We need to first look at the consequence of their disobedience on their disposition as human beings. We cited Bavinck’s comments that, “the point of the ‘fall’ narrative in Genesis is the human desire for autonomy from God.” This human desire was not innate in the disposition of Adam and Eve before they sinned. In fact they may not even have felt it before the temptation. Ecclesiastes 7:29 assures us that “God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.” The rest of the Bible and human experience testify that this “human desire” has since become innate in the disposition of human beings.
The narrative of Genesis 3 clearly presents the message that there was a definite change in the disposition of Adam and Eve as a direct consequence of the act of disobedience. First of all, they became aware for the first time that they were naked and felt ashamed. And this change had moral implications. For when God asked Adam whether he had eaten of the forbidden tree, he blamed Eve. And when confronted by God, Eve blamed the Serpent. Each of them blamed someone else for the violation of an explicit command of God.
And the narrative of Genesis 3-4 demonstrates that this fallen disposition was passed on to their descendants. We need to read a narrative as a narrative. A narrative does not spell out its message in a proposition, such as, “the disposition of Adam and Eve was changed as a direct consequence of eating the forbidden fruit.” It presents its message in the form of a story. And the flow of the plot is part of this message. So the very fact that the account of Cain’s murder of Abel in Genesis 4 follows immediately the account of the sin of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 shows that chapter 4 is about the consequence of the Fall on the descendants of Adam and Eve.
Also, reading Genesis 4:1-16 as a narrative, it becomes clear why God accepted Abel’s offering but rejected Cain’s, which led Cain to murder his brother. For we capture the message of a narrative by also looking at what the characters are like. We know what a character is like by looking at his actions (words or deeds) and better still, his reactions (words or deeds), because reactions are usually spontaneous, revealing a person’s true character.
The narrator tells us that Abel was “a keeper of flocks” and Cain “a tiller of the ground,” before saying what each of them offered to God. Basically they offered to God according to their respective occupations. And the narrator specifies that God had regard for both Abel and his offering but not for Cain and his offering. So God looks at the worshipper as well as the offering. Therefore we need to look at what Cain and Abel were like and not just their offerings, to know why one was rejected and the other accepted.
Abel was a godly man because he presented to God “the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions,” which in Old Testament terms means the best of the best. In contrast Cain just offered something from his harvest. This alone is not enough to convict Cain of ungodliness. But his reaction to God’s rejection of his offering reveals his character. He became angry enough with his own brother, who did him no wrong, to murder him. And after that he lied to God that he did not know where his brother was. When convicted of the crime he showed neither remorse nor repentance. Cain was certainly an ungodly man. God saw what was in his heart and rejected him before He rejected his offering.
God had warned Cain that “sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Genesis 4:7). Obviously this sin refers to something that is resident within Cain’s disposition (cf. Genesis 6:5b; 8:21b). Since Cain went ahead and murdered his brother, he yielded to sin and allowed it to master him instead.
The narrative thus presents the message that Cain inherited from his parents their fallen disposition, and together with it, sin. Since this inherited sin differs from, but is the source of, the actual sins that people commit, theologians have called it “original sin.” Henri Blocher (1997: 18) defines it as “universal sinfulness, consisting of attitudes, orientations, propensities and tendencies which are contrary to God’s law, incompatible with his holiness, and found in all peoples, in all areas of their lives.”
Human experience testifies to the reality of a fallen human disposition indwelled by sin. In seeking to demonstrate that the doctrine of original sin explains observed reality “better than any rival theory,” Blocher (91) argues that “Lord Acton’s dictum, ‘Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely’, applies beyond the field of politics. Even more accurately, we should say that corruption (of the will) is already present; lack of power simply prevents it being manifest, but power allows its expression.”
This is well supported by the horror experienced in the German and Russian concentration camps: “It has been fully demonstrated, especially, that the worst of torturers do not belong to a separate category of ‘monsters’. Most of them had been ‘decent’ people, ordinary folk, good neighbours, good fathers. Circumstances brought to light what they were capable of doing ... ‘In other circumstances,’ Todorov discerns, ‘they would not have behaved as sadists; they are just ordinary people who have found there an easy way to taste the pleasures of power’” (Blocher 86).
Reinhold Niebuhr was fond of quoting the London Times Literary Supplement: “The doctrine of original sin is the only empirically verifiable doctrine of the Christian faith” (Blocher 84). One need not agree that original sin is the only empirically verifiable Christian doctrine to agree that it is indeed empirically verifiable. The counter-observation that human beings are also capable of heroic sacrificial acts of love as well as taking an uncompromising stand against injustice only serves to confirm the doctrine. For the Bible teaches that humanity was originally created not evil, but good, with the God-like qualities of love and justice. The doctrine specifically teaches that sin is a condition that humanity has fallen into and its God-likeness is only corrupted not annihilated. Hence in terms of what human beings would do, they are neither completely evil nor completely good. Cain exemplified the evil that can be manifested in a human being while Abel, who also inherited his parents’ fallen disposition, the good.
Coming back to why God did not want Adam and Eve to live forever, we now see that if they could live forever, they would live forever in their fallen condition. And there would then be a world of people who would live forever in this fallen condition. When we realize what it means to live in this condition, and that the best education in the world can never reverse the condition, and that this will last forever, would there be any reason for hope? So God’s driving Adam and Eve out of Eden has a redemptive purpose, which will soon be revealed. As to the question of why God allows evil to exist at all, it will be answered in the course of our exposition, especially when we come to the wisdom books of Ecclesiastes and Job.
People who have presupposed a belief-system other than the theism of Genesis 1:1 will reject this Biblical explanation for the phenomenon we call “evil.” This is because it contradicts their presupposed belief-system. A polytheistic view is expressed in The Babylonian Theodicy, a piece of classic Mesopotamian wisdom literature: the “gods made men prone to injustice. ... Whatever evil men do ... is done because the gods made them that way” (Lambert 1960: 65). We cannot then talk about redeeming humanity from its fallen condition. There is thus no reason for hope of a better world, especially since the gods themselves had created humanity to be evil.
Materialism, which denies the existence of the soul, will have to explain evil in purely material terms. For instance, Cambridge psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen (2011) seeks to understand human cruelty by “replacing the unscientific term ‘evil’ with the scientific term ‘empathy’” (xii). People who are “evil” are those who are lacking in “empathy” due to their “self-focus.” They are so “imprisoned in their own self-focus” it is “as if a chip in their neural computer were missing” (18). In other words, “evil” is caused by a “malfunction” in the “empathy circuit in the brain” (41). If evil is explained in purely material terms, can we then hold people accountable for the evil they have committed? Are we then to say that people like Hitler, Amin, and Pol Pot should not be held accountable for their cruelty?
As for pantheism, since it affirms that everything is one and everything is God, logically the distinction between “good” and “evil” is an illusion. This view is even more difficult to reconcile with human experience. So it is not surprising that people who call themselves “pantheists” may deny that this is part of their belief-system. But there are pantheists who are consistent enough to admit that this is what they believe. In an authoritative book on the New Age religion, Wouter Hanegraaff (1998: 281) writes that, according to this belief-system, people commit “evil” because “they are ignorant of their inner divinity.... They should not be condemned for the products of their ignorance.” To illustrate, he cites the assertion of the prominent New Ager and channeler Kevin Ryerson, as reported by Shirley MacLaine (1985: 246-47):
“I think”, said Kevin, “that what you are calling evil is really only the lack of consciousness of God. The question is the lack of spiritual knowledge, not whether or not there is evil”. ...
“But where is the place of evil in this scheme then?”
“It doesn’t exist. That’s the point. Everything in life is the result of either illumination or ignorance. Those are the two polarities. Not good and evil”.