop once the

Scriptures were finally written. “[N]o one meaning or organization exhausts the

discursive field.”36 That is because the Spirit is still at work, so “meaning and

organization are [never] already established once and for all” time.37 This may be where

our immortality resides.

Has the rain a father; or who has begotten the drops of dew? (Job 38:28, NAB)

Is this God, YHWH, the source of the present planetary emergency, and the treat of

ecological collapse of this home, the earth that he originally created for us in Genesis

1?38

34
See Anchor Bible Dictionary entry on sin and suffering.
35
Gunner Ekelof, “Poetics” in Opus Intertum 1959, trans Lars-Hakan Svensson in Mettinger,
135.
36
Kathryn Tanner, “Social Theory Concerning the ‘New Social Movements’ and the Practice of
Feminist Theology in Rebecca S. Chopp and Shelia Greeve Davaney, eds., Horizons in Feminist
Theology and Identity, Tradition, and Norms (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997), 186.
37
Tanner 1997, 186.

38
“We, the human species, are confronting a planetary emergency--a threat to the survival of our
civilization that is gathering ominous and destructive potential even as we gather here. But there
is hopeful news as well: we have the ability to solve this crisis and avoid the worst--though not
all--of its consequences, if we act boldly, decisively and quickly. However, despite a growing
number of honorable exceptions, too many of the world's leaders are still best described in the
words Winston Churchill applied to those who ignored Adolf Hitler's threat: "They go on in
strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid
for fluidity, all powerful to be impotent." So today, we dumped another 70 million tons of global-
warming pollution into the thin shell of atmosphere surrounding our planet, as if it were an open
sewer.” See Al Gore, “A Precious and Painful Vision of the Future,” Nobel acceptance speech,
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Cursed be the soil for your sake,


With pangs you shall eat from it all the days of your life.
Thorn and thistle shall it sprout for you
(Gen 3:17b-18a, Robert Alter)39

The impression one gets from Paul’s exegesis in Romans 8:18-30 is that God cursed

creation, on account of Adam’s apostasy. One wonders at the public health consequence

of this interpretation at a time when all of the earth’s systems are moving rapidly toward

collapse. Somehow, Paul’s replacement of this curse with the hope engendered through

the incarnation, death, and resurrection/ascension of Jesus seems a little thin compared to

reality on the ground. Running out of fresh water on the earth is pretty tangible. God’s

curse of the earth, if that is how we interpret this text, can be seen, felt, and touched –

every day.

So, where is the Christian hope in this situation; incarnate in the resurrected/ascended

Christ? Is this the same God, YHWH, that has left humanity with a cursed earth? Where

is the hope in this? Or, is there an alternative way to read what God is up to in Gen 2-3, in

light of our new notion of a God who sacrifices his desire to bring hope to all creation? Is

there something about Christianity, or monotheism in general that renders us less than

good stewards of God’s creation? I am noticing that the European Union, a region of

vastly secular/scientific sentiment is presently light-years ahead of the U.S. that fashions

itself a nation of Christians, in environmental protection, management of scarce fresh

water supplies, and mechanisms to curb carbon emissions. Even in the U.S., the State of

December 11, 2007, printed by The Nation, available at http://www.thenation.com/doc/20071224/


gore (accessed 12/10/07).
39
Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary (New York &
London: W.W. Norton & Company, 2004), 27.
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California, in its secularity, is decades ahead of states like Tennessee, which considers

itself a ‘Christian’ state, in sound environmental management practices and movements

to correct market practices that discount the value of natural resources.

Paul places much hope in ‘the children of God,’ redeemed by the gospel, taking their

rightful place in rescuing creation from its ‘suffering’ (Rom 8:18) brought about by

God’s curse on the ecosystems of the earth (Gen 3:17-19) due to Adam’s ‘sin’ (Rom 5-

7).40 To deny that God cursed the earth’s ecosystems hardly washes as only shortly past

Eden; God brings the flood to destroy all life on this planet (Gen 7:7-17). Only after the

fact, having taken care to save Noah and his seed bank on the ark, does God decide to:

remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never

again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life (Gen. 9:15, JPS). Paraphrasing

Paul, “humans trying to play God ended up ruining not only their relations with each

other but also their relation to the natural world” (Rom 8:20).41 But, do we need to

explain the advent of “ruined cities, depleted fields, deforested mountains, and polluted

streams” either in the Mediterranean world of Paul or in the ancient Palestine of the J

writer?42 After all, Gen 2-3 was probably written after Jeremiah’s detailed account of the

collapse of agricultural production in Judah ~600 BCE as primeval forests were cleared,

plowed hillsides eroded. Fewer trees produced fewer clouds so the rains failed and

drought ensued. If there was rain, then there were flash floods due to runoff from barren

40
Robert Jewett, Romans: A Commentary (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), 512.
41
Jewett, 513.
42
Jewett, 513.
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hillsides.43 It appears that Jeremiah has it right; it is not God’s curse that is causing

ecological collapse. The natural world is suffering from the pathology of humans going

about their business, but failing to remember they are created creatures, not gods, and

failing to notice humanity’s embeddedness in the networks of life that enable their

sustenance in this created, natural world.44 The notion that God made me do it, or that

God somehow wills humanity to trash the natural world, or provides the warrant to

proceed in this fashion not only is not scripturally supported, it has absolutely no public

health value in this interpretation. So what might have been going on in Gen. 2-3 to lead

Paul to imagine that creation is suffering from God’s curse on account of Adam’s sin?

Was this merely a rhetorical flourish, bad exegesis, or is Paul not saying what we imagine

he is saying in Rom. 8:18-19, because Gen 2-3 means something different than what it

seems to say on the surface? What if the J writer was making a more subtle point that it is

not what we see, but how we see the reality we face that enables “real dialogue and

mutual understanding”?45 Might the ‘thorns and thistles’ serve as a reminder to humanity,

not that God’s good earth is cursed, but that humanity is now accountable for its actions

and activities not only to each other, but also to the natural world?46 Again, may we being

shown consequential blessing and not retributive justice? As Karl Barth reminds us: “The

time in which we live and suffer is the present time, the time when glory is made

43
For example in Jer. 5:22-28, he links this state of ecological disaster and exile with Israel’s
unfaithfulness to following the moral laws of God, set forth in the Torah. See Michael S.
Northcott, A Moral Climate: The Ethics of Global Warming (London: Darton, Longman and
Todd, 2007), 13.
44
Northcott, 16.
45
Margaret McKee, “Excavating Our Frames of Mind: The Key to Dialogue and Collaboration,”
Social Work, Vol. 48, No. 3 (July, 2003), 402.
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manifest in suffering.”47 Isn’t that exactly what both the J writer and Paul are getting at?

The J writer is telling a story about the start of human time that begins upon the expulsion

of the primeval seed of humanity, the adam and Eve, the Life-Giver, from the Garden.

What this humanity needs most of all is right relationship with each other, with God and

with the creation. To evolve in this relationality will require mutual inquiry and “the

possibility of real dialogue and mutual understanding.”48 The absence of this ‘real

dialogue and mutual understanding’ is exactly what results in a land of ‘thorn and thistle’

beyond the Garden, meaning an infertile land without plentiful water (the counterpoint to

the garden-state). But this is entirely the result of human choice, not divine action. God

did not will humanity from the garden, but blessed humanity in its consequential choice

to leave the garden. There is nothing in Judaism or Christianity (or Islam for that matter)

that enables humanity to escape its responsibility or complacency in bringing the natural

world near collapse by projecting that God wills it. Neither does the J writer nor Paul in

Romans narrate a story that gets humanity off the hook for today’s planetary emergency

of ecological collapse. Neither God’s curse, nor humanity’s sinfulness provides an excuse

to not engage in the ‘real dialogue and mutual understanding’ necessary to address the

stewardship that the children of God must bring to bear on the sufferings of the present

critical time (Rom. 8:18a, Jewett). The God, YHWH, of Gen. 2-3 is a god, who, given

today’s massive assault on the ecosystems of the world, would be weeping and suffering

along with those creatures, us, who are awake enough to notice what we are doing to

46
McKee, 404.
47
Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, 6th ed. (Edwyn C. Hoskyns, trans; (London: Oxford
University Press, 1933), 305.
48
McKee, 402.
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creation. Gen. 2-3 does not overturn the result of Gen. 1, where God bequeaths humanity

a very good creation, to start. It is the sin of all humanity, Christians included, to idly

standby and watch as this creation is placed in peril. It is up to all the children of God –

this is a universal appeal, not limited in any manner – to work towards a world of basic

freedom in relationship with our neighbors and healthy natural systems. This is the basis

of true sustainability. Brevard Childs reminds us that the nature of the God who we are

speaking about “is neither static being, nor eternal presence, nor simply dynamic activity.

Rather, the God of Israel makes known his being in specific historical moments, and

confirms in his works his ultimate being by redeeming a covenant people” (‫‏‬Exod. 3:14).49

If Scripture tends to exhibit the “particularity, contingency, and temporality” that we see

in Gen 2-350 then any truth claims from interpretation are neither fixed nor final, but are

only timeless in their respectful appropriation for a particular time and place and in the

understanding of their contingency of meaning. For example, I have no doubt should

God’s Son become incarnate today, instead of being a carpenter, his choice of work

might be as a global ecologist. Ricoeur supports this re-organization of the temporally

conditioned events of Scripture by reminding us that these narratives are “not a static,

closed system of propositions, but a system that is open to the future.”51 That openness to

the future is one of Paul’s contributions in Romans, to remind us that whatever miseries

that confront humanity in the “time that is Now” (ho nyn Kairos), without God’s

49
Brevard S. Childs, Exodus: A Commentary (London: SLM, 1974), 88 quoted in Thiselton, 63.
50
Thiselton, 63.
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unearned, merciful grace and justice we are doomed to not trust in God’s saving power,

just as the adam and Eve in Gen. 2-3.52 What Gen 2-3 narrates is a story about the

possibility for trusting in God’s saving power. By noticing what happens to the adam and

Eve, maybe the J writer is providing a means to shape the identities of the listeners to this

narrative “so decisively as to transform them.”53 Thus, the narrative is training (in the

Wittgenstein sense of deliberate formation and praxis) for how not to behave, not a

sentence that humanity has blown its one good chance for communion with God (and the

created order) or support for a Doctrine of the Fall (see Table 1 below) that sets God at

work cursing the created order and creatures he just finished making.54 Instead, as Badiou

might suggest, could Gen 2-3 be thought of as training in an ethics of the Real as

humanity begins to take responsibility for its actions and decisions that have absolute

consequences; consequences that are outside of previous experience, knowledge, or

accepted norms of behavior (everything in the Garden ‘before time’ and was too new to

have ‘norms’)?55 Bonhoeffer may have summarized the experience of the adam and Eve

51
Paul Ricoeur, Time and Narrative, trans. K. McLaughlin and D. Peliauer, 3 vols. (Chicago and
London: University of Chicago Press, 1984-88), vol. 1, 35 in Thiselton, 65.
52
Giorgio Agamben, The Time That Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans
(Patricia Daily, trans.; Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005), 61, 67-8.
53
David Kelsey, The Uses of Scripture in Recent Theology (London: SCM, 1975), 91 in
Thiselton, 81.
54
The essence of Formation (Bildung) is the cultivation of wisdom that is spoken/acted freely
with courage (phronesis) yet, “‘keeping oneself open to what is other, namely truth [this is an
ethical stance] rather than merely to ‘a procedure’” or to convention or the ‘safe’/convenient pre-
determined view of reality promulgated by the powers and principalities [the royal consciousness
that Brueggemann speaks of in his Prophetic Imagination (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1978)].
See Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, trans. J. Weinsheimer and D. G. Marshall
(London: Sheed & Ward, 2nd rev. Eng. edn. 1989), 17 in Thiselton, 82.
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in Gen 2-3 succinctly: “we experience and recognize ethical reality not by craftiness, not

by knowing all the tricks, but by standing straightforwardly in the truth of God and by

looking at that truth with eyes that makes simple… and wise.56 Thus, maybe the training

the listener of this story of the time it all began illustrates mourning for the human

condition as an ethical transformation of submitting to God’s will (the way things are in

the world), “the full result of which one cannot know in advance.”57 The faith in this

submission, this allowing God hegemony in our lives, is the trust that “God’s work in

redemption is to free” humanity to what is was “created to be… [that] God’s actions [in

History] in both redemption and in creation bring life, stability, and well-being for both

individuals and communities.”58 As Terrence Fretheim eloquently summarizes: the

“witness of the Old Testament is that sin and evil do not have their origin in God nor are

they written by God into the structure of the universe. Sin and evil have their origins in

the human will, not in God or in God’s plan. At the same time, when sin and evil do enter

the life of the world, they do not become constitutive of what it means to be human (or

any other creature).”59 Thus, if basic thrust of this narrative of Gen 2-3 is to answer the

55
Alain Badiou, Ethics on the Understanding of Evil (London: Verso, 2001), xxv, 52.
56
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics: Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Vol. 6, Ilse Todt, et. al., eds.,
Reinhard Kraus, Charles C. West and Douglas W. Stott, trans. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press,
2005), 78.
57
Judith Butler, “Violence, Mourning, Politics,” in Judith Butler, Precarious Life: The Powers of
Mourning and Violence (London and New York: Verso, 2004), 21.
58
Terrence E. Fretheim, God and the World in the Old Testament: A Relational Theology of
Creation (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2005), 10.
59
Fretheim, 13.
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question: “Who am I?” It answers: “I am God’s” and “this is my story!”60

TABLE 1: 61 THE DOCTRINE PERSPECTIVE


OF THE FALL EXEGETE
Old Testament (~500BCE) No mention of the Fall (Gen. 2:4b-3:24)
2 Esdras Adam is responsible for the sin that ravages humankind. “O Adam, what
have you done? Although it was you who sinned, the fall was not yours
alone but ours also who are your descendents” (2 Esdr. 7:118-19)
Baruch Adam brought sin into the world, but neither this sin nor the guilt of this sin
are passed down (2 Baruch 54:15)
Paul (~50CE) The universality of sin is used to make a case for Christ as the ‘second
Adam’ but no mention of a Fall (Rom. 1:18-32; 5:12-21; 7:7-13)
The Apocalypse of Moses The disobedience of animals is the cause of Adam’s fall (Apocalypse of
Moses 10-11)
Early Rabbinic literature Humankind posses both an impulse to sin and an impulse to do good. There
is no fall.
Irenaeus (c. 130-c. 202) Adam before the Fall was like a child.
Tertullian (c. 160-c. 220.240) The original sin of Adam may be transmitted to others as a part of his soul
is transmitted to the next generation.
Clement of Alexandria (c. 150- There is no connection between sin and death, between sin and its impact
215) on human choice, or its universal prevalence in the human community.
Origen (185-254) The punishment for sin may be internal rather than external
Athanasius (296-373) The Fall is a loss of privilege as Adam ‘falls’ into nature and decay begins
Gregory of Nyssa (c. 330-c. 395) Sin is primarily envy and it is the sin of all humanity, not just Adam.
Ambrose Adam was formed with ‘original righteousness.’
Augustine of Hippo (354-430) Sin is misdirected desire. Adam was in a state of ‘original righteousness’
from which he fell and passes this ‘original sin’ down to all his progeny.
Pelagius Adam’s sin was his own. Nothing is passed down to his progeny.
Chrysostum Adam lived in a paradisal state w/o pain and spectacular intellectual powers
Gregory the Great (c. 540-604) Rejected Augustine’s notion of ‘irresistible grace’
Anselm (1033-1109) Sin is ‘not rendering to God what is his due.’ He mistranslated the Gk for
‘turning’ to mean ‘penance’ which is where ‘penitential works’ and the
selling of indulgences by the Church originated.
Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) Sin originates from self-love, and includes ‘sin against God, against oneself,
and sin against one’s neighbor.’ Sin is the rejection of the purpose for which
humanity was created – to be in relation. Thus, sin proceeds from both
human desire and will.
Martin Luther (1483-1546) Believed in Augustine’s notion of original sin
John Calvin (1509-64) Strongly supported the idea of sin as a hereditary disease from Adam’s fall.
Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768- Sin arises due to humanity’s lack of ‘god-consciousness’

60
“In scripting a life-story as one’s own, a self is born in possession of a refigured identity.” Paul
Ricoeur, Figuring the Sacred: Religion, Narrative, and Imagination, trans. David Pellauer, ed.
Mark I. Wallace (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), 13-4.
61
Anthony C. Thiselton, The Hermeneutics of Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007),
283-308.
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TABLE 1: 61 THE DOCTRINE PERSPECTIVE


OF THE FALL EXEGETE
1834)
Albrecht Ritschl (1822-89) Original sin is corporate, structural, and communal sin, not personal sin
Frederick R. Tennant (1866- Sin is moral imperfection of the individual
1957)
Karl Barth (1886-1968) Sin is pride in that it causes a fundamental breach in fellowship with God
Emil Brunner (1889-1966) The origin of sin is the destruction of communion with God
Reinhold Niebuhr (1992-1971) Sin and evil are not just due to individual inadequacies or mistakes but to
corporate dimensions of structural sin.
Paul Tillich (1896-1965) The Fall is symbolic representation of an existential estrangement from God
that causes a separation of man’s will from God’s will.
G.C. Bekouwer (1903-96) Sin results from a defect of human will.
Karl Rahner (1904-84) Sin is the result of man freely rejecting God. Original sin does not constitute
a hereditary transmission of sin or guilt.
Hans Kung (b. 1928) Sin is a fall from relationality with God
John D. Zizioulas (b. 1931) The Fall did not bring about a new situation, a change from a prelapsarian
state, but merely recognizes the condition of creatureliness attempting to
elevate one’s self to the position of God.
Wolfhart Pannenberg (b. 1928) We alone are responsible for the sin in the world. Sin is not merely missing
the mark, but apostasy, and transgression. Sin has power over us because it
falsely promises life, yet delivers only death.