All of the examples of sin we read about in the Bible are directly related to the early chapters of Genesis. Genesis describes the goodness and creativity of God, the character of his creation, and who we are as his creatures. The Genesis narrative also explains how things went awry. In those first chapters we see the multi-faceted Sin first rear its ugly head. And we see the four types of alienation that Adam and Eve experience because of sin: the four dimensions of sin upon which all the records of wrongdoing in the Bible are based, and which up to the present day form the basis of our dysfunction as human beings. So let’s look at these four types of alienation and how they resonate with us today.
(1) Alienation from self. Gen 3.7 reads: [After they ate the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil] the eyes of [the man and the woman] were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. There was something in that primordial act of rebellion that introduced shame into the world. Shame, while it can serve a useful social function by enforcing norms of behaviour by intrinsic means, ultimately whispers in our ear that that there is something wrong with us. Adam and Eve no longer felt comfortable in their own skin; they could no longer exist in the way that God had made them to. So they covered themselves up and became alienated from that part of themselves and the freedom which God had planted in their hearts. This cycle of shame is familiar to the addict or anyone who struggles with a certain besetting sin. There is the vow to abstain from said activity, but as soon as the person gives into temptation, the shame comes on and convinces us that we are weak and no good. There then comes an attempt to hide that part of us, even from ourselves. Henry Nouwen once wrote: “the biggest trap we can fall into is not fame, power, or wealth, but self-rejection.”
(2) Alienation from God. Once we struggle with alienation from ourselves, genuine connection with God becomes much more strained, and we drift toward alienation from him. When God was looking for Adam, Adam hid. When God finds him and asks why, Adam replies: “I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself” (v. 10). Somehow Adam’s own inability to look himself in the face sabotages his relationship with God. Perhaps he assumes that because he is ashamed of himself, God will likewise be displeased. And so we distance ourselves from him and hide. We believe the lie that our sin disqualifies us from relationship with God, as well as the lie that we are polluted and unloveable, and so in our own minds God becomes our antagonist.
(3) Alienation from others. Immediately the excuses start flying: “The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate” (v. 12). This further alienates Adam from God because Adam blames God for his sin by saying “it was the woman you gave to me.” But it also drives a wedge between two people who until that point must have been a pretty happy couple. Sin has them playing the blame game, the game that is familiar to all of us and which can be so deadly. One of the first sins was the sin of deflection and not taking responsibility for our own actions. Perhaps to acknowledge the reality and magnitude of his sin was too hard for Adam, as it threatened to further shame and alienate him from himself. But sin that we have the courage to confess is sin God is all too willing to absolve us of. Now all that happened was Adam got mad at Eve and threw her under the bus. And the relationship was never quite the same, I am sure.
(4) Alienation from creation. Finally, there is a cosmic dimension to this first sin. There is a curse that is put on the ground. And whereas the first command of God was for the people to be tenders and cultivators of the garden, which meant enjoying its bounty with ease and at their leisure (1.26-30), now the man must work — not even just work, but toil — for his food (3.17-19). Suddenly God’s good creation, with which they should always have been at harmony, now resists him and becomes his enemy. There is today much left in nature that soothes the soul, and the food that comes from the ground can bring great pleasure, but talk to a subsistence farmer or someone who has experienced a hurricane or an earthquake, and the danger, the raw power, and the unpredictability of nature becomes evident, and you must reckon with the fact that the natural world owes no allegiance to you or makes any promises to keep you safe and prosperous.
So try it on for size. Take a look at any episode of sin recorded in the Bible and it will fit into one of these categories or feature some elements from across these categories. Even extra-biblical literature and stories up to the present day can only recap these themes. The are the archetypes of sin and conflict upon which our fallen human nature and experiences are built.