The Human Condition
Bible Text: Genesis 3–4
Lesson Focus: We rebel against God when we sin, but God consistently comes to us with mercy and forgiveness.
Big Question: Am I a bad person when I make a poor choice or break a rule (even if I think it’s not a good rule)?
Key Words: SIN, JUDGMENT, SEPARATION, MERCY
• Sin is not mentioned by name in these stories, but we recognize it in the breakdown of relationships and the complexities that follow.
• The serpent suggests that Adam and Eve can rise above their status as dependent creatures and become autonomous. They can be like God and in charge of themselves!
• Adam and Eve are banished from paradise (judgment and separation), but God goes with them (mercy). The rest of the Bible is about God’s activity in the outside-of-paradise world.
• The story of Cain and Abel shows that the deepest ties do not prevent hatred and violence.
• Our choices and our deeds have consequences. God did not create puppets.
• God consistently comes to us in our sin and does not leave us in the ensuing disasters of our own making.
The Genesis 1 refrain “And God saw it was good” still echoes as we learn of the problems of sin in the third and fourth chapters of Genesis. Sin is not mentioned by name in these chapters, but we recognize it and its complexities. The crafty serpent presents options to Adam and Eve that lead them away from God. The serpent insinuates that Adam and Eve should be suspicious of God’s motives and that they can, in fact, rise above being simply creatures and become autonomous. So they eat the only thing God prohibited. Their “eyes are opened,” and indeed, they saw everything differently after losing sight of themselves as creatures and God as their creator and sustainer. The consequence of their actions is that life becomes a struggle. Adam, Eve, and the serpent—all guilty—receive their individual punishments and are banished from paradise.
It is at this point that the first astounding theme of grace shows itself in the Bible. Adam and Eve are banished from paradise, but God goes with them. The rest of the Bible is about God’s activity in the outside-of-paradise world.
The first such story is the story of Cain and Abel. When Cain kills his brother Abel, we begin to see that the cycle of violence and disharmony becomes measureless. But God is there in the thick of it. Cain, a tiller of the ground, is cursed as punishment for his fratricide, but God puts a merciful mark on Cain to keep others from killing him in revenge. Always there is mercy and grace interspersed with the divine judgment in these Genesis stories.
These stories are most helpfully read as accounts of enmity and strife amongst humans and human separation from God. They are not meant to be history per se, but were probably written during a much later time (the Exile, perhaps) when the cycle of violence and disharmony had spun so wildly out of control that God’s people struggled to make sense of their place in the world and their relationship with God. A story has power that factual language with its historical dates and details can’t match. Historical accounts are seldom as nuanced or as strong as a story.
.The theological themes introduced in chapters 3 and 4 continue through the Bible and throughout human history. Our choices and our deeds do have consequences. God did not create puppets. Often those choices and deeds will not be what God hoped for us and the consequences can be disastrous. Sin can be defined as an action that causes a breakdown in relationships—human relationships, divine-human relationships, or relationships with creation. Sin leads to separation, estrangement, displacement, and alienation in these stories and in our lives today. Sin is a state of being for humans. We are sinners. As we see in the stories of Adam and Eve and their children, God consistently comes to the sinners in their sin and does not leave them in the ensuing disasters of their own making.
Another theme, disharmony in families, also continues through the Genesis stories. Sibling rivalry rears its ugly head again in the stories of Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, and Joseph and his brothers, for instance. Over and over in these stories and in others, God judges and provides mercy, and we begin to see pieces of the whole puzzle that is our life with God. God judges in love and is gracious and merciful. We are sinners and saints. The world is painful and beautiful. We have profound and complicated relationships with each other and with God.
These first stories in the Bible lay the foundation for a helpful theology that can serve us through life. We all deal with the grace and burden of making choices each day, but the struggle looms especially large in that time between the worlds of childhood and adulthood. These stories of God’s “first family” are rich for exploring who we are as children of God, as well as for learning who God is. The dance of judgment and grace sprinkled through these stories provides an excellent foundation for fledgling theologians, and begins to delve into universal theological questions and worries. Who is God? Who are we? What is wrong in this world that includes so much pain? How is it that we can be so surprised by grace in the midst of such pain.
Am I a bad person when I make a poor choice or break a rule (even if I think it’s not a good rule)?
The students in your class will have experienced making bad choices and testing their relationships with parents, teachers, and friends. This rebellion is nothing new. Since sin entered creation, humans have had a history of rebellion. There appears to be something innate within us that wants to test following rules, whether they are rules set up by parents, state or local government, or by God. While rebellion may be “normal” for youth, they may not be comfortable with the consequences for their actions. When poor choices are made or rules are broken, there is a price to be paid. Help them learn that this accountability for their actions is normal too, just as it was in the Garden of Eden. Yet, even though they are accountable to God and humans and all of creation, God does not abandon them. God comes with mercy and forgiveness when they need it, and that often comes through the very people they rebel against—parents, teachers, and friends.
Help kids dive into the Key Words by asking for definitions and/or providing these definitions:
SIN: An action that causes a breakdown of relationships—human relationships, divine-human relationships, or relationships with creation. Sin leads to separation and alienation in our lives.
JUDGMENT: the act of deciding what action or punishment results when someone rebels and does something wrong.
SEPARATION: division, end of a relationship, and the consequence of one’s actions. Separation is distancing oneself from another person.
MERCY: compassionate treatment and lovingkindness. God’s mercy is evident in the forgiveness we receive daily.
Discussion Option: Good and Evil
On your presentation board or PowerPoint® slide, write the quote (below) from the Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Then read the quote together.
“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” (Evangelical Catechism, American Edition, Augsburg, 1982, p. 117).
Invite students to talk about the ideas Solzhenitsyn shares. Use these questions to get started:
• Do you think there are two types of people in the world – evil people and good people? Why or why not?
• Do you believe that everyone has the capacity to be both good and evil? What do you consider evil that you have done?
• How does God rescue us from our evil tendencies and get us back to being good?
Dear God, we confess that we sometimes hide from you, like Adam and Eve did. Help us trust that you will always find us when we need you. Keep reminding us that you are the God of mercy we can rely on. Lord, when we break rules or make poor choices or do evil things that hurt our relationships, bring us back to you where we get forgiveness and feel accepted. Amen.
Open the Bible
Choose four students to read the parts in Genesis 3 of serpent, Eve, Adam, and God, while you read as the narrator. Encourage dramatic reading of the parts while the rest of the class listens carefully. Some may want to follow along in their own Bibles.
When you finish reading the chapter, go back to Genesis 3:5 and read it aloud together. Focus on these three phrases: “for God knows”; “your eyes will be opened”; and “you will be like God.” Underline each phrase as you discuss it.
“For God knows”: Only God can experience all things; only God is immune to evil. You might think that God would have created people to be more respectful of creation (and of God). Maybe God could have hardwired humans to be more careful and gentle. After Adam and Eve’s act of disobedience, they were angry with each other; God knew that, and God was disappointed with them both. With Adam and Eve, God gave us freedom—and the games began.
• How do you feel about the freedom you have as an individual at home, at school, at church, at the mall?
• What games do you play when it comes to rules and responsibilities?
• What temptations do you face? How do you describe temptation?
“Your eyes will be opened”: We are sinners. How hard is that to swallow? We can’t change that reality, no matter how many friends we make or self-help books we read. Read Genesis 3:6–13 again. God didn’t tell Adam and Eve, “You’re sinners. Hate yourselves.” Instead, God told them, “You’re sinners. See yourselves.” See that you are not perfect and that you will never be God. Bad news or good news? After disobeying God, Adam and Eve saw everything differently. They lost sight of themselves as beings created by God.
• Is it hard for you to admit that you are wrong sometimes?
• Why are there rules to guide what we do?
• How do you feel when you break a rule?
“You will be like God”: The people that God created disobeyed God. As a result, evil spread throughout the world. Not accepting our limits is one way that we try to be like God, just as Adam and Eve did. Our whole society has a problem with limits. We think we can eat anything, buy anything, go anywhere, and do anything.
• When have you been reminded that you have limits? What are they?
• When you create a disaster because of poor choices, who rescues you? What role does forgiveness play in the situation?
Lutheran Study Bible page 53: Read the Faith Perspectives sidebar called, “What is the basic Lutheran understanding of sin?” To test this understanding of sin, use the story of Adam and Eve from Genesis 3 that you just read and discussed.
Read Genesis 4:1–16. This is a story of sibling rivalry that escalates into physical conflict. Help the students identify the themes of broken relationships, disharmony with others and God, violence, and God’s mercy and grace that fix broken relationships. These same themes were evident in Genesis 3. Use the Bible or other Bible references to recall the stories in Genesis of Cain and Abel, Noah and the flood, and Abraham and Sarah to see God’s unending message of grace.
• What other Bible stories do you recall that illustrate this same message?
• What events in the students’ lives illustrate God’s grace to remind people they are loved by God?
• How are the students dealing with sibling rivalry at home or in similar situations with friends?
Just as God has been active throughout the Bible, God continues to be active today to help us overcome the effects of sin. While we must deal with the consequences of sin, we also receive the blessings of being people of God.
Open the Catechism
Student Book page 301–304: Invite students to read together the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. Ask them what part of the prayer relates best to today’s lesson (the fifth petition). Ask students to talk about the difference between the words sin and trespass that are used in the two different versions. Point out that another version of the Lord’s Prayer uses the word debt to describe our sins. Ask students to define these two terms in their own words, and then explore how sins are like trespasses or debts.
Student Book page 303: Read the fifth petition again and its explanation. Talk about the concept of sinning daily and daily needing God’s forgiveness. What brings students to the point of confessing their sins? What is the Christian’s response to God’s forgiveness?
Use a chalkboard or whiteboard and markers to reinforce that God forgives our sins and calls us to forgive others. Invite two volunteers to cover the surface with the word SIN, each volunteer with a different color marker. Then erase all the writing and point out that God forgives us all of our sins. Ask them to cover the surface again. This time, ask them to erase each other’s words. Point out that we don’t just receive forgiveness – we are called to forgive the sins of those who have sinned against us, too.
Select one of the options below to explore in your small group. Then finish with the Best/Worst activity and prayer.
Music Option: Into the Great Wide Open
Play the song “Into the Great Wide Open” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (from the CD Into the Great Wide Open, MCA). Please preview this content to determine its appropriateness for your setting.
The chorus of this song describes a fascinating tension that parallels what happens when people choose sin over God’s way. A person may think that he or she is heading “into the great wide open,” but in fact is nothing more than “a rebel without a clue.”
Once you listen to the song, ask these questions about the song and its connection to the lesson’s Bible text:
• When was the last time you talked yourself into doing something that was wrong, but didn’t seem so bad at the time?
• What’s your motivation for doing something you know is forbidden?
• If a friend told you about a tough situation and was headed toward making a poor choice, how might you handle it and why?
Service Option: Helping People
Adam and Eve were evicted from the Garden of Eden, but God didn’t send them out on their own. God went with them. In times of recession or after a natural disaster, some people lose their homes. Is there someone you know who has become homeless or who can no longer maintain their home the way they used to? There is probably someone in your church or community who can use your help. Build an action plan that identifies what help is needed, what your plans to do and when, and how you will do it. Your plan might include educating others about the problem, fund-raising, presentations in church or the community, receiving donations, and delivering help to a person in need or work with an organization helping people with difficulties keeping a home or keeping up a home.
As you work on this project, keep these questions in mind:
• God doesn’t ever abandon us, so how can we always be there for others?
• What’s your motivation for helping others? What’s in it for you?
• Whom can you turn to for support when you are feeling lost and alone?
Pass out pencils and Student Sheets. Look at the front of the Student Sheet together. Pick a volunteer to read each bullet point aloud for the group. Talk about the points with students.
• Sin is not just what we do, it’s also whom we trust. How can trusting in yourself rather than God get you into a corner?
• Martin Luther said that God’s unspoiled creation lasted only until “the afternoon of the first day.” What do you think he meant by that statement?
• What might you do if family members become hurtful to each other?
Turn to this week’s activity called “True/False Quiz.” Let your kids pair up to work through the activity page together. After a few minutes, discuss the answers as a group.
Use the cartoon and questions on the Student Sheet to kick off a conversation.
• Why are Adam and Eve worried about what they’re wearing?
When Adam and Eve disobey God and fail to respect the limits of their world, they became aware of the difference between right and wrong. They also began to feel guilt and shame, and they thought that covering up would help hide their shame and help them hide from God. Talk about how the phrase “covering up” means not just hiding our physical selves, but hiding our actions and feelings, too.
• What changed when Adam and Eve failed to respect the limits God gave them?
They were judged for their sin and were forced to leave the garden. Still, God did not abandon them. Ask students how this refers to situations where they have not respected the limits or rules of parents, teachers, or others in positions of authority? How did their relationship change? Were they abandoned?
• What choices are you making? What are potential consequences of those choices?
Let students volunteer answers, being sensitive to their privacy and without being critical of their choices. Use their examples to make the point that our choices have consequences of our actions, both good and bad.
Student Book Connection
Student Book page 228: Read together “How to Be Saved (By Grace Through Faith and Not by Your Good Works).” There is some heavy, important stuff in here. Help students to think of it like this—there is nothing they can do to make God love them any less, and there is nothing they can do to make God love them anymore.
Focus on point 5. Many tweens and teens find it hard to imagine themselves as unique individuals, often preferring to just be one of the crowd. Even with all our shortcomings and failings, God still thinks we are special. Each one of us is claimed as God’s own. It’s personal between God and you. As far as God is concerned, the relationship doesn’t change even when we make poor choices or break rules. When we feel lost, God always finds us and brings us back.
Focus on point 7. The last sentence is a strong statement of faith—we have all the grace we need. It is hard to believe, but we have nothing to earn because Jesus has earned it all for us. Help your students get used to the idea of being saved, even in spite of themselves at times. Our world tells us to work hard in order to succeed in life. That may be good advice for some things, but when it comes to salvation, God has done all the work for us.
Student Book page 280: Read together “How to Tell the Difference between Original Sin and Everyday Sin.” What’s the difference? Make two lists of sins—one that lists everyday sins people commit and one that lists examples of original sin. How do we see original sin in today’s story? What does that say about who we are as human beings?
Talk about last week’s Life Connection. Ask your group what they did this week to live out last week’s lesson. What did they learn? What might they do in the future to keep living out that Life Connection.
Look at the Life Connection on the Student Sheet. Just as in biblical times, life today for us seems to have a pattern of rules being broken followed by God’s mercy fixing our relationships and making them right again. Students may have questions about the validity of rules they have to follow. Challenge them to come up with a few questionable rules. Does breaking them cause damage to a relationship? Encourage them to think of more of these rules during the coming week.
After their questions, ask one or more of the following questions to connect your conversations with the Lesson Focus:
• Do you ever “spin your sin” to try and cover up for your mistakes? What’s your favorite way to spin it? What’s the result of the spin?
• How does trusting in yourself rather than God work for you?
• Why do you think God consistently comes back to us with mercy and forgiveness?
Gather around the whiteboard or chalkboard and write the words CHOICES, RULES, and SIN in marker. As you say the prayer, erase these words and draw a cross.
Merciful God, forgive us when we try to run and hide from you. We confess that we sin when we break rules and make poor choices. But even then, it is great to know that you will not let us be separated from you. Thank you for giving us the freedom to make choices, and help us remember to make positive choices that reflect who we are—children of God, created in your image. Amen.
Before anyone leaves to go home, make sure each student receives the following blessing. You could also write your own blessing, based on discussion and activities during this lesson. Trace the cross on each student’s forehead as you say the blessing.
May the God who found Adam and Eve and went with them out of the garden, go with you always in whatever you do. In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Multiple Choice Questions
1. Ever since creation, as humans we have a history of . . .
a. fearing snakes.
c. baking apple pie.
d. living in gardens.
2. When rules are broken . . .
a. there is a price to be paid.
b. lawyers just get us out of it.
c. God’s too busy to care.
d. it’s not my fault.
3. Sin can be seen as any action that causes . . .
a. acid indigestion.
b. sibling rivalry
c. God to come looking for us.
d. a breakdown of a relationship.
4. When God sees us making poor choices, God . . .
a. looks for someone more mature.
b. pretends to be blind.
c. does not leave us.
d. gets angry and punishes us.
True or False Questions
5. Cain was immortal.
6. Sin is not just what we do—it’s whom we trust.
7. Sin is limited to certain cultures and certain tax brackets.
8. Our parents also deserve judgment and grace.