Every Thought Captive

Spoiler Alert

The LORD God said to 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.”

Genesis 3:14–15

Will cannot run very far ahead of knowledge, and attention is our daily bread.     – Iris Murdoch

Perhaps the best way to experience a story is to attend closely to its dominant mode of action. Paying attention to who-does-what affords the highest return for investing in a close reading of a text. In a dramatically compressed story such as the Fall of humankind in Genesis 3, many are doing much in very little literary space, heightening the emotional tension and deepening the volitional impact. The serpent tempts. Eve eats. Adam hides. Yahweh banishes. In just one short chapter, our original ancestors move from paradisal bliss to harsh exile. The narrative pace moves so quickly that by the story’s end, we have to catch our proverbial breath.

Yet in the midst of this memorable flurry of actions (Who can forget the improvised sewing together of fig leaves and the appointing of a guardian cherubim complete with flaming sword?), it is easy to miss the story’s dominant mode of action: speaking. By my count, the narrator stylizes the biblical account of the Fall with twenty-one verbs of speech in just twenty-four verses. Interestingly, the narrative keeps both truth and falsity in play, providing meaningful illuminations by their rapid juxtapositions. All manner of things are being said amiss: Satan’s deceit; Eve’s distortion; and Adam’s accusation. Only Yahweh consistently speaks the truth as demonstrated by His leading questions and just verdicts.

In this story, who-says-what is of paramount importance, revealing each speaker’s interior motives. The satanic serpent lures Eve into temptation by his cunning deceit. Eve yields to temptation by her doubting distortion of Yahweh’s commandment. Adam masks his disobedience by shifting blame upon Yahweh and Eve. All three abandon the truth in favor of a deliberate falsehood that shows their perverted intentions.

In contrast, Yahweh speaks. Truth. Always. Beginning with the serpent and ending with Adam, He declares punishments befitting all three of their crimes. Though His verdicts are righteous, the consequences are so severe that they threaten to overwhelm our lingering consideration of this story, leaving us with the impression of a just but unmerciful God. And yet, we will discover that this is not true of Him, if we attend more carefully to everything He says. Tucked within His first pronouncement against the serpent is His proclamation of lasting grace:

“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.”

Christian theologians rightly describe Yahweh’s proclamation here as the proto-evangelium or “first Gospel,” since it foreshadows Jesus Christ’s ultimate victory over His conflict against Satan, whereby He wins His peoples’ salvation.

No doubt it is a risky move (literarily speaking) to give away the ending of a story in its beginning, no matter how subtle the foreshadowing may be. After all, we tend to resist knowing too early how things will turn out. As a case in point, a friend from my college days recently posted on Facebook, “Don’t say anything to me about the new Batman movie. I haven’t seen it yet!” Usually we like a story to stretch out before us in an open horizon sight unseen. But God knows such is not the case here. After just three chapters into the Bible, we need to hear Yahweh’s promise of blessing amidst His pronouncement of cursing. Why is this so? On the one hand, the bad news is so bad — that is, the Fall of humanity into sin and death is so catastrophic — that we would be overwhelmed by despair, wishing to read no further. On the other hand, the Good News is so good that it cannot wait and must be proclaimed at once. In other words, there is an urgency that accompanies the Gospel’s importance that manifests in our need to hear it from the beginning of God’s revelation, inspiring our hope — and our continued reading to the end of the biblical story.

No wonder, then, that speaking is the dominant action of the account of the Fall. From the beginning of the Creation story in Genesis 1, Yahweh accomplishes His creative will by what He says. His Word alone determines the ultimate course of His peoples’ destiny. It is a Word of promise, and that promise is Jesus Christ. All in all, the Gospel of our Lord is a message that God gives away from the beginning with the intent that we, too, give it away “to the end of the age” (Matt 28:18–20). As the Church proclaims the Good News of Jesus Christ, together we break the bread of our daily attention, knowing this Gospel with our mind and obeying it with our will, while loving it with all our heart.

Go ahead. Give the Gospel away to those who have not yet heard, perhaps even to that longtime friend on Facebook.

About the Author

Photograph of Kenny Marchetti

Kenny Marchetti