I am a sinner. I am prideful. I am selfish. I am, at times, arrogant and stubborn. I am prone to cynicism and depression. I can be quick to anger and slow to forgive. I tend to value grace, even at the expense of truth. I over-think, over-consume, and under-exercise and under-give. I covet and at times let my desire get the best of me. Sometimes I would rather lead from up front than serve from below. Sometimes I would rather hide than lead or serve at all. And the list could go on, but I’ve got to cap it somewhere 🙂
The very fact that I can stand up here and state these things to you and none of you are shocked to the point of storming out of here (hopefully at least) reveals a foundational truth. Things are not as they are supposed to be. Even if we can’t always articulate this, we inherently know this. If we cannot agree upon this, then there is no foundation for ordering society, or reason for even behaving decently toward one another. But this reality unveils a more profound truth. There is a way that things ARE supposed to be. An original design or original glory that was meant to be. Bryan did a fantastic job last week of reminding us of some of these things. The Judeo/Christian creation account unveils a God who creates not capriciously, but intentionally and personally. A God who stands back after creating his image bearing stewards and declares “It’s all good…very good!”
It is absolutely essential that we start at this place. Too many theologies and stories start with Genesis 3, and as a result truncate The Story. Christianity and the Gospel it proclaims become nothing more than a story about how we manage sin well enough to prove to God that, at the end of the day, we deserve to “get saved.”
My first of four points for this afternoon is that sin is not original. As Bryan stated last week, “It is an aberration. Sin and violence have no place in God’s good world.”
So, before we talk about “Original Sin” from Genesis 3, we must first talk about “Original Glory/Design/Goodness” from Genesis 1&2. Not because I/we don’t want to talk about sin…as some are prone to do…but because when we talk about sin we need to talk about it in its proper context. And biblically speaking, sin’s proper context is in the broader account of how God’s good world went wrong.
And in so doing this, we must recall as Bryan helped us do a couple weeks ago, that this is a reflective history written from the perspective of the people of Israel in exile in Babylon who were attempting to answer the ultimate question about identity: “Who are we?” which inevitably leads to the important question: “How did we get here?” which then leads to another question: “What went wrong?”
And that is where we find ourselves in Genesis 3.
So, what went wrong? Let’s take a look at Genesis 3 to learn more. Chapter 2 ends with one of my favorite verses…much to Christy’s chagrin 🙂 A beatiful declaration of the harmonious community that existed between humans in God’s presence: “And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.” No shame. No covering. Nothing to hide from each other.
Then immediately in verse 1, a new actor enters centers stage. “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made.” [It’s interesting to note that the serpent is not identified specifically as “the devil” or “Satan.” Serpents were a Symbol of Canaanite fertility cult – choice between God and Baal; a symbol of life, wisdom, and chaos; and in the Epic of
Gilgamesh – the snake eats the plant that would have given Gilgamesh immortality.] And without any further description doubt is introduced into the story: “Did God say?” I’m not really sure that it mattered what the serpent said after those first three words. With those three words, innocence and goodness and rightness now had an alternative. With those three words, the unraveling began and continues to this day. How many of our contemporary issues stem from those simple words…”Did God say?”
And now that crafty devil of a serpent goes for the jugular. Eve corrects him with a couple of her own edits to God’s words as she responds that God (she uses the impersonal Elohim and not the personal YHWH) only said they couldn’t touch or eat from the one tree in the middle of the garden. But he’s got her fixated on it. She begins to crave and passionately desire the tree. He’s brought it to her consciousness, and now doubt leads to outright lying when he says, “You won’t die! In fact, you will be like God…knowing good and evil.” This verse has always ticked me off because in one sense the serpent is right, but only partially so. You see, what was already true of the first humans and every human after them is that they are like God…knowing and expanding His goodness. They were already like God. But after Adam and Eve take the bait, now they also know evil. They not only know it, but experience it as part of their everyday reality as part of their desire to become God.
My second point is simply this: Sin is a reality. We are in exile. I find it interesting that Jesus spent more time dealing with the effects of sin as a given reality than he did with theologizing about sin and how it came about. It’s why he spent more time warning against judging so that we will not be judged, and exhorting us to look at the log in our own eyes instead of only seeing the speck in someone else’s. He accepted it as a reality, as an enemy whose effects needed to be undone. And that’s what we’re experiencing when we read about his radical forgiveness, miraculous healings, disarming deliverances and eventually his defeating of death. That’s why I still believe in and pray for these things.
My third point is that sin is pervasive in nature. Paul, in Romans 3:23, writes “For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” David in Psalm 51 writes, “Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.” We see this truth in what follows in Genesis. Eve sees the tree and she sees that it will fulfill her carnal needs, her need for visual pleasure, and her desire for wisdom. Needs that God was already prepared to fulfill. But instead, they took God’s place and sought to fulfill these needs on their own. Ah yes, the root sin of PRIDE. The sin that leads to all other sins. The perpetual attempt to send the message to God, “We’ve got this. We don’t need you. We can do this on our own.”
And immediately their eyes are open and they know evil. And “naked and unashamed” becomes “ashamed and covered.” And in their attempt to right the wrong on their own, Adam and Eve sew some leaves together to cover themselves up. Isn’t that like us? Our feeble attempts to right the wrong end up looking like sown leaves trying to cover our naked shame.
And God’s response is to make a declaration about how things will be from here on out.
And the unraveling continues. Like Weezer’s “Sweater Song,” God holds the string while his very good, image bearing stewards walk away east out of the garden. From this point on, human relationship with God continues to unravel as they attempt to hide from God out of fear; human community further disintegrates as Adam blames Eve, and Eve blames the serpent, and God responds with a curse upon the serpent, and a declaration that now Adam and Eve will experience difficulty and pain in their primary roles as fruitful multipliers (procreators) and stewards of creation (producers). They will also experience contention between them as the woman’s desire will be turned toward her husband and his desire will be to rule over her (interesting that this desire is linked to the fall…not original design). Kidner says, “To love and to cherish becomes to desire and to dominate.” For the next few chapters of Genesis, things come totally undone as Cain kills Abel out of jealousy; then Lamech distorts God’s grace by taking the mercy shown to Cain and using it as a threat of violent revenge (Gen 4:23-24); and then we have this whole conundrum of the sons of God, Nephilim, having sexual relationships with the daughters of humans. Now they’re naked, lying on the floor…lying on the floor…they’ve come undone!
Pride, deceit, shame, fear, blame, curses, pain, struggle, contention, broken relationships, misuse of power, jealousy, murder, revenge, sexual perversion…sounds more like the makings of a new Friday night mini-series than the first several chapters of the Bible 🙂 Eventually, we arrive at Genesis 6:5-7 which reads “The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created – people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.”
Sin is personal (guilt) and corporate (corruption). We see its effects in our own lives, and also in the forces we face in the world that are outside of our control. We experience this reality in very real ways through systems that are broken, through those over us who do ungodly things, through all of the things mentioned above. As a friend said recently, “It’s like throwing paper airplanes at a massive bolder!”
So, let’s take a look at some of the effects of sin through the lenses of guilt and corruption:
God: pride (autonomy), shame, fear
Self: knowledge of evil, guilt
Community: shame, blame, pain, jealousy, murder
World/Creation: struggle, toil, abuse, disorder (ex. Nephilim and humans)
Gregory Thompson writes, “Sin…stems from a rejection of God’s goodness and results in both pervasive guilt and corruption…Though God intended creation to reflect the state of peaceful wholeness between God, humans, and the world—a state the Bible calls shalom—sin has broken this wholeness, splintering it into the ruin of corruption. Unlike guilt, which is both a status and an experience unique to human beings, corruption extends its sorrows to all of creation: embracing not only our broken inner lives, but also our broken bodies, our broken relationships, our broken cities, and our broken world. Thus in Christian theology, because of sin, a world that was made for the wholeness of shalom, now languishes under the grief of corruption (Rm. 8).”
[We paused for a powerful testimony about a woman who is taking God’s love into a local strip club. I hope to have the audio up soon]
My final point is this…and it will act as a bit of a preview for next time…sin is not the final word. The power of sin, which is death, has been defeated (1 Cor 15:26). That’s the Easter message that we continue to celebrate in this Easter season.
There is a thread of redemption that runs throughout the story. The thread that eventually leads to the remaking of all things. The sweater gets remade! Here’s a few examples from those first few chapters of Genesis: God commits the first act of killing in order to clothe his image bearers – to cover their shame. God promises that someday an image bearer will crush the serpent and undo his work. God extends mercy to Cain by placing a mark on him. God provides a means of salvation for Noah and his family and the animals…and by extension…all of humanity and creation.
And we begin to live that redemption and renewal now as we fulfill our vocational calling as servants and stewards. Each redemptive act like fixing cars and changing the atmosphere in a shop, photographing and entering into people’s precious moments, working with the land and producing fruitful food and relationships, and going to the places that are forsaken and forgotten to take God’s love…each of these acts is one more thread sown back into the fabric of God’s Kingdom.
So, how are you implicated? In other words, what are the implications of this understanding for your daily life? How do you experience both guilt and corruption and what will you do about them?