Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Playing with Sin

There are some things we can’t control, like gravity. However, there are things that we can’t control that are also highly dangerous and life-controlling. Heroin addiction is a good example.

One probationer explained crack addiction to me. “After one hit, I was hooked. I turned around and went back to the guy who sold me my first hit, and that was it.” At least with crack and heroin, you are aware of what you did to get you hooked. However, sin itself is more stealthful, life-controlling, and destructive. There are some things we think we can just taste without running the risk of addiction. However, sin can take over without our even knowing it.

The best example of this is the Garden of Eden debacle. Adam and Eve had been enjoying unbroken fellowship with their God. Their every need was fulfilled daily. They were even so comfortable within their own skin that they didn’t experience the slightest discomfort or taint of shame with their nakedness (Gen. 2:25). They were at peace.

Although they had no reason whatsoever to distrust God or to fault His provisions, the woman succumbed to the serpentine temptation to believe that God was holding something back from them (3:5), and so they sinned and ate the forbidden fruit with devastating consequences:

·        Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. (Genesis 3:7)

Shame struck like a thunderbolt, and they knew they had to do something about it. Instead of crying out to their Creator, they were determined to handle the guilt and shame their own way. Foolishly, they covered themselves with sewn fig leaves, as if this would cover the real source of their shame. However, their problem was much deeper, going to the core of their very being - their righteousness and sense of self.

Their response is reflective of our own response to guilt and shame. We too cover ourselves, not only with clothing but also with “good deeds” – anything to try to regain our original sense of okay-ness. We march for various causes, make personal sacrifices, achieve socially-respectable goals, and compete for positions of power and respect.

It is not that all of these aren’t worthy endeavors. However, they are not able to address the core problem. They are no more than band-aids. Consequently, the “lift” we derive from our achievements only lasts temporarily, and we are afterwards coerced to seek other mountains to climb. This is evidence that these coverings fail to address the core issue, and then we are doomed to futilely spend the rest of our lives trying to establish our worthiness.

We understandably laugh at our first parents’ attempt to deal with sin. However, our efforts are no less laughable than theirs. The sin had to be confronted along with the disruption of their fellowship with their Maker. Covering our sins with fig leaves or with our accomplishments, like obtaining a mansion in DC, is nothing short of denial and a refusal to walk in the light of truth. These are things we use to tell ourselves, “I’m OK,” when we really are not!

However, the power, deception and utter destructiveness of sin didn’t stop there:
·        Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. (Genesis 3:8)

Instead of acknowledging the futility of trying to cover up their sin, they hid from the only source of their deliverance. And what made them think that they could hide from their Creator? Even more startling, they now regarded Him as their enemy and not their friend. He had become an additional problem with which they had to deal and not their answer. What caused this massive conversion? Sin!

Sin is so powerful and deceptive that most of humankind regards God as their enemy, as Jesus reflected:

·        This is the verdict: Light [Truth] has come into the world, but men loved darkness [sin and denial] instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. (John 3:19-20)

Sin had taken charge. Therefore, the light was now intolerable to Adam and Eve. Darkness, no matter how destructive, has become our residence of choice. We justify our sins even as they squeeze the life out of us. While sexual liberationists celebrate the sexual liberties that women have won in Western societies, a recent study has just revealed that women are less happy than ever. Darkness can be more comforting than the light, which painfully reveals our sins, mistakes and what we’re really all about. 

Nevertheless, our God is patient, wanting all to come to confession and repentance. He didn’t crush His first humans with judgment. Instead, He asked them a series of questions:

·        But the Lord God called to the man, "Where are you?" (Genesis 3:9)

Of course, the omniscient God knew exactly where the man was hiding.  He was giving  Adam space to freely confess his sin. However, Adam filled this space with deceptive half-truths:

·        He answered, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid." (Genesis 3:10)

Technically, Adam told the truth. However, this “truth” amounted to obfuscation. He refused to acknowledge his sin, his rebellion against the Word of God. When sin takes over, we don’t suddenly throw away all moral considerations. Adam didn’t respond, “I don’t care a wit about obedience, righteousness or rebellion. These are your concerns not mine!” Knowing right from wrong is knowledge indelibly imprinted on our conscience. Therefore, even the worst sinners retain this knowledge in varying degrees and, as I’ve pointed out before, are forced to clothe their sins in facades of righteousness.

When we reject the righteousness that comes as a gift from God, we are coerced to achieve our own righteousness. Hitler’s hatred and genocide were clothed in the rationalizations of building a great and enduring empire. Stalin and Lenin murdered their millions justifying it by claiming that they were merely creating a workers’ paradise. When we reject the light, we embrace a darkness that offers substitute ideals and a counterfeit righteousness. However—back to Adam—his “truth” was no better than the deception to which he had fallen prey. He had become a child of the darkness.

However, God wasn’t finished with His questions:

·        And he said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?" (Genesis 3:11)

True to the nature of darkness, Adam flung out another “truthful” response:

·        The man said, "The woman you put here with me--she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it." (Genesis 3:12)

One sin becomes the mother of the next. We always need one more sin to cover the last. God had pinned Adam against the wall. He now had to confess that he had been disobedient. Will he now take full responsibility and cry out for mercy? No way—instead  he responded with blame-shifting. It wasn’t his fault; it was the woman’s fault. Along with this was Adam’s not-too-subtle charge that he had disobeyed because of "The woman you put here with me.” According to Adam, it was God’s fault!

The rational thing to do would have been to plead for mercy. However, sin is not rational; it wants to destroy. Rationality should have informed Adam that his only hope now was in the mercy of God.  Instead, Adam was convinced that he could get-over on God.

But now the Creator turned His questions to the woman:

·        Then the Lord God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate." (Genesis 3:13)

Sin’s handiwork is easily recognized. It never humbly confesses sin, even when caught red-handed. Instead, it points the finger at someone else. It was the serpent’s fault. No true confession here! No taking of responsibility. Self righteousness seeks to do either of two things – justify self or denigrate others. Self-righteousness must always stand above the crowd.  It must convince itself (and the world) of its own moral superiority. Consequently, “All of a man’s ways are right in his own eyes” (Proverbs 21:2), and we live out our futile lives blinded by the logs we have refused to remove (Matthew 7:1-5).

Sin had taken control, so much so that Adam and Eve never once protested the curse that would stamp not only their lives but also the rest of the human race. Even the land would now be cursed because of them. Besides, they would now taste death:

·        “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return." (Genesis 3:19)

No indication of any remorse! If anything, they were trapped in the webs of denial. They didn’t even seem to have heard the “death” verdict:

·        Adam named his wife Eve [“life,” in Hebrew], because she would become the mother of all the living. (Genesis 3:20)

God’s last word had been “death,” while Adam’s next word was “life.” They no longer saw eye-to-eye. Clearly, their relationship had been seriously ruptured. We even get the feeling that their banishment from God was more than a relief to this couple, who could no longer tolerate the light of His presence.

We cannot play with sin. One puff of the cigarette can pave the way to addiction. It did so for me – seven times! I was smoking two packs a day, and it was killing me. I had to give up, but I didn’t want to give up entirely. I thought I could control smoking only two cigarettes a day. However, I underestimated the power of sin. After smoking the one, I convinced myself that I had done pretty well and could handle a second. Then I determined, because I had done so well with the second, I could handle a third. On each of six occasions I returned to my two packs a day.

Throughout my struggle to quit, I’ve learned that I cannot even handle taking a single puff. Not that a puff is addictive, but once I open the door to one puff, I have no problem opening it again to the second and the third.

Tasting sin is like feeding a stray dog. Once you feed it, you can no longer get rid of it.

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