Archives For Sin

AppleI spent this weekend closely observing some of the effects of the fall of humanity. During our family vacation at my parents’ house, 6 out of 14 of us took ill (the youngest cousin started it all a couple days earlier). It wasn’t quite Vomigeddon, which involved my extended family in a tight cabin as all but 4 out of a group of 30+ got violently ill simultaneously. But this weekend was still awful—holding listless children, seeing my tough-as-nails mother and father brought down, and comforting my daughters as their once-eaten meals could no longer be tolerated by their upset stomachs.

As I sat holding my two year old, I started reflecting on the evils on the fall. Humanity chose sin over God, and every aspect of our world has suffered from the curse ever since. Thorns and thistles, animosity and illness, injury and death. As I held my bright and fun loving daughter, now miserable and mostly lifeless, I kept thinking: this is not the way it’s supposed to be.

God made a good world. No suffering, no pain, no sin, no brokenness. He promises to remake our world into a glorious new creation: death will be no more, he will wipe every tear away, he will dwell directly with us, replacing even the light of the sun and moon. God’s intention for this world is wholeness, peace, shalom. And yet every day of our existence between the Garden of Eden and the new heavens and new earth is touched by brokenness.

Yet even in the midst of this brokenness there is grace. As I held my girl, feeling her feverish body breathing in and out, I was comforted to think that her little body was fighting back. In a perfect world, there is no need for an immune system. Yet God has equipped us to live amidst the curse. We suffer, yes—sometimes more deeply than we could imagine. But my daughters breathed in and out, they suffered quietly, and God used their little bodies to fight against the illness and to bring them back to health.

Our experience of this world is altered by the curse, but this is not the way it’s supposed to be. Sin is a stain we see all around us, but it’s not the fabric itself. And God has not left this world to disintegrate. He is still fighting the sin, working against our self-destruction, transforming hearts and putting us to work in his fight against sin and its destruction. He entered this fight decisively when he died to give us life. He sent his Spirit to empower us for this ongoing battle. In big and small ways, God is taking this broken world and restoring wholeness.

God does not promise us health in this life. The most tragic stories end in debilitation and death. There are no words for those times when the fall takes those we love so dearly (and the fall takes everyone in the end). The hope we cling to in these moments is in Jesus’ resurrection, and the resurrection he promises to those who love him.

But as I held my daughters yesterday and saw the effects of their immune systems overcoming their illness, I was thankful for the grace of God. Thank God he has not left us in our mess. Thank God that “he comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found.” Ultimately, God tells us that this world is crying out, desperately longing to partake in the redemption—the renewed wholeness—that he will ultimately bring as he removes the curse and recreates the world:

“…he creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now…” (Romans 8:19–22)

There was a time once when Man enjoyed a very close relationship with God. It was a time when all was perfect, and the entire creation, right along with Man himself, echoed songs of praise with every breath taken and with every flower’s bloom. But, as the story goes, Creation’s song would soon give way to an unbearable groaning (Rom 8:22). Thorns and thistles would become the new normal, and Man would soon find himself in the midst of suffering and pain.

TornadoI think of this story a lot, especially recently. As I’m sure you know by now, several tornadoes swept through Oklahoma this past week, leaving many people devastated and homeless. Living just a few miles from one of the areas hit by the first round of tornadoes, I’ve seen the carnage for myself. We locals use the term “war zone” to describe it. There simply aren’t any other words. Perhaps most heart aching was when we learned that one of the tornadoes hit two elementary schools in the city of Moore, killing several young children in one instant. Stories were reported how teachers did all they could to protect their kids from the massive mile-wide tornado. Many students survived, but several did not. When my wife and I first heard about this, our hearts sank. All we wanted to do was hold our own children a little tighter that night.

I’ve learned this past week that the problem of suffering can’t be turned into some “detached” philosophical musing or a mere theoretical quip. Suffering is far too real for us to allow it to become a “how-many-angels-can-dance-on-the-head-of-a-pin” sort of debate. Real people have lost real children. But like suffering itself, the question is just as real: “Where was God? How can evil such as this exist when God is supposed to be good and powerful?” As a minister who wants to address this question pastorally, I keep finding myself going back to Man’s first home: the Garden of Eden.  We’re obviously far from Paradise these days, but it’s evident that we all seem to want to go back. After all, behind the sorrow, grief, and tears, there is something deep within each of us that cries, This is not the way things were supposed to be! Yet the events in Oklahoma remind us that this is the way things are. So we’re full of questions.

The key to answering these questions is to look back at what went wrong in the first place.  It all started when the serpent said, “You will not surely die” (Gen 3:4). What a crazy lie. But let’s not be sidetracked by it; the lie, after all, was not an end in itself. Satan’s ultimate goal was to tempt man with a type of knowledge he didn’t need to possess—a knowledge he couldn’t handle. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:5). As the story goes, when Man ate of the fruit (v. 6), his eyes were “opened” (v.7).  It’s all sort of tragic: Man starts off with having God in very close relationship. But Man’s desire for knowledge of good and evil outweighed his desire for relationship with God. The end result was suffering and death.

Not much has changed. Man has been treading upon ground wreaked by thorns and thistles ever since, experiencing suffering every step of the way. As if things weren’t bad enough, when we run to God with our questions, it seems as though we’re left without any answers—at least satisfactory ones. C.S. Lewis once observed that when you go to God in times of pain, you often get “a door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence.”[1] So why does God seem so uninterested in giving us real answers?

Think of the story of Job. Have you ever noticed how he never got an answer as to why he was suffering? It’s all sort of odd when you think about it. Starting with chapter 38, God reminds Job that he is only a mortal. And for the next several chapters, God directly challenges Job (for his own good, mind you), showing him that he isn’t on par with the Divine. As a result, Job’s final response was a simple, yet profound, confession: “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (42:3).

What’s most striking to me about the story of Job is not so much that he never receives an answer, but that Job receives something far better. See, Job may not have gotten an answer, but he did get a bigger vision of God. The rest of Job’s confession is astounding: “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you” (42:5). Did you catch that? Despite all of the pain, the questions, the hurts, the despair, Job learned that what would ultimately satisfy was not gaining insight about his suffering, but in receiving the very thing that Man originally lost in Eden: God himself.

So it all begins to make sense. I mentioned above that, deep down, we all cry out for a return to Eden. So what if God is actually hearing our cries, but is tending to them in a way that we simply can’t understand? I can’t help but wonder if God seems so strangely silent in giving us “answers” to our sufferings all because he wants to give us something greater. Ask anyone who has suffered loss, and they will tell you that answers—no matter how “logical”—simply won’t suffice. Yet often enough, they will tell you that what does bring a small amount of comfort are not words per se, but the quiet presence of a friend. I suspect that God is out to relieve our suffering, not by giving us answers and knowledge, but by giving us something far better—namely, himself. This is something Job came to realize, and something Adam failed to realize.

I don’t know how God’s goodness and power are compatible with the reality of evil and suffering. Make no mistake about it, I want to know. But, despite my intense struggle with the events of the past week, I’ve decided that it’s okay if I don’t know. In fact, God himself seems content with my not knowing. In the end, it appears as though the way back to Eden is not through gaining more knowledge about good and evil; that’s what led to Man’s expulsion in the first place. Rather, I suppose that the way back—and the very thing we need the most in times like these—is the abiding presence of God.

In the days ahead, please pray that God’s peace be upon the people of Oklahoma. We’re all looking for answers this week, but I know he will be faithful and gracious to give us something much more valuable—his unshakable presence.

 


[1] C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed (New York: HarperCollins, 1996), 6.

Boston Tragedy HelpersYesterday we were horrified to learn about another tragedy, this time in Boston—explosions, fear, injuries, and deaths.

When things like this happen, we ask ourselves questions that we already know the answers to. Why? (Because the world is fallen.) When will we stop doing this to each other? (When the Lord returns to set the world to rights.) Why can’t we stop this? (Because evil is pervasive, and hearts must be transformed.)

Of course, knowing the answers doesn’t make dealing with the realities easy. There is still pain, doubt, and fear. This is life between Eden, when the world was unstained by sin, and the New Jerusalem, where God will right every wrong.

As I looked over my Facebook friends’ reactions to this tragedy, I came across a quote, claiming to be from Mr. Rogers (it seemed legitimate, it was written on a photo of him…):

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things on the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

Whether this quote is authentically Rogersian or not, it reminds us of two important things—again, things we already know:

  1. This world is full of evil, and human beings often labor for evil rather than good.
  2. Human beings still bear God’s image (even after the fall, see James 3:9), and often labor for healing and restoration rather than destruction.

Whenever we see a tragedy, then, we are reminded of the wrestle taking place in every inch of creation:

“For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.” (Romans 8:20–24)

Though we cannot do anything to reverse such tragedies, we can continue to labor as those who bring healing, hope, and peace. We still sense God’s goodness and possess an impulse toward compassion. We can be the helpers in every area of life.

And while death shows up on every page of the Bible after the first two chapters, it was dealt a fatal blow at the cross, and death is expelled forever in the last two chapters of the Bible.

Last night, as I sang with my daughter the song she always requests we sing, I was struck by the appropriateness of the lyrics:

“This is my Father’s world,
O may I ne’er forget
That though the wrong
Seems oft so strong
God is the Ruler yet.”

Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins

The world is a vampire sent to drain; secret destroyers hold you up to the flames. So says Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins, and it’s not easy to prove him wrong.

Every human being simply shows up on earth. No orientation, no training. We just find ourselves here and have to make sense of it all. At some point, we develop an opinion on the type of place this is. Is it dark and dangerous, or bright and exciting? Do we live in a cesspool or a playground?

I hear the cesspool view voiced from most pulpits—religious or secular. Christians understandably look at the evil and temptations that press and pull from every direction and rightly see these evil influences for what they are. Beware: there is much in our modern culture that would lead us astray. But secular prophets see the darkness of our world as well. Billy Corgan is one voice among many. “Welcome to the cruel world…don’t know how we’ve lasted here so long,” mourns Ben Harper. Rage Against the Machine adds a more aggressively sinister note: “There’ll be no shelter here, the front line is everywhere.”

Zack De La Rocha of Rage Against the Machine

We could pile on near-infinite examples from the cultural worlds of music, film, literature, visual art, dance, etc. The point is universally understood: this world is a dark and dangerous place. The only people who seem to deny the darkness of this world are kitschy filmmakers and storytellers who delight in showing the fluffy side of life to the exclusion of, well, reality. Sadly, many of the worst offenders in this regard are Christians trying to maintain a positive outlook. Even the darkest people on the planet (think Marilyn Manson or even Charles Manson) aren’t denying that the world is full of darkness, they’re simply embracing it.

So that settles it, right? We live in a cesspool. Tread lightly and keep your eyes on the sky. We’ll be rescued from this mess in due time.

This conclusion would be entirely justified were it not for one key player in the affairs of this world: God. If the world is a cesspool, it’s His cesspool. It’s His earth that the forces of darkness have desecrated, and the Bible assures us that He is not ready to throw it away in disgust.

Nor has God gone missing from the world He made. We see God’s presence in this world just moments after sin entered the picture and wrenched the world from its God-ordained intention. No sooner had Adam and Eve fashioned makeshift garments to hide the effects of their sin than “they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden” (Gen. 3:8). And He has never truly left.

The Bible records humanity’s struggle with sin and the seemingly inevitable spread of darkness into every area of cultural production. But never forget that the Bible tells a joyful story. It’s a story infused with hope at every turn. A story in which the True Creator is always working, sometimes when and where we least expect Him.

He is the God who takes the distorted culture that shaped a crown out of thorns and a cross out of once-living trees and turns those malevolent cultural productions into symbols of hope and triumph. He is the God who turns the chief of sinners into an exemplary grace-proclaiming missionary (1 Tim. 1:15). The God who makes the broken into a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). The God who is ultimately making all things new (Rev. 21:5).

PlaygroundBecause of God’s continued involvement in His world, the world is more than a cesspool. Because of God’s ongoing delight in the works of His hands, this world remains a playground. We would do well to play with an appropriate soberness and a continuing dependence on God, but the human culture that fills our world still reflects the God whose grace permeates all of life, try as we might to distance Him from the things we make.

God did not redeem our world by staying as far as possible from the stains that now adorn the fabric of the universe. He entered into the world as-is, showing us that the stain is distinct from the fabric, and in doing so He subtly invites us onto this potentially dangerous playground to find the light and joy and affirm it wherever it may still be found.

Sin Is Expensive

Mark Beuving —  October 25, 2012 — 1 Comment

A couple days ago, I blogged about Craigslist’s faulty theological foundation. Basically, Craig Newmark built Craigslist on the belief that people are basically good, so if you give them a platform for interaction, everything will work out. But because the Bible is correct in saying that people have a sin nature, things are bound to go wrong on Craigslist, even as they go wrong in every area of life.

Hamburglar

The McDonald’s Hamburglar

In this post, I’d like to briefly explore the economic impact of sin. In other words, sin is expensive. Certainly sin tears apart our relationships, our psychological health, and most significantly, our relationship with God. But sin also costs money.

In the case of Craigslist, the site has been used as a marketplace for prostitution, which has forced Newmark to make preventative changes to the site. Scammers have also been using the site to swindle sellers out of their goods, which means that Newmark’s team has had to add security measures. All of this means increased expenses.

In his excellent book Truth and Transformation, Vishal Mangalwadi talks about visiting a dairy in the Netherlands. When he walked into the dairy to buy a glass of milk, he found no attendants—there was only a cashbox in which to leave his money and make change if necessary. He observed that this is the most cost-efficient way for the dairy to sell its milk, but once enough people took their milk without paying (or even stole the money from the cashbox), the dairy would be forced to hire an attendant. This means money out of the dairy owner’s pocket, which means higher cost of production, which means higher prices for the costumers, and on and on it goes.

Vishal Mangalwadi

Vishal Mangalwadi

Mangalwadi also describes an experience he had while traveling through eastern Europe by train. He couldn’t figure out the automated ticket dispenser, so he asked a couple of young ladies how it worked. “We don’t know,” they told him. “But don’t worry about it. Just hop over the turnstiles. We’ve been travelling like this for weeks and no one has checked our tickets.”

Do you see where this is going? Once enough people hop the turnstiles and begin travelling for free, the railroads will be forced to hire clerks to check tickets on the trains, which increases their expenses, which in turn ups the price of a train ticket.

Sin is expensive.

The point is, not only was Craigslist built on the faulty premise that people are basically good, but the reality that people have a propensity toward sin is costly in every way. Think of how much money companies would save if they didn’t have to hire security guards. Or how much cheaper our goods would be if stores didn’t have to build compensation for a predicted amount of theft into their prices.

Sin is bad, and we all end up paying for it.