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The Genesis lesson teenagers most need


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Kathleen N. Hattrup - published on 03/25/24

One of the key morals of the story comes from looking at the "punishments" for Adam and Eve's bad choices. We have to understand the difference between a punishment and a simple consequence.

It’s easy to misunderstand the Genesis account of Original Sin.

If we try to interpret it only as a historical event, a lot of questions arise. One of my kids was only 7 when he asked, “If God didn’t want Adam and Eve to eat the apple, why did he put it there?”

It’s an interesting question (and big theology for a 7-year-old!), but it risks missing the point.

The apple story (by the way, was it really a pomegranate?), isn’t meant to be just a historical account of something that happened one specific day. It’s a “moral of the story” tale, from which we are supposed to come to understand the goodness of God, the battle with evil, the fragility of man, etc.

The Catechism explains it this way:

390 The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents.”

One of the key morals of the story comes from looking at the “punishments” for Adam and Eve’s bad choices.

A careful reading shows that, for the most part, they aren’t really punishments at all. They are consequences.

Since you have done x, the result will by y, God basically tells the snake.

It’s not that God is changing the rules of nature to make the snake suffer. No. He’s simply saying how things are.

Because you have done this,
    cursed are you among all animals
    and among all wild creatures; …

Satan devil snake Genesis original sin evil

Since you have done x, the result will be y, God tells Adam.

Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
    and have eaten of the tree […]
cursed is the ground because of you;
    in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life […]
By the sweat of your face
    you shall eat bread
until you return to the ground,
    for out of it you were taken;
you are dust,
    and to dust you shall return.

There are two places where God seems to indicate that he’s taking an active role in the results of Adam’s decision, and one of them is the best news of all of creation: God’s promise of a Redeemer:

I will put enmity between you and the woman
    and between your offspring and hers;

Choosing freely

Since we live in a world that has lost the understanding of freedom, this lesson is important.

Sure, you are “free” to drive down the highway the wrong way, but then you are also “free” to get hit head-on by incoming traffic. It’s not a punishment for driving on the wrong side of the road. It’s a consequence.

God has created a world where science works: Actions have consequences. We are free to choose our actions, but we aren’t free to choose the consequences.

Isaac Newton gravity apple

Another apple offers a useful reminder of this fact. Legend tells us that Isaac Newton watched apples fall from the tree to come to his theory of gravitation.

Living in a world where gravity is a fact means we need to be careful about our choices.

freedom choices

It’s important for all of us to remember that God isn’t setting out to make us miserable; instead, simply, our actions have consequences. Sin makes a mess of things.

But it’s a lesson especially for teenagers, as they confront a world where Mom and Dad are no longer able to protect them from many of the dangers along the way. Teens often feel invincible; being in the prime of their health and strength gives them a sense that nothing can conquer them.

Hopefully they can learn from the apples … before they find themselves facing consequences they wish they didn’t have to face.

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