The first taste of sin was pleasant: Eve enjoyed the fruit enough to want to share it with her husband. The aftertaste was increasingly bitter. Adam and Eve discovered that sin affects us personally, with a loss of inner innocence. “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.” Suddenly they saw themselves differently. Their nakedness was not new, but no longer was it free of shame. Now there was an inner distress about who they were, not just about what they had done.
One of the fruits of their sin was a shame-based self-consciousness that instinctively caused them to cover themselves. What Adam and Eve covered with their loincloths was what made them different from one another, their sexual organs. Tom Gledhill points out the significance of this:
The sin of rebellion made them self-conscious as regards their sexual organs. Their nakedness represented their vulnerability towards their Creator’s hostile gaze. But why the genital region as the focal point of their embarrassment? Why not their eyes, which looked on the forbidden fruit with great desire? Or their hearts which decided to flout the commandment? Or their hands which actually touched the forbidden fruit? It seems that one possible answer is that their shame in each other’s presence is focused on that part of their bodies that fundamentally differentiate them. They are threatened by the possibility of exploitation . . . aggression or seduction at the very level where the two were to find their mutual at-one-ness.2
Their problem wasn’t nakedness, of course. It was guilt and shame, which could not be covered by a pathetic belt of fig leaves! Even they recognized this. Clothed in his belt of fig leaves, Adam explained his decision to cower in the bushes: “I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” Even if he had covered his entire body in fig leaves, he would have felt naked before a holy God!
Clearly sexuality was immediately affected by sin. Adam had been instantly attracted to the woman God had made, and the naked sensuality they experienced in the garden put sexuality within the “very good” of God’s creation. Now, on the other side of their rebellion, one direct effect of sin was seen in their protective concern for their sexual organs. They had become “private parts.”
Think of all the corruption unleashed by the distortion of our sexuality—guilt, shame, pain, abuse, addiction, violence, and on and on the list goes. God’s good gift has now been twisted and distorted. Sin takes good things and not only deforms them but often turns them into weapons of destruction.Neal Plantinga, in his book Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, doesn’t explicitly mention sexuality, but his words obviously apply: “Sin corrupts powerful human capacities—thought, emotions, speech and act—so they become centers of attack on others or of defection or neglect.”3
Paradoxically, while a couple created to desire one another now hide from one another, they will begin to experience lust for one another. What they once experienced without shame will now become both a source of shame and a passion that knows no shame. As Dennis Hollinger observes in The Meaning of Sex, “Thus sex, despite its distortions after the fall, is still sex, and God’s gift to humanity. It becomes distorted in its longings, directions, misdirected ends, and idolatrous impetus.”4
Closely connected to the birth of shame is the birth of distrust. Sin affects us relationally with the loss of intimacy and trust. The fig leaves are evidence of the distance and separation the man and woman now feel. Covering their physical nakedness is symptomatic: They are no longer open with one another. Someone has observed that the real problem wasn’t that they could see one another’s private parts; the real problem was that they couldn’t look into one another’s eyes as they once could. They feel vulnerable before one another.
Sin causes us to hide from one another. It also leads us to hurt one another. When confronted by God with their misdeeds, Adam blames both God and Eve, refusing accountability for his own actions: “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Blaming and excusing—the sexuality God gave to be a blessing has become a battleground. Self-justification nearly always involves self-deception, and that is certainly the case here. Sin, like a virus, has corrupted our most precious human relationship.
We don’t know how precisely to interpret the statement about “the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.” While we don’t know the exact nature of this experience, the text makes it clear that this was a regular part of the relationship of the Lord God with His first human creatures. They enjoyed the privilege of a remarkable relationship with God himself. But this time the sound of His approach does not invite; it intimidates. Instinctively they respond by fleeing from God, not moving toward Him: “The man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.”
For the first time, the presence of God brings fear and guilt, not anticipation and delight. Their relationship has been broken. Sin affects us spiritually, breaking our fellowship and causing the loss of spiritual life. Adam and Eve first fear God, then flee Him, and finally fight Him when He confronts them with their actions. They attempt to shift the blame for their actions onto one another, onto the Serpent, and even onto God himself. In response, God speaks solemn words about the permanent consequences of their sin, which includes their banishment and expulsion from the garden (genesis 3:16–24).
What has happened? The man and the woman have chosen to violate the clear command of God, given for their blessing and their protection. In choosing to despise and disobey God’s spoken words, they have chosen to despise and disobey God himself. As Timothy Ward observes, “From God’s side, when the words of his command are set aside by his creatures in favor of their own desires and their own claims of wisdom, then God himself has been set aside.”5
God’s creation order has been disordered. The longing for one-flesh union has been disordered into frustration and conflict on the one hand, and self-centered pleasure seeking on the other. The evidence appears quickly on the pages of Genesis. The first known fruit of the love of Adam and Eve, Cain, murders his brother Abel in an act of self-righteous envy (genesis 4). Women such as Sarah and Rachel struggle with infertility rather than fruitfulness. The one-flesh relationship God intends is twisted into polygamy, and the impact of this is seen in the tragic conflicts that divide the families of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Added to this is the worldwide moral corruption that brought on the flood (genesis 6), the attempted violent rape and sexual perversion of Sodom and Gomorrah (genesis 19), the rape of Dinah (genesis 34), and the sexual degradation that is found in the mistreatment of Tamar in Genesis 38, one of the most sordid chapters in the Bible.
Our new world outside the garden has taken us a long way from the “very good” of Genesis 1! And there are no exceptions. We will never meet an individual undamaged by the fall.
2 Tom Gledhill, The Message of the Song of Songs, The Bible Speaks Today, edited by J. A. Motyer (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 172–73.
3 Cornelius Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996), 2.
4 Dennis Hollinger, The Meaning of Sex: Christian Ethics and the Moral Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2009), 93.
5 Timothy Ward, Words of Life: Scripture as the Living and Active Word of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 27.