In the Garden, Adam and Eve are told not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, or they will surely die. They chow down anyway.
This morning, it occurred to me that the first person to die in the Bible isn’t Adam or Eve. You’d figure, just offhand, that since they were the ones who ate the fruit, they’d be the ones who paid the price first, except they aren’t. The first person is their son Abel.
And it’s worse than that: he’s murdered by Cain. By his brother. Their other son.
In one afternoon, they effectively lost both their sons: one to death and the other to shame and escape. And if you think about it, isn’t that exactly how God lost them, both the first humans He created…? In one afternoon, He lost them both to disobedience (and the death they’d die in the future) and to their own shame as they hid from him.
As a bereaved parent myself, I can tell you it would be easier to be the one dead than the one grieving your own child. I’ve participated in and moderated an infant loss forum for several years now, and I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard bereaved mothers say “I wish I could trade places with my baby.”
The murder of Abel must have made the reality of death hit home for both Adam and Eve in a way that their own deaths wouldn’t have managed to. They probably thought, “I would have deserved it, but he didn’t!”
They’d have seen the world go from vegetarian to carnivorous. We suppose they went from climbing trees as they harvested fruit for the lions’ lunch to climbing trees to avoid being the lions’ lunch. They’d probably witnessed small animals snapped up by larger ones, dead animals, dead insects, beautiful things rendered still and then decomposing back into the ground.
Then they saw it happen to their son. At the hands of their other son, the one who should have been a comfort to them at that time when they needed to grieve.
A fate far, far worse than death to themselves.