Monday, January 3, 2011

The Meaning of Life, part 2

(Be sure to read part 1.)

How Things Go Wrong

"All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" and "the wages of sin is death..."
- Paul, Romans 3:23, 6:23

In the last post we looked at belief systems and a summary of the Meaning of Life. With this post, I’d like to zoom in a step to look at the over-arching story – of everything. Yes, it’ll leave a lot out. I’d love to comment more than I do in many places, but to keep this as a summary, many will have to wait.

So let’s start at the beginning.

Perfection
God exists outside of all the things that he created and his very essence is love. In the beginning, this God created the heavens and the earth and called them “good” (Gen 1-2). God created man in his own image, which makes mankind unique and the most precious creature God made. He placed us in the garden of Eden - “Delight” – which was full of lush and beautiful trees. A river that carried life watered the whole garden, including the centerpiece of the garden - the Tree of Life.

In his love for Adam, God formed his wife Eve directly from Adam. She was made especially for him – a perfect match. Mankind was given dominion over the earth to take care of it. In that place and time, we had abundant provision – delicious fruit on every tree. There was no death. There was no suffering, crying, or pain. We were innocent and there was no shame. God was with us in the garden, and at that time, our relationship with our God and Father was completely peaceful and untainted. In fact, there are few greater truths than this: God treasures us and wants to be with us.

God created us to be with him - to be happy and fulfilled. He created us for perfection, beauty, peace, and harmony. That’s why the human heart longs for that kind of fulfillment so deeply and searches for it so adamantly.

Sin
Sadly, perfection didn’t last forever. God gave mankind the ability to make our own choices. To prove it, God said there was just one tree that we couldn’t eat from in the garden. It may seem like that’d be easy to avoid, but the serpent (the enemy of God who is also known as the devil or Satan) tempted and deceived Adam and Eve so that they sinned by eating it. Humanity sinned because Satan had convinced us that God couldn’t be trusted.

Sin doesn’t just belong to some ancient story. Their story is our story. Because of Adam’s sin, we as people all have a sinful nature – an evil inclination – that leads us to do and think horrible things. In reality, not one of us is good or can become so under our own power; we’re all sinners. It’s really not hard to see. I mean, it doesn’t take long to find our own thoughts and actions in even a partial list of sins. As if that weren't enough, there are many ways we sin and cause destruction by what we merely neglect to do. Just like Adam and Eve, we break God’s law, both in thoughts and actions. In other words, we often choose not to trust that what God told us is actually good for us. And the reality of this fallen world is that we’re all accountable for our sinful deeds, whether we were taught about sin or not.

Sin is ugly. Sin is vile, filthy, detestable, and wicked, and without God, every one of us is covered with its filth. I’m hammering this pretty hard, but as we’ll see, the gravity of this can’t be watered down. Some of us have become so conditioned to think that sin is normal that we’ve lost all sensitivity to it. We’ve stopped being shocked by it and we don’t even have the eyes to see what it takes from us and how it damages us. God hates sin with a passion because it destroys everything and even makes us God’s enemies. Without God, we are wretched and we deserve nothing good. In fact, what we deserve is death.

Penalty
Sin brings severe consequences. At the moment that we sinned in Eden, purity, innocence and perfection were shattered. Because Adam and Eve sinned, they felt ashamed for the first time and God expelled them from the Garden of Eden. They had to leave the paradise that God had prepared for us. Not only that, but their sin brought curses upon the world that didn’t exist before. Along with shame, sin introduced pain and death to the world, and now the earth would produce thorns and thistles that work against all our efforts to be productive.

Like sin itself, the curse of sin does not just belong to that ancient story. Yes, we still deal with those ancient curses, but more than that, each and every one of us has introduced death, shame, and corruption into our lives and those of others because we’ve sinned. And we’ve all been cut off from God because of it.

What is it about sin that with it, we earn death? The Bible explains it this way: God is the source of all light, order, life, and love. Sin, however, consists of thoughts and actions that are contrary to all that God is. Therefore, sin can’t exist in God’s fullest presence, just like a bright light obliterates darkness. The darkness, figuratively speaking, has to leave the presence of such light. In the same way, sin – and people damaged by sin – have to be expelled from God’s presence as we were from Eden. And here’s the point: Out there – in the absence of God – there’s nothing but darkness, chaos, pain, and death. The rejection of God is the rejection of everything good; it’s the rejection of the One who holds everything together (Jam 1:17, Col 1:17). If we reject God, there’s nothing left for us but darkness, chaos, pain, and death.

We usually think of light rather impersonally, so the Bible explains this same concept with another image that’s far more personal, and frankly, more frightening: The wrath of God. As I said, God hates sin with a passion (as we should too). God rages against Satan and the sin that has destroyed perfection. God doesn’t want anyone to be punished, but if we still belong to sin rather than God when his time of judgment comes, we’ll also get the full force of God’s wrath. And that’s no little thing.

If that feels heavy - if it seems like a sad state of affairs, that's because it is. But thankfully the story doesn’t end here. If it did, we’d be hopelessly lost, because even though some of us would like to try, we can never do enough good things to change any of this. Even if somehow we could stop sinning completely (and we can't), the profound damage is already done.

But there is hope! As we'll see in the next post, God’s mercy triumphs over judgment.

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