In the Garden of Eden, God attempted to manage the opportunity and threat of human intelligence to his balanced creation. But something lurks in the background….
We’re almost ready to turn our attentions to John’s Revelation, but before we do, we need to confront the dark side of God’s journey. So far, I may have made it sound as though boredom may have been the biggest challenge faced by God. Nothing is that easy, though. To understand the challenge, let’s pause to consider the human experience of sin.
For most of Christian history, to sin was to break God’s law. The first laws were brought down by Moses on stone tablets. They command faith in God and to not harm other people. More laws were added as the Hebrews wandered in the desert. When they entered the Holy Land, the list had grown to 613 laws.
As a Jew, Jesus was not particularly strong on the Law of Moses. He argued at times that he could ignore it, change it, and eventually he replaced it with the Law of Love, saying:
“’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
[NIV Matt. 22:37-40]
Logically, this makes it much easier to understand sin. If we ae worried that we might do something wrong, we don’t have to look at 613 laws. We need only think about love.
It’s this simple: If grace is found in Love, then to sin is the opposite of love.
Let’s remember what love does. Loving has two parts:
- Give power to our beloved.
- Help them have marvelous relationships.
How do we give power? Through housing, food, medicine, education, money, and time. How do we support relationships? By taking our beloved to meet our friends, by offering safe meeting places, by offering advice, and by sitting with them when they are hurt.
If sin is the opposite of love, then we sin when we:
- Take power for ourselves.
- Make people do what WE want.
Outside of religion, we would say that sinners are “selfish.”
Selfishness doesn’t work, because when we’re unhappy, trying to take control of others only makes them unhappy as well.
Here’s a story about selfishness. When he was about three, each of my sons decided one night that he didn’t want to come to dinner. He screamed and shouted and told me that he was going to keep playing. I told him “Well, I can’t let you do that.”
The screaming and yelling got louder, so their mother asked me to take my son out of the kitchen. “Let’s go talk,” I said. When we got into the hallway, I closed all the doors. He sat down on the floor, telling me that he wasn’t going to eat dinner. Sitting down myself, I said “OK. Well, we’ll just sit here.” Insisting that he was going to go play, I calmly said “I’m sorry. I love you, but I can’t let you do that until we’ve had dinner.”
The demands and crying kept on and on for about thirty minutes. Lying finally on the floor, the yelling stopped, and he said “Daddy, I’m just tired.”
“Come over here and let’s have a hug and go eat dinner.”
Those were the two sweetest hugs that I ever had.
Neither of them ever refused again to come to dinner. They gained a certain special kind of power: power over themselves. They learned self-control.
Little children wear out quick when they’re hungry, and selfishness isn’t always so obvious or easy to deal with. A selfish adult can feed himself, and leaders find people to take care of them.
That can make leaders hard to control. In 2013, hundreds of thousands of people marched against the corrupt reign of Vladimir Putin in Russia. Putin sent out the armed forces to beat up the protesters, and is still in power, having turned his government into an organized crime ring, murdering those that oppose him.
Such selfishness is not unique to people. A new lion king hunts down all the cubs and crushes their heads in his jaws. The lion king wants the females to stop making milk so they will mate with him.
Killing babies, even lion babies, seems to be something that God should be against. But it isn’t until the afternoon of the sixth day of creation that God came down to earth. God came down to live with Adam and Eve. Why?
Darwin’s theory of evolution was proven by his study of birds in the Galapagos islands. The ancestor of one bird arrived at the island 2 million years ago. Since then, the original birds changed until they became thirteen species. Some of the birds have heavy beaks for breaking seeds and nuts. Others have thin beaks for picking insects and grubs from holes.
But if I want to eat a nut, I just get a nut cracker from the kitchen. If I want to get something out of a hole, I get a pair of tweezers. I can change my shape in a few minutes by getting a tool.
This is what God recognized in man: Stone axes spread over a period of perhaps 1000 years, but allow a man to change his physical capabilities in seconds. Fire allows humans to remain active in weather that drives most mammals into hibernation. Language allows humans to change political systems in a few years, while the hierarchy of bees has been unchanged for millennia.
As described last week, God spent a billion years creating a world of balanced relationships. But given the amazing adaptability of humans, what other species could provide balance against us? None of the old ones, and no new species could evolve once man conquered the world.
What then would prevent man from upsetting the global balance, and thus ruining God’s work? The only hope was that humans should learn to love the world as God did. This is why God came down to Earth: to teach us to love as he did.
How does scripture describe this:
…the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
[NIV Genesis 2:7]
God did hesitate, reflecting on the billions of years it took to create such a wondrous creature from water and clay, and then breathes his spirit into Adam, giving him the use of love. What the Bible is telling us that no prior creature had received this gift.
Realizing that Adam needed a relationship, God found a wife, giving Adam’s heart for her to tend.
The Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one on the man’s parts and closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the part.
[NIV Genesis 4:21-22]
Eve received the gift of love through Adam.
According to the story, this event happened about 7000 years ago in the Middle East. Archeology tells us that people lived in many other places at this time. So why would God have reserved the power of his spirit to only these two people, making them “first man” and “first woman?”
Well, because they were likely to misuse the gift. Indeed, the relationship did not work out. Adam and Eve sinned.
What does that mean? Let’s remember: If loving is to give our power away, the opposite is to seek all power for ourselves. This is SELFISHNESS.
How did the serpent trick Eve? By promising her that if she sought knowledge of good and evil, she would become like God. The serpent appealed to Eve’s selfishness.
“For God knows that when you eat of [the fruit] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
[NIV Genesis 3:4]
For this transgression, Adam and Eve are kicked out of school, being sent back into the work to try to survive like everyone else: scraping the soil and having pain in childbirth.
Now God could have abandoned us, but up to John’s Revelation, the rest of the Bible is the story of God’s constancy to us. The Bible explains how God taught us to love.
So let’s recap todays study. First, the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s selfishness. Second, evil isn’t just a accident or a result of human disobedience. Adam and Eve didn’t make the serpent. Something opposes our journey into love. As we shall see, that force is powerful, and has worked to make our journey painful. So painful, in fact, that many of us choose not to try to complete it.