You Will Not Surely Die
Sin is at its most gluttonous when there is an absence of guilt. When there is no little angel on your shoulder to steer you away, or no Holy Spirit convicting you of disobeying your Creator. Oddly enough, the sin that cast human flawed-ness into existence was subtle in appearance: a fairly naive woman taking an apple from a forbidden tree and consuming it, inviting her lover to partake in its exotic taste. No, there was nothing excessive or overly defiant about Adam and Eve's sin. Were they to wallow in their disobedience, we would have likely read about more shortcomings that sneaking a bite of an apple. If Adam had pulled down three bushels of apples from the tree and given them to Eve to bake pies and pastries and other sweets, and then taken some formed tool and chopped down the tree to fashion a nice pair of rocking chairs from the wood for he and his bride, then we'd have full on wickedness. Alas, that wasn't the case.
However, for Adam and Eve, the guilt struck swiftly. They realized they were naked, a concept that was non-existent prior to their meeting with the serpent. Suddenly they found themselves naked physically, but more importantly exposed spiritually as to the rotten desire of their heart. The complexity of their sin cannot be overstated. After all, their sin ushered in thousands upon thousands of years of man and woman defying and disobeying God. But it was more than just doing something wrong. It was more than breaking a rule. By choosing to eat from the tree they were told to stay away from, Adam and Eve essentially told God two things: they didn't trust Him, and they wanted to be their own god. There were surely hundreds of other trees and plants with their branches and vines boasting more fruit than they could bear. God was providing every single need (and want) Adam and Eve had. Their disobedience wasn't one of hopeless deprivation. Theirs was one of belief that God was holding back something greater, and that something was their ability to become like Him.
The grand punishment for Adam and Eve was one of banishment from paradise, a place where every craving and compulsory need was met. A place where food never tasted bitter and you didn't need sunscreen. A place where people would shell out thousands to spend a week of their life. For Adam and Eve, it was home. The only one they'd ever known. And as if this banishment wasn't enough, Adam was going to have to work for his food. He would have to tend and water the vegetation himself. He would have to plow the earth and rotate the crops. He would have to flick away invasive pests and pull out destructive weeds. As for Eve, her punishment was the heavy pain of childbirth, one women ever since have refused forgiveness to Eve for.
But the punishment that puzzles us most was one that is most natural to us all now: death. Adam and Eve no longer had a perfect union with their Creator, so they now would eventually face death. In a "does the punishment fit the crime" situation, is stealing an apple equivalent to being strapped in the electric chair?
It's a curious scenario. But why would the Creator of life not also have full authority to take that life away?
We read in Romans that the "wages of sin is death." If this was also true for Adam and Eve, their final punishment sure didn't come right away. Both lived to be several hundred years old. They had numerous children. The story of their first two children further muddles this "punishment by death" conundrum.
After Cain grew jealous of his brother Abel, God approached him. He gave Cain a clear warning of what would happen if he continued to wallow in his feelings towards his brother. "If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?" God questioned him. "Sin is waiting to devour you. Don't let it. Don't let your anger consume you. Rise above it." The very next verse, we read that Cain went out into a field with his brother and brutally murdered him.
It's here you think you'll see a vengeful God. Here, not terribly long after He spent days spinning stars into the sky, molding mountains and beaches, forming every strange creature, and establishing man and woman into his own image is where you figure God will show his great wrath. When God questions Cain as to where his brother is, He already really knows. He sentences Cain to become a "restless wanderer on the earth." OK God. That's fine and all, but aren't you going to strike him dead? Make him suffer with endless pain? Have one of your animal creations tear him apart and eat the meat from his bones?
Cain fears the worst. Even while Cain tried to temporarily play God by taking the life of someone else, he still knows who is truly in charge of every living thing. Cain figures the inevitable will happen: he'll wander the earth and whatever creature or human finds him will kill him.
But in his abounding grace, God says no! "Cain, I promise you this: anyone who harms you will receive vengeance seven times over. I'm marking you as one that I will protect so that you will not be harmed." God, the great Defender and Creator of Life, has chosen to protect even the life of one who committed the egregious act of murder.
"You will not surely die". That's what the serpent said. He was talking about physical death. He was wrong. Everyone dies. The death that is the "wage of sin" however is not simply a physical one. More so, it is a spiritual one. One that divides us from our Creator. God sent Jesus to be the bridge that closes that divide. One that allows for forgiveness of our sins. Our sins that are not just a dismissal of some extinct moral code. Our sins are more complex.
Cain didn't just violate one of the commandments (even though those commandments did not yet exist). He sinned against God because he disrespected the very life God had created; life that He formed and saw it as precious. This too is our sin. This is when men see an attractive woman and the thoughts transform from surface appreciation of beauty into something more twisted and unsavory. It's not just a violation of "do not lust". It is mis-shaping God's creation as something that is not His image, but rather something simple for our physical pleasure.
When we turn our nose at helping those who are poor, we're not just ignoring a command from Jesus. We're telling God that those lives He created are not as valuable as others, and therefore not worth our time or resources. When we damage our own bodies with drugs or alcohol or poor diet or laziness, we aren't just doing something dangerous. We're saying that the life God has given us is not important enough for us to take good care of it.
Adam and Eve's violation was a lack of trust in God. Much of our sin can boil down to that as well, simply because we wake up every day at some point seeking out something other than what God has given us for our pleasure. In essence, we're telling the One who gave leopards spots, tigers stripes, and giraffes incredibly long necks that He is not good enough. We're yelling to the Man in the sky who placed the rings around Saturn, painted vast sunsets, and charged the sun with brightness too much to look at that what He has put in and around our lives is just not adequate for what we want.
Daily, we too are the ones prancing through paradise reaching for the fruit from the one tree we're forbidden from touching.
The serpent told us a great lie. We will surely die. Every one of us. Nothing we do will stop the physical death from happening. The spiritual death, however, can be reversed. In an ironic twist, spiritual death is cured because a man died a brutal death. If we believe that, if we acknowledge that God has created life, human life, in His image (including us), then we can have union with Him again. The death of Jesus provided forgiveness for all sin. Murder, lust, jealousy, anger, and yes, even eating apples that we're not supposed to eat.