Sin Learned Nothing from Katrina–To the High Lands

Tropical Storm Isaac is scheduled to make landfall near New Orleans some time on the morning of August 29, 2012.  On this very day seven years ago, Katrina unleashed chaos on the Crescent City.  What have folks learned since then?

Flag of New Orleans sin judgment hurricane

Flag of New Orleans

No doubt, many improvements have been made. A Weather Channel report this morning catalogued the various improvements in evacuation policy, transportation methodology, and shelter availability.  New Orleans has changed many things in anticipation of this next big storm, and the flooding it will bring.  But there is one thing no one on earth can change.

The nature of the sinful heart will not and cannot change on its own.  It takes an act of God.  So, there are people who may spend the next 24-48 hrs evacuating to the “high” lands.  Don’t be fooled by the terms.  They are designed to mock the healthy fear of those who actually are attempting to remove themselves from harm’s way.

Evacuating to the high lands in New Orleans means roughly the same thing a “Hurricane Party” means; it means escaping to drunkenness and intoxication.  It means getting high.  It happens every year in New Orleans.  It has happened 7 years in a row since Katrina.  It means the sinful heart is taking a rebellious stand against nature and, more importantly, against nature’s God.

It was in New Orleans in the 1940’s at Pat O’Brien’s that the drink called the hurricane was born.  Since then, the distinctive drink and the hurricane glass named after it have been staples of liquor consumption in the Big Easy.  No time is the drink more popular than when a hurricane is churning up the warm gulf sea.

Sin judgment hurricane katrina flooding

Flooding from Katrina

In the next 24-48 hours, New Orleans will need to find a way to drain off more rainwater than the city of Los Angeles gets in a year.  In one day, New Orleans—a city in a sub-sea bowl—will receive two years’ worth of rainfall for Phoenix.  As the floodwaters fall, the partiers will pour their drinks and smoke their smokes.  What are they thinking?

First and foremost, they are thinking they aren’t really going to die. They honestly believe they will come out on the other side of the storm with a story to tell.  They are making a statement to those around them that there is no need to fear death when you can live life—and by living life, they mean living the “high” life.

I question whether or not the “high” life is any life at all. If one wishes to embrace life, then what is the need to escape it with drugs and alcohol?  Is that not by its very nature an action of not living life to its fullest?  It’s masking life, hiding from life, escaping life for a surreal, dysfunctional junket into the loss of self-control.

More to the point, however, is the defiance being displayed against God.  It’s one thing not to fear death. We might even say that it’s admirable to show courage in the face of death. But in the presence of God, it is the height of defiant rebellion to refuse to display a reverent fear of death because death brings judgment:

“And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him” Hebrews 9:27-28.

Sadly, a sinful heart cannot admit to itself or to others that it really does fear dying and facing God’s judgment.  To admit a fear is to acknowledge a need—a remedy for the judgment.  The remedy, of course, is Christ, but a rebellious hear cannot and will not embrace Him. So, in the most profound sense, nothing much has changed in New Orleans.

Why the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?

Recently, a friend and brother in Christ bombarded me with a dozen or so questions pertaining to aspects of the Christian faith which have recently been puzzling him.  I asked and received permission from him to post my responses here on this blog, thinking that if he has these questions, then others may have them also. So, I will be posting his questions and my responses in the coming days, hoping to help and encourage him and you. Feel free to add your responses and to send in your questions as well.


Why Did God Choose to Put the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden?

Interesting question. The smart aleck in me wants to answer, “Where else would you want Him to put them?”  But I know better than to mock an honest question!  Besides, we will see in just a moment that the two trees had to be at the center of the Garden.

If I understand the question rightly, then you are asking something like, “Why tempt Adam and Eve like this?”  Why is there both a tree of life and a tree of knowledge of good and evil?

I think the answer is simply profound. God takes ordinary elements and speaks profound life lessons through them (think of Jesus with bread and wine).  The two trees are named.  Notice the difference in the names.  The one is the tree of life, but the other is not the tree of death.  These two trees do not represent two ways to life; they only represent one way to live.  In other words, the two trees are not opposites.  Adam and Eve could not be tempted with death.  They had no desire for death, no appetite for death.  So, the second tree in the Garden is not the tree of death; it is the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

Why is this important? It underscores the nature of God, the nature of Adam and Eve, and the nature of the Fall.  Adam, Eve, and all of creation were created by God and declared “very good” (Gn 1:31).  Adam and Eve were not stuck in neutral, deciding whether to live or die. They weren’t caught in the balance between sinning and not sinning.  They were, in fact, good.  They were walking in fellowship with God.  They would not have been tempted to murder each other like their offspring were.  That would have been contrary to their natures.

However, it would not have been contrary to their natures to become more god-like.  They had a right desire for fellowship with God.  Therefore, becoming more god-like suited them like breast milk suits the nursing infant.  The tree of the knowledge of good and evil represented an increase in knowledge, an increase in wisdom, and an increase in understanding more of what God understood.  Surely, God Himself possessed infinite knowledge of good and evil.  So, for Adam and Eve to learn more of the knowledge God possessed would have been “natural” to them.

By nature, Adam and Eve would have been drawn to pursuing knowledge which would make them know more of what God knows.  And yet, this increase in knowledge was not good for them.  They knew that because God told them that it was not good for them.  He spoke a command against their partaking of the fruit from this tree.  So, in effect, Adam and Eve’s temptation came disguised in the form of two different good choices, each of which was according to their nature: Obeying God or seeking knowledge.

Adam and Eve had been given the responsibility of ruling over creation.  They needed knowledge suitable for the task.  They needed to understand animals and agriculture.  They needed to understand water, nutrients, harvests, and horticulture.  They needed to stay hungry for knowledge.  So, they were obviously able to be tempted through this otherwise good aspect of their nature as lords over creation.

They did not need the knowledge of evil in order to accomplish the work God had given them.  They could have had a very fruitful life (literally!) by tending the Garden and enjoying fellowship with God.  They needed knowledge, for sure, but they did not need the knowledge of evil. Instead, what they needed more than anything else was to depend upon the living God.  So, the first tree God gave them was the Tree of Life (Gn 2:9).  If they had eaten of that tree, continuing to rely upon God for their very lives, they would have lived.

Instead, they ate of the forbidden tree which instantly gave them the knowledge of evil (namely, their own!).  They immediately learned of their nakedness.  They were immediately ashamed.  And they immediately had the sentence of death hanging upon them.  Instantly, they went from being alive to needing salvation.  The instant one forgets his dependence upon his creator, he stands in desperate need of a redeemer.

So, the answer to your question is that God put the two trees in the center of the Garden of Eden to proclaim the central truth to Adam and Eve (and to all humankind) that He alone is the creator and sustainer of life.  In addition, the Lord used the two trees further to display His unspeakable mercy.  Even after Adam and Eve rebelled against Him and unleashed on themselves the curse of death, still, God acted mercifully toward them, sending them out of the Garden and sealing it off before they could eat of the Tree of Life.  If they had eaten of the Tree of Life after they partook of the forbidden tree, they would likely have sealed the death sentence on humankind forever.  God’s purpose was not to allow that; instead, God had purposed from the beginning to provide salvation.  So, he removed them from the Garden.

On a final note, God planted both trees in the center of the Garden to make known His glory to all humankind.  He did not need to “wait and see” what would happen with Adam and Eve.  He knew before they were created how it would all turn out.  Thus, his choice of the trees was not coincidental.  He ordered all of it so that His glory would be revealed—even through the sinfulness of Adam and Eve.

God put the two trees in the middle of the Garden—the central focal point of all creation.  The two trees stood at the center of the universe.  Life flowed forth throughout the rest of creation from this very central point (see Gn 2:10-14).  At the center of creation was the single question, “Who is God?”  A very close question, related to the first, was, “Who is man?”  These two questions were hanging in the air like ripened fruit on two different trees in the midst of the Garden of Eden.  Both questions were quickly answered in the Fall.  As it turns out, God is holy, just, and merciful.  Man is sinful, under a curse, and in need of redemption.  That, I believe, is why God put the two trees in the midst of Eden. To answer the two most basic questions of life.

Restraining Wrath

The Apostle Paul was once part of a shipwreck that didn’t have to happen.  In Acts 27, Paul advises the Roman centurion and the crew of the ship to stay in port through the winter.  The ship was bound to wreck, according to Paul, if it set sail before the winter was over.  The ship’s crew and captain decided—along with the centurion—to sail anyway.  After all, Paul was merely a prisoner.  Why listen to him?


Of course, from reading the rest of the book of Acts, we know that the ship did indeed set sail, and it did indeed wreck.  The boat was a complete loss.  When the shipwreck became an imminent reality, Paul stood before its crew and passengers and said, “You should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete….”  This comment from Paul is not a hasty, “I told you so.”  He is much more sober than that, and much more is at stake here than Paul’s reputation.


Paul’s “I told you so moment” came as a stamp of credibility for him at a crucial time.  He was about to tell the centurion that no prisoner should be killed and that everyone had to stay on the ship—these were the conditions under which he knew that there would be no loss of life.  Both of these conditions were counter-intuitive to the centurion and the crew of the ship.  But Paul was right.  They listened to him this time, and no one perished.  Only the boat was lost.


So, I hear this story and see in it a very practical lesson for my own life—a theological lesson.  I gave input recently to another brother about a situation.  I persuaded him of my position.  He agreed to follow my counsel, but he later had a change of heart and, unbeknownst to me, reversed the decision.  He only told me after the fact, when it was too late to do anything about it.


For the past several days, I have been stewing over the matter in my own heart.  I have prayed about it, and, as much as possible, I have given it over to the Lord.  Inside, I feel sort of like Paul must have felt:  I see a shipwreck coming that could have been avoided.  Why didn’t you listen to me?


After being stunned for a time and then angry, I formulated all the reasons I was right: There were 4 clear reasons my position was right.  I also anticipated every counter argument the decision maker might try to make, and I had answers for those arguments as well.  I went back through the reasons I had for making the decision, and I remained more convinced than ever that I was right.


Amazingly, the Lord used this situation to teach me something glorious about Himself—something unexpected, yet intensely practical.  The Lord is slow to anger.  Now, I know we all know this about the Lord.  He is gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.  Yet, I had never thought of God’s wrath being a comforting thought.  In struggling through this issue, I thought of the justice of God which is a fire in Him for truth and righteousness.


God is both full of wrath toward sinners and patient toward sinners.  In other words, God is always right in His judgments.  Every time one of us goes against His word, we go against His righteous judgment.  This rebellion is called sin, and it makes God angry.  So, the feeling of rage I have against this decision maker who went against my better judgment is a feeling somewhat akin to the outrage God rightly feels against sinners when they go against His word.  Yet, God is patient with sinners because God’s kindness is meant to lead sinners to repentance (Romans 2:4).


So, here is the unexpected lesson I learned from the wrath of God.  The fact that God does not pour out His wrath every single time a person sins is an assurance that I don’t have to pour out my wrath every time something doesn’t go my way.  God’s patience is a sure sign that—in His strength—I can be patient, too.  I am thoroughly convinced that I am right in my judgment, but I might still be wrong.  God, on the other hand, cannot be wrong in His judgments.  Yet, He does not unleash His wrath at every offense of His righteous judgments.  So, in the Spirit of Christ, I don’t have to unleash either.  I, too, can be patient and slow to anger.


I think the Apostle Paul must have understood this.  He did say “I told you so,” but it was only to remind them that his judgment was correct in the past, and, so, it ought to be followed for the future—which it was.  No one died in the shipwreck because Paul’s counsel was followed.  It was followed because he was patient.  Time proved his righteousness.  It will prove ours, too, if we are righteous.


So, we must live rightly in the righteousness of Christ and trust that over time folks will hear what we are saying because our judgments are true.  We don’t need to exercise wrath.  We simply need—like Paul—to live by faith.  Our credibility will increase over time as our faith continues to work itself out through our actions and judgments.


Like Paul, we may have to suffer a shipwreck while we are building credibility, but, also like Paul, we might later be able to save lives by pointing people to the Christ we love.  The “I told you so moments” may come, but they should be followed by, “let’s follow Christ this next time so there will be no loss of life.”

Hellfire to Homosexuality?

I recently had a conversation with a friend in which he expressed his disdain for “Christian coercion.”  He didn’t exactly call it that, but I think that is an accurate description of what he meant.  His concern was that Christians under the threat of eternal damnation pressure others to go against their natural desires.  Specifically, the case about which we were speaking involved homosexuality, whether it is a sin punishable by death or a part of nature and, therefore, justified.

As I thought about the matter, I had to admit that I agreed with much of what was being said.  The notion of Christian coercion makes me cringe, too.  I have sat fidgeting uncomfortably while evangelists tell stories of folks who don’t come to Christ in a service and then are killed in car wrecks on their way home [thus, those at this particular service should “make a decision” right now or they, too, might be killed on the way home].  Such manipulation is ugly and demonstrates a lack of trust in the gospel.  A preacher need not resort to tricks and manipulation if the gospel really is the power of God unto salvation.  So, I think my friend and I agree that torturing people with thoughts of Hell to get them to make a decision is not acceptable.

That being said, more substantial issues remain unresolved.  For instance, even if we agree that coercion is an ugly thing and ought to be avoided, we still have not answered whether or not Hell is real.  In the conversation, my friend was opposed to the concept of eternal damnation for those who practice homosexuality.  To that opposition, I would simply say that I do believe Hell is real, but I don’t believe it is reserved for homosexuals.  It is reserved for all who remain under the curse of sin apart from Christ.  This is what the gospel is all about, of course.  All of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  And, all of us are under a curse.  All of creation is under that curse so that the present course of the world is toward death.  The present course of those not covered by Christ is death.  (But the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord).

So, where does that leave those who practice homosexuality?  It leaves them in the same place as all the rest of us: Condemned already. [Whoever believes in Christ is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God… This is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light…].  To be sure, such a message is offensive to those who engage in homosexuality (assuming homosexuality is a sin or a mark of unbelief).  But the larger reality is that this gospel is equally offensive to all of us.  It isn’t just those who practice homosexuality who are condemned already.  It is all of us.

What this condemned already idea means is that coercion is not the point of our preaching.  While it is true that Hell exists and we ought to seek to avoid it, it is not the case that we brandish Hell like a torturer’s scourge until we get the confession we want.  Hell is the default setting for us all (gay, straight, bi, polyamorous, polyandrous, transgendered, or whatever).  Therefore, our message—like the message of Jesus—is “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”  It isn’t repent or you will burn in Hell.  It is repent so you will see the Kingdom of God.  Our message is inherently positive.  We are ministers of reconciliation.  We are proclaimers of good news.  We are preachers of eternal life.  We are not to stretch folks out on the rack of hellfire until we coerce from them a confession.  So, even if my friend and I don’t agree on anything else, we agree that far.

As to the rest of his questions concerning whether homosexuality is natural and therefore acceptable… I will try to post on that tomorrow. His questions are yet more penetrating and deserve a thoughtful response.


What if you lived like a mink?  In the swamps of Louisiana, there are minks galore.  So, there are traps galore set by trappers looking to make a living off the furry little swamp weasels.  What if you and I had to live constantly in fear of being trapped by some scoundrel who wanted to use us to further his own ambitions?  Actually, we do.

Oh, yes, you and I are in constant danger.  Like the mink, the worse thing we could do is fail to recognize the danger.  Then, we step directly into the trap.  Good trappers know this; so they bury the trap in the water or in a shallow hole.  But they always put the trap directly in the path of the mink, and, in fact, they put up sticks and stones in order to narrow the path, ensuring the mink steps into the trap.

It is the same way for us.  We are trapped by sinners who place traps along the path we already travel.  The path we travel is narrowed so that we—as we always do—take the easiest route.  The easiest route leads directly into the sinner’s trap, and we are hooked before we even know it.  We need not be fooled, the trap is set.

Oddly enough, we are often afraid of being trapped by preachers and preaching.  We are suspicious of those who peddle truth.  In one sense, that suspicion is more than well-earned.  With the Tiltons and Swaggarts and Haggards and Bakkers out there—not to mention the David Koresh types—we have reason to be on our guards, making sure we aren’t trapped by dubious snake-oil, salvation salesmen.

What I am suggesting, however, is that we actually become dubious of things around us—the things that make us most comfortable.  Why?  Well, because we understand what the trappers are up to—make the path comfortable and easy so the mink steps directly into it in the course of his daily rounds.  Here is why Scripture is constantly reminding us to be sober-minded and be on the alert because of the adversary prowling around checking his traps.  Is it not easy to be seduced by sin?  Is it not comfortable to forget about God?  Is it not comfortable to follow one simple, easily accessible link to internet pornography?  Is it not comfortable to blend right in to the conversation in which gossip is slicing up an absent friend?  Oh, how easy indeed!

Getting into traps is easy.  Getting out is impossible.  There are 2 choices, and they could not be further apart.  On the one hand, you can surrender all to the trapper.  Give him your fur.  Enrich his appetite for skins and be done.  On the other hand, you can cry out for freedom from the one who created you.  He can also redeem you.  He has purchased your freedom through shedding his blood on the cross.  He has demonstrated his power through being raised from the dead.

But, you need to know, he sets you free to become his slave.  There is no way to live in this world except to live as a slave.  You may not like hearing this, but it is true.  You can be enslaved to the trapper.  He will promise to make your path easy (to keep you in his trap).  He will promise to make much of you (to fatten you up and skin you for your fur).  But he will not ever let you go.  You become to him what Don Henley became to the mad-man at the Hotel California—a resident who could check out any time he liked, but could never leave.

Your other option is to become a slave to Christ.  Romans 6:16 puts it this way: Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?

You do live in a world in which you are someone’s slave.  You could become a slave to your wife, your kids, your boss.  Or, you might become a slave to your particular sin.  How many people do you know grow up wanting to lose their wives and their jobs to alcohol, gambling, or drugs?  None.  It isn’t an ambition to which people aspire.  And, yet, it happens every day.  I have known attorneys, doctors, and judges who have sold their souls (and their families) for drugs, gambling, and adultery.  They started out “enjoying” their sin, believing they were masters not only of the sinful things but also of their own world.  They were no masters; they were slaves, trapped by the path of ease.

Better that we should choose our master and choose the one who is infinitely wise and good.  Let us choose to obey Christ as master and make ourselves his slaves.  In this way we can listen and obey every command knowing that it will protect us from death; it will preserve us for eternal life; it will keep us walking in love; it will free us to love others without fear; and it will bring us an abundance of peace and joy.

Who is your master today?

Swimming in Paradise Lost (Part 2)

Here is the point I am trying to make with this illustration of my sister’s suffering.  My sin of not honoring my mother’s commands caused both me and my sister to suffer a pretty nasty switching.  And it wasn’t unjust.  The responsibility was on me to make sure I had secured permission and that the matter was settled in my favor.  I should never have given an authoritative word to my sister without making the veracity of that word certain.

Mine was a sin of carelessness which cost my sister.  In Numbers 14, it was sins of rebellion which caused further suffering for the children of Israel.  As a penalty for their rebellion, the Lord determined that the adults of Israel who had been miraculously delivered from Egypt would not be allowed to enter the promised land.  Their children would be brought into the promised land, but they would not.

Can you imagine the pain and suffering of those 40 years in the wilderness?  Grandparents died.  Parents died.  Elder siblings died.  Israel was doomed to wander in the wilderness until all these people died.  As Numbers 14:33 says, “Your sons shall be shepherds for forty years in the wilderness, and they will suffer for your unfaithfulness, until your corpses lie in the wilderness.”  Just as all have suffered since the time of Adam and Eve on account of sin, so, too, Israelites suffered because their parents disobeyed God.

While it is true (as Ezekiel says) that “the soul which sins shall die,” meaning that each person stands before the Lord on His own, it is also true that  no one enters Heaven based on the good works of his parents.  No one enters Hell based on the bad deeds of his father.  It is appointed once that each person should die, and after that comes the judgment.

Still, we must not forget what the poet Donne taught us, “No man is an island.”  No one exists to himself.  No one’s actions are completely independent of others.  Folks who think their sins are their own and don’t hurt others simply demonstrate that they have no care or concern for others because all sin infects and injures others.  Just as my poor decision caused my sister to face the wrath of Momma, so, too, will our sinful actions cause others to suffer.  And, this especially the case with our children.

As parents, we have a special obligation to model upright behavior for our children.  I was telling someone the other day that I had an opportunity to sky dive one day, and I turned it down because it wasn’t worth the risk to me. I wasn’t afraid of dying—that isn’t the risk I am speaking about.  Rather, for me, skydiving was not worth the risk to my children.  (At that time, I had 2 little ones at home).  No amount of thrill for me would have been worth leaving them here without a father.  If something would have happened, my children would have suffered because of a poor decision I made.  I would have exchanged their opportunity of having a complete family for a one-time shot of adrenaline (or dopamine, or whatever you get from jumping).

How much more is it the case that when we knowingly sin—bringing drugs, drunkenness, pornography, adultery, and fornication into our homes—we cause our own children to suffer.  When marriages dissolve, children suffer.  When cheap sex ends in abortion, a child dies.  Mothers (who might have been) often suffer terribly after abortions.  And fathers suffer, too.  I know.  I have spoken to them in private after abortions.  You don’t know who they are, but I know them.  I know there is terrible suffering because of sin, and it isn’t isolated to the sinner himself.  It spreads to others like a snake’s venom spreads throughout the body, poisoning it to death.

Each one of us must answer to the Lord for our sins.  Each one of us also suffers in this life because of consequences from the sins of others.  And each one of us ought to remember that our sins are not our own.  So, as we swim in our little corners of paradise, let us remember that paradise has been lost (for now).  So, we must be careful to swim according to Christ if we wish to swim in the new and true paradise.  There is great joy–paradise indeed–in the presence of God.  Let us always remember to do our swimming there, surrounded by the beauty of His holiness.

Swimming in Paradise Lost

Oh, what a day we had!  My sister and I were both just kids, less than 10 years old.  But we knew how to have fun in a swimming pool.  And the swimming pool we were in was fantastic.  It was a big, in-ground pool, probably 20’ x 40’ with a nice concrete walk all the way around it.  There was a giant, blue squiggly slide on one side, a diving board on another.  The water was as clear as the cleanest glass in the cupboard.  And the water felt as cool as my mother’s iced tea.

It was a great day of splashing, swimming, floating, sliding, and diving.  The only other person in the pool was our friend Tracy.  In fact, the pool belonged to Tracy’s aunt.  Tracy and her family were taking care of it while the aunt was away.  She invited us to come along with them on this particularly sunny day.  It was paradise, until we returned home.

Paradise was quickly lost upon our arriving home.  We didn’t get past the sidewalk before the switch wrapped its talons violently across the back of our calves, leaving an undecipherable Morris-code message of dot-dot-dashes written in the slightly raised red lines.  To say my mother was angry would have been an understatement along the lines of “BP spilled a little oil.”  My mother was furious.

While we were soaking up the son over on Frusha Drive, my mother (across town) was marching up and down Bon Ami Street calling our names, wondering where we might be.  To this day, I still maintain that the ordeal occurred from miscommunication rather than disobedience, but my mother (the bearer of the switch) still thinks otherwise.  The switch got the final word.

My sister sent me to ask my mother’s permission for us to go across town swimming, thinking that my mother would likely be a little softer toward me—her baby boy.  Dutifully, I went.  I heard my mother respond to my request for permission to go swimming with a simple, “un-huh,” in which the “n” is not really pronounced; it’s simply there in a kind of “n”-sounding way.  The reason that is so important in this case is that it sounds remarkably similar to its negative counterpart in the Southern dialect, which is, “unt-uh.”  The first colloquialism is affirmative: It means, “Sure, kids, go swimming all day and have a great time.”  The second is negative (and in this case most emphatically so): It means, “Absolutely not! Are you crazy? Of course you cannot go across town swimming at another person’s home, whom I don’t even know.”  One little sound makes an awful lot of difference to a kid’s bottom.

I share the story because of its impact on my sister.  She was innocent in the matter.  Her spanking was the direct result of my telling her it was OK for us to go.  She received a defective word from me; yet she still suffered for it as much as I did.  Her spanking is a testimony to the reality that innocents will suffer because of sin.  My mistake caused her to suffer.

(to be continued)

Gracing Cain

Can you imagine being kind to the thief who stole your new mp3 player?  On two different occasions, my wife has had her purse and its contents stolen.  I can recall many of our thoughts in response to the theft: anger, cursing, bitterness.  We had a strange feeling of being violated and vulnerable, realizing just how powerless we sometimes are in the face of evil.  One thing I am certain we never thought of as a response is grace.  We never thought of being gracious toward the perpetrator.

The fact that I never revert to grace in times like these is surely evidence of lingering depravity in my own heart, highlighting yet more areas of my life in which I need to be conformed to Christ.  But there is something more.  I cannot comprehend the grace of God.  I mean, think of Christ.  He told his followers to pray for those who persecute them.  Pray for the guy scourging you with a whip.  In Romans 12, the Apostle Paul instructs us to “Bless those who persecute you. Bless and do not curse.”  Pray for and bless those who unjustly attack you?  What is going on here?  From where does such thinking arise?

Turns out, this thinking is rooted in the nature of God Himself.  Chapter 4 of Genesis is remarkable in many ways.  Genesis 4 is the story of the first martyrdom and the first instance of persecution.  Just as chapter 3 of Genesis is crucial for understanding the nature of sin, so, too, is chapter 4 crucial for understanding the nature of persecution.  Perhaps the most unlikely reality of persecution in chapter 4 is God’s response to it.  God acts extremely graciously toward Cain.  He does not kill Cain on the spot.  He offers him the chance to live.  To which grace, Cain complains in the face of God that the penalty is unjust.  Unjust? Why does God not breathe fire from his nostrils and torch the unrepentant Cain there on the spot?  I don’t know. I can’t figure it out.  It must be grace.  Only grace.

The Limits of Sin

Reading through Genesis 3 leaves the impression that sin is essentially explained in that chapter.  The first sin of the race offers the framework by which all other sin can be assessed and understood.

For me, one of the most striking aspects of sin as pictured in Genesis 3 is just how limiting sin proves to be.  Notice that the tempter had to take Eve’s mind away from the infinite blessings God had bestowed upon her.  The tempter caused Eve to forget the infinite bounty that was before her just awaiting her exploration; instead, the tempter got Eve to focus on a single tree with a single fruit in view.

In essence, all sin works this way.  It makes one very small piece of creation become more important to you than all of creation.  The whole earth belonged to Eve and Adam, but that was not enough.  They traded it all for a single fruit.  Whether our “fruit” is a pill, a woman, a man, a bottle, a juicy bit of gossip, or an extra dollar worth lying for–our fruit is the same as Adam and Eve’s; it is one little tiny part of creation which we have made ourselves to believe is worth all of creation.  We make very small things large in our own eyes.

This means our lust is fueled not by reality, but by our appetites.  We want to believe in the bigness of the little fruit.  We make it big by pursuing it with heavy panting and constant craving.  God is not fooled, however, and still sees the little thing for what it is: very small indeed.

If we would but turn to God in Christ, we would see what a massively glorious creature He is.  Then we would know BIG!  Then we would pant and crave to capture his inexhaustible glory.  Then we would be fulfilled because whatever bigness we ascribe to God would prove not to have been big enough.  He will always exceed our expectations of Him.

How ironic that sin limits us to such very small realities and blinds us to that reality which is gloriously abundant.

Wisdom vs. Slavery

I had not thought of making wisdom and slavery opposites before reading Genesis 2 today, but these 2 ideas are opposites.  The Lord speaks to the Man and gives him the command to eat freely of everything in the garden except for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Obviously, for this command to make sense, the Man already had some head knowledge of both good and evil.  What he did not have is experiential knowledge of evil.

If Man had stayed forever away from the experiential knowledge of evil, he would have grown in wisdom and knowledge before the Lord and enjoyed great harmony in the Garden.  Wisdom means applying godly knowledge to life, thereby learning more about God and life.

Yet, we know that the Man did not follow the course of growing in wisdom; instead, he took the forbidden fruit and fell into the experiential knowledge of good and evil.  This fall was not innocent; it brought guilt and judgment.  Indeed, it brought death.  So, the picture is clear from Genesis 2 that the way of obedience is the way of wisdom, but the way of disobedience is the way of being trapped into death.  The freedom of life and the slavery of death are always on the line in the matter of obedience.