Sin is Relational

Genesis 3:16–19

[16] To the woman he said,

“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,
but he shall rule over you.”

[17] And to Adam he said,

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
[18] thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
[19] By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.” 

The consequences of sin include pain, conflict, frustration, exhaustion, and death.  We may wonder, why must the consequences for sin be so great and so lasting?

One reason sin has lasting consequences is because sin is relational.  If I steal my friend’s computer but later return it, our relationship will not be the same because the monetary value is not the issue but the breaking of trust.

Trust requires time and commitment to be rebuilt.  Yet because we fail to love God rightly every moment, we are constantly increasing our alienation with God with no hope of rebuilding our relationship with Him.

If we are to be right with God again, we need someone to intervene on our behalf.  We need a Savior.


Willful Rebellion

Genesis 3:4–6

[4] But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. [5] For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” [6] So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

The serpent speaks to the woman and now she has a choice of whether to believe God or Satan.  Unfortunately, she casts the tie breaking vote herself, choosing to follow her own perception rather than God.

Here, Genesis describes the fundamental human problem as willful rebellion, not biological or sociological determinism, outside circumstances, or even other people.  Even today, the biggest problem in our lives is not circumstantial but moral.  We choose to do something other than love God with all our hearts and love our neighbors as ourselves.

While this is a hard pill to swallow, a problem inside of us is to be much preferred to a problem outside of us.  Blaming feels better, but ultimately leads to despair as we are caught up in forces far beyond our control.  But if the problem is our own hearts, we can choose to admit our faults and ask for the forgiveness and power of God.  And Jesus is faithful to respond to such requests with grace.

True, Beautiful, and Good

Genesis 3:6

[6] So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

God declared that to eat the fruit of this tree would lead to death.  But when the woman looks (with the help of the serpent) at the tree, she sees something good, delightful, and desirable.

The battle that rages in the heart of every human being is whether to believe God or to try to be God and determine for ourselves what is true, beautiful, and good.

A Strange Description

Genesis 3:1

[1] Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 

The serpent really is clever.  With one question, he manages to paint the woman as a victim and suggest she has the right to stand in judgment of God.  Did God really say that?  How oppressive!   He doesn’t care about you!

Yet this description of God is strange in light of Genesis 1 and 2.  Thus far, God is glorious, generous, almighty, kind, creative, wise, and eager to bless.  Sadly, what the man and the woman do not know (why that one tree was off limits) trumps what they do know (who God is and what He promises).

God Grieves

Ezekiel 33:10–11

[10] “And you, son of man, say to the house of Israel, Thus have you said: ‘Surely our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we rot away because of them. How then can we live?’ [11] Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?

Man thinks “you get what you deserve,” but God grieves over the deserved suffering of sinners.

Exactly Like Him

The Message of 1 Peter
Edmund Clowney

Charles Colson describes an interview on American television.  Mike Wallace was speaking to Yehiel Dinur, a concentration-camp survivor who testified against Adolf Eichmann at the Nuremberg trials.  Wallace showed a film clip from the 1961 trial of this Nazi architect of the Holocaust.  Colson describes the scene as Dinur walked into the courtroom to come face to face with the man who had sent him to Auschwitz eighteen years earlier.

Dinur began to sob uncontrollably, then fainted, collapsing in a heap on the floor as the presiding judicial officer pounded his gavel for order in the crowded courtroom.

Was Dinur overcome by hatred?  Fear?  Horrid memories?

No; it was none of these.  Rather, as Dinur explained to Wallace, all at once he realized Eichmann was not the godlike army officer who had sent so many to their deaths.  This Eichmann was an ordinary man.  ‘I was afraid about myself,’ said Dinur.  ‘…I saw that I am capable to do this.  I am…exactly like him.’

His Possession of Us

John Stott

Christian exultation is something entirely different from the vapid boastings of self-righteous religious people.  The latter boast of God as if he were their private property, as if they had him on a leash and could lead him around and exhibit him like a pet dog, and as if their possession of God betokened exceptional merit in them and guaranteed complete immunity to his displeasure.  To them God is a thing, a possession, a toy.

But to exult in God is the exact opposite of all that.  It begins with the humble acknowledgment of our inexcusable guilt before him.  It goes on to wondering astonishment that in spite of this he should have loved us and given his Son to die for us.  it continues with gratitude that, when we despaired of ourselves and trusted in Christ, he justified, reconciled and redeemed us.  It concludes with the confidence that one day he will save us fully and finally.  We exult in this God, not in our righteousness on account of which we once blindly imagined that he accepted us, but in his righteousness, his righteous bestowal of righteousness upon the unrighteous; not in our possession of him, but in his possession of us; not in our merit or works, but in his.

Do Not Join a Gang of Murdering Thieves

Proverbs 1:10-16

[10] My son, if sinners entice you,
do not consent.
[11] If they say, “Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood;
let us ambush the innocent without reason;
[12] like Sheol let us swallow them alive,
and whole, like those who go down to the pit;
[13] we shall find all precious goods,
we shall fill our houses with plunder;
[14] throw in your lot among us;
we will all have one purse”—
[15] my son, do not walk in the way with them;
hold back your foot from their paths,
[16] for their feet run to evil,
and they make haste to shed blood.

Following the introduction to the book of Proverbs, the author dives straight into his first piece of wisdom: do not join a gang of murdering thieves.  I find myself hard pressed to argue with that, though I am tempted to ask, “How stupid do you think I am?”

Before we jump to conclusions, let’s follow the author’s argument.  In verse 11, the sinners attempt to entice the reader to lie in wait for blood.  The promised reward is precious goods and plunder (v. 13).  In short, commit sin and gain an immediate benefit for yourself.

The author of Proverbs does not think I’m stupid.  He knows I am.  I’m tempted to sell my integrity for convenience, damage my relationship with my children for five minutes of peace and quiet, and lie to my small group rather than admit I need their prayers.

The Word of God is warning us today to avoid immediate gain and death and pursue immediate obedience and everlasting life.

The Danger of Asking God ‘Why me?’

The Danger of Asking God ‘Why me?’
Tim Keller
CNN Belief Blog

When I was diagnosed with cancer, the question “Why me?” was a natural one.

Later, when I survived but others with the same kind of cancer died, I also had to ask, “Why me?”

Suffering and death seem random, senseless.

The recent Aurora, Colorado, shootings — in which some people were spared and others lost — is the latest, vivid example of this, but there are plenty of others every day: from casualties in the Syria uprising to victims of accidents on American roads. Tsunamis, tornadoes, household accidents – the list is long.

As a minister, I’ve spent countless hours with suffering people crying: “Why did God let this happen?” In general I hear four answers to this question. Each is wrong, or at least inadequate.

The first answer is “I guess this proves there is no God.” The problem with this thinking is that the problem of senseless suffering does not go away if you abandon belief in God.

In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said that if there was no higher divine law, there would be no way to tell if any particular human law was unjust. Likewise, if there is no God, then why do we have a sense of outrage and horror when suffering and tragedy occur? The strong eat the weak, there is no meaning, so why not?

Friedrich Nietzsche exemplified that idea. When the atheist Nietzsche heard that a natural disaster had destroyed Java in 1883, he wrote a friend: “Two-hundred-thousand wiped out at a stroke—how magnificent!”

Because there is no God, Nietzsche said, all value judgments are arbitrary. All definitions of justice are just the results of your culture or temperament.

As different as they were, King and Nietzsche agreed on this point. If there is no God or higher divine law then violence is perfectly natural.

So abandoning belief in God doesn’t help with the problem of suffering at all.

The second response to suffering is: “While there is a God, he’s not completely in control of everything. He couldn’t stop this.” But that kind of God doesn’t really fit our definition of “God.” So that thinking hardly helps us with reconciling God and suffering.

The third answer to the worst kind of suffering – seemingly senseless death – is: “God saves some people and lets others die because he favors and rewards good people.” But the Bible forcefully rejects the idea that people who suffer more are worse people than those who are spared suffering. The world is too fallen and deeply broken to fall into neat patterns of good people having good lives and bad people having bad lives.

The fourth answer to suffering in the face of an all-powerful God is that God knows what he’s doing, so be quiet and trust him. This is partly right, but inadequate. It is inadequate because it is cold and because the Bible gives us more with which to face the terrors of life.

God did not create a world with death and evil in it. It is the result of humankind turning away from him. We were put into this world to live wholly for him, and when instead we began to live for ourselves everything in our created reality began to fall apart, physically, socially and spiritually. Everything became subject to decay.

But God did not abandon us. Only Christianity of all the world’s major religions teaches that God came to Earth in Jesus Christ and became subject to suffering and death himself, dying on the cross to take the punishment our sins deserved, so that someday he can return to Earth to end all suffering without ending us.

Do you see what this means? We don’t know the reason God allows evil and suffering to continue, or why it is so random, but now at least we know what the reason isn’t, what it can’t be.

It can’t be that he doesn’t love us. It can’t be that he doesn’t care. He is so committed to our ultimate happiness that he was willing to plunge into the greatest depths of suffering himself.

Someone might say, “But that’s only half an answer to the question ‘Why?’” Yes, but it is the half that we need. If God actually explained all the reasons why he allows things to happen as they do, it would be too much for our finite brains.

What we truly need is what little children need. They can’t understand most of what their parents allow and disallow for them. They need to know their parents love them and can be trusted. We need to know the same thing about God.