God Could Have Just Walked Away (Genesis 3, Genesis 11)

Critics and folks who are simply hostile toward God or toward the notion of the real existence of a God of love often make much of the Old Testament historical record that relates stories of wrath and vengeance. It seems to give them some profane sense of well-being to render a judgment upon this God that He is like a cranky old man who wantonly zaps people who step out of line. A phrase often used is to speak of “the God of the Old Testament” as if there is first a nasty old God, but then a nice, newer one who took over around the time of Christ.

Let us submit today that it is an appropriate view of God’s disposition in the Old Testament era to view Him rather as a God of grace, and yes … of justice. Our first big idea as to why we should raise our eyes to care about people who are very different than ourselves is that God has always had a forever heart for all peoples.

You might say, “REALLY?  God has always had a heart for all people? Yes, I know he did for the nation of Israel, and then for the church and the gospel to be preached around the world, but what about so much of the Old Testament?”  And it is true that there are more than a few accounts of judgment, even commands to the Israelites to destroy completely some of the evil nations around them.

But what do you expect God to do? These were people groups who had completely turned against God and His revelation to them. They had also completely turned off even the general revelation residue of being created in the image of God – eliminating their consciences and any innate sense of right or wrong – some of them making Hitler look like a pansy by comparison. Infant sacrifice to man-made gods and idols was a rather regular practice among these groups. Annihilation was indeed true justice.

Looking honestly at the big picture we see God’s magnanimous grace on display at the very beginning of the story. It appears immediately after the fall of man through what is termed by theologians as the Protoevangelium. That is likely a new word for most of you. Break it down:  “proto” = first, as is the word “prototype” …. And you can hear the word “evangel” in there – which you likely know references the “gospel” – the “good news” … so this is talking about the first good news.

After Adam and Eve fell into sin and rebelled against God’s command by yielding to the temptation of the Serpent (Satan), God shows up on the scene. God first confronted Adam … who blamed the woman … who blamed the serpent … who looked around but nobody else was there! Actually, he was quite pleased with what he – Satan – had done.

And God addresses them in reverse order with words of judgment about their respective futures …

Genesis 3:14-15 – So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, “Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

“You” = Satan, “the woman” = Eve, but the “he” is odd here. Who is this referencing? It can’t be Adam. It is actually anticipating the ultimate offspring of Eve – prophetically looking toward Christ.  Jesus, though he would be stricken on the heel (anticipating the cross), through the resurrection would crush the head of the serpent/Satan.

(My favorite part of “The Passion of the Christ” film was when Jesus is depicted as stepping on the head of the slithering snake in the Garden scene. There is nothing worse than snakes!)

When man fell into sin, God could have let the death consequences fall upon mankind completely, and He would have been just in doing so and simply walking away and letting death take its toll. But in His grace, even there in the garden at the outset of sin in the human condition, He had a plan because of His great love for the peoples of the world. The Scriptures even say that Jesus is “the lamb slain before the foundation of the world.”  Never see God as merely reacting to situations; He is orchestrating.

As mankind increased, so did evil – to the extent that only Noah and his family found grace in the eyes of the Lord. And we know the story of the great flood, as God in grace will begin over with mankind through Noah’s family. God could have justly washed them all away, but He saved one family through the deluge …

Genesis 9:1 – Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.”

At the beginning of the next chapter, it gives the details and names of Noah’s sons and families…

Genesis 10:1 – This is the account of Shem, Ham and Japheth, Noah’s sons, who themselves had sons after the flood…

And then chapter 10 ends by saying …

Genesis 10:32 – These are the clans of Noah’s sons, according to their lines of descent, within their nations. From these the nations spread out over the earth after the flood.

And immediately the next chapter begins …

Genesis 11:1-4 – Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. 3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

Rather than do what God said, they do just the opposite and make a centralized place toward which all people would gather. And again, God must intervene – this time with the confusion of languages.

Genesis 11:8-9 – So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

Once more, God could have justly given up, yet again. But He chose to act in grace, reestablishing mankind on the earth with a view toward them walking in relationship with Him. Most will not do that however, neither then nor now. That’s already a lot of divine grace on display, and we’re only 20% of the way through the first book of the Bible!

Yes, God has always had a heart for the peoples and nations of the world. And there is instruction in that for us to consider … we who have had His grace lavished upon us. Let our hearts grow more to be like His.

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Shifting Blame – It’s a Natural Kid Thing

This is the 6th of a series of 15 devotionals from the late 80s when my oldest sons were just little boys …

Have you ever noticed how difficult it is for little children to admit that they have done something wrong?

At our house, it is always “my brother” who was wrong. It is always the other guy who “took that away from me” or “hit me first.”

Even at age two they are able to shift the blame for a fault. Aaron has the same habit as his older brothers of helping himself to the cookies and crackers in the pantry (the all-time most frequently-committed crime in our house).

One day after getting into the cheerios and wheat chex he got his animal friends out, lined them up, and then gave them a mommy-like lecture … “Why did you make this mess; I’m going to spank your bottom!”

Around that same time he took Diana’s face firmly in his hands and sternly said, “Look at me, were you a bad boy; did you get the crackers out?”

Surely though, none of you will be surprised to hear that Benjamin has been the worst for getting food out of the pantry, refrigerator, freezer, etc. He has been spanked innumerable times for these capers. What I can’t believe about him is that when he sees you coming at him, he will quickly stuff as much as he can in his mouth before the spanking hits.

One day I went to our chest freezer in the cellar and found a bag of thawed chicken parts on the lid. An investigation of three local suspects yielded nothing. I took them to the basement and to the scene of the crime, where Benjamin accidentally confessed by saying, “That felt like a bag of bones yesterday.”

At the supper table, Nathan is a typical little boy with the bad habit of wiping his hands on his pants. Diana was particularly concerned one night recently when we had beets with the meal. Sure enough, the dirty hands headed under the table and Diana said, “Nathan, did you just wipe your hands on your pants?” And he said, “No mommy, I really didn’t.” She said, “Yes you did, I saw you do it!”  Nathan said, “I really didn’t because I wiped them on the chair!”

Nathan can also at times make profound theological observations. Not long ago he had a mild head cold, which for Nathan is a major disease (he has been incredibly healthy and in fact has not missed a Wednesday night Awana meeting in three years). He was frustrated with constantly having to blow his nose and said, “I wish Adam and Eve had never sinned because then we wouldn’t get colds!”

Speaking of Adam and Eve, not only were they the first sinners, but they were also the first to shift the blame for what they had done. Adam blamed the “woman you gave me” and Eve blamed the serpent.

David went for months with unconfessed sin, knowing it was wrong, yet unwilling to face it. He couldn’t get away from it, saying, “My sin is ever before me.” But in time, David faced his sin, confessed it, and experienced God’s forgiveness.

Theologically, confession is agreeing with God as to the nature of sin – calling it what it is – seeing it as God sees it.

How very often though we are like little children – unwilling to face our wrong and call it what it is: sin.

Love in the iWorld (Part 1)(Genesis 3)

Nothing breaks like a promise; its echoes carry through the years.  Human beings, as bearers of God’s image, were uniquely crafted for love and commitment.   So how did it all go so wrong?

Genesis 3 has been called the “pivot” of the whole Bible.[1]  It’s no exaggeration; the decisions made by this First Couple—the promises they would break to God and to each other—represent a malignancy that creeps over nearly every page of the Bible from this point forward.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.  He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said,  ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her,  and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. (Genesis 3:1-7)

Thus, the iWorld was born.  Where once the couple had eyes only for one another, now the woman “saw that the tree was good for food…a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desired to make one wise.”  And before we let the man off the hook, we should point out that he stood idly by and watched the scene unfold rather than intervene and protect his wife.

What Christianity calls sin might really be seen as a form of misplaced love, a form of self-interest.  Martin Luther would later describe this as the homo incurvatus in se—the “incurvature of the soul.”[2]  Our hearts, once inclined toward God and to each other, became twisted inward, lovers only of self.  It’s as though we became convinced that we would be happy—really truly, deliriously happy—if only God had given us more than he already has.

Yet perhaps the greatest tragedy is that we’ve come to assume that this is the way it should be.  “There is no one big cosmic meaning for all,” writes international novelist Anaias Nin.  “There is only the meaning we give to our life, and individual meaning, an individual plot, like an individual novel, a book for each person.”  And why not?  After all, if we remove God from the equation, then there can be no absolute basis for right or wrong, for the design of the human story.  A student address during a Harvard commencement speech observed that one unifying value the graduates could share was one of “confusion”—because they had been repeatedly taught that no value system should be declared superior to another.  “The freedom of our day,” he concluded, “is the freedom to devote ourselves to any values we please, on the mere condition that we do not believe them to be true.”[3]

LOVE IN A TIME OF SELF-INTEREST

How does this impact our search for love?  Simple: we have come to view romantic love as a way of getting my needs met.  In their influential book Habits of the Heart, social researchers described this attitude this way: “If other people don’t meet your needs, you have to be willing to walk out, since in the end that may well be the only one way to protect your interests.”[4]

It seems too easy, then, to note that a world that prizes the individual would likewise promote easy access to marriage—and divorce.  Though the iWorld began as movements dating back before the Renaissance, we finally saw its full effects in the last century of American culture.  In her book Divorce Culture, Barbara Defoe Whitehead noted that in the context of marriage, “satisfaction…came to be based on subjective judgments about the content and quality of individual happiness … People began to judge the strength and ‘health’ of family bonds according to their capacity to promote individual fulfillment and personal growth.”[5]

INSUFFICIENCY OF SELF

In the Garden of Eden, man and woman were tempted with the lie that if they served their own interests, they could be satisfied.  And it’s the same lie that plays itself out in every facet of human society since then.  So are we?

I grew up in the age of the self-esteem movement.  In elementary school, we received specialized education on self-esteem; I even received a children’s book entitled Eight Keys to a Better Me.  Recent years, however, have produced research that seems to suggest that the self-esteem movement didn’t have the efficacy they envisioned. Writing for the New York Times, Erica Goode summarizes recent research that says that high self-esteem has negative impact on a person’s overall well-being:

“High self-esteem…was positively correlated with racist attitudes, drunken driving and other risky behaviors…[in studies] carried out on aggression, they found that it was narcissism, self-love that includes a conviction of one’s superiority…that led people to retaliate aggressively when their self-esteem was threatened…[College students] who were invested in appearing attractive…reported more aggressiveness, anger and hostility than others, more alcohol and drug use and more symptoms of eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia…They also became more depressed as the year wore on.”[6]

It’s what Bob Dylan once called the “disease of conceit.”[7]  And it’s what the Bible refers to as sin.  Focus on self, and the soul withers; relationships die.  Love can never be a means to some personal end—nor can we possibly give assent to the myth that “love is blindness.”  Far from it; love demands acuity, it demands that we look at our lover neither with rose-tinted glasses (to mask their faults) nor with a critical lens (to critique their flaws).  Instead, it demands that we look at one another with honesty and integrity, seeing one another for all that we are, and having the courage to see the image of God still alive beneath the surface of fig leaves and scars.  When we do that, we cease to see one another solely through the lens of our own expectations, and to come closer to seeing them as God sees them.

 

[1] W.H. Griffith Thomas, Genesis: A Devotional Commentary, p. 48.

[2] Luther’s Works, 25:291.

[3] Quoted in Robert Bellah et al., The Good Society, p. 44.

[4] Robert Bellah, Habits of the Heart.

[5] Barbara Defoe Whitehead, Divorce Culture

[6] Erica Goode, “Deflating Self-Esteem’s Role in Society’s Ills,” New York Times, October 1, 2002

[7] Bob Dylan, “Disease of Conceit,” from Oh Mercy, 1989.