Trapped By Our Own Sins
It has already been suggested that the serpent had a deeper personal agenda than merely sabotaging God’s creation. So what did he expect to gain from Adam’s sin?
- God had made Adam ruler and protector of the earth (Gen 1:28). God is true to his word: and that word declares that the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable (Num 23:19, Rom 11:29). As long as Adam followed God, the earth remained under God’s ultimate rule and protection. But, by choosing to follow the serpent, Adam was obeying him rather than God; so the serpent became earth’s ruler. He openly claimed this when tempting Jesus (Lk 4:5-6), and Jesus acknowledged it by referring to him as ‘the prince of this world’ (Jn 12:31). Unlike God, the serpent’s interest in ruling the earth was purely selfish. This was bad news for Adam and the earth as a whole (Gen 3:17-8, Rom 8:22).
- In the eyes of God, the serpent was a rebel and a criminal. Why then did God not simply destroy him? One of the most frequently-heard remarks from a cornered criminal is, “I know my rights!” God is a God of justice; but also of love and mercy: whereas the serpent sees all these attributes as merely weaknesses to be exploited. He was aware of God’s affection for Adam and Eve, and was looking for an insurance policy. Now, if God sought to judge him, he could point to Adam’s sin and claim that God would be unjust to spare Adam but not himself. And the more man sinned, the stronger his case would become. It is from this that he gets his other name of Satan – ‘the accuser.’
- Satan already understood the meaning of the words, “in the day that you eat of it you will surely die,” (Gen 2:17); because he was already under the same sentence. It meant to be forever separated from the life of God. Satan believed that, if God wanted to cancel this penalty for Adam, he could argue that justice required an equivalent payment – either his own pardon or some kind of infinite penalty of his own choosing. But to Satan, blinded by his own self-centredness, the idea that God might offer Himself as the payment, was totally alien. He thought that he had outsmarted God.
Human beings are animals; with the same kinds of natural needs and instincts as others. This makes it easier for us to identify with and understand the needs of the creation that we were originally designed to govern. But the thing that marks us out above all other animals is our capacity to know God, to reason, predict and make moral choices. To a far greater extent than any other animal we are able to act in ways that override our natural programming.
This means that we can learn from our experiences, anticipate the potential consequences of our actions and alter our behaviour in order to achieve a better outcome. We are empowered to value qualities such as love above lesser considerations – even, if necessary, above the safety and comfort of ourselves or our own families.
But without the presence of God in our lives our capacity for moral choice is crippled, in several ways:
- Our ability to foresee the consequences of our choices is very limited. Unless we can access a wisdom higher than our own, mistakes are pretty much guaranteed. (But note that these only become moral failures when such wisdom is available and we choose to ignore it.)
- Without God there is no absolute moral standard of right and wrong. Life degenerates into ‘survival of the fittest;’ where ‘fittest’ is defined as, ‘the one who survives,’ and ‘right’ as that which works for the survivor.
- Without the presence of God in our lives we lack the motivation to do right.
- Without the presence of God in our lives we lack the power to do right. Just as our physical bodies lose strength without the necessary supplies of food, air and warmth, so too our spiritual and moral nature weakens when we are not connected to God.
- Everyone born into the world since that time is born into a world corrupted by evil; and comes under the influence of that evil even before they are old enough to consciously choose to do wrong themselves.
The result is that we slide back into the sphere of ‘clever animals’ – still able to learn and do amazing things: but unable to properly manage our naturally self-centred animal nature. The results of this can be seen all around us in the depths of cruelty, depravity and indifference to the suffering of others into which humanity has often sunk.
But it could have been worse. No matter how powerful and ruthless these people of cruelty and violence have been, eventually all of them have died; and with the rise of a new generation, sickened by their misdeeds, fresh efforts have been made to build a better future. But what if the perpetrators of these evils had been immortal?
Yahweh God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil. Now, lest he put forth his hand, and also take of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever…” Therefore Yahweh God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. So he drove out the man; and he placed Cherubs at the east of the garden of Eden, and the flame of a sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life. (Gen 3:22-24)
So on that day, as God had foretold, Adam was cut off from God’s presence and access to the tree of life. This meant that, spiritually, he was dead already (see “What is the meaning of death?” for a fuller explanation) and, physically, he and all of our race were doomed to die. To use a modern-day illustration, we are like a laptop or mobile phone without a charger – forced to operate on a gradually-depleting battery, until the power runs out and it becomes useless.
But this death sentence was really an act of mercy – of damage limitation – until the master-plan envisaged by God before he ever created the world could be fulfilled.
The history of the human race from then until the coming of Jesus can be summed up as a catalogue of failures, as mankind sought all kinds of different ways of finding happiness and fulfilment. At times, great civilisations were established and great feats accomplished: but all ended in selfishness, exploitation and failure. Amongst these, the most notable from the standpoint of this study is the history of the Jewish people.
God singled out a man, Abraham, who was willing to risk everything to follow God and proceeded to demonstrate that, with such an attitude, a great nation could be formed against seemingly impossible odds. Having proved himself to them, God then established laws of governance; promising that, if they would only be obedient to these laws, the nation would continue to prosper and become a source of blessing to the entire world. But their adherence to these laws was short-lived: and the remainder of their history was yet another depressing cycle of occasional successes and many more failures.
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 – and maybe also factoring in a comparison with the ‘worse’ performance of others. We will look in more detail at the basis on which God judges people elsewhere. But there is one parable of Jesus that makes it absolutely clear that this idea is a non-starter.
But who is there among you, having a servant plowing or keeping sheep, that will say, when he comes in from the field, ‘Come immediately and sit down at the table,’ and will not rather tell him, ‘Prepare my supper, clothe yourself properly, and serve me, while I eat and drink. Afterward you shall eat and drink’? Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded? I think not. Even so you also, when you have done all the things that are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy servants. We have done our duty.’ ” (Luk 17:7-10)
Jesus’ point is that even if, from now on, you do everything that God expects from you, you have done nothing more than God expected in the first place. You haven’t earned any ‘credits’ that you can use to offset against all those times when you haven’t acted as you should. Regardless of what you or anyone else may or may not do, your personal failures are creating an ever-increasing debt that you can never repay.