The fall of man and the sorry state of the environment

Adam and Eve expelled. The fall of man
Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise / Francesco Curradi (1570 – 1661)

Humanity has never taken good care of Earth. It’s fashionable to blame modern technology and burgeoning world population. In fact, our worst attitudes are clearly visible in prehistoric societies. Genesis describes the creation and fall of man. The story of Adam and Eve in the Bible shows their spiritual origin and significance.

Here is how the story begins:

This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made earth and heaven. 

Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the Lord God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground. But a mist used to rise from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground. 

Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. The Lord God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. 

Out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. –– Genesis 2:4-9 NASB

Let’s not get hung up on how long the days of creation were or whether the story is historical. Careful study of it shows the truth about human nature as we observe it. Adam and Eve in Genesis acted like men and women today.

The fall of man

Notice that God first made a man from the dust of the ground. Then he planted a garden and put the man in it. The man saw what the earth was like before the garden grew. It was his task to take care of it. As the story continues, God gave the man all the trees of the garden, except one, for his food. God reserved that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil for himself and forbade the man to eat from it.

The man needed a suitable companion. God brought the animals he had made to the man and the man named them. He also noticed that not a one was a suitable companion. Then God made a woman and left the two alone.

The woman was equal to the man in every way, except that she lacked his experience of watching the garden grow and naming the animals in it. Another creature, a rebel against God, lurked in the background.He appeared to the woman and suggested that God was withholding something good. Why the woman? Because her inexperience made her vulnerable.

The creation account isn’t a  folk tale about how the snake lost its legs, by the way. Careful reading of accurate translations shows that the serpent was more clever than all the beasts of the garden. Not all the other beasts. Neither the man nor the woman had ever seen it before. The man should have recognized the intruder and expelled it from the garden. 

Instead, he allowed the serpent to deceive the woman. Seeing that she had eaten the forbidden fruit, he decided to follow her example. The fall of man was complete.

The effect of the fall of man on environmental stewardship

It was high treason. Instead of obeying God’s explicit instruction, the man obeyed the serpent’s insinuation. He surrendered his charge to take care of the garden under God’s leadership. In effect, he chose to run it under the serpent’s. The serpent effectively became the god of this world.

Through the fall of man, death came into the world––not by God’s choice but the woman’s and man’s. We speak of Adam and Eve, but we learn in Genesis 5:2 that God’s name for the two of them was Adam. That’s the generic Hebrew word for human. In Adam, all die.

God expelled the pair from the garden and cursed both the serpent and the ground. As far as humanity is concerned, the curse works itself out by allowing us to suffer the consequences of our own basest instincts. The rest of the Old Testament narrative describes plagues, famines, and wars. They all result from human mismanagement of the earth and failure to practice the environmental stewardship God intended.

Since the fall of man, even the most conscientious believers quickly and thoughtlessly substitute human value judgments for God’s wisdom. And now we have become clever enough and numerous enough to make God’s creation uninhabitable. 

We have needlessly destroyed entire biospheres to meet short-term and short-sighted goals. We waste what we extract from the ground and have no idea what to do with all the trash. In short, we have heedlessly polluted air, water, and land and put every living thing in danger.  And some of us are eager to go do the same for Mars.

We do, however still have the option of forsaking our own ways and seeking God’s. Among other things, doing so will have us take better care of his creation.

Understanding Our Covenants with God: God’s Grace, Judgment, and Promise to Restore Human Perfection, from Adam to Moses to Jesus

For the Beauty of the Earth: A Christian Vision for Creation Care

Stewards of Eden: What Scripture Says About the Environment and Why It Matters
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