The world and her people weren’t always broken. Adam and Eve had a “before and after” experience unknown by any other man. They walked with God in the cool of the day, naked and unashamed; they enjoyed the presence of the glory of God. Their environment was perfect, their Father was wholly good, and their knowledge was as extensive as their need. Even with all the positives—environment, heritage, and education—they still failed God’s grace and lost the glory.
So, what went wrong?
God created an ordered world full of boundaries where divisions exist between light and darkness, earth and sky, water and land. Both plant and animal life reproduce within boundaries—“according to their kind.” Further, God distinguishes His image-bearers from all of His creation when He commands them to “be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it,” and to exercise “dominion over every living thing that moves on the earth” (1:26-28).
The writer of Genesis describes the first couple’s Garden domain as beautiful (“pleasant to the sight,” 2:8), bountiful (“good for food,” 2:9), and bounded—a place with boundaries. The Garden itself is a bounded place, made specifically for the couple. The Garden provides a cornucopia of fruit with one prohibition, “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; 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” (2:16). This God-given boundary demands the first couple’s continued trust in the Creator God who alone is good, wise, and powerful.
God’s creation of the world, His abundant blessing, and His singular prohibition provide the first couple with meaning, purpose, and boundaries. Life is good.
Then a serpent creeps into man’s beautiful garden-home.
The serpent begins by urging Eve to listen to and trust him instead of God. He minimizes the negative consequences of crossing the God-given boundary, “You shall not surely die.” He blatantly lies about the consequences of crossing the God-given boundary, spinning the cost of sin positively, “For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” He effectively deceives Eve into crossing the boundary that God had established. Had the serpent communicated the real consequences, “You will have two sons and the older will kill the younger,” and God will curse the unrepentant older son; “You will be kicked out of Eden, struggle with authority, and open the door to all sorts of brokenness: polygamy, human trafficking, abortion, world war, poverty, sexual abuse, racial tension, drug (both legal and illegal), alcohol and pornography addiction, to name a few,” both Adam and Eve would certainly have exercised the dominion God had granted them over the serpent. Sadly, they listen to the serpent instead of God.
They make a sight-based decision instead of a God’s Word-based decision. God promises, however, to redeem them (3:15), sacrifices an innocent animal to cover their nakedness (3:21), but still evicts them from the garden (3:23-24)—establishing a post-Fall boundary that prevents them from re-entering the garden.
Instead of exercising dominion over every creeping thing, the couple now seek to exercise dominion over one another, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (3:16). Instead of ruling over the earth, the earth rules over them with thorns and thistles. Their death is two-fold: spiritual as well as physical. Their oldest son kills the younger. Murder, violence, and oppression over women through polygamy dominates the descendants of Cain. God gives Adam and Eve another son, Seth; because of him, men begin to call upon the name of the Lord (4:26). Ten generations later the two genealogies merge through intermarriage, become corrupt, and fill the world with violence.
Before the Fall man exercises dominion righteously. After the Fall, men exercise dominion sinfully.
To many today, the idea of a world without boundaries seems right. How dare God, they say, tell us what to do or not to do? They create a worldview that eschews any moral boundaries, a world where anything goes. What seems plausible in the moral realm, however, shows its foolishness in every other facet of life. Imagine a world without red lights, speed limits, and four-way stops. Imagine a world without property laws or banking regulations. Driving laws provide boundaries to protect us from hurting other people and being hurt by other people; property laws guard our valuables and homes; banking regulations protect our money. Boundaries are good; people need boundaries.
Boundaries value and protect the sacred in others. Sin, however, defaces the sacred image in others. We need boundaries socially, sexually, and spiritually; understanding the story of Scripture gives us clarity.
God’s story gives us clarity by showing us the boundaries that He has provided as a protection for women, children, and all in society. In the law God provides those boundaries for Israel as a community. The ceremonial boundaries taught them God’s holiness. The moral boundaries taught them God’s righteousness. The social/civil boundaries taught them the value of all in the nation.
These three types of boundaries weren’t removed when Christ died and rose again to secure man’s salvation and forgiveness; rather, they were fulfilled in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. His resurrection assures us of the power of the Holy Spirit to respect and live within the boundaries He has established, “He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors—not of the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:11-12).