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 forbid you to eat from any tree in the garden?” “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” – Genesis 3:1,4-5
When God created the world, everything he made was good. The earth was truly his kingdom, and life was ruled by the spirit of peace. Everything, including man and woman, dwelled together in unity and harmony and took delight in one another and in all that God had made. With trembling reverence and wonder Adam and Eve stood before the life-filled tree in the Garden of Eden. But then the serpent misled Adam and Eve. Immediately, evil came into God’s creation and tried to destroy it completely.
Eve was tempted by the serpent with one simple question: “Did God really say that?” and with one simple promise: “Surely you will not die!” It is important that we understand what this means. Satan, the seducer, tempted Eve with words of God, just as later he tempted Jesus with words of God.
Pride separates us from God and from each other.
What else was it, if not pride, when Eve looked at the tree and lusted for its fruit, wanting to make herself like God? Was she not testing God to see whether he would really keep his word? The serpent put doubt into her heart, and Eve listened to him with great curiosity. That in itself was a betrayal of God, and it gives us an insight into how Satan still works today.
Satan still wants to separate us from God and from one another. And if we are not watchful, he can do it simply by asking a seemingly innocent question that sows seeds of mistrust and division in our hearts. Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14), but actually he is the slanderer, the twister of truth, the father of lies, the murderer from the beginning; he tries to throw us into disorder and confusion and doubt – and very often he succeeds.
In the Gospel of Matthew we read that shortly after Jesus’ baptism, when he withdrew into the wilderness, Satan tried to tempt him. Knowing that Jesus was physically weak after fasting for forty days, Satan approached Jesus with a face of compassion and showed false reverence by suggesting that all the kingdoms of the world should belong to him.
Yet already in that first temptation, Jesus recognized Satan as the tempter, and the twister of truth. He trusted in God unconditionally and did not consider listening to Satan for even a moment, but rather went the way of trust, obedience, and dependence on God. Satan could not come close to his heart.
It was not just the forbidden fruit that enticed Adam and Eve, but pride and the self-seeking desire to be like God. Because they lacked trust, obedience, and dependence, they cut themselves off from God. In the end, because they no longer honored him, they made idols of each other.
The greatest curse on our human destiny is the attempt to become like God. Bonhoeffer says, “In following Satan’s temptations to be like God yet independent of him, man has become a god against God.”1 The result is a deep sickness in the human spirit. The image of God is now a stolen image, and twisted by idolatry and rebellion against him, it brings great darkness and need (Rom. 1:23–32).
False love hinders the joy of total giving.
Adam and Eve both sinned against God’s love, against his good plan. They were deceived by a false love: human desire. How many things happen today that go by the name of love and are nothing but destruction and soul-murder!
True love wants the person of God to shine through the beloved: God remains the value by which love is measured and the final goal of love’s striving. But man, in a false love to the beloved, turns away from the highest good and thereby makes it impossible for God to shine through the beloved.2
All this should be a serious warning to us, whether we are married or hoping to be married. God alone must be first in our lives, not our spouse, not our children. In our own marriage, my wife and I learned that when God did not have the first and foremost place in our relationship, and when we did not turn to him for guidance even in small matters, we soon lost our closeness to each other. This affected our children too (even if they were not conscious of it), by making them disobedient and quarrelsome. I have seen the same occur in many families: when a couple drifts apart, their children act out their insecurities. In our case, as with many other couples, once my wife and I turned back to God and sought to rebuild our relationship, our children responded.
When we idolize our spouse or our children, our love becomes false. We cannot speak freely about our shortcomings or those of our family. Like Adam, we no longer truly love God or see his countenance; we see only our spouse’s or our children’s. Rather than address issues head-on, we gloss things over. In this way, we eventually lose touch with God and with each other. Worse, we open the door to evil, especially in the sexual area, and to inner deadness and isolation. Adam and Eve lost their innocence because they lost their unity with God. And through the terrible emptiness that followed, man blamed woman and sought to dominate, and woman, resentful of man, blamed Satan. All unity was destroyed, and man and woman became rivals and were no longer one (Gen. 3:7–19).
When our marriages are separated from God, rivalry soon takes root and selfishness and mistrust consume us. In competing with our spouse to rule the roost, we strive to create our own little paradise on our own terms, and we soon sink into emptiness and deep discontent. Our inner bond is destroyed and we remain bound to one another only through infatuation. We continually blame each other and seek our own advantage and independence. The joy of total giving is gone and only the curse of half-heartedness is left.
The enemy of life in God is an independent and covetous will. As my grandfather Eberhard Arnold writes, this will is “the commercial spirit of mammon, the legal spirit of property-based relationships, the detachment of sexual desire from the soul and from unity and community of spirit…All this is death; it is no longer connected with life.”3
Anything that stands in opposition to life and love is evil, and we should never underestimate the power of evil. Sin always leads to separation, and the wages of sin are always death (Rom. 6:23). Sinful pride bears its bitter fruit in estrangement – separation from God, from our true selves, from others, and from the earth. Satan and sin shatter the most fundamental relationships we have.
From ancient times on, Christians have pictured Satan as a creature with hooves and horns. Such a notion has no biblical basis. Satan and his demons surround the earth like an atmosphere, a force of evil that seeks to separate and divide us (Eph. 2:1–2; 6:12). His sole aim is to blind humans with self-interest and egoism: “You will be like God.” And instead of going the way of simple obedience, we allow ourselves to be tempted and give in.
Like Adam and Eve, all of us are divided and estranged by our sin.
Adam and Eve’s first sin symbolizes the fall of each one of us. We cannot ignore the fact that the original image of God in us has been terribly distorted. Instead of being content to reflect the image of God, we strive for equality with God. We have turned the highest qualities within us against God’s will. In our worldly “freedom” we are no longer even concerned about God or his image. We are estranged from him and moved only by the affairs of the world. We are at odds with ourselves and one another, trapped by the guilt of our own dividedness.
Cut off from God in this way, we place ourselves at the center of the universe and try to find peace in possessions and pleasure. But these idols only leave us troubled with anxiety and anguish. Then arises the first mistrustful question, “Why?” and the second, “Is God really there?” We begin to doubt the guidance of the Spirit, and we ask, “Why do I have it so hard? Why me?”
Such questions eat away at our trust, not only in God but in each other, and when we ask them we are never far from sinning. Simple faith takes the hand that God is offering and goes the way he leads. Even if the way leads through darkness or suffering, through hard places, over rocks and deserts, trust will help us to follow. If we take God’s hand, nothing can harm us. But as soon as we let go of God and question him, we will begin to despair. That is always the challenge: to hold on to God.
Jesus had to endure every human suffering; he was spared nothing – not hunger, thirst, loneliness, temptation, nor torment. But he did not attempt to escape from his misery. He is near to us, and he is always ready to help us, to give us the strength to overcome (Heb. 2:14–18). Even the most satanic temptations, the most terrible hours of darkness, are overcome by these words of Jesus: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only” (Matt. 4:10). This is the secret. Here Satan loses all power over us, and the first sin no longer binds.
1. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics New York: Macmillan, 1975), 19.
2. Der Mensch als Bild, 58.
3. Eberhard Arnold, Love and Marriage in the Spirit Rifton, NY: Plough, 1965), 152.