Who We Are as Christians (cont'd)
The long and short of it: God provided a lush setting for life, complete with all man and woman needed. He forbade them access to one tree, the knowledge of good and evil. Why? Because God wanted to cramp their style? Is God a celestial kill-joy? No, this restriction was a love limit. Only God the Creator is competent to figure out what's wrong and right in the long run for all creation.
But Satan slithered into the garden and planted subtle lies. He persuaded Adam and Eve that God was not a friend but an enemy. And the kicker, he suggested that, "You will be like God" (Genesis 3:5). Adam and Eve took the bait. In reaching out to control what they had no business controlling, our ancient parents turned their backs on their loving Creator, and all hell broke loose. They tried to hide, they tried the blame game, and they even tried to play the role of victim. Their marriage headed toward the rocks. Before long, their two sons were fighting and killing one another. What a mess. Sound current? We humans still think we can play God. We fool ourselves into supposing we can control our lives, we can call the shots, we can be independent agents. We might call on God when "we need Him," but in reality, we are in charge of our lives. The Bible calls this sin. What a mess we make.
What are the results? As in the ancient story, our sin, our stubborn pride, has devastating effects. The Bible levels with us: "The wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). Sin destroys our self-esteem; it destroys our relationships; it destroys our environment; and it destroys our relationship with God. We feel far away from God. Who moved?? The Bible tells us the truth: "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way" (Isaiah 53:6). The ultimate end of those going their own way is hell, the dimension where there is only self, where God is absent.
The Bible is really a love story of God's rescue, of His amazing grace reaching out to restore relationship with His beloved human creatures and to repair the damage done by sin in all creation. The first two thirds of the Bible, the Old Testament, points to the last third, the New Testament. What is sketched out in the Old Testament is filled out in the New Testament.
What's a loving and grieving God to do about the deadly problem? Right away, there is a hint. "God made garments of skin for Adam and Eve and clothed them" (Genesis 3:16). God killed an animal and with its skin covered human shame. The rescue script is filled out as God then called together a Covenant people, Israel, and entrusted them with more of the story. At the center of Israel's life was the Temple where the blood of unblemished animals served as a preliminary covering for human sin, so that a holy and pure God can relate to an unholy and impure people. Israel was to take this light to all the nations, so that all humanity and all creation could be brought back into harmony with God (Isaiah 49:3,6).
Israel's highest honor was to be the cradle from which the ultimate fulfillment of the salvation story would come. The baby born in a manger turned out to be "the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). Jesus was born to die. "'He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness" (1 Peter 2:24). The death I deserve because of my stubborn sin, Jesus experienced for me. He took my punishment -- separation from the Father.
Not only did the death of Jesus display the love of God, the life of Jesus painted a graphic picture of God's Kingdom where hunger, and illness, and brokenness are no more. Storms and raving lunatics are calmed. Order and peace are restored to human lives, to human communities, and to all creation! When Jesus rules, the death and destruction caused by sin are reversed.
How do we estranged humans enter the peaceable Kingdom for which we are created? How do we get reconnected with God? It's really quite simple and very difficult. Jesus puts it bluntly: "If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross, and follow me. If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for me, you will find true life" (Matthew 16:24-25). What is Jesus getting at?