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Feeling the Weight of Our Actions

“The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.”

Genesis 3:21

Imagine what that covering was like for Adam, Eve too, but particularly Adam. For a long time, I thought of the animal skins as simply covering Adam and Eve with something better than their leaves. But that’s a pretty flat story. 

To get those skins, God performed the first sacrifice. He slaughtered his own creation, his good creation, to make those coverings. They wouldn’t have been nicely tanned leather. Contrary to what I’d pictured for so long with the help of childrens’ Bible illustrations, God likely took the skins directly from the animals and draped them over Adam and Eve. Heavy, smelly, still dripping, a visceral reminder of the cost of their sin. 

That seems more plausible than nicely tanned leather garments. Nice, comfortable, soft, stylish leather clothes were unlikely what Adam and Eve ended up with. It’s difficult to think about, but God likely wanted them to see what the results of their sin were. To show them what their actions cost. It is the first instance of the broken relationship of humanity to the rest of creation. And God himself performed the act. 

What would that have done to Adam? Apart from probably just feeling and smelling gross, Adam may have had a deep emotional reaction to this because chapter two happens right before chapter three. Remember what happens in chapter two? Adam is alone and God says that’s not good. So he brings all the animals to Adam to name them. But the purpose wasn’t just to name the animals, that particular scene closes with the revelation that no partner was found for Adam. The next scene opens on Adam asleep and minus a rib. When he awakes, Eve is standing next to him. 

It’s easy to read the naming episode quickly, maybe envisioning Adam viewing a parade of animals, originality and imagination running low as animal number 1,582 marched past. I have a hard time believing that’s how the naming happened. Permit me a little speculation—okay, a little more speculation. 

In Adam’s unfallen world the animals weren’t afraid of people (that doesn’t happen until chapter nine). So when God brought the animals to Adam, I think we can safely picture close and intimate contact. How else do you know it’s not suitable as a helper?

To name them, Adam needed to know them. To know them, he had to spend time with them. Adam named the animals and he knew them. They were his animals. Adam didn’t experience wildlife the way we do, from a distance and with a good pair of binoculars. God brought them to Adam and there was connection, familiarity, intimacy. Perhaps he stroked the mane of the lion, listened to the song of the robin as it sat on his shoulder, fed the elephant by hand, and let the skunks, rabbits, and raccoons play on him in the meadow.

Adam and the animals were part of the same world, and in that world together. When God draped Adam and Eve with those skins, they would have known exactly who they were wearing. They experienced the reality that what humanity does impacts the rest of creation. They felt the weight of their decisions as it draped and dripped across their shoulders.

It’s worth sitting with that thought for a little while. Letting ourselves struggle with the reality that our actions have dire consequences for the rest of creation.

Fast forward a millennia: the fundamental situation is eerily similar. Creation is still impacted by the decisions we make and the actions we take. The difference is that we do not always feel the weight of those decisions in the same way and with the same immediacy that Adam and Eve did. It was next to their skin, directly in their line of sight, filling their nostrils. 

Now, much of our impact on the environment is felt elsewhere. Our pollution flows downstream, the smoke from our factories rises in an area far from our clean, fresh winds. Our mountains of garbage are shipped to other places for other people to deal with. We are often far separated from our impact on creation.

But distance from the consequences does not change the impact. Our choices change things even if we don’t feel those changes. This distance from the cost of our actions often leads us down a path of compromise or apathy and to surrender our roles as stewards of creation. 

Let us not believe that because we do not directly experience our impact on the rest of creation that we are not having one. 

But there is something to remember. It is never too late to make a different choice. There is no such thing as a foregone conclusion. We can choose to do something different. It may not be easy; it might mean a great deal of sacrifice, as Paul said in Philippians 1:23-24, sometimes it is necessary that we forego what is exceedingly good for ourselves to do something that is good for someone else, and I’m not convinced that Paul was just speaking of spiritual realities. 

May we make decisions that consider the ripple effect outside of our own ponds. 

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