(Our next mid-week video is up)
Over the last few months we’ve gone from the reality of COVID-19 to a global economic upheaval to the death of George Floyd to riots and looting in cities across America. These recent events feel unrelated and distinct, but they aren’t. They’re simply ripple effects of something that happened thousands of years ago and which shapes everything we experience in this world.
I’m talking about the fall of Adam. It's fitting that I recorded the video at Raleigh's City Cemetery in front of the grave of Elizabeth Obedience Watson who died in 1839. Watson was the daughter of a slave-owner who owned over 300 slaves. City Cemetery contains the graves of dozens of slaves and slave owners. There are few realities that capture the reality of a fallen world like a cemetery, which speaks of the immovable reality of death. There are few historical facts that speak of the fallenness of humanity like slavery in 19th century America.
Way back in the beginning of our Bibles Moses records the sad events that take place when Adam and Eve listened to a talking serpent in a garden instead of listening to the voice of God. This has everything to do with what we're experiencing today.
The Serpent and Covid-19
The serpent approached this sinless couple in the midst of the Garden of Eden and asked a simple question, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’” (Gen 3:1). Eve tried to correct the serpent about what God actually said, so the serpent became more direct and accused God of lying to them. The serpent said if they ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil they wouldn’t die but actually become like God and know good and evil (3:4–5).
The woman took the bait and ate. And then Adam did the same. You can trace COVID-19 and looting Macy’s on 34th St in NYC to that moment.
Let’s start with COVID-19. We tend to think of the fall of humanity as something that only affects our tendency to sin. We sin because Adam sinned. Somehow how they’re connected, even if we can’t explain it.
But there’s more to it. The Creation itself was impacted. When God punished Adam for eating the fruit he told him,
“Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you….By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread.” (Gen 3:17–19)
For this to happen God had to bring a change to the Creation. The Creation didn’t originally come hardwired for weeds and difficult farming. It came wired for life and fruitfulness and food in plenty. But sin changed that.
Adam’s sin brought a curse to the creation itself only to be changed when God brings a “new heaven and new earth” (Rev 21:1). Paul tells us that the “creation itself” is right now longing to be delivered from its curse to experience “the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom 8:19–23).
Till that point diseases like COVID-19 will find a home in our world. We might come up with treatments and vaccines for many of them, but our world is a world of disease until there’s “a new heaven and a new earth.” In that place there will be no crying or pain or death. There’s no cancer or COVID-19 or unexplainable diseases that the doctor can’t figure out.
The Fall and the Killing of George Floyd
Then there’s George Floyd’s death by the actions of former police officer Derek Chauvin (shaw-vin) and the looting of stores by people exploiting the protests for their own gain. These are actions we more commonly connect to the fall of man.
We need to make a very clear distinction between peacefully protesting injustices in our country on one side and opportunistic destroying and stealing property on the other.
Unnecessary force that takes a life and looting that destroys property are from our “human depravity” or what is sometimes called “original sin.”
“Original sin” is a confusing name. We don’t look back on “the original sin,” though it sounds like that. “Original sin” is something inside each of us.
It has to do with the sin in each of us that’s as much a part of us as white and red blood cells. No matter what, in this life we can’t escape it. John Calvin says,
Original sin, therefore, seems to be a hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature, diffused into all parts of the soul, which first makes us liable to God’s wrath, then also brings forth in us those works which Scripture calls “works of the flesh.”
John Calvin, Institutes, 2.1.8
He goes on to say that its influence never sleeps but it “continually bears new fruits…just as a burning furnace gives forth flame and sparks, or water ceaselessly bubbles up from a spring.”
Rienold Niebuhr used to quote the London Times Literary Supplement: “The doctrine of original sin is the only empirically verifiable doctrine of the Christian faith.” Proving the reality of an invisible God presents some challenges to us. Proving that sin is in us seems to be obvious everywhere we turn.
Original sin is ours because of the fall of Adam, though. We didn’t learn it from our parents or have some broken gene in our DNA that produces it. But it’s still in each of us.
Francis Schaeffer in his book, Genesis in Space and Time, looks at the fall of Adam and the cascade of disaster that came from it. He says,
By the action of one man in a historic, space-time situation, sin entered into the world of men. But this is not just a theoretical statement that gives us a reasonable and sufficient answer to man’s present dilemma, explaining how the world can be so evil and God still be good. It is that in reality, from this time on, man was and is a sinner. Though some men do not like the teaching, the Bible continues like a sledge hammer, driving home the fact that evil has entered into the world of man, all men are now sinners, all men now sin. Listen to God’s declaration concerning the human race in Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”
…It is easier today than it was a few years ago to proclaim the sinfulness of man. On every side artists, novelists and protest singers are saying, “What’s wrong with man? Something’s wrong with man.’ The Bible agrees and gives us a realistic view of life: “The heart is deceitfully wicked.”
Francis Schaeffer, Genesis in Space and Time
Schaeffer is right. And you can see the true impact of Adam’s sin just within the pages of Genesis. You start with that first couple. As soon as they’re caught in their sin they begin to blameshift. Adam blames Eve: “It wasn’t my fault. It was her!” Eve blames the serpent: “It wasn’t my fault. It was that thing!” As one commentator said, “They are preoccupied with ‘I’” (Bruce Waltke, Genesis: A Commentary).
But then they have children. In a world where no murder had ever taken place and there was no violence on TV or in video games, one of their sons (Cain) kills his own brother (Abel) out of jealousy.
The dominos of depravity begin and by the time you get to Genesis 6,
The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Gen 6:5)
Grasping the fall and its disastrous effects is important for a few reasons.
The Fall Helps Us to See Our World, God's Grace, the Real Solution
First, it explains the world we see. We don’t live in the Garden of Eden, and we don’t live in the “new heaven and new earth.” We live “east of Eden” (Gen 3:24) in a place inhabited by depravity, death and disease.
But second, the fall helps us see God’s grace. This world is fallen—but it isn’t hell. It’s a place where God’s grace is active.
People are depraved but God’s common grace is on all people and his saving grace is alive in many. That means people will do good works. Some will destroy and steal property for their own selfish purposes—but others will be there to help rebuild communities and work toward justice. Violent racism exists—but others will be there to work for racial understanding and unity and see broken societal systems changed.
Third and finally, seeing our world as fallen points us toward the real solution: Jesus Christ is the real solution. We need transformation from the inside out. That only comes when we’re connected to Jesus Christ by faith. True racial understanding and unity can happen when we’re “one in Christ Jesus” and “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female” (Gal 3:28). That’s the foundation of a unity that crosses racial lines and can help build a society of justice and righteousness.
Some of the greatest achievements for justice and equality have been made by those filled the Holy Spirit and inspired by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Even in the midst of a fallen world they accomplished great good in their generation. May we find our place in spreading the grace of God in this fallen world where it sometimes feels like human depravity has the upper hand.
Don’t forget where you live—not in Eden and not in the new heaven and new earth. We live in a fallen place filled with fallen people. But also don’t forget the power of the grace of God. Grace can change a person. Grace can change a country. Grace wins in the end. It’s more powerful than evil or the devil.
I leave you with this blessing:
May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. (2 Pet 1:2)
 Cited by Reinold Niebuhr in several places including Man’s Nature and His Communities (24).
 Schaeffer, Genesis in Space and Time (InterVarsity, 1972), 87.
 Waltke (Zondervan, 2001), 93).