By: Staci Stallings
(I will be away the next two weeks, so here is something I’m working on. I’d love to know what you think as it progresses…)
Understanding the Puzzle
All my life I have made a study of God and His ways. Admittedly in school, the goal of this study was to learn the rules so I would not run afoul of them. In many ways I was good at this. In some ways, I was too good. I learned about God, not to get closer to Him, but in an effort to know enough and do enough to make Him pleased with me. To be honest, I thought that was the point, and so I went after it with gusto. Often I learned terms associated with God—justice, humility, love, hope, faith. But these words were simply words on memorized lists. I did not see back then how they all fit together into a coherent whole. Now, I’m beginning to, and I want to share what I am learning with you.
The first word, the first piece of the puzzle we will consider is sin. Many in the church used to speak quite often of sin. The old fire-and-brimstone sermons come to mind. This version of God goes something like this, “You are a horrible, dirty, disgusting person, and if you don’t shape up, God is going to send you to hell forever.” With some people, this fear approach worked. They became so fearful of hell that they were willing to do anything the church asked them to avoid it.
But let me give you a little different view of sin.
To understand what sin is, we have to revisit the Garden of Eden, going back all the way to the story of the serpent. Now the serpent story does not start with the temptation. It begins, instead, with the two trees—the Tree of Life, which was in the center of the garden, and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil which was also there. When Satan approached Eve, he coyly asked, “Did God say you could not eat of any of the trees?” “Oh, no,” Eve answers, “We can eat of any tree other than this one.” Satan then convinces Eve that God doesn’t want her to eat from that one because He knows she will be as knowledgeable as Him if she does. Two things enter Eve’s consciousness at this proclamation.
1) God’s holding out on me.
2) I want control.
Once Eve eats the fruit, her eyes are opened. Then she turns and gives the fruit to Adam, and he eats it as well. We all know the rest—they were kicked out, and the Tree of Life was no longer accessible to them. It was walled off so that they could not get back to it… because the Tree of Life gave eternal life, and eternal life could not be accessed by imperfect, sinful, fallen creatures. When they sinned, they chose death over life because in Heaven, in God’s presence, there can be no sin. It’s perfection or nothing. (Don’t stop reading yet because the Good News is coming!)
So Adam and Eve were thrown out of the garden, and a wall was put between them and the Tree of Life. And so it is with us. Our sins, those times we choose to distrust God and grasp control, those times we choose selfishness over helping someone else or lies over honesty or hate over love, we too have sinned and fallen short of Heaven. The scary thing is, we only have to sin once to be unworthy.
And St. Paul says there is not one of us that hasn’t sinned. Not one.
That means, “I’m basically a good person” just doesn’t cut it with God.
From the time of the Israelites to the time of Jesus, God was present with His people in a box called the Ark of the Covenant. This box was carried through the desert and finally placed in the Holy of Holies in the Temple. Only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies and only on Passover. Otherwise, God was set apart from His people, and the people were on their own in trying to reach Heaven—i.e. you keep My Commandments perfectly or you’re out. Like us, they made a huge mess of everything. There were those who sinned willingly and often. There were others who kept every law and then looked down on those who didn’t. No one could keep God’s law perfectly. No one without God’s Spirit could be perfect, and so basically everyone was doomed to death because perfection was unattainable no matter how good they were.
Physical death, yes. But also spiritual death, and even death while they were living. They could not live because they were in constant fear of making a mistake and losing Heaven, which they already had. That’s what sin does. It convinces us that it will put us in control and then when it does put us in control, we realize we cannot handle the control. We realize how limited our perspective is, how selfish we really are, how pitiful and worthless we are. Over and over we are shown that left to our own devices, we will fall short of the glory of God. It can be no other way. We are fallen, and without God, we are doomed.
Coming Thursday: Part II Justice