1A: SIN AND JUSTICE
I love stories. I grew up reading books long after bedtime, straining to see the pages by the chink of light through my bedroom doorway. The best stories were always those about heroes standing up for good in the face of evil. Even though the stakes were always high, the sacrifices great, and the chances of success small, good always won out. Evil was always defeated. I have never been interested in so-called “grown-up” stories without happy endings.
Many of the stories we tell are an echo of the true Story, the real history of good and evil, God and humanity that has been playing out for thousands of years. The Bible is fascinating in that it starts right at the beginning, with the awakening of the very first man and woman and their eventual fall, and ends right at that last battle, when evil is permanently eradicated. It’s important to understand this grand story and to recognize our own role in the drama.
I think sometimes we are tempted to see humanity a little like the unfortunate damsel-in-distress that the hero comes to rescue. She might be misguided, flawed and confused, perhaps flirting with the Enemy, but ultimately she is still one of the good guys. Even though we know that people are far from perfect, we tend to assume that we are at least on “Team Good”.
The Bible doesn’t tell it that way.
The Very Beginning
It is certainly true that human beings began perfectly, the pinnacle of God’s creation, made “in His image” and designed to live in close friendship with God and to rule over everything on Earth. Adam and Eve are described as being innocent and contented, without any concept of the shame that comes from doing something wrong: “The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.”
The first people obeyed God perfectly, yet they did so by choice. The infinitely powerful Creator didn’t force them to submit to His will. Instead, he gave them the power to choose, laying out each choice and the consequences that would follow: “you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it, you will surely die.” He gave humanity the right to fail.
At this point in the story, the ultimate villain, Satan, enters. We don’t know much about his origins, aside from hints that he was once a powerful spiritual being, an angel created by God who had turned away from Him and become irredeemably corrupt, the embodiment of evil. It seems he appeared to Adam and Eve in the form of a serpent.
Satan offers Eve a new thought. What if God cannot be trusted? What if He is lying, holding out on you, denying you something good for His own benefit? “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Here Eve is given a choice. Trust God and willingly obey Him, or rebel against Him and take charge of her own fate. She decides to rebel, and Adam follows suit. However, unbeknownst to them, Satan, the ultimate liar, had hidden a catch. By betraying God and obeying the Devil, Adam and Eve had handed both themselves and the Earth they ruled over to him. As a wise teacher would later remark, “you are slaves to the one whom you obey.” Humanity had joined “Team Evil”.
God had not lied when he promised that the result of eating from the forbidden tree would be death. Physical decay and death would now haunt Adam and Eve and their children, and spiritual death took place instantly. Humanity was banished from God’s presence. It’s important to note that this was not a rejection of Adam and Eve by God, but instead an unavoidable consequence of their rejection of God. They had sided with Satan and were cursed and swiftly becoming evil.
The fruit of this choice became evident within a few years with the first murder – one of Adam’s sons killed his own brother. Cruelty and depravity continued to grow in future generations until God was so broken-hearted over the pain and corruption in his own creation, he actually wished it un-made.
The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.
At this point we find the answer to one of the deepest questions in human existence. Why does pain and suffering exist? For here, God had the opportunity to end it. How? Simply end us. The reason why this seems harsh to you and me is because we still see ourselves in that rose-tinted role, the misguided heroine needing only a little rescuing to re-discover her goodness. Satan – he’s the only evil one that needs to be destroyed, surely?
But this simply isn’t true. God described the human race as “only evil all the time”. We’re not the damsel–in-distress. We’re the bad guys. And it’s never wrong when the bad guys get what they deserve.
So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.
Think for a second about the reality, the full picture, of the evil that human beings perpetrate against each other in our world. Think about the injustice of poverty that relegates people to live like animals, the destructive cruelty of murder, torture and rape, the soul-scarring abuse that takes place behind closed doors. We have graduated from just stealing fruit. Why would God choose to allow us to go on?
The answer is hard to comprehend. It’s certainly not because we deserve to live. Instead, as the great Story progresses, we begin to see the answer has something to do with love. God is the one perfectly fair Judge, and he will not permit evil to go unpunished. Death remains our constant reminder that “people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” However, humanity does go on, and somehow, hope remains.
God sends a flood to wipe out evil, but saves Noah and his small family. They survive and start to gradually re-populate the Earth. However, evil is still very much in charge. In a few generations, mankind almost totally forgets the God that created them. Except, once again, for one man.
Section 1A Bible Study: Sin & Justice
Part 1: Let’s start by looking at the backstory of how sin came into the world in the first place
Read Genesis 1:26-31
Qu 1: What do you think it means to be made in the image of God?
Qu 2: What do you think was God’s original plan for human beings?
Qu 3: When God said his creation was ‘very good’ what do you think he meant?
Read Genesis 3:1-24
Qu 4: Why did Eve decide to eat the fruit? Why didn’t she believe what God had said?
Qu 5: Why did they have to be banished? Why couldn’t God just forgive them?
Qu 6: How did people’s behavior change now that they ‘knew good and evil’?
Read Genesis 6:5-22
Qu 7: Why did God want to destroy mankind? Why would that be the right thing to do?
Read Psalm 51
Qu 8: Who wrote this song? Why did he write it? What was going on in his life?
Qu 9: Why does the writer say to God, “against you, and you only, have I sinned?”
Qu 10: What does he mean when he says God is ‘proved right’ when he judges?
Part 2: Now let’s look at what the New Testament has to say about sin.
Read John 8:31-47
Qu 11: Who is Jesus talking to in this story? What do these people believe?
Qu 12: What do you think Jesus meant by saying ‘everyone who sins is a slave to sin?’
Qu 13: Why are the Jews angry with what Jesus is saying? What do they believe?
Qu 14: Why does Jesus say that their father is the devil? What is his reasoning?
Read 1 John 1:5-11
Qu 15: Who wrote this letter? Who is he writing to?
Qu 16: What does the writer mean when he says there is ‘no darkness at all’ in God?
Qu 17: What is the writer warning us about? What shouldn’t we do and why?
Read 1 John 3:4-10
Qu 18: What is ‘the devils work’ and how is Jesus going to destroy it?
Qu 19: According to the writer, how do you tell who is a child of God and who isn’t?
Qu 20: Why do you think the writer says ‘do not let anyone lead you astray’?
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