Sin & the Fall 1
Then [Job] fell to the ground in worship and said: ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.’ In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing. (Job 1:20-22)
I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things. (Is.45:7)
‘So now the Lord has put a deceiving spirit in the mouths of these prophets of yours. The Lord has decreed disaster for you’. (II Chron.18:22)
I’ve often wondered if Christians don’t seem awfully naïve to a watching world. So often we celebrate the power, goodness and glory of God displayed in the wonder of creation. Which isn’t a problem in itself - the allegation of naiveté doesn’t lie in what is said, but in what isn’t. There are many whose experience of life at the hands of creation predisposes them to atheism, if not outright hostility to a God they may or may not believe in. What we euphemistically speak of as ‘natural disasters’; sickness and disease; mortality; the untold suffering of millions; the harsh realities of our environment all seem to many to call into question our devotional claims.
Something similar happens when we talk about people being created in the image of God. Again, the problem isn’t with what is being said, but in what isn’t. Despite our rhetoric, the stark reality is that people don’t seem to be very God-like. We are confronted with this undeniable truth every time we turn on the news, engage with other people, or simply look in the mirror. The litany of conflict, selfishness, pride, self-pity, cowardice, jealousy, immorality, breakdown of relationships, deceit and distortion, brutality, cruelty and exploitation, gossip, rage, malice, bitterness and resentment… the list could easily go on. We do things we know are wrong, and many of us live with a latent sense of shame, guilt and failure. In the light of all this, our insistence that people are created Imago Dei has the faint air of a fairy tale - maybe a good moral, but basically a story for children.
And it isn’t just at a personal level that humanity seems to struggle to be and to do what is right and good. Our experience of life and society seems to be broken at systemic and corporate, national and international level. Structures of power, institutions, politics, systems of justice, protection and care, economics, academia, the environment, family life, our culture’s thinking on human identity, media… somehow it all seems inherently unstable and frustrated. We stop being surprised when things don’t quite work as they’re supposed to. We fluctuate helplessly between a herculean arrogance and a tragic sense of futility.
So many have promised Utopia. Although the idea has always haunted the human imagination, the word was coined in the 16th century by the English Chancellor, Thomas More. It’s an ironic pun, coming from the classical Greek word for ‘not-a-place’, but sounding very similar to the word for ‘good-place’. Human history is littered with the horrific consequences of nations and empires following those who promised a better world. And in spite of the wars and genocides, gulags and concentration camps, that perfect human society has proven - as More so insightfully foretold - elusive and perennially beyond our grasp. The promised dream becomes a nightmarish reality. Eventually hope gives way to cynicism. There is only so many times a race can be disappointed.
When we evade such devastating realities, our Christian piety seems hopelessly out of touch. In the face of evil, suffering and death, our clichéd inspirational quotes can seem cruel and mocking. Does creation really speak of the glory of God? Are humans really reflections of God? How can we hold together the beauty and the ugliness of creation and life within it? How can we explain both the brilliance and the brutality of humanity or even make sense of my own confused experience of being human? What has gone wrong?
And yet, before we explore such questions as these we must confront a much deeper and, for many Christians, more troubling question: Is God still in control of what has gone wrong? As Christians we struggle with making sense of God and sin and suffering and death. And perhaps rightly so. But our failure to tackle these questions as fully as we can undermines our credibility before the world, hinders our growth as Christians, renders us ill equipped to face the reality of our own life, and leaves us vulnerable to confusion and doubt at the very points when we should be drawn into faith and worship.
Do you think creation bears witness to the glory and goodness of God? What would you say to someone who argued that nature was brutal and cruel, and that they couldn’t worship a ‘god’ who made a world like this one?
Do you think God is in control of sin, death, evil and suffering? What makes you think what you do?
We’ll come back to this question at the end of the series, but it is worth exploring now what we think, and seeing if we change our mind at all in the weeks ahead.
Read Acts 4:23-31
The Church raises their voices together in prayer to the ‘Sovereign Lord’ (v.24). How would you define ‘Sovereign’ in your own words?
Why do you think the Sovereignty of God, His work of creation and His work of the cross are linked in the minds of the Church (v.24)?
During their prayer, they cite Psalm 2. Read this Psalm in its entirety. What is the Lord’s reaction to the pretensions of those in earthly power? What does this tell you about His relationship with them? What surprises you about the portrait of God presented in Psalm 2? Do you think the Church is right to apply this Psalm to the events of the Jesus’ death?
List out all the sins that were committed in the week leading up to the death of Jesus: by the disciples, by the crowd, the religious leaders, the Roman officials and soldiers, the spiritual forces of this dark world… Do you agree that none of this happened without the Lord’s will and power deciding beforehand what should happen (v.28)? What do you think this phrase means (see also Acts 2:23)?
How do you think the Church’s vision of God shapes their request at the end of their prayer (v.30)?
Far be it from God to do evil, from the Almighty to do wrong. For He repays everyone for what they have done; He brings on them what their conduct deserves. It is unthinkable that God would do wrong, that the Almighty would pervert justice.
For further reflection:
‘It was God’s will to crush Him, and to cause Him to suffer’. So wrote the ancient prophet Isaiah (53:10). Yes but… perhaps this sort of thing can only be said about the cross. Maybe that was because God had a purpose in the cross; He was at work in it. But the Bible insists that God has a purpose in all sin and suffering. After all, He works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will (Eph.1:11). Perhaps He is punishing the wicked (e.g. Jdgs 9:22-24; Prov.11:31); or is saving the Church (e.g. Gen.45:5; 50:20); or disciplining His people (e.g. II Samuel 24:1 & 10); or is glorifying His Name (e.g. Ex.4:21 & Rom.9:17). Or any number of other good and wise purposes that currently elude our finite and fallen imagination.
But what we cannot deny is the Bible’s consistent teaching that sin remains within his sovereignty. We need to tread carefully. God does not tempt anyone (Jas.1:13); in Him there is no darkness (I Jn.1:5); He is righteous in all His ways (Ps.145:17). But the Bible goes on: God ordained that his people be hated in Egypt (Genesis 12:3; Psalm 105:25, He turned their hearts to hate his people); that Absalom should lie with his father’s wives (2 Samuel 12:11); that Jeroboam and the ten tribes should rebel against Rehoboam (1 Kings 12:15-16). And the list could go on to include the rise of Babylon or the career of Cyrus. Similarly, God is able to restrain sin when it is in His purpose (Gen.20:6). Such passages go somewhat beyond passivity and mere ‘permission’ to something more active.
None of this negates our responsibility. Satan and humanity remain the authors of sin, and are culpable for it. But more than one Person can be at work in the same act for different purposes (see Job 1-2; Is.10:6-7; also see II Sam.24:1 & I Chron.21:1 together). But it is to say that none of it is out of His control. Which is important, for if there is one thing more frightening than the Bible’s teaching that God is sovereign over sin, it would be the prospect that He isn’t!