Suffering & the Mass 4: From the Beginning

In the Hebrew we find an interesting word, “keep,” that loses some of its impact in English translations. The Hebrew word for “keep” is shamar and means, “to guard.” Adam was told to guard the garden and cultivate it. The command of God begs the question, guard against what? We don’t know at this point in the text, but as we turn to Genesis 3:1-7 it becomes clear.

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So often when people read about the serpent in Genesis their mind goes back to children’s Bibles that depict the serpent as a small snake slyly staring at Eve. However, in the Hebrew the word for “serpent” is nahash, translated as “dragon” in Isaiah 27:1 and “sea monster” in Job 26:13. Clearly this was an imposing foe that did not have Adam and Eve’s well-being in mind.

What is important to understand is that the serpent’s point of attack is not the existence of God; rather, can Adam and Eve trust God? Created to participate in the life of the Trinity, would Adam and Eve fully enter into the life of the Trinity by imitating the self-donating communion of the Godhead? In short, would our original parents trust God?

Upon further study we see that the remarks of the serpent are left unfinished. Adam and Eve must conclude the serpent’s thoughts. “You will not die” if you eat the fruit, the serpent suggests. From Adam’s perspective, the serpent’s statement could be interpreted as a veiled threat. The enemy would kill them if they didn’t eat the fruit. Facing Adam and Eve are some choices: would they entrust themselves to their Father, would they enter into combat with the enemy and guard the garden, would Adam defend his bride? Would Adam risk his life in a self-sacrificing offering, or would he succumb to pride and rely upon his own resources, preserving his natural life?

Given Adam’s appreciation for death and the veiled threat by the enemy it is easier to see how Adam could remain silent and allow his bride to take the direct hit. And this is exactly what he did. Their disobedience resulted in death for our original parents. Adam and Eve chose to preserve their natural life and in the process they lost their supernatural life. Divine sonship was lost and they died spiritually. As a result even their natural life was affected as sin ate away at their bodies and minds. Suddenly life was quite limited.

God’s Promise

But God in his mercy would not give up on mankind. Genesis 3:15 is the first announcement of good news, forecasting the day when the Messiah would crush the head of the enemy by self-donating sacrifice. The text reads, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” This first announcement of good news, would involve a bruising, or in other words suffering.

Adam was given the opportunity to imitate the self-donating, life-giving love of the Trinity, but he failed and the result was a curse.

To the woman God said, “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:16-19).

The result of Adam and Eve’s sin, while appearing to be quite bad, would actually double as a remedial lesson, showing Adam and Eve that fruit can come out of suffering. In Genesis 3:16-19 we see that both Eve and Adam will endure suffering, but out of that suffering will come natural fruit. Eve would give herself to her husband, resulting in the pain of childbirth. The cries of childbirth would soon turn to tears of joy, as both parents would celebrate the wonder of sonship. Adam also would suffer and toil resulting in fruit in the form of bread from the earth.

As salvation history developed, we see that God made successive covenants throughout time with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David. But in all cases man fell short of completely offering themselves, as Adam should have. If the love of the Trinity were to be imitated in man, God would have to become a man and face the trial that Adam faced.

The promised Messiah, Jesus Christ, became a man two thousand years ago and fulfilled the law (Romans 13:10) by loving the world with the ultimate sacrifice of his life. St. Paul calls Jesus the “Last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:20-23, 45) because he would lay down his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

The Promise Fulfilled

Jesus conquered death by taking on human nature, that he might destroy him who has the power of death. He loved by freely offering himself for you and me and in the process not only purchased us but set an example for us on how to love as he loves.

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The serpent in the Garden of Eden suggested to Adam and Eve that there was an easier way to fulfill their destiny: to grasp power by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The serpent’s remarks implied that one could be like God without self-donating love. This was a lie, but Adam and Eve bought it. Jesus faced a similar challenge in Matthew 16 when Peter suggested that fulfilling his destiny could be done without completely offering himself up.

After giving the keys to the kingdom to St. Peter (Matthew 16:19), Jesus announced that he was going to go to Jerusalem and suffer many things and be killed (Matthew 16:21). Peter reacts to Jesus’ announcement of suffering and death with the same spirit conveyed by the serpent in the Garden of Eden, “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you” (Matthew 16:22). Recognizing the false solution to the grave predicament of mankind, Jesus said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men” (Matthew 16:23).

As Jesus, the last Adam, begins to move toward the Garden of Gethsemane, we see that Satan enters Judas before the Last Supper (Luke 22:3). Jesus enters the garden (Matthew 26:36), and then Judas enters the garden (John 18:1-3), setting up a parallel event with the Garden of Eden.

The Garden of Gethsemane scene starts out with an almost prophetic statement from St. Peter, a statement that reflects Peter’s desire to participate with Christ in his mission:

Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And so said all the disciples. Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go yonder and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, thy will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Behold, the hour is at hand, and the son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners (Matthew 26:35-45).


This blog post is the fourth in the Suffering & Mass series, which was originally a chapter in Scripture and the Mystery of the Mass published by Emmaus Road Publishing. It is republished on The Great Adventure Blog with permission from Emmaus Road Publishing. We invite you to visit the blog next week for the next post in the series.

Flickr photo of Wenzel Peter’s Adam and Eve in the Garden is by faungg’s photos; Flickr photo of Harold Copping’s Garden of Gethsemane is by Waiting for The Word.


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Jeff Cavins

For thirty years, Jeff has dedicated his life to developing The Great Adventure, the visually engaging and interactive Bible study system that enables students to understand the chronological flow of Scripture. As the founding host of EWTN’s Life on the Rock, he has been recognized both nationally and internationally as an exciting public speaker who has a deep love for Jesus Christ and who communicates his zeal with clarity and enthusiasm. Jeff, his wife Emily, and their daughters live in Minnesota.

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