After the first verse of Genesis 1, the Spirit disappears. He hovered over the face of the waters and then vanished.
Or did he?
In the last post, I argued that even though the Bible doesn’t specifically mention the Spirit in the rest of Genesis 1-2, he’s there. And missing the Spirit in those chapters means missing something crucial about understanding God’s creation.
The same holds true in chapter three. Unless we see what’s happening with the Spirit during the Fall, we’ll struggle to understand why the coming of the Spirit in the New Testament is such amazingly good news.
1. From Life to Death
Everyone knows that death is an important theme in the story of the Fall. God specifically told Adam that he would die if he ever ate from the Tree of Knowledge (Gen. 2:17). And, although the serpent questioned whether this was true (Gen. 3:4), God declares that death is precisely what Adam and Eve have received as a result of their disobedience (Gen. 3:19), cutting them off from the tree of life (Gen. 3:24).
What we often fail to remember is that the Spirit is the one who makes God’s creation live. As we saw in the last post, he is the “spirit of life” (Rom. 8:2) who breathes the breath of life into God’s creatures. But that means the threat/realization of death simply is the threat/realization of being separated from the Spirit.
Death is not tragic just because of the cessation of biological life. Death is tragic because it means the people of God have lost the Spirit of God.
2. From Presence to Separation
Where the Spirit is, God is. That was one of the key lessons we learned from Genesis 1-2. So if our story involves God’s people losing God’s spirit and becoming subject to death, it would seem reasonable to expect that they would also be cut off from God’s presence in some meaningful way. And, of course, that is precisely what we find.
Right after the fall, we see that Adam and Eve now experience God’s presence as a thing to be feared rather than a gift to be cherished (Gen. 3:8). And, by the end of the story, Adam and Eve have been excluded from the garden, cut off from the home he created for them, alienated from his presence (Gen. 3:23-24).
At the fall, God’s people were alienated from God’s presence precisely because they were separated from God’s Spirit.
3. From Community to Isolation
As we saw in Genesis 2, the Spirit empowers God’s people to be his image bearers in creation, enabling us to live out our vocation in the world. One thing we did not discuss last time, though, is the fact that the God created us to be image bearers in community. That’s why it was not good for Adam to be alone in the garden; we cannot live out our vocation in isolation, but only as the community of God’s people.
So it’s not surprising to see that the Bible also portrays the Spirit as the one who unites God’s people together. He is the “one spirit” through whom we are all baptized into “one body,” unifying God’s people in “one Lord” (1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 4:4-6). The Spirit of God creates the people of God so that we can together carry out the mission of God in the world. So, when the creation narrative reaches its fitting conclusion with the creation of a humanity community characterized by unity, intimacy, and openness, that’s a work of the Spirit.
Losing the Spirit entails losing community: shame, blame, division in Genesis 3 replace the intimacy, openness, and unity of Genesis 2. And God’s people devolve from community to isolation.
The Spirit does not appear explicitly anywhere in Genesis 3. But, if we look closely enough, we can find traces of the Spirit throughout. We cannot encompass the entire tragedy of the fall under just one heading. In many ways, though, the story of the Fall is a story about God’s people losing God’s Spirit, and terrible things that involved.
If God created us to be inflatable people, indwelled and empowered by his Spirit, then the Fall shows us what happens when we get deflated, subject to death, cut off from God’s presence, alienated from God’s people.
This post is part of our series “A New Take on an Old Story,” telling the story of the Spirit through the Old Testament as a way of understanding why Christmas is such good news. Follow along!