The last time I blogged on this topic I don’t think I managed to touch effectively enough on how I have been thinking about the personal nature of sin so I want to give it a go again. This is hard because within all of it I find myself wrestling with whether I’m attempting to be palatable, mostly toward myself! Here it goes all the same.
Sin is a missing the mark. A failing to live in to the full genuine humanness that God freely invites us, His image-bearers (co-rulers), into.
Sin is the rejection of God’s way and the intention to live our own.
Sin is a definitive aspect of the words, actions, motivations of individuals.
Sin becomes systemic because individuals don’t exist on their own but in society.
This works out systemically as having-missed-the-mark rulers and institutions and governments create a world that broadly prioritizes its own way, in turn enforcing it on the wider world.
We’re born, we live and we die in this world.
We exist within this having-missed-the-mark world and inherit its way.
The Tree of Life
I recently watched the film The Tree of Life – throughout it follows a child’s journey as it grows up and experiences the personal war of adhering to different ways of living and growing up as a human.
“There [are] two ways through life – the way of nature and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you’ll follow.”
We all know both of these ways.
And I think the issue at hand for each of us, when we are thinking about personal sin, is not which of these ways are we predisposed to, in some original and genetic sense, but which do we capitulate to?
We are faced with a choice – nature or grace.
Maybe the story of humanity is not that it is stuck in nature’s way but that given the choice between nature and grace we too often prefer that which is easier; that which is ours. That which we might say comes naturally.
This is not to say that nature is wrong or evil or sinful in and of itself. The Tree of Lifeelaborates on this wonderfully.
The Father (who represents nature) and the Mother (who represents grace) both want the best for their children. Both love them. Both care for them deeply. They both share the common task and goal of raising their children well. Occasionally however there is a dispute, a falling out, a breakdown in accomplishing the task and disagreement over the means – the guilty party every time is the Father (nature).
Yet what we can see clearly is that it’s not that nature and grace can’t co-exist but that nature all too often capitulates to other influences and pressures that play out in its world. Nature craves success, money, power, what it ‘deserves’ and ‘has earned’. Why because nature is inquisitive, nature is autonomous, nature is zealous, nature gets confused and excited, well intentioned and silly. This we might say is the nature of nature.
Nature however, because of its inquisitiveness and autonomy and zeal, finds itself all too often missing the mark, missing its potential, missing true genuine goodness and humanness all in the name of its own way.
The inherent problem has to do with the way. The Father has capitulated to his way and the ways of those around him. The son wrestles with doing the same. Both find themselves rejecting or at odds with the way of the Mother. The reasons for this are numerous – selfishness, grace’s apparent weakness, stubbornness etc.
Yet a prayer the boy finds himself making because he just can’t get right are the words of Paul,
“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” Romans 7:15
As the film progresses both Father and son find that they need to learn and capitulate to grace’s way. Their way is too often problematic and unfulfilling. Grace doesn’t crave success, money, power or what it ‘deserves’ and ‘has earned’. Grace loves and serves and cares and has fun because it is willing to give to another. Grace doesn’t look to itself but to another and discovers true humanness and goodness.
This in a lot of senses is at the heart of the Genesis 2-3 myth and the story it sets in motion.
Genesis 2-3 is not straightforward however. When we begin to read these chapters we find that we aren’t told that
- Adam and Eve are morally perfect or imperfect.
- The world they inhabited was morally perfect or imperfect.
- Death and evil were absent from this world.
- From Adam and Eve spread an inherent moral corruption of humanity’s nature.
- They are the mother and father of all people.
- The world we are invited into does, nonetheless, convey some deeply insightful truths.
Adam and Eve are beings created and invited into God’s way.
They are designated temple-garden keepers. Presumably to maintain, care for and nurture its growth.
They are invited to look after and care for the place where God hangs out “in the cool of the day”.
This would have been a developing relationship no doubt. It would require their maturation from (possibly) young, silly, naked children, who wouldn’t be able to handle eating from a tree that gives knowledge of good and evil; to adults who would willingly follow and journey with God in His way. In doing so they could be educated by God about good and evil.
Is it not peculiar that we think it a bad thing for Adam and Eve to know this information – God knows the difference between good and evil, surely fully participating in theImage of God would require we become aware of this difference?
In spite of this it is clear something is already wrong with this world – there is a crafty and deceptive talking snake that wants to dupe Adam and Eve into (pre-emptively) becoming aware of this good-evil dichotomy.
The issue here is a conflict of ways – the way of God (which we could rightly compare to the way of grace) or the way Adam and Eve can forge for themselves (which we might compare to the way of nature).
They can become “like God” on their own or they can become “like God” with God.
It is all a matter of ways.
Adam and Eve choose their way and the effects are instantaneous. They eat from this knowledge-of-good-and-evil-tree and ‘boom!’ they are made knowledgeable. They immediately become aware of their nakedness and feel the weight of their disobedience, hiding in shame and fear.
Their inquisitiveness and autonomy and zeal was not ready for this. Their capitulation to their way made them aware of things for which they were not ready.
God exiles Adam and Eve from the Garden because their missing the mark, and rejection of His way, has compromised His plans. They have missed genuine humanness by not participating in the dynamic give and take God extended to them.
What follows in Genesis 4-11 is the systematizing of other ways that are not God’s.
Cain following the murder of his brother is afraid of people, clearly not family, who might kill him (4:14). He then leaves in exile and settles, building a city to be inhabited by people who are not just members of his family (4:16-17).
This offers us an interesting thought about the role of Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve are more than arguably not the father and mother of everyone. Adam and Eve were the growers of God’s garden, responsible for bringing His way to the rest of the world and its inhabitants. They, as we have seen, bottled it.
They have allowed, and participated in, the unrestrained forging of ways that are not God’s.
This lies at the heart of a recurring point in Genesis 4-11, which mentions and emphasises the building of cities (Gen. 4:17; 10:12; 11:4-5, 8).
Cities demonstrate the institutionalizing of ways. Ways (of nature) that run rampant and unchecked, because God has been unable to work out His way (of grace) with competent representatives. These ways eventually challenge God himself (Gen. 11).
“Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves” (Gen 11:4)
What is doubly disturbing is that we find out “every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (Gen. 6:5). Humanity seems to go this direction when its way is unchecked. This is clear man’s way gets out of control fast, hurting those close to it (Gen. 3), getting angry, jealous and murderous (Gen. 4) and eventually when it multiplies and spreads out unrestrained and becomes systemic among people, it gets wicked and harmful (Gen. 6). God does not want this and it makes His heart “deeply troubled” to the point of starting over (Gen. 6:6-7).
Genesis is offering a beginning of humanity’s problem for its ancient contemporaries. The problem with the people in this story is our problem to. While many aspects of this ancient myth will not fit what we now know, there is a problem that Genesis has pinned down which we do know. We should journey with this story to see how its resolution is worked out in ways that resonate and compel us.
Beginning to move toward rounding up
When humanity goes it’s own way, sin (or missing the mark of genuine humanness) seems to follow very quickly – the two get interwoven.
And the point Genesis is making is that man when left unguided misses the mark totally. The problem is pervasive, from specially created couples to other peoples. Man tends to his way and this rubs against God’s way.
The human condition is one in which our inquisitiveness, autonomy, zeal and silliness are so definitive of us that we can’t seem to deal with ourselves personally or corporately – the consequences, the Genesis myth tells us, are catastrophic.
It’s not that humanity and God cannot work together, it’s just that we don’t have the right person we can follow (Mark 1:1) – Adam and Eve really dropped the ball. We don’t have the right place to be a citizen of (Mark 1:15) – the garden where God was in charge had to be vacated by his helpers. We need a person who can give us new devices. When left to our own we royally screw things up.
This story, this myth, this deep truth, is the deep truth/myth/story of you and me. We live in a world of ways. Ways that very often affect, influence and even manipulate us.
We in our inquisitiveness, autonomy and zeal find ourselves in the throngs of a choice between nature and grace, a choice between the way of others and ourselves or the way of God. We find ourselves wrestling with our dropping the ball, our missing the mark, our failing to attain to genuine humanness.
“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” Romans 7:15
We find ourselves, each and every one of us, looking and struggling after a better way – the way of grace, the way of God.
I intend to develop this further. There is still the issue that this missing the mark conspires both intentionally and unintentionally with a deeper force, death. What has sin to do with that? Do our missed-the-mark lives and systems have anything to do with it? I’ll have a go rambling about this next.
 The film is much bigger than this theme alone. It wrestles with the problem of evil and its interaction with life and cosmic history and the presence of God within it all. It is very good – watch it!!
 Myth here denotes ‘deep truth’ – actual historical events are not the point (even if they were believed to be just that by ancient Israelites), the point is what the story is trying to communicate to us about the circumstances both we and our world find ourselves in. It is trying to identify and communicate what is wrong.
 It’s no accident that this early creation myth is placed after the later creation myth Genesis 1, which observes the creation of the cosmic-temple. It is no accident because all temples had gardens and the temple story of Gen. 1 is followed immediately by a story set in a garden.