THE STORY OF THE GARDEN OF EDEN. -- Gen. 3.
Hist. Bible, Vol. I, 37-42.
Drummond, Ideal Life, Chaps. on Sin.
And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was a delight to the eye, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat; and she gave also unto her husband with her and he did eat. And the eyes of them both were opened and they beard the voice of Jehovah God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of Jehovah God amongst the trees of the garden. -- Gen.3:6-8.
Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for when he hath been approved, he shall receive a crown of life, which the Lord promised to them that love him. Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God; for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempteth no man; but each man is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust and enticed. Then the lust, when it hath conceived, beareth sin: and the sin, when it is full grown, bringeth forth death. -- James 1:12-15.
For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of man's mind,
And the heart of the eternal
Is most wonderfully kind. -- Frederick W. Faber.
None could enter into life but those who were in downright earnest and unless they left the wicked world behind them; for there was only room for body and soul, but not for body and soul and sin. -- John Bunyan.
THE NATURE OF SIN.
Henry Drummond has said that sin is a little word that has wandered out of theology into life.
Members of a secret organization known as the Thugs of India feel at times that it is their solemn duty to strangle certain of their fellow men. Do they thereby commit a sin? A Parsee believes that it is wrong to light a cigar, for it is a desecration of his emblem of purity -- fire. Others in the western world for very different reasons regard the same act as wrong. Is the lighting or smoking of a cigar a sin for these classes? Is the act necessarily wrong in itself?
When a trained dog fails to obey his master, does he sin? Is man alone capable of sinning?
THE DIFFERENT THEORIES REGARDING THE ORIGIN OF SIN.
Many and various have been the definitions of sin and the explanations of its origin. Most primitive peoples defined it as failure to perform certain ceremonial acts, or to bring tribute to the gods. Morality and religion were rarely combined. The Hebrew people were the first to define right and wrong in terms of personal life and service. Sin as represented in Genesis 3 was the result of individual choice. It was yielding to the common rather than the nobler impulses, to desire rather than to the sense of duty. The temptation came from within rather than from without, and the responsibility of not choosing the best rested with the individual. The explanation is as simple and as true to human experience to-day as in the childhood of the race.
The Persian religion, on the contrary, conceived of the world as controlled by two hostile gods, with their hosts of attendant angels. One god, Ormuzd, was the embodiment of light and goodness. The other, Ahriman, represented darkness and evil. They traced all sin to the direct influence of Ahriman and the evil spirits that attended him. During the Persian period a somewhat similar explanation of the origin of evil appeared in Jewish thought. Satan, who in the book of Job appears to be simply the prosecuting attorney of heaven, began to be thought of as the enemy of man, until in later times all sin was traced directly or indirectly to his influence. This was the conception prevalent among the Puritans. This view tended to relieve man of personal responsibility for he was regarded as the victim of assaults of hosts of malignant spirits. Does your knowledge of the heart of man confirm the insight of the prophet who speaks through the wonderful story of Genesis 3?
THE ORIGIN OF SIN ACCORDING TO THE STORY IN GENESIS 3.
In your judgment is the story of the man and the woman in Genesis 3 a chapter from the life of a certain man and woman, or a faithful reflection of universal human experience? Most of the elements which are found in the story may likewise be traced in earlier Semitic traditions. The aim of the prophet who has given us the story was, according to the view of certain interpreters, to present in vivid, concrete form the origin, nature, and consequences of sin. This method of teaching was similar to that which Jesus used, for example, in the parable of Dives and Lazarus. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil, with the command not to eat of it, apparently symbolizes temptation. Is temptation necessary for man's moral development? The serpent was evidently chosen because of its reputation for craft and treachery. The serpent's words represent the natural inclinations that were struggling in the mind of the woman against her sense of duty. Note that in the story the temptation did not come to man through his appetite or his curiosity or his esthetic sense but through his wife whom God had given him. Was the man's act in any way excusable? Strong men and women often sin through the influence of those whom they love and admire. Are they thereby excused? What natural impulses impelled the woman to disobey the divine command? Were these impulses of themselves wrong? How far did her experience reflect common human experience? What was the real nature of her act? Was it wrong or praise-worthy for her to desire knowledge?
In what form did temptation come to the man in Genesis 3. Does temptation appeal in a different form to each individual? The Hebrew word for sin (which means to miss the mark placed before each individual) vividly and aptly describes the real nature of sin. The ideal placed before each individual represents his sense of what is right. If he acts contrary to that ideal or fails to strive to realize it, does he sin?
THE EFFECTS OF SIN UPON THE WRONG-DOER.
What was the effect of their consciousness of having disobeyed upon the man and woman in the ancient story? Did they believe that they had done wrong, or merely that they had incurred a penalty? Does sin tend to make cowards of men? Were the feelings of shame, and the sense of estrangement in the presence of one who loved them, the most tragic effect of their sin? When a child disobeys a parent or a friend wrongs a friend is the sense of having injured a loved one the most painful consequence of sin? Was the penalty imposed on the man and woman the result of a divine judgment or the natural and inevitable effect of wrong-doing? Why did the man and woman try to excuse their disobedience? Was it natural? Was it good policy? Was it right? If not, why not?
GOD'S ATTITUDE TOWARD THE SINNER.
Jehovah in the story evidently asked the man and woman a question, the answer to which he already knew, in order to give them an opportunity to confess their wrong-doing. Parents and teachers often seek to give the culprit the opportunity to confess his sin. What is the attitude of the law towards the criminal who pleads guilty? What is the reason for this attitude? A loving parent or even the state might forgive an unrepentant sinner, but the effect of the wrong-doing upon the sinner and upon others may still remain.
While the man and woman remained conscious of their wrong-doing, though defiant, to abide in Jehovah's presence was for them intolerable. Are toil and pain essential to the moral development of sinners who refuse to confess their crime? Are toil and pain in themselves curses or blessings to those who have done wrong? The picture in Genesis 3 clearly implies that God's intention was not that man should suffer but that he should enjoy perfect health and happiness. Jehovah's preparation of the coats of skin for the man and woman is convincing evidence that his love and care continued unremittingly even for the wrong doers. Modern psychology is making it clear that the effect of sin upon the unrepentant sinner is to increase his inclination toward sinning. But when a man in penitence for his sin has turned toward God and changed his relation to his fellow men, God becomes to him a new Being with a nearness and intimacy impossible before! May the Christian believe that this new sense of nearness and love to God is met by a corresponding feeling on God's part? In the light of Christian experience is there not every reason to believe that God himself also enters into a new and joyous relationship with the man? This thought was evidently in the mind of Jesus when be declared that there was joy in heaven over one sinner that repented.
THE EFFECT OF SIN UPON SOCIETY.
Men are often heard to remark that they are willing to bear the consequences of their sin. Is it possible for any individual to experience in himself the entire result of his wrong-doing? In the Genesis story the woman's deliberate disobedience would seem to have had very direct influence upon her husband. Mankind has almost universally come to regard certain acts as wrong and to prescribe definite modes of punishment. Such decisions have come about not simply because of the effect of sin upon the individual but more especially because the sin of the individual affects society. State the different influences that deter men from sin and note those which from your experience seem the strongest.
Questions for Further Consideration.
Is an act that is wrong for one man necessarily a sin if committed by another? Are men's tendencies to sin due to their inheritance or to impulses which they share in common with brutes, or to influences that come from their environment? In the light of this discussion formulate your own definition of sin.
Is the final test of sin a man's consciousness of guilt, or the ultimate effect of his act upon himself, or upon society?
May the woman in the Garden of Eden be regarded as the prototype of the modern scientist? Are there ways in which the scientist may sin in making his investigations? Illustrate. How about vivisection?
Does sin bring moral enlightenment? Distinguish between Jesus' attitude toward sin and toward the sinner. What should be our attitude toward the sinner?
If the man and woman had frankly confessed their sin, what, by implication, would have been the effect: first, upon themselves, and second, upon the attitude and action of God?
Does temptation to sin, as in the case of Adam, often come in the guise of virtue? What is the value of confession to the sinner? To society?
Subjects for Further Study.
(1) The Babylonian and Egyptian Idea of Sin. Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible, extra vol.566-567; Breasted, History of Egypt, 173-175; Jastrow, Religion of the Babylonians and Assyrians, 313-327.
(2) Milton's Interpretation of Genesis 3 in Paradise Lost.
(3) The Right and Wrong of the Attempted Surrender of West Point from the Point of View of Benedict Arnold, Andre and Washington.