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Why God’s four questions in Genesis 3 should still be asked today.
As I prepared some thoughts to share with the Jubilee Centre team at the start of 2020, I turned to Genesis 3:1-13, the account of how sin came into the world. There, God asks four searching questions of Adam and Eve in response to their disobedience.
As we explored these questions together, we realised how packed they are with revelation and wisdom about God, human identity and calling and how we should face up to what’s wrong in the world.
The four questions in Genesis
First, some context. Adam and Eve have just been deceived by the serpent, and eaten fruit from the one tree they were told not to eat from. A new kind of self-awareness wakes in them, one of shame mixed with guilt, and as a result they try to hide from each other (by covering their nakedness) and from God.
When God shows up for his customary evening walk, and finds the man and woman have broken the one prohibition they had been given, he confronts them by asking them four profound questions.
God didn’t banish Adam and Eve without further discussion; instead their Creator levelled with them.
This is a revelation in itself of how deeply relational all our dealings with God are intended to be, whether we have done wrong or right; all life is to be lived in the context of a completely honest relationship with our Creator.
The first question God asks is, ‘Where are you?’ This has nothing to do with which bush they were hiding behind, but all about their altered relational context: where are they now in relationship to God? To each other? What has changed and what have they lost?
Then comes the question, ‘Who told you that you were naked?’ Where did that idea come from? Listening to the serpent’s counter-narrative about what would happen if they ate from the tree of knowledge (and about God’s motivation for putting it off-limits) sowed the seeds of doubt and opened the door to an alternative reading. It seemed right to the man but ended in death.
Thirdly God asks them directly, ‘Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’ Surely that was obvious! Yet God saw fit to put the question all the same, and he expected an answer.
Sin must be admitted if it is to be forgiven. David learned that the hard way (Ps 32:5) and the Apostle John also understood it profoundly (1 John 1:9).
The final question is, ‘What have you done?’ What were your actions, why did you do what you did and what are the consequences? Again God doesn’t gloss over this, or jump straight to punishment.
Instead, he confronts them lovingly with hard questions because in answering them, the man and woman would learn much more about who they were, who God was and how they were called to live.
The four questions today
The entire history of the human race to date has unfolded between that day and this, and yet these four questions are as profound and powerful today as when they echoed deafeningly around the hitherto perfect world of Eden.
- Where are you…? This question invites us to reflect on our ‘relational location’ – where are we in relation to our family, our neighbours, our colleagues, our friends and most of all, in relation to God? Have we become relationally distant, or cut off?
‘Where are you?’ could also apply to our sense of vocation or purpose: are we on the path which we think God has called us to, or have we wandered away?
- Who told you…? To which narrative have we given authority to shape our lives, beliefs and values? How much are we aware of the opposing stories about identity and salvation?
Are we seeking to live according to the biblical story arc, or have we allowed ourselves to be enticed by secular narratives of freedom?
- Have you disobeyed…? Although being confronted with wrongdoing can bring shame and guilt on us, paradoxically it is a deep confirmation of the dignity of being human.
Being held to account only makes sense if we are created with moral responsibility – which is a key part of bearing God’s image. Confessing and acknowledging our sin is the only way to get rid of it, and opens the path to forgiveness and freedom.
- What have you done…? The first two chapters of Genesis tell the story of how God entrusted human beings with the immense task of stewarding and developing the planet – which was a responsibility they had to learn on the job.
Evaluating our actions (especially mistakes) and their consequences is a primary method of education, so asking this question is crucial to learning and growing.
Far from being archaic or irrelevant, these four ancient questions have a timeless relevance to human beings each day as we write the newest page of history.
At the beginning of the 2020s, may the wisdom of Genesis remind us who we are, which story we’re living in, what purpose we are called to, and how to get better at the messy but glorious job of being human!
Jonathan Tame, Director of the Jubilee Centre (Cambridge, UK).
This article first appeared on the Jubilee Centre website and was republished with permission.