How It All Went Wrong
To really understand Jesus’ message about repentance and freedom we need to go right back to the beginning of the Bible’s account of God’s dealings with mankind – from the book of Genesis to the present day.
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To really understand the central importance of Jesus’ message about repentance and freedom we need to go right back to the beginning of the Bible’s account of God’s dealings with the human race – to the book of Genesis, in fact.
The early world was ‘very good’ (Gen 1:31): but it was wild and needed taming (Gen 1:26-28). Adam and Eve’s assignment was to rule it as God’s representatives. But they were not yet ready for this; so God put them in a safe place, Eden, which Adam was made responsible for cultivating and protecting (Gen 2:15).
There were two very special trees. The tree of life gave Adam and Eve perfect health (Gen 3:22); and they could eat from it whenever they wished (Gen 2:17-18). But the tree of knowledge of good and evil, was not there to eat: but to teach Adam how to love – by caring for the interests of others. Adam had to be free to choose whether to do this; because love is only love when it is voluntary.
Now we get a master-class on temptation from the most devious con-artist of all time – the serpent (a.k.a. Satan), an implacable enemy of God. He had nothing of any worth to offer Adam and Eve. Instead he tricked them into a trade to acquire what they already had! Once he had successfully undermined their confidence in God’s goodness, their own natural desires did the rest.
What did the serpent gain from Adam’s sin?
- God had put Adam in charge of the earth. When Adam chose to follow Satan rather than God, he became Satan’s servant; and Satan became earth’s ruler.
- Satan was looking for an insurance policy and was aware of God’s affection for mankind. Now, if God sought to judge Satan, he could claim that God would be unjust to spare humanity but not himself.
- Satan also knew that ‘death’ meant permanent separation from God. He thought that, if God wanted to cancel this penalty for Adam, he could demand an equivalent payment – either his own pardon or some infinite penalty of his choosing. He thought he had outsmarted God.
Humans have the same kinds of natural needs and instincts as other animals. But we were made with the capacity to know God, reason, predict and make moral choices, overruling our natural responses when necessary. We were designed to live in an ongoing relationship with God: so that we could draw on his wisdom and strength whenever we needed it. Without Him in our lives we revert to being just ‘clever animals’ – still able to learn and do amazing things: but unable to properly manage our naturally self-centred animal nature.
Cut off from God’s presence, Adam was spiritually dead already and, physically, we are all doomed. But what if evil tyrants had been immortal? Physical death was a way of limiting the damage until God’s master-plan was fulfilled.
The over-arching lesson of history can be summed up as this: Man, through his ingenuity can control nature: but he cannot conquer his own selfishness. He can rule the earth: but he himself is ruled by his own sin and ultimately subject to the ongoing manipulation of the same deceiving spirit that first got him into this mess.
Many people suppose that God will judge people by weighing up their ‘good’ deeds against their ‘bad’ ones. But the problem is that your ‘best’ is no more than God expected in the first place; so, regardless of what you do, every failure is adding to a mounting debt that you can never repay.