March 03, 2014
Author: Scott Hoezee
Comments, Observations, and Questions to Consider
Many of us have seen the bumper sticker, “Lead Me Not into Temptation: I Can Find It Myself.”
Cheeky humor aside, we know that God never actively leads us to sin and probably does not actively lead us to temptation (though this need not rule out God’s ability to test our faith). God is not the author of sin and is, therefore, not eager to trip us up where sin is concerned. Our compassionate God is not typically tossing us into a locked closet with the devil and then waiting to see how we fare. When we pray in the Lord’s Prayer “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil,” we do so knowing up front that God is in the business of delivering us from evil and so is not luring us to sin.
Well and good. Except then you get to Matthew 4:1 where we read that no less than the very Spirit of God led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Jesus was led into temptation. By the Spirit.
This is properly striking. But this contains hope for us, too. No, God does not lead us into temptation. Instead he delivers us from evil. But one of the main reasons we can be sure of this is precisely because on our behalf Jesus was led into temptation so as to ensure that we would never face just this ourselves.
Matthew’s gospel, particularly in these early chapters, is fairly drenched in Old Testament quotations. Almost everything is said to be the fulfillment of one prophecy or another. Writing for a Jewish reading audience, Matthew knew that those with eyes to see and ears to hear would discern that in this man Jesus, the history of Israel was being recapitulated. Having been called out of Egypt once upon a time (Matthew 2:15), Jesus is now enduring a wilderness period of trial and temptation. But in every instance, where Israel failed, Jesus succeeds. He is the New Israel (and it would have escaped no one’s notice that each time Jesus parries one of the devil’s blows with a Scripture quotation, the verses that get quoted come from Deuteronomy, which was the charter for Israel’s saved life in the Promised Land). If “Deuteronomy” is, literally deuteros nomos, or “the law a second time,” then Jesus in the wilderness is Israel in the wilderness a second time, but this time Jesus succeeds where Israel blew it.
But even though God may not lead us to temptation in quite the same way that Jesus was placed in a perilous position, curiously enough the struggles Jesus endured remain common to us all. We’re still tempted by the quick fix, by the kind of instant gratification that will do an end-run on our need to trust God’s Word over the long haul. Indeed, isn’t there a best-selling book titled Your Best Life Now written by a pastor, no less? You have the feeling that the book wouldn’t sell nearly as well if its title were along the lines of Your Hard Life Now: Feasting on God’s Word in the Deserts of Life.
Similarly, we’re tempted to do silly things by which to test to see if God’s Word is true. We may not be tempted to throw ourselves off high buildings necessarily but we have been known to pray things like, “O God, if you love me and desire what’s best for me, give me this new job I want . . . help me get enough money to buy that cool car . . .” Trust in God’s Word is one thing, but once in a while we’d like to SEE God in action in ways that benefit us in some tangible way.
And in myriad ways we’re tempted to make the kingdoms of this world our own domains by taking shortcuts, engaging in cut-throat tactics, telling little lies (or big lies), working ourselves half to death, and so in all these ways essentially bowing the knee to the false gods of money, success, power, and prestige. If God won’t put us on the top of the heap, then we’ll get there on our own and through whatever is necessary to feather our own nest.
The Temptations of Jesus present a microcosm of what we all face. They also suggest how we can remain faithful to our God. And as preachers let’s never forget to preach grace right alongside of preaching the bad news of our sin and our proneness to temptation. For believers, grace always has the last word (especially in Lent!).
True, true, true. BUT . . . let’s also not forget that sometimes living lives of grace means living lives of suffering and self-denial.
Jesus was right to feast on God’s Word instead of the quick and easy words by which he could have turned stones into bread. But at the end of Temptation #1, he was still powerfully hungry.
Jesus was right to not put God to the test and just trust that God’s care for him was every bit as powerful as he claimed it to be. But at the end of Temptation #2, his faith remained vulnerable to doubt—God had not put in an appearance.
Jesus was right to refuse grabbing for the kingdoms of this world by worshiping that which must not be worshiped. But at the end of Temptation #3, Jesus remained on a path that would indeed lead him to become the Lord of this world’s kingdoms but that path led straight to a place called Golgotha.
It is precisely the fact that faithfulness can lead to suffering and deprivation that makes the devil’s temptations so powerfully alluring in the first place. It’s a perfectly vicious cycle. Our hope in Lent and at all times is to stick close to the Savior who has already promised in grace to stick close to us, even when we’re hungry, uncertain, and walking a desert path that leads to a cross.
One final note: The Synoptic Gospels all begin with Jesus’ being tempted in the wilderness. This is how the ministry had to start: Jesus had to go to the desert, to the wilderness, to that biblical encapsulation of the chaos of evil that throughout the whole Bible just is the desert wastes. Jesus had to enter the place of death to begin making all things alive and new again. In the wilderness God built his highway to salvation because where else BUT the wilderness did that road to life need to begin?
But front-loading the Gospels with this full-court-press of temptations can lead many of us to conclude that when it came to being tempted by the devil, this was it for Jesus such that the devil never bothered him again. It’s a mistake to think that (and Luke at least told us as much when he includes the line that “the devil left him until a more opportune time.” Truth is, this was only the beginning of Jesus’ temptations, of Jesus’ being battered by Satan. In Lent we are right to follow Jesus to the cross and take sorrowful note of all his sufferings for us but let’s never forget that a big piece of those sufferings continued on a daily basis as the devil aimed all his evil artillery right at Jesus’ heart 24/7.
Of all the countless things we are right to thank Jesus for doing on our behalf, his enduring that barrage of demonic attacks and temptations should come in pretty high on the list of things for which we are grateful.
As Frederick Dale Bruner notes in his Matthew commentary, this is really the first story about Jesus that we get in this gospel and it reveals that Jesus is deeply a man of Scripture. Again and again in the original Greek Jesus’ answer to the devil begins with but one word: GEGRAPTAI, “It is written.” To capture the punch in English perhaps we could picture Jesus shouting out again and again as his defeater of the devil, “Written!” Even when the devil quotes his own set of biblical verses, Jesus does not engage in hermeneutics or in some effort to reveal the bad exegesis of the devil in applying that passage in a certain way. Even there he lets Scripture interpret Scripture in a simple and straightforward way. It might be naïve to say that the answer to every temptation we could ever face would be the recitation of a well-chosen biblical text. But perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the answer to every temptation we could ever face is the recitation of texts that we also already INCARNATE in the ordinary run of our lives; texts that are as second nature to us as they so clearly were to Jesus.
Also, remember that the original Hebrew title for Deuteronomy (from which all of Jesus’ quotes to the devil come) was “These Are the Words . . .” Yes, these are the words that spell life. “Written!”
Well said, Jesus, well said!
The great German pastor, preacher, and theologian Helmut Thielicke once told a story in his book “How the World Began” that illustrates something about the devil’s tactics in temptation.
“The people never know the devil’s there, even though he has them by the throat,” says Mephistopheles in “Faust.” Recently I made an interesting experiment in this respect. My students performed volunteer services for several weeks in a camp for refugees and almost every day they put on a Punch-and-Judy show for the children. It was my job to play the devil. I wielded a horrible, fiery red puppet in one hand and mustered up a menacing and horrible voice to represent all the terrible discords of hell. Then in tones brimming with sulphur I advised the children to indulge in every conceivable naughtiness: You never need to wash your feet at night; you can stick your tongue out at anybody you want to; and be sure to drop banana peels on the street so people will slip on them. The pedagogical effects which I achieved in this role of the devil were enormous and generally recognized in the camp. The children suddenly stopped sticking out their tongues and they also washed their feet at night. They would have absolutely no truck with the devil. If they had had anything to say about it, the Fall would never have happened. But then, too, the serpent in paradise could not have been the kind of devil that I was. For then he would have had to play the game openly.”
But Thielicke goes on to point out that the real devil is for this very reason never so obvious as his fiery red, sulphur-voiced devil. The real devil always hides behind a clever mask and it is just then, without our even knowing what is happening as often as not, that he does his best work. (Quoted from Helmut Thielicke, “How the World Began,” Fortress Press 1961, p. 125).
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Author: Scott Hoezee
Comments and Observations
It is one of the more important questions you could ever pose. Perhaps that is also why it is one of the most-asked questions in history:
Where does evil come from?
As Christians, we perhaps think that surely the answer to this vital inquiry must be somewhere in the Bible. But it’s not there. Everywhere you turn in Scripture the closest you get is what could be called penultimate or proximate answers. At the beginning of the Book of Job, a tempter is simply already there in the heavenly precincts, challenging God as to the depth of Job’s commitment. But we’re not told where that tempter came from. Other parts of the Bible suggest that Satan and his hosts may be fallen angels. But what tempted them to fall?
Where did that temptation come from?
After a while it starts to remind you of the old story about a people who believed the entire world rested on the back of a turtle. So a little boy asked his mother what the turtle was resting on. “Another turtle,” she replied. “And what about that turtle” the boy pressed on. Finally the mother says, “Honey, it’s just turtles all the way down.”
In the New Testament the Apostle Paul goes to great lengths in talking about how sin is now our common problem. Yet Paul does not indicate where evil came from in the first place. Even in Genesis 3 there is no indication where this tempting force originated. Instead we are introduced to a serpent, who is clearly identified as one of God’s creatures (and so the serpent itself was not some alien intruder who infiltrated Eden from the outside). God made this creature, yet he somehow turned out to be crafty and something about that fundamental nature made this particular creature able to be manipulated by an evil force, whose origin is, again, simply not explained.
In this case the serpent raises just enough doubt as to lure first Eve and then Adam away from God. The serpent is not called Satan or a devil or even the tempter. Yet through his shrewd words, God’s desires for this creation become sullied in ways from which we have not yet recovered.
There are profound mysteries that attend sin and evil. The church long ago condemned as heresy any teaching that suggests God and the devil are both eternal beings. God alone is eternal. The church has also rejected the notion that God is the source of evil or the author of sin. God, we confess, is pure holiness, sheer goodness, unalloyed moral beauty. But if evil does not co-exist with God from all eternity, and if God created everything that exists yet did not create evil or sin, then we’re back to square one in wondering where sin comes from.
These are desperately difficult questions. Genesis 3 is not going to answer them, either. But what Genesis 3 does provide is a vignette, a showcase display window if you will, of the way life goes. If you think that this chapter is just the story of what happened once upon a time in far-off Eden, you’re wrong. What the author of Genesis 3 wants to give us is the first instance of the same thing that has been happening all along in history (and that still happens in your life and my life even yet today).
It’s less about the origin of evil and more about the choice we face constantly as we live in this creation. It’s less about trying to explain why things are the way they are and more about confronting us with who we are supposed to be. Although this story has something to do with what happened in the past, it is also meant to bring into sharp focus this present moment as well as the future.
Because no less than were Adam and Eve, we also are called to live in God’s world and not a world of our own devising. We are to live in God’s world and on God’s terms. But there is only one way you can accept those terms happily. Because when some people hear that they are to live on God’s terms, they immediately feel like their wings are being clipped, their fun is getting spoiled, their freedom squelched. For some people hearing about living on God’s terms conjures up the image of a heavenly drill sergeant ready to wag a bony finger in their faces and then to run them ragged on some moral obstacle course. So how can you avoid that reaction? How can you get put into your proper place yet without feeling put upon, hemmed in, or restricted? You avoid it by nurturing trust. If you trust that God has your best interests at heart, then you can fit yourself into his creation without feeling as if the zip just went out of everything.
Trust. Can you trust that if God says “Don’t,” it’s because he doesn’t want to see you get hurt? Can you trust that if God says, “Go ahead,” it’s because he wants you to enjoy your life? Or will you choose instead distrust and suspicion, leading as often as not to resistance and rebellion? Again, Genesis 3 lays all of this out for us.
Most commentators are in agreement that Genesis 2-3 form a seamless narrative. If you look back into chapter 2 and then look also at Genesis 3:8 and the verses that follow (even though those verses lie just beyond this particular Lectionary reading), you may rather quickly notice what is different about those later verses and Genesis 3:1-7. The first difference is in the way God is referred to: typically he is called “Yahweh God,” or “the LORD God,” as the NIV translates it. It’s always personal in chapter 2 and in also Genesis 3 after verse 8. But in Genesis 3:1-7, first the serpent and then Eve (taking her cue from the serpent) merely refer to God as, well, “God.” It’s less personal, almost like the difference between a man referring to his spouse as “my dear wife Jill” and referring to her as “the wife.” The serpent is backing Eve off from her personal relationship with Yahweh.
Another difference between Genesis 3:1-7 and the surrounding verses is the fact that God is not being addressed, engaged, or prayed to but is instead being talked about in a rather dry, theoretical way. It’s as though the serpent and Eve think God is out of earshot (and most of us know that sometimes we talk about people rather differently when they are not in the room over against when we think we could be overheard). Eve and the serpent are apparently not worried about being overheard. And so this is theology at its worst: the personal God drops out of the picture and is replaced with just an abstract idea of who God may be, what God may desire, what God may or may not have said.
But the impersonal reference to a generic “God” and the abstract theorizing about this God are just the backdrop against which the serpent does his real dirty work. “Did God really say . . .?” The word of God, by which Adam and Eve had lived happily until now, is cast into doubt. “Did God really say that you can’t eat any fruit from any tree in this whole beautiful garden!?”
It was a ridiculous question, but it succeeded in casting God into a negative light. But it was the ridiculous part Eve picked up on first, probably feeling quite safe and on firm ground as she did so. She was not about to be taken in by something so obvious, so clunky, as this! “Of course God didn’t say that,” Eve blurts out in reply. “We can eat from all of the trees, except the one in the middle.” Eve corrects the serpent. But then she says one thing more. “And we can’t touch it, either, or we’ll die.”
We cannot touch it, either.
When did God say that, Eve? He didn’t. She made it up. The serpent’s suggestive seed that God was overly strict was already taking root and sprouting. First the serpent overtly makes God look oppressive. Next thing you know Eve does the same thing but covertly. Did it reveal a touch of resentment she and Adam had had all along about that one rule? Has your own resentment about something ever come to expression through your exaggerating something? Kids do this all the time, but grown-ups, too. Tell your son that it just won’t work this particular Saturday to have a friend over, and you may well hear him lament, “You never let me have any fun! I can never have people over!” Or maybe your manager at work has an office rule about taking only two coffee breaks a day. Next thing you know you find yourself complaining to a colleague, “Yeah, the boss doesn’t even let you go to the bathroom anymore!”
In Genesis 3, having tapped Eve’s smoldering resentment, the serpent now goes for the kill. “You’re not going to die if you touch or eat the fruit of that tree, Eve! The thing is that God is trying to tamp you down, hold you back, keep you from realizing your full potential. Because God knows that if you eat that magic fruit, you’ll be that much more like God himself.” And that’s all it takes. God is not present but is a generic absence. God is not kind and does not have their best interests at heart but is arbitrary, strict, and repressive of their real potential. Who does God think he is, holding them back like that? Shouldn’t even God want Adam and Eve to grow, mature, gain ever-greater insight and wisdom and knowledge? If God doesn’t want that, he should.
So Eve ate. Adam ate. And what the serpent said was true: their eyes were opened, they gained new knowledge, and it promptly drove them straight into the bushes! Suddenly life didn’t feel so innocent anymore. They had tried to do something behind the back of the God whose back is never turned. So when they heard God snapping twigs under his divine feet on his daily stroll through the garden, suddenly Adam and Eve did what at one time or another we’ve all done (but it was a first for them): they blushed.
And the blushing hasn’t stopped since.
Genesis 3 reminds us of how things go when suspicion displaces trust, when self-reliance and an independent spirit trump a belief that there is a God who has our best interests at heart. And so the slogan “Trust and obey” gets displaced by “Analyze and retrofit.” A church choir’s rendition of “If you but trust in God to guide you” gets drowned out by Frank Sinatra belting out, “I did it my way!” “Thus saith the Lord” gets replaced with, “So what do you think?”
Richard Mouw recently noted one way by which liberal preaching sometimes gets defined over against the traditional rhetoric of the church. Too often in some pulpits you hear what the historian says, what the psychologist says, what the Op-Ed page of the New York Times says, and then the sermon concludes with, “But perhaps Jesus put it best when he said . . .” followed by the preacher’s finding a way to make Jesus echo what everyone else is already saying anyway. But whatever happened to hearing a preacher echo our Lord in proclaiming, “You have heard it said . . . but I say to you.”
Can we trust God? Or do we feel tempted to think “There’s just gotta be a better way, and I am going to find it”? In a complex world that pulls us in so many different directions, even simple trust of God is not always so simple. Precisely what God desires in a given situation cannot always be tracked down to some “proof text” to which we can either submit or not. We need to develop wisdom to know that the moral life before God is often an exercise in a careful sorting through of multiple layers of complexity.
But the only way to do that sorting out properly is to believe that God through the Spirit is available to help us because at base God wants us to flourish, to enjoy life, and so to avoid hurts of all kinds. The alternative is distrust and suspicion, both of which, as Genesis 3 makes dreadfully clear, lead to fear. “I was afraid,” Adam said in what may well be the first recorded case of existential Angst. The more we live cut-off from God, the less certain life looks. That’s why our vocation as disciples is to nurture trust. Somehow we have to be able to believe that although life is not always easy, it is still better finally to believe that God is pulling for us.
Someone once asked a Jewish rabbi why God had to call out “Adam, where are you?” “Didn’t God know where Adam was?” this person asked the rabbi. “Oh yes, God knew,” the rabbi replied, “it was Adam who didn’t know where he was.”
Nor do a lot of us most of the time.
Author: Doug Bratt
Comments, Observations, and Questions to Consider
Psalm 32 helps worshipers to think about confession in profoundly theological ways. It isn’t itself, however, a prayer of confession. Psalm 32, instead, teaches important lessons about confession.
Psalm 32 begins with a pronouncement of blessing on forgiven sinners. Yet while similar declarations of blessings fill the psalter, John Calvin suggested that the blessedness expressed by all of the other psalms depends on the blessedness of forgiveness expressed by Psalm 32. God’s children don’t, in other words, experience full blessedness until we experience the blessedness of forgiveness.
Perhaps that’s why this psalm seems to emphasize the forgiveness of sin in a special way. It refers not once but twice to the blessedness that a forgiven person enjoys. Psalm 32 also refers in three different ways to the lovely shapes forgiveness takes.
Yet virtually every advertisement, for example, tells us that the beautiful, rich people are the blessed people. Our culture insists that blessedness and happiness depend on physical, emotional, relational and financial well-being. By contrast, Scriptures like Psalm 32 insist those whom God forgives are those who are blessed. Lasting joy and peace come from knowing that, for Jesus’ sake, God forgives our sins.
Confession of our sins plays an immense role in that forgiven blessedness. But how does our confession relate to our forgiveness? Is it, for example, like a password we recite in order to somehow magically open the padlocked door to forgiveness?
While Psalm 32 might seem to imply that, the rest of the Scriptures won’t let us think of confession of sin as the tool that manufactures forgiveness. Only God’s grace makes people righteous in God’s sight. So God’s forgiveness is not a matter of punching the right “prayer buttons.” The blood of Jesus Christ, not prayers of confession, washes away guilt.
So if you and I were to die, we might fret about some things we’ve left unconfessed to other people. Christians, however, don’t have to worry that unconfessed sins will eternally separate us from the Lord. After all, the gospel insists that God graciously forgives all of God’s people’s sins, past, present and future. Nothing, not even the most awful sins, can separate God’s children from God’s grace in Jesus Christ.
So why bother actually confessing sins? Worshipers confess our sins to God in order to fully worship and adore God. We confess our sins to God in order to more fully glorify the Lord as the God who, for Jesus’ sake, is so both eager and quick to forgive God’s children.
However, we also confess our sins to God because of the benefit such confession offers. Confession allows us to live in the full comfort of God’s grace, knowing that not even our sins can separate us from our living, loving Lord. Our expressed confession, made in the context of God’s gracious forgiveness, doesn’t just please God.
It also serves as a kind of tangible reminder that even the dark sins we’re confessing can’t separate us from God’s tender love. Confession of sin is, after all, as James Mayes notes, a confession of faith in God. It’s an expression of our trust that God is a God who keeps covenant, who forgives all of our sins, for Jesus’ sake.
That kind of confession properly belongs, Psalm 32 reminds us, to some form of prayer. Whether in silence, whispers, spoken words or even songs, we admit to God that we have sinned against the Lord and each other. However, while we know we can’t somehow hide our sins from God, we naturally prefer, with the psalmist, to “keep silent” about them. Yet Psalm 32 reminds us that such silence easily becomes spiritually cancerous. Unconfessed guilt becomes part of us, harming, hardening and ultimately shrinking God’s children.
So Christians find ways to break our guilty silence in order to confess our sins to God. The psalmist, after all, three times emphasizes expressed confession. “I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord . . .”
If, after all, we claim that we have no sins, as I John reminds us, we don’t just deceive ourselves. By claiming innocence, you and I also make our God who is faithful and just and forgives our sins out to be a liar. That’s why Christians also try to make honest confession with integrity. We easily shelter behind the self-deceit about which verse 2 talks. You and I may try to deceive ourselves, if not God, about our innocence.
Christians also easily, however, reduce the vital act of confession to a routine, thoughtless habit. It’s so easy to simply mouth the confessional words many of us learned as children without really meaning what we say. So how can we, by God’s grace and Spirit, enhance the integrity and liveliness of the vital act of confession?
Perhaps it helps to always try to remember what the sins we’re confessing cost our Lord Jesus Christ. As we confess our sometimes careless, sometimes-deliberate sins, we consciously remember that Jesus Christ gave up heaven’s comfort and glory to pay for them. As you and I confess both what we’ve sinfully done and left undone, we consciously remember that Jesus experienced lifelong rejection in order to pay for them.
As we confess our sins of lust, lying and lovelessness, we contemplate images of the soldiers mocking and torturing Jesus for our sins. Jesus endured all of his agony so that we might know the joy of forgiveness that we experience when we confess our sins. Our heavenly Father abandoned his only Son so that we might know the peace that he graciously gives when we confess our sins.
We can also deepen the vitality of our confession when we, as C.S. Lewis suggested, find ways to talk about our own sins the same way we describe others’ sins. When we talk about other people, after all, we don’t usually sonorously intone about their general sins of commission and omission. You and I naturally talk about their concrete sins like racial prejudices and love of money.
We need to use such blunt, traditional words, not when we’re talking about others, but when we talk about ourselves. Other people, after all, aren’t alone in needing to admit that they’ve neglected needy people and dishonored their parents. You and I learn to confess that we’ve done all that . . . and more.
Finally, however, as a fellow pastor notes, we also need to see and plainly admit that all of life is vulnerable to the ravages of our sin. You and I live in a society that, if it recognizes any sorts of religious values, claim they have nothing to do with our daily lives. Our culture insists that religion has nothing to do with politics, business or anything but what happens on Sunday.
Christians, however, need to see life the way God sees it – as an interconnected whole. We remember that God is just as interested in what happens in living and bedrooms as is in what goes on in Sunday School rooms. So we share God’s interest in what happens as much in our kitchens and on our job sites as much as in what happens in churches. So Christians also confess the sins we commit in those places in order to know the renewed joy of his forgiveness.
Yet Christians remember that sin doesn’t just stain individuals. Sin permeates society, including some of its institutions and structures. So we learn to confess the church’s sins of neglect of both the poor and creation. We also learn to confess society’s sins of things like racism and any kind of prejudice that reduces people to anything less than image-bearers of God.
You’ve probably heard people claim, “confession is good for the soul.” Yet n what concrete way is confession “good” for souls? Dr. James Pennebaker was a researcher at the University of Texas at Austin. In the November 1, 1997 issue of Psychology Today he writes, “If we define ‘soul’ loosely as who you are, how you feel about yourself, and how healthy you are, then confession is good for the soul.”
Pennebaker claims that confession, what he and other scientists call “self-disclosure,” can greatly reduce feelings of shame or guilt. Studies of criminals, for instance, show they act far more relaxed after confessing their crimes – despite the resulting punishment that awaits them. Pennebaker, however, also points to the apparent physical benefits of confession. He claims he has found that confession may actually boost immune systems. It may do things like spur production of white blood cells that attack invading microorganisms.
Yet if confession is good for the soul, then perhaps we can also finally say that the Internet is also good for the soul. After all, confession has woven its way even into the World Wide Web. DailyConfession.com claims to be the place “where you can actually confess the sins that you would never admit to your priest, or your mother for that matter . . . It’s the only place in the world that you can go to truly confess your sin (or sins), your transgressions, your humanity, in complete anonymity.”
Of course, we wouldn’t want to get too religious about getting all this stuff “off our chests.” So this site is deliberately secular. It claims to equally represent all views “without regard to race, creed, religion or political posture.”
Perhaps even better, DailyConfession.com also insists those who use its site to confess may remain anonymous. At the same time, however, it presents their confession “to the entire planet, for the whole world to read.”
So why would anyone want to anonymously make a confession about which everyone surfing the Web could learn? What would people expect to gain from such reading such a “confession”? It’s little more than moral voyeurism, where some people morally expose themselves to others who morally peep at them.
Author: Stan Mast
Comments, Observations, and Questions to Consider
In 1859, Charles Darwin published his monumental book, The Origin of Species. It was a world shaking book, because it gave a different account, an entirely natural explanation, of the origin of life’s diverse forms on this planet. People cared deeply about it, and still do, because we human beings want to know where we came from, how things got to be this way. Origins matter to us. That’s why scientists dig in old rocks for fossils, adopted children dig into court records to find their biological families, the grown children of immigrants make trips back to the old country to see where their great grandparents lived, and little children love to hear stories about how they were born.
We care deeply about our origins because we cannot thrive as human beings if we’re cut off from our roots. That’s why this complicated portion of Scripture is such a treasure; it explains not the origin of species, but the origin of sin, that ugly deadly flaw in human nature that has ruined everything. Here Paul links the bad old story of Adam with the good new story of Jesus, interweaving the two in a way that resembles the double helix if a human DNA molecule.
The story of the human race, says Paul, is the story of descent or, more accurately, of a great fall that changed everything. It began with humanity, represented by Adam and the unmentioned Eve, sitting on the throne of this world. Created in God’s own image, the human race was given the responsibility of having dominion over this planet, of caring for it as God cared for them. That’s what human beings are, royal beings destined to rule in God’s place. That’s the origin of this species.
Instead, they decided to push God out of his place and take his throne. And that, says Paul, was the origin of all that is wrong with this world. “Sin entered the world through one man,” says Paul, “and death through sin.” When he stepped off his own throne and reached for God’s, that one act of disobedience resulted in a fall that brought death into the world. By stepping over the boundary that separated God from man, Adam fell into the abyss of the death God had warned him about. “In the day you eat of it, you will surely die.” And he did. “Through one man sin came into the world, and death through sin….”
The savvy preacher will recognize that this teaching is out of touch with modern North American life. The idea that something done by total strangers eons ago could directly affect us today seems unfair. Indeed, it seems contrary to the American spirit of democracy which says we all have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Each generation (and every individual) can create its own life. Many Americans hold to some version of what Thomas Jefferson called “generational sovereignty,” the belief that each new generation should be able to start over from scratch liberated from the accumulated debts, laws, and obligations of the past generations. We all start with a clean slate. In such a climate, the story of original sin is not very popular.
So this idea of Adam’s sin leading to our death will take some explaining. We might begin by pointing out that generational sovereignty simply isn’t true. The fact of the matter is that each generation is connected to the previous one; we all carry over all kinds of debts and problems from the previous generation. Indeed, what one of us does always affects others, because there is a corporate solidarity within the human race. John Donne expressed that idea in his classic words: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…. Every man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.” In that sense, we are all in Adam.
But Paul means more than that. He means that Adam was our representative, in the same way as Christ was. There’s an idea that every American and Canadian ought to grasp immediately. We live in a form of representative government, in which we are governed by others whom we have elected. My Michigan Senators Levin and Stabenow, for example, represent us Michiganders in Washington. What they do, they do on our behalf, and it will impact our lives.
In a similar way, Adam represented us in Eden, as Christ represented us on Calvary. Of course, the biggest difference between my Senators and Adam is that I didn’t elect Adam; he was appointed our representative by God. And his action on our behalf affected more than the state of the nation and my own personal life. It affected all of humanity in every dimension of life. It ushered into human existence all the things that have ruined life for us.
Here’s how Paul put it. “Sin entered the world through one man….” And “death [entered the world] through sin….” “In this way death came to all men, because all sinned….” And so from his time on, “death reigned….” Further, “the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men.” There’s an unbroken chain of cause and effect in the story of original sin, a direct connection between Adam’s sin and our sin and our death and our condemnation.
What does Paul mean by “death” here? The fact is that Adam did not die physically the moment he sinned, even though God seemed to say he would. And scientists, including many Christian scientists, say that physical death has always been part of human existence. It is simply built into our DNA. Well, quite apart the possibility that sin has dramatically changed our DNA, we can answer this question about death quite easily if we think of death as separation.
Adam’s sin resulted in eternal death, the separation of humanity from God. This is the condemnation of which Paul speaks. Humanity’s relationship with God, once intimate, is now filled with fear and guilt, and we hide from the true God. Further, Adam’s sin resulted in the death of human love, the separation of Adam and Eve. Our relationship with the opposite sex, once intimate, is now filled with shame and accusation and mistrust. Adams’s sin also resulted in the death of harmony with nature. Our relationship with nature, once joyful and pleasant, is now characterized by pain and toil and abuse. Finally sin resulted in the death of internal unity. The inner life of humanity, once peaceful and integrated, is now full of guilt and fear and doubt. Becoming integrated, becoming our real selves is the painful task of every human being. Sin brought death in many ways.
Of course, that is not the story of origins that most people believe today. In its place a new story of origins has arisen, that story told in The Origin of Species. If you think the Bible’s story of the origin of sin is a downer, recall the details on this one. This story begins not with a great God speaking the world into existence, but with a Big Bang that somehow resulted in a cosmic soup teeming with the basic ingredients of life. Over the course of billions of years, by purely natural causes life gradually evolved in an entirely random manner. This story says that things are the way they are not because human beings fell from their throne in a sinful reach to be God, but because human beings are gradually climbing out of the swamp and the jungle.
From simple to complex, from inanimate to animate, from the sea to the land, from crawling to walking, from knuckle dragging unself-conscious brute to culture creating self aware brain, our species is on the rise to a more perfect species we cannot envision today, or perhaps to extinction. The reason for the fatal flaw that leads human beings to hate God and each other is simply that we haven’t evolved far enough yet. We still act like the animals we are, competing for survival in the jungle that is the world of nature. As to God, well, he is the invention of the human imagination, the product of the purely natural chemical and electrical processes that we are.
If that story of origins is true, then life and death mean nothing. We came from an unexplained Bang, from mindless soup, from random selection, from purely natural processes. We have risen from nothingness and are evolving to nothingness and in between life is nothing but a combination of chemical and electrical reactions. We are caught in a cause and effect world in which we have no freedom, no dignity, no destiny except extinction. It’s no wonder the world is full of hopelessness and meaninglessness. According to this story, there is no hope, no meaning, no God. You can create your own hope, your own meaning, your own God, but ultimately all we are is dust in the cosmic wind that blows from nowhere to nowhere.
Thank God for the story of Adam’s original sin, because, although it is gloomy, it reveals that life and death mean something. And thank God even more that the story of original sin is not the end of the story. Our double helix text explains that Adam’s story is the introduction to the greater story of Jesus. The Bible is full of examples of God appointing a new person to take up where the other left off—Joshua replaced Moses, David took Saul’s place, Elisha donned Elijah’s cloak. Who could be the new representative for the human race, the originator of a second humanity who would give us a second chance at life? In his love and grace, God appointed Jesus Christ to be the second Adam.
Verse 18 is the summary verse. “Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.” There in brief form is the double helix of sin and grace. One man’s act of sin was replaced by one man’s act of righteousness. One man’s disobedience was undone by one man’s act of obedience. By one man’s sin many were made sinners. By one man’s obedience many will be made righteous. Through one man’s sin death came into the world. Through one man’s obedience life has come back into the world.
That’s all very complicated, but the simple words of verse 15 provide the key that unlocks this double helix. “But the gift is not like the trespass.” Jesus didn’t just undo all that Adam did; he didn’t merely reverse the fall; he doesn’t only give new life to all who will believe. He did more, so much more that Paul cannot say enough about it. He uses phrases like “how much more,” and “overflow” and “abundant provision.” At the end of this double helix, he signals the superiority of grace with that classic one word summary of grace, but. “But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
John Calvin has often been called a gloomy theologian, a sin theologian, because of his alleged emphasis on total depravity. But listen to his commentary on this passage. “Grace came to the help of mankind after sin had overwhelmed them and held them in its power. Paul teaches us that… grace… is poured out in so copious a flood…, as not only to overcome the flood of sin, but even to swallow it up.” Indeed, he said, God’s grace has abounded for the many so richly that the number of the saved is far larger than the number of the lost. “The grace procured by Christ belongs to a greater number than the condemnation contracted by the first man. If Adam’s fall had the effect of producing the ruin of many, the grace of God is much more efficacious in benefitting the many, since… Christ is much more powerful to save than Adam was to ruin.”
That’s the Gospel in a nutshell—God’s grace is greater than all our sin. God will save his world, fill his house, and finally defeat the great enemy called death. So, although this double helix of sin and grace is hard to map and explain, we should take the time to do it. Knowing where we came from and where we’re going makes all the difference for the present moment.
In the movie “As Good As It Gets,” Jack Nicholson plays a desperately unhappy man whose obsessive-compulsive behavior and surly personality alienate him from everyone in his life. He won’t step on cracks, insists on the same table in the same restaurant with the same waitress, insults fellow diners, and generally belittles everyone in his apartment building. In one scene, he emerges from his psychiatrist’s office and glares at the people waiting for their appointments, people who are doing their best to make some progress with their assorted ills. He snarls, “What if this is as good as it gets? What if, no matter how hard you try, this is as good as your life will ever get?”
He meant to hurt them, but it’s a good question. What if the best you can ever hope for is some slight improvement in your life? What if people are so locked into their life situation by their genes or their upbringing or their economic status or their racial origin that no amount of psychiatric help or educational advancement or governmental programs or individual gumption can ever significantly change their lives for the better? What if a life of sin and suffering and death is the ultimate and inevitable lot of every human being? What if this is as good as it gets?
Well, says Paul, it’s not, because of what God’s grace has done in Jesus Christ.
Paul’s insistence that sin and death came into the world through a man is a hard sell these days. The story of Orual in C.S. Lewis’ Til We Have Faces may help as we preach this complicated and controversial text. Orual is the queen of the land of Glome, and she has a complaint against the gods. The gods have not only made Orual incredibly ugly, but also have taken away the only spot of beauty and love in her ugly, joyless life. They rob Orual of her beautiful sister, Psyche.
The worst thing is that they take Psyche away in such a mysterious way that Orual is left wondering what really happened. She doesn’t know who is responsible for Psyche’s disappearance—the gods, a man, a beast, and if it was the gods, which god, and what he or she or it is like. That is her complaint against the gods: not only do they make her life miserable, but they won’t explain why, and they won‘t make themselves known to her.
But after spending her whole life complaining against the gods, Orual discovers that the problem is herself. She is so self-centered that she couldn’t possibly understand the way of God with her. The misery of her life is caused not by the cruelty and carelessness of God, but by her own incredible selfishness. She couldn’t hear the answer of God or see God clearly until she died to herself. The key line in the book says, “How can God meet us face to face ‘til we have faces?”
In that fantasy, Lewis is saying the same thing God says to the complaints of the human race throughout the Bible. Yes, the world is full of misery. Human life is a sad and mysterious thing. But that misery and sadness came into the world, not from God, but through a man.