“And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?'”- Genesis 4:8-9
In a desperate attempt at self-rule, Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The “eyes of both were opened,” (Gen. 3:7), and, noticing their nakedness, they attempted to remedy their situation and shame by sewing fig leaves together to clothe themselves. The rebellion did not bring Adam and Eve closer together, it separated them with a wall of insecurity. And then they heard the Lord walking in the Garden. In a panic, they sought out the shelter of the trees to hide further. The promises of the Serpent are revealed here for what they really are. Adam and Eve believed lies. They did not inherit life and godliness as was promised. The first moments of attempted autonomy are characterized by shame, fear, panic, and hiding. These reactions have characterized humanity since that day. We know our own failures, our own sins. We know we don’t measure up. In our knowledge of sin, our relationships with each other are broken, and our relationship with God is broken. We hide from both men and God for fear of exposure and judgment. All of us, from the child who hides in his room to the adult who hides behind success, can be found behind our “fig leaves” and “trees”. What makes us feel safe despite our knowledge of sin? What makes us feel secure despite our obvious insecurities?
What is striking about the moments after the first rebellion is not that sin and death entered into humanity’s experience. These were promised by God. He had warned our first parents of the consequences of rebellion. He told them, “‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die,'” (Gen. 2:16-17). What is shocking is that He came near. The consequences of the rebellion had already shown themselves, and yet He came near. Our first parents were ashamed, but He came near. Adam and Eve hid from God, but He came near. He did not come in ultimate judgment. He did not come wielding fire and flame to extinguish from the Garden His compromised creation. He came walking. He came searching. He came near. It is true that in the moments after Adam and Eve came out from among the trees, God gave His judgments. He curses the Serpent, He curses Eve, He curses Adam, and as a result of their sin, God curses the earth. It is equally true that in these moments He gives Adam and Eve hope in the first announcement of the Gospel (Gen. 3:15). Before all of that, however, He came near. Here we find a wonderful and startling characteristic of God. We expect judgment. We expect to be undone by our shame. We expect to be overwhelmed at being found out, at being exposed for who we really are. But our God unravels our expectations. He doesn’t shy away from sin. He comes to heal it. He doesn’t destroy His people. He cares for them. He doesn’t leave them in their dark holes, in their rooms, and behind their successes. He comes to them, exposes them, loves them.
As He reveals the curses due to rebellion in Genesis 3:15, He gives the two ashamed humans hope while addressing the Serpent.
‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.’
God’s coming near to Adam and Eve after that moment of rebellion and His pronouncement of the coming Gospel anticipate a moment where God Himself would come near again, not to bring judgment but to bring salvation. As God sought out Adam and Eve in the Garden, so He sought out the descendants of Adam and Eve by arriving in Bethlehem as a child. He came “to seek and to save the lost,” (Luke 19:10). The Incarnation of Christ, unprecedented in history, was both to remedy completely what was destroyed in the Garden and to institute something that had never before existed. The Incarnation brought us back into fellowship with God in a way that not only restored the Garden-fellowship but superseded it (Romans 5:15-17). Now, His people cannot escape. They cannot ruin anything, and they cannot destroy. Because of the Incarnation of Christ, His life, death, and resurrection, the relationship between God and His people is permanently remedied and will be so for all eternity.
His coming near, though, also restores human relationships. He brings humanity into new communion not only with Himself but with each other. Those who are remade in Christ are adopted into a family, made into one body (Ephesians 2:11-22, 1 Corinthians 12:12-13). Relationships between the members of the body of Christ are being restored and remade in the light that they really are different, separated from darkness, and saved from sin. These relationships are characterized by humility, gentleness, patience, and peace (Ephesians 4:2-3). Even the relationship between husband and wife is given a new foundation. The shame, fear, and panic that characterized Adam and Eve’s fallen relationship is undone in the light of the new relationship between Christ and His bride, the church (Ephesians 5:25-33). The nearness of Christ fundamentally transforms the home, where all rebellion began, and spreads out into all relationships (Ephesians 6, Colossians 3, 1 John 4:10-11). In short, all relationships are utterly transformed in the coming near of Christ.
As our thoughts begin to shift toward the Christmas season, we would do well to think often about the character of God and the consequences flowing from it. Our God is the One who comes near. He is Immanuel. He does not leave us to our death, sin, and shame. He seeks us out. He desires to expose our nakedness in order to cloth us. He desires to find us so that we may be brought back. In finding us, He restores to us the community we all long for. He heals our relationships with each other, and what’s more, He heals our relationship with Himself. We would do well to dwell on this characteristic, and we would do well to image it. As we contemplate Immanuel and His nearness, may it drive us to draw near to each other and to God this season. Let us not be fooled into hiding from others in the Body of Christ because of our struggles and sins. Rather, let us come out from behind our own trees in the knowledge that we are clothed, accepted, and loved by God in Christ. Let us draw near to Him by confession and repentance, by faith and obedience. Let us also be honest with each other about our struggles and sins and lovingly challenge, accept, and forgive each other as Immanuel has lovingly challenged, accepted, and forgiven us. This is a fundamental truth. He came near, and in coming near, He changed everything.