The Story of God’s Love for People
Chapter One: Creation and Corruption
by Gail Ruth
This is Chapter One of a short book I am slowly writing that explains some of the highlights of the story found in the Bible Scriptures. Many haven’t heard this story. And of those who have, many do not understand it as a love story––God’s love story––the story of God’s love for people.
Some of the articles I am working on are built on the foundation of what I’ve written in this chapter, so I am posting it as background.
This is a work in process, and it will change as I continue work on further chapters. Last edit date 2/4/20.
God Is Love
“God is love” (I John 4:8). This love that defines God is no ordinary love. It is translated from “agape”, the rarest of the ancient Greek words for love. The agape style of love is the most beautiful, perfect, and pure love that could ever exist––kind, patient, and hopeful, holding to what is right and true, and bearing a willingness to suffer for the the good of the beloved. (I Corinthians 13:4-7).
Who are God’s beloved? His beloved are people. And this is God’s love story.
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). It was an earth of raw potential. And in it “the LORD God planted a garden eastward of Eden…” (Genesis 2:8). This garden was bursting with beauty and good food, watered each morning by the dew, and without weeds, pests, or blight.
God created it thoughtfully with all the love and delight in His heart, for He was preparing a first home for a people He would create. He had great hopes. If they let Him, He would be their God and bless them with meaningful lives filled with loving relationships.
God hoped with all His heart that they would choose His path of beauty and harmony––to be His people, loving Him back for His kindness, goodness, and magnificent glory. And in loving Him as their God, they too would be filled with His agape love, which they could share with each other and with their world. This is still the desire of God’s heart. “I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God and they shall be my people” (2 Corinthians 6:16).
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Genesis 1:27). God made the man first, naming him Adam, crafting his body from the dust of the earth. And God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7).
This term living soul is translated from the Hebrew: nephesh chayyah. This same nephesh chayyah is also translated as “creatures” in the King James English text of the creation story. This means that God created us all as living souls –– humans and animals.
Yet in spite of this commonality, humans are different from the animals. For unlike the creatures, we were created “in the image of God”. Jesus Christ, God’s Son, explained that “God is spirit” (John 4:24). And so in making us in His image, God gave people a human spirit, in addition to a soul and body. The Scriptures refer to this human spirit in many passages, and clearly speak of “your whole spirit, soul, and body” (I Thessalonians 5:23), showing some of the wonder of every human being.
Back at creation, Adam met his Creator and his world for the first time. And “God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it” (Genesis 2:15). There in the garden, God saw that the man needed a companion––a partner––one like him, yet intrinsically different from him. God searched through all His creation, but found no creature to fill this need. So He took a rib out of the man’s side and from it fashioned a woman, designing her so that she and the man would be a harmonious match.
With the advent of the woman, creation was completed. Creator God “saw every thing that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). He loved this man and woman and spent time with them. He provided them with creative, refreshing work to give them purpose. There was no death and no unpleasantness. For a short time this couple enjoyed their idyllic life and lived at peace with God and with each other.
A Formidable Threat
But God had told Adam to “keep” the garden, which is from a Hebrew word that means to tend, guard, and protect. And so even in this loveliness, there was a hint of some kind of threat to God’s works.
What do the Scriptures tell us about this threat? They point to the enemy of God––an evil spirit-being with an army of spirit followers. These beings hold malice against God, His ways, and everything He created. And while God is infinitely more powerful than they, these spirits are far more potent than any human being.
The Scriptures speak clearly of the presence and activities of this spirit-being and its spirit-allies, named as Satan, the devil and his angels, unclean spirits, evil spirits. Jesus spoke of the devil, saying, “He was a murderer from the beginning, and abound not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it” (John 8:44). The Apostle Peter warned, “…your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (I Peter 5:8).
Many of the stories in the gospels––the books of Scripture that tell of Jesus Christ’s years on earth––are of interactions between Jesus and these evil beings. Jesus contrasted Himself to them, saying, “The thief cometh not, but to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
The Scriptures don’t explain the origins of this enemy with any clarity. What we have are a few clues hidden in some of the purposefully unclear prophetic manuscripts. (Ezekiel 28:12-17, Isaiah 14:12-14). These point to a beautiful, wise, and powerful spirit-being that God had created who corrupted itself, fomenting within itself pride and ambition. It betrayed its Creator, seeking to become like God Himself.
This spirit-being’s attempted coup failed. And because God is agape love, and this was counter to love, the only thing this spirit-being achieved was to deform itself into something that was entirely outside the nature of God and His Kingdom.
When a created, deathless spirit-being is forever sundered from all that is of God––all His virtue, His agape-style love, His kind heart, His lovely emotions, His truth, His purity, His passion for justice––what is left for it to be? What does the absence of all that is of Creator God look like?
What we know is that they are driven by malevolence. Their realm is filled with a mix of subtle counterfeits and bold opposites of the Creator and His ways. Their mission is to twist, debase, or lay waste to what God loves, and thereby disrupt love relationships between God and people. To accomplish this, they have gone forth wielding a diverse arsenal of appealing deception, befouled imitation, and a blatant evil that revels in destruction, misery, and death.
Maybe the most treacherous strategy these beings employ is deception. They practice this with a cunning skill they have refined over the millennium, using their supernatural powers to make their evil appear as the best of goodness. The Apostle Paul warned of this, saying, “…for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). All people are susceptible to these beings’ deception. In the revelation given to the Apostle John, Satan is shown as the one who “deceiveth the whole world” (Revelation 12:19).
An Eternal Prison
In response to these beings becoming evil, God made an eternal prison “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). This prison is a place devoid of God, empty of hope, and bereft of comfort. It is filled with torments of the enemy’s own design, and there they will suffer forever for their crimes. This prison waits now for the final judgment at the end of time.
We might wonder, vexed in our hearts, why God would take so long to remove this evil from our world, and why He has not long ago imprisoned His enemy. The Scriptures don’t explain. But could we, God’s beloved, be the cause? Did we tie God’s hands by entangling ourselves with this Enemy––by embracing their invitation to seek a reality outside of God?
For truly, how could we explore what is outside our Creator without aligning with His enemy, whose territory it is? And how could we partake of their appealing deceptions without also giving a place in our world to their blatant evil? And in so choosing, are we ourselves responsible for them remaining here in our midst, and their evil with them? Could we be blaming God for what might be of our own making?
Choice-Makers and Gatekeepers
These questions point to the crux of our story. For the human drama in all this comes from God deciding to make this man and woman in His own image. This meant in part that He made them choice-makers, giving them the responsibility to choose for themselves––to the extent that God left Himself no provision to step in at crucial moments to control the choices they made.
Along with the privilege to choose for themselves, God made the man and woman gatekeepers, and set them above all creation with a mandate to also choose on behalf of the earth and the creatures in it. “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:28). Echoing this, the Psalmist sang, “The heaven, even the heavens, are the LORD’S: but the earth hath He given to the children of men” (Psalm 115:16).
Lest we misunderstand, God gave this charge not for domination, but for an agape-style dominion, which in our day we have little to no feel for. God modeled this kind of dominion for them in the planting of their garden home, showing them what their relationship with the earth should look like. Its intent was to make nature lovely, strong, and fruitful. And subduing the earth was about bringing the land into a place of peace and rest. (I Chronicles 22:18). Nature that was thus fulfilled was to be a backdrop for the glory of God, and was meant to move our hearts to worship our Creator God and fellowship with Him.
But instead of this, some have exploited or abused creation, while others have exalted the natural world over the Creator. (Romans 1:25). Both poles are a corruption of true agape dominion and display a spectrum of the enemy’s tactics.
The Choice Tree
Love is only love if it is freely given. Is this why God chose at the very beginning to put the man and woman’s foundational choice right out in the open? We can only wonder as we read of Him placing a Choice Tree smack in the center of His utopian garden.
This Choice Tree was “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:9) and bore the fruit of what God wanted to protect us from. Imagine God eagerly orienting His newly created man to his garden home, pointing out all the good food to eat, sharing its beauty and pleasures, and then warning of the Choice Tree, whose fruit was not good for food, ensuring that Adam knew of its poisonous consequence. “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17).
Creator God understood that their response would show the intent of their hearts toward Him––whether they would choose to love Him back as their God, or not. And so their Creator waited for the time they would face this practical expression of that choice, and eat or not eat of this fruit.
The Knowledge of Good and Evil
What was this fruit? Surely it was some hint of the reality they would find if they chose to depart from God’s path of beauty and harmony. But why would knowing good and evil be a bad thing? To begin to consider this, we need to understand that God Himself is good––purely and only good––and never evil.
The Psalmist extolled God, “Thou art good, and doest good” (Psalm 119:68). Another praised Him, “For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee” (Psalm 5:4). And when God showed Himself to Moses, He proclaimed over Himself, “The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth…” (Exodus 34:6).
The story of creation in Scripture illustrates that God, in His goodness, desired not only to spare creation from suffering evil, but to spare people from even knowing of good and evil. He knew that this knowledge would trouble our hearts and minds, and pull us away from the simplicity of love, joy, and creativity. For not only are the questions of good and evil, right and wrong, better or worse unending. But they hold the power to plague our thoughts and disrupt our peace.
God also knew that this knowledge would trouble our relationships––grievously separating people from each other and breaking our hearts. How often, when we feel we know which things are good and which are evil, does it simply highlight how poorly we love each other? We rise up in pride at our supposed goodness or rightness and in superiority look down on others who appear less so; or withhold love from those who decide differently; or engage in strife when we dispute our views. But what good is good when it is apart from agape love?
Likewise, the knowledge of good and evil further constrains love by generating a gravitational field around culture––drawing people to conform to their own culture, subculture, microculture, or counterculture. Creator God, who ensured that each snowflake would be different from all the others, is even more creative as He fashions each person. But the kind of thinking that comes with the knowledge of good and evil limits our ability to see good in God’s endless creativity in us––varieties of gifts, personality, temperament, appearance, quirks––so that we see as good only what we personally know and like. This aborts or condemns many of the expressions of our precious, God-given uniquenesses, leaving us with pallid versions of the colorful persons God designed, and dividing our world even more.
And then there’s the human conscience. The knowledge of good and evil primes a person’s conscience with unsettling or even tormenting feelings of guilt to afflict them when, intentionally or not, they offend it. But there’s no win for those who resign from this struggle. To not care, to resist or crush our conscience, to align with evil: these things bring harm and suffering to our world. And those making such choices rot from the inside.
So is it any wonder that a loving God would yearn for the man and woman to choose the world as He designed it? For He offered a world of blessing apart from evil––apart from even the knowledge of good and evil––where every uniquely created person would live their uniquely meaningful and satisfying life together with others––in peace and prosperity––with Him as their God and them as His people––and with all creation filled with and fueled by His agape love.
Life or Death
Back when the Creator introduced Adam to the garden, God warned him that if he ate this fruit of the Choice Tree he would “surely die.” …which raises more troubling questions for our hearts. Why death? Why such a dire penalty? Wouldn’t the consequences of struggle, burden, and heartbreak be more than enough?
The Scriptures offer answers, telling us that death is one of God’s enemies (I Corinthians 15:26), and that the realm outside of God’s Kingdom is a realm of death ( James 1:15). In contrast with this, God’s Kingdom is a Kingdom of life (John 10:10, Revelation 21:6, 22:1). Each is entirely separated from the other, for evil cannot dwell with God. (Psalm 5:4).
So if this man and woman were to choose what they knew was dissonant to God––to eat the fruit of the Choice Tree––they would be crossing over into the enemy’s realm. And there the enemy death, waiting and hoping for them to come into its reach, would rise up and take them captive. And so they would “surely die.” As the Scriptures say, “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 5:8).
Choice & Consequence
The time came. The enemy of God spun its counter-offer to God’s offer, calling them to venture beyond the constraints of their Creator. The scenes played out. They chose to not love God back, to not love His path of beauty and harmony, but to go their own way. They both ate the fruit of the Choice Tree. Their intent of heart toward the Creator was declared.
The woman ate first. Scripture says that her part in this violation came from being deceived. (I Timothy 2:14). And being deceived, she did what all deceived people have done ever since––she chose what seemed good to her, not perceiving the heinous devouring that would follow. “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Proverbs 14:12).
It was the man who clearly understood that he was defying his Creator’s edict and doing wrong. And so to Adam, the first man, God reckoned the full responsibility for the choice––and for its consequences.
In this one moment, with that one choice, everything changed forever. They flung wide the door to the knowledge of good and evil, the counter-reality that God had hoped for people to never know. And in so doing they enthroned Satan as the god of their world (2 Corinthians 4:4). This man and woman thus departed from the beautiful path of God’s Kingdom and came under the power of the enemy.
Because they were gatekeepers, they took the earth with them. And so through that door, the enemy’s dissonance swept into all of creation, with ways that were out of harmony with God and His Kingdom. This dissonance slowly began to mangle creation into a shadow of what it had been, dimming the glory of God that filled it.
We find the effects of Adam’s choice today in nature. For in the midst of the wonder and beauty of the natural world, we see the cruelty and suffering that pervade it, telling us that something is terribly wrong. The Apostle Paul wrote, “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” (Romans 8:22).
Through their choice, both the man and the woman were infected with what was dissonant to God. They felt it immediately. It was unlike anything they had known. Dissonance filled their emotions, minds, and hearts, even their bodies, with distressing thoughts and sensations they didn’t recognize. Their first exposure to it was of fear, blame, and broken relationship. For the first time they were separated from each other and from God.
Over time they came to know more of this dissonance and its ways, with its unkindness, ingratitude, resentments, petty jealousies, gossip, craving, defiant shamelessness, indifference to God––even outright evil, and so much more. While all this did not make them devoid of good, they no longer purely reflected the lovely nature of God. And neither do we today. “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
A Debt to Death
Right behind dissonance, death came barreling into the world, taking up its cruel domination over all of life on the earth. Every living thing was now under the power of death and carried a debt to death.
Humanity was particularly affected. Since people were made in God’s image, and therefore have a human spirit, our death was more than the physical death that would afflict the innocent creatures. We had entangled ourselves with God’s enemy, and in so doing had become trapped in those spirit-beings’ final destiny. Thus we would also face a spiritual death––apart from all that is of God, in that fearsome prison prepared long ago for the enemy. The Scriptures call this “the second death”. (Revelations 20:14)
Try as we might, we can never pay off our debt to death––this two-fold death––not for ourselves nor for anyone else. All the good behavior in the world will not satisfy the debt. Even the spiritual paths that cultivate human potential can do nothing to pay it off. “…By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Romans 5:12), “…even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression” (Romans 5:14).
And try as we might, we can never find our way back into the innocence of the life and the world that the first man and woman had known. Many do try, in many ways, on many spiritual and utopian paths. But the pursuit of Eden always fails in the end, and we find ourselves still trapped, along with all of creation, in this realm of dissonance––with no way out. Not even physical death is an escape, since at the end of time that far more ghastly death awaits: in full spiritual darkness, in the company of God’s enemy, far from the light of God’s loving kindness.
But back again at the beginning, this man and woman had set out from the garden to make their own home in the rawness of the newly created earth. Because God’s enemy was now the god of the world, the land was no longer bursting with life and blessing, so the work was hard, and their lives were filled with sorrow. Memories and regrets haunted them. Time passed, and both people and creatures multiplied and spread throughout the earth, their sorrow and struggle spreading with them.
And there would this story end… Except that God is love––agape love. And so He still hoped. He longed to win back our hearts. And He was willing to suffer to seek and save His beloved.
Chapter 2 to come: God Makes a Way