Genesis 3 – Why is there evil in the world?


How do you explain evil?  How do we understand evil in our world?


We know it exists – we only have to turn on the Television, or look in a history book to see it.


How do you explain Adolf Hitler?  Was he a product of German’s experiences during and after the first world war, coupled with a driven personality, and the opportunities presented by the political chaos of 1930’s Germany?  And what about Stalin? 


Or closer to home – what about Ken Bigley’s captors – how do we explain their actions?  Religious fundamentalism?  The reaction of a few misguided individuals?  A product of American aggression in Iraq?  A product of Taliban training camps?  How do we think such evil deeds come about?


How we explain evil has a profound impact on how we run our lives, and our society. 


If we equate evil we unthinking extremism, then we will seek to avoid anything that suggests it might be extreme – and that can quickly be applied to anyone who holds beliefs and views firmly.


If we think evil is a product of family upbringing – of poor interpersonal relationships, or bad housing, or lack of education, then we will focus on getting things right, and seeking to get rid of evil that way.


But are these explanations adequate?  Can we explain evil in terms of a combination perhaps of genes and upbringing?


Genesis 1-12, our brief guide to Life, the universe and Everything would tell us they are not.  Because, of course these explanation’s miss out one vital factor – God.


Remember where we are from two weeks ago.   We’ve just had two accounts of the creation of the universe by God – the first emphasizing the goodness of the created order, the second focusing in on man and woman, how God created them unique, and how they were uniquely appointed to look after the creation.


We ended chapter two on a note of celebration, as the man sings of the companion God has given him, woman.  Man and woman live in harmony before God, and with one another.  They feel no shame.


Now our world is far removed from theirs.  Not because we know more, or are more sophisticated or anything like that, but because we know shame, and guilt, and we do not live in harmony with one another.


So what happened?  Genesis 3 will tell us, as we continue to read the early history of mankind.


Turn with me if you would to Genesis 3 – it’s on page 5 of the bibles in the chairs – as we see what God’s word has to say on the subject of evil.


We’ll look at this passage in two sections


1. The Cause of evil (3:1-13)


Why is their evil in the world?  Look at Genesis 3 verse 1:


Genesis 3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?"


The serpent comes to the woman with a question.  Now we haven’t met the serpent before, and the narrator indicates that we should be wary – for the serpent was crafty – potentially dangerous.  But the question he asks the woman seems innocent enough.  What did God say about eating fruit in the garden?


And the woman answers innocently enough:


2 The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'"


And this is nearly what God said.  The LORD God said Adam might eat from any tree – although the LORD never said that touching the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil would be fatal.  And the serpent has a subtle response to make:


4 "You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. 5 "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."


The serpent tests the woman’s commitment to God’s word.  God said they would die – the serpent says they won’t.  And the serpent suggests that God is holding back on something, by not letting them have access to knowledge of Good and Evil.


A seed of doubt is planted by the serpent – and it quickly grows and bears fruit:


6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.  7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.


She looks at the fruit in a new way.  The fruit looks good.  And it will have significant benefits if eaten.  So the man and woman together eat the fruit.  And just as the serpent promised their eyes were opened – but instead of finding themselves shrewd  -they find themselves naked. 


They are no longer innocent.  They feel shame, and they seek to cover up.


And it gets worse for the man and the woman.


8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.


The LORD God, the creator God is pictured walking amongst his people.  And in their shame they hide from him.  As if they could:


9 But the LORD God called to the man, "Where are you?" 10 He answered, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid."


God knows where the man is.  And the man comes out and confesses that he hid – and to his fear – and to his shame.  And of course, The LORD knows the cause of his fears:


11 And he said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?"


The LORD confronts the man, and asks him – have you done the one thing that I told you not to do?


12 The man said, "The woman you put here with me-- she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it."


And the man answers.  Yes – but it wasn’t my fault.


It was her fault.  In fact, if we trace this back to first principals God – if we go back to the beginning, it was your fault, because you gave me the woman, and she gave me the fruit.


And God turns to the woman. 


13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate."


A more open response?  Perhaps.  At least a recognition of fault, although still of course the serpent is the chief mover.


What do these verses tell us about the cause of evil?


What, to use a biblical word, caused sin to enter the world?


Man’s disobedience to God.


In Genesis 2 man is given the Garden of Eden to look after.  He names the animals.  God even provides a suitable companion for him.  God cares for the man who he created and breathed life into.  And the man is told not to do one thing – not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil.


But in Genesis 3, the man and his wife eat the fruit.  How did this happen?


Because of what man did.  Genesis 3 tells us that the cause of sin, the cause of evil in this world, is man.


The man and the woman choose to ignore God’s command, and trust instead in their own wisdom.  Yes, they are influenced by the serpent – but despite the serpent’s words, they still know what God said.  They are not obliged to listen to the serpent.


Now of course you can ask why the serpent was created by God to be crafty – and the answer is, we don’t know.   But we do know that the man and the woman didn’t have to listen to the serpent – that they could choose who to believe.


The man and the woman disbelieve God.  They stop trusting his words.  They stop trusting in the one who created them, and who cares for them.  Instead they trust in their own wisdom.


In doing this they are arrogant.  Stop and think about this for a moment – they are staggeringly arrogant.  Despite having intimate knowledge of all God has done for them, they still feel that they know best – that there way of doing things, that meeting their desires, is the most important value.  The woman sees the apple is good – so she eats it.


And they are greedy.  They want what the serpent promises – even though God says it will be bad for them!  They would risk death to satisfy their own desires.


But in all this, they are irresponsible.  Not just in eating the fruit – but also in their replies to God afterwards.  The man blames everybody else but himself, and the woman blames the serpent.  They want power and wisdom – but they don’t want to take responsibility for their own actions!


Disbelieving, arrogant, greedy and irresponsible.  A lethal combination.  What the bible calls sin – the cause of evil in this world.


And it would be easy, wouldn’t it, to condemn the man and the woman, Adam and eve.  Except that we know we are not much different.


We disbelieve God’s word.  Did God really say – don’t have sex before you get married?  Don’t get divorced just because you feel like it, don’t get drunk on too much wine, don’t slander, don’t gossip?


Did God really say that?  Or didn’t he say – just sin a little – because then you’ll be much wiser – your eyes will be opened and you will know good and evil?


We are arrogant.  We know best.  God has some interesting things to say to us in his word, and his advice should be weighed carefully, but we’re not like those primitive Hebrews who needed Genesis to explain why the sun shone.  We’ve moved on from such simplistic explanations.  We have science.  We have our own wisdom.


And we are greedy.  Greedy for what others have – and should be hours.  Greedy for money, for fast cars, for nice houses – greedy for our friends wives, our friends lives.  Greedy for pleasure – for if it looks good to us, well it is good, and never mind the consequences.  For after all, you can’t help falling in love can you?


And yet in all this we are irresponsible.  We just can’t help ourselves.  We are the product of our upbringing, our families, our genes.  How can we possibly be expected to take responsibility for our actions?




How is evil caused?  By Man – when man ignores God.  Adam and Eve did it, and we’ve been doing it ever since.


And as Adam and Eve found out, sin, evil has consequences.


I want to look briefly at four of them


2. The Consequences of evil (3:8-24)


a. Paradise lost.


The first and most obvious consequence is that paradise, Eden, is lost.  God curses the serpent – and indicates that there will be conflict between man and the serpent forever.  The woman, in her unique role as mother, will experience pain.  The man, in his God-appointed role as gardener, will have to fight the earth to produce a crop.  And he will die – verse 19:


19 By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return."


And the man and the woman are driven from Eden.  Driven from the garden into the harsh land – driven from God’s presence, driven from the tree of life:


22 And the LORD God said, "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever."  23 So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.  24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.


Man cannot be allowed to be like the heavenly beings – his behaviour shows that.  So he must be banished from the garden, and never allowed to re-enter.  Paradise is lost. 


b. Broken fellowship with God (v8-13)


God comes to talk to the man and the woman in the garden – and they are ashamed, and hide.


God asks them what they have been doing – and the man blames God for his actions.


No longer can the man and woman come before God without shame.  God even makes clothes for them in verse 21 – they need to be covered now.


There is a barrier between man and God.  It may not be visible like a Cherubim with a flaming sword, but it is nevertheless real.  The evil things we do separate us from God.  We cannot come into God’s presence.


But it is not only our relationship with God that suffers.


c. Broken relationships with each other 3.16


Look at verse 16:


16 To the woman he said, "I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you."


The woman was created with two unique roles – to bear children, and to be a suitable helper and companion for the man.


Pain will accompany childbirth – and conflict will replace companionship.


The woman’s desire will be for her husband.  Now the word translated here as desire means desire to dominate – it’s not talking about a woman’s emotional or sexual desire for a man, but rather the desire to dominate the relationship of companionship.  Rather than helping the man, the woman will seek to dominate him – to master him, to be independent of him.  Now there are many fundamental things being said about the relationship between men and women here, but the point I want to make is that the relationships which God set up are being disrupted.


The woman will desire to rule over the man, and the man will rule over the woman – he will dominate the woman.  He will use his superior physical strength – and yes, he will use the power of the state he runs – to master and dominate the woman, to subjugate her – and many, many times we have seen that happen in human history.  The relationships God set up have been perverted.




Paradise lost.  Toil, pain and conflict.  Conflict between men and women, conflict with God.  Genesis 3 paints a bleak picture of humanity.  All the bleaker because we can see that it reflects much of our world.


Is there no hope here?


d. Eve, the serpent, and her son.


Look with me if you would at verse 20:


20 Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.


Does it not strike you as strange that the first thing the man does after hearing the curses is to name his wife, mother of the living?  Is that not, well, a little optimistic?  Why does he do this?  Because he has seen something that we might miss.  Look back at verse 15:


15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel."


The serpent is cursed to crawl on his belly.  But he is also cursed with enmity or hatred between him and the woman’s children.


And the battle will ultimately go against the serpent.  Now in Genesis 3, the serpent is not just a clever animal – he represents evil here.  And Genesis 3 tells us that there will be a constant fight between mankind and evil, and that ultimately, the serpent will be crushed.


So, even though man was expelled from the garden of Eden, hope remained.  And over the history of Israel, through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, through Moses and Joshua, through the Judges, through King David and the prophets, God progressively revealed how the serpent would be crushed, how evil would be defeated.


So that in the New Testament, as the apostle Paul writes to the Roman Christians he says to them:


Romans 5:17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. 18 Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.


Death and condemnation and disobedience entered the world in Adam.  But life entered the world through the obedience of one man, God’s Son, Jesus Christ.


Christ died on the cross to deal with the consequences of sin, our separation from God, and ultimately with the caused as well – for through Christ we have forgiveness of sins, and his Holy Spirit who lives in us, to make us more like Christ every day.


The picture from Genesis 3 is bleak, but in Christ we have forgiveness of our sins.  So we can turn to him in our arrogance, unbelief, greed and irresponsibility, and ask him for forgiveness, and be forgiven.


We need to recognize that like Adam and Eve, we all sin.  We all reject God in unbelief, we are all arrogant, seeing our own way as the best, we are all greedy, and yet we all wish to avoid responsibility – it is, after all, somebody else’s fault. 


We need to repent of those sins.  We need to acknowledge them – we need to come as individuals to Christ as Saviour and Lord.


But we also need to recognize as a society that our most important problem is not lack of education, or housing, or health care, or extremists – important though they may be.  Our greatest need is to recognize that Jesus is Saviour and Lord.  If we want to change the world, we need to change the people in it.  And change does not come from within – but from a saving knowledge of the Lord as Saviour.


Let that be our quest against evil – in our own lives and in our world – that we would know Christ, and make him known, as the only hope of the world.


James Hughes

26th September 2004