The fiasco of Eden and our sin’s judgment.
The turn of God from congenial deity to gavel-wielding Judge is never random or spontaneous.
Perhaps the ingredient of reality which remains hardest to reconcile is that of the intense permeation of sin. Though it did not begin that way, it is almost impossible to imagine a reality without the taint of corruption or vice or evil. Such elements have, regrettably, become part and parcel with what it means to be alive. Because of the Edenic fiasco perpetrated by Adam and Eve, any human being since who has had breath in their lungs has been a human being who has sinned (Rom. 3:23). As Millard J. Erickson emphasizes in his work on Christian Theology, one’s doctrine of sin is vitally important to a robust theological project as a whole. In a sense, as Erickson notes, “our doctrine of sin will reflect our doctrine of God” (515).
This is, perhaps, most keenly apparent as one reckons with the profound consequences which arise as a result of sin — consequences which are both far-reaching and long-lasting, cosmically impactful and individually brutal. A single act of sin, to be sure, does not remain confined to that singularity. Rather, its perpetrator is made to feel the ramifications for such a breach, as well as those against whom the sin was committed. Indeed, even if there is no apparent victim as a result of one’s sin, there are still seismic effects on one’s relationships — with God, with others, and with themselves.
The results of sin on others often breeds competitiveness, causing individuals to become rivals (James 4:1–2). This sense of competition is the catalyst for strife, withdrawal, and hostility. Similarly, there are a kaleidoscope of consequences of sin on oneself. It is enslaving (Rom. 6:17) and deceiving (Jer. 17:9). It engenders a sense of self-centeredness, insensitiveness, and restlessness, allowing occasion for continual avenues for one’s own desires to be put above others (1 Tim. 4:2). Perhaps most devastating, though, is sin’s effect on one’s relationship with God himself.
As the thrice-holy God of glory (Isa. 6:3), he is diametrically opposed to anything which tends towards unholiness. “It is part of his holy nature,” writes Erickson, “to be categorically opposed to sinful actions” (550). By participating in acts of sin, one moves into a realm of divine disfavor, guilt, punishment, and, ultimately, death (Gen. 2:17; Ps. 5:5; 11:5; Jer. 12:8; Hosea 9:15; Rom. 6:23). Though difficult to reckon with, these deplorable results issue from mankind’s own conscious choice.
The disfavor and shame and penalty for sin are never desired ends in which God delights. In fact, it was the eminent Jonathan Edwards who once asserted that such things constitute God’s “strange work” (14:220–221). While the prevailing posture of God is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger” (Neh. 9:17; cf. Exod. 34:6; Num. 14:18; Ps. 86:15; 103:8; 108:4; Joel 2:12–13; Jonah 4:2; Rom. 2:4), the deliberate rebellion of man necessitates his righteous indignation. The seeming turn of God from congenial deity to gavel-wielding Judge is never random or spontaneous. Rather, his holy wrath fumes at the folly and pride of man’s sin. It is in this way, then, that one is made to understand the judgment of God not as his first resort but as the end which his holy will governs and our sin prefers.
Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2013).