Happy 2018! We’ve had a lovely couple of days spending fun quality time with friends and family. It feels like Brian has been home from work with us for a long time, and it’s been heavenly!
New beginnings have been on my mind. I have been reading a new chronological Bible that I got for Christmas, starting in Genesis, and I have also been pondering the year ahead of me, as vacation time comes to a close. I feel both excited and reluctant when facing personal physical, mental, and spiritual goals, because setbacks are discouraging, and I don’t want to let them tempt me into giving up. Overall, I feel hopeful, because I am involving God, family, and friends in my goals, and we can do this together!
Reading Genesis again has stirred up a lot of the old big questions about God and humanity. It reminds me of how doomed to failure we humans have seemed from the start, and how quickly the human race can tumble into chaos and cruelty. Even we, who consider ourselves “pretty good” people, can’t seem to be the way we want to be, never mind how God wants us to be. It’s frustrating. Why do I feel like God asks the impossible of me? I feel compelled to look deeper, to find God in this messy story. Creator and Redeemer and Returning King – those are the steady and familiar roles to me, but I want to better understand the heart of God. The human mind can’t fully comprehend God, and he certainly doesn’t have to explain himself to me, but I still like to ponder these things out of curiosity.
Why, if God knew all that we would do, did he still proceed in the manner that he did with creating a people that would fail him, and then personally lay down his life for this same people who would continue to hurt each other and mischaracterize him? And why, literally on Earth, would he send the devil to be anywhere near where we were, or were going to be? After pondering these things for the last few days, I have arrived at two conclusions. Within the context of the Bigger Story, there is no other possible way he could create beings and remain true to the character he claims, and he more highly values a redeemed humanity than a perfect one.
That is the main point I want to make. If I keep these thoughts in mind, instead of being frustrated with my failing nature, I can accept that that’s just how it is, and it’s no surprise to God. I can marvel at God’s grace and his promises to help me through and hang in there a little longer until our relationship is restored to its completeness. I can pursue this relationship with confidence that mistakes are going to be a part of the journey, and I can learn from them and walk with others graciously through theirs.
The Bigger Story
Those can be fairly big claims, so I will share with you my thought process in the context of God’s overarching story, as presented in the Bible. God’s story is by no means a universally-accepted one. But, for it to be true and acceptable to me, it has to be the entire fantastic biblical story. In fact, this “story” makes my reality realer for me than without it. I’ll explain.
- The setting starts with a beautiful angel (Lucifer) in an important position in God’s service (Ez 28: 12-15).
- Lucifer became prideful and wanted to be God (Isaiah 14:12-14).
- Somewhere along the way, God turned a “formless and void” Earth into a planet full of life. (Genesis 1, 2).
- Lucifer escalated his efforts to overtake God’s throne to the point of heavenly war and gets kicked out with a third of the angels he convinced (Revelation 12: 7-12, Luke 10:18).
- Lucifer, then known as Satan, the serpent, the dragon, is cast to earth (Revelation 12:9).
- Satan is angry at God and makes it his mission to accuse God of unfairness, and to hurt God by turning his creation against him (Job 1: 6-12, 1 Peter 5:8, Hebrews 2:14, Ephesians 6:11, 2 Timothy 2:26, John 13:2, Genesis 3).
I want to pause here to notice something. At this point, a perfect angel rebelled and caused war in heaven. Have you ever heard a parent say to their kid, “I brought you into this world, and I can take you out of it”? It’s fascinating to see that God does not simply destroy Lucifer and end the evil before it infects others, so heaven can move on in its glorious perfection. Knowing the devastating things Lucifer would do, God also didn’t choose to simply not create him. Who would even know if God opted out of creating someone?
If God claims to be Love, and claims that all creation has free will, then what would destroying a rebel do? Likely, it would then cause all of heaven to obey God out of fear. Had God not created him (who would even know it?), would that choice still not violate the purity of love and free will, regardless of how humane or invisible we might consider it? Love doesn’t rule like that. So now, all that is left is to let sin run its course and allow all of the universe to see what it truly means to live by selfish principles instead of by God’s ways.
God lets Satan be Satan for a time. He IS going to destroy Satan and his angels (Matthew 25:41), but not until all of creation can participate in the so-called heavenly courts where God stands on trial with Satan, the prosecutor. This comes at a terrible personal cost to God, because He knows what we will do, and the price He will choose to pay for it.
- God, in a demonstration of the free will of the people he just created, provides them with a means to demonstrate their commitment and their power of choice. It is God’s desire that they do not know about the evil that now exists. He tells them not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 2:17).
- Satan is permitted to tempt them with this tree, and successfully convinces them that God is keeping something desirable from them. Satan then could claim mankind as his, through mankind’s choosing. (Genesis 3:1-4).
- With the sudden awareness (knowledge) of their sin – their choice to mistrust God – and the new-found clarity of Satan’s deception, Adam & Eve can’t bear to face God in their shame (Genesis 3:7-8)
- God responds both strongly and tenderly. He curses the serpent and encourages mankind that through Eve a descendant would come that would crush Satan and restore what was lost (Genesis 3:14,15).
- He informs them of the new challenging life they will experience with sin present in the world (Genesis 3:16-19).
- He clothes them with animal skins – the solemn experience of the first (animal) death, and the beginning of a continual practice of sacrifice that would remind them of the devastation of sin, and point forward as a reminder of the coming sacrifice of Jesus, perfect and innocent as a lamb (Genesis 3:21).
Basically, God is saying, “Okay, this is the part that’s going to hurt for all of us, but it’s not going to be like this forever.” The rest of the Old Testament is essentially the story of God trying to get his people to hang in there and remember who he really is, while Satan makes every effort to twist and deceive and hurt. Then, Jesus steps in and buys us back from Satan with his own perfect life. Now God waits in his own perfect time, for the right time to return, hoping that not one of us will be lost (2 Peter 3:9). When God closes the curtain on sin, it will be clear to all that God’s ways are truly loving and desirable, and sin is a terrible, destructive path that will never be chosen again.
So…Why do I feel like God asks the impossible of me?
He does and He doesn’t. God never changes. Neither does his law. His law is still the way to the perfect life of joy, love, unity, and harmony. It’s serious business to sin. It keeps us isolating ourselves from God, just like Adam and Eve hid from God, fresh off the sin press, and what God wants most is unity with us (John 17:20-23). The deception Satan has worked on us is that what God wants is our perfection, from our own efforts. No. If God wanted perfection, he could’ve orchestrated it effectively. What he wants is a deep and eternal relationship with us, freely chosen, and he wants to help us achieve it. The same power of God that raised Jesus from the dead is the same power at work in us to help us grow and to help us love him and each other with all our being.
What does a redeemed people have over a perfect people? We could be enjoying a perfect life right now, on a perfect Earth, and delighting in God’s visible presence. We would be simple and innocent, and literally none the wiser. I imagine God would like for us to have chosen that in the first place. But, now that it’s done, I believe we will be experiencing God on a whole other level (I have to be careful how I say this before I paint God with Hero Syndrome). We will experience an eternity with a God that personally formed us in His image, communed with us, watched us reject Him, and then personally intervened with his own life to save us from the sin we regretfully invited, and then will restore to us a life without pain or sadness or struggle. We will experience deep, safe, and lasting connection. We will be in awe of Him and all that he has done for us, and the immeasurable depth of His grace and love. On some level, that’s such a richer, more beautiful story, and it’s ours.
If that’s not the story, then I have no other explanation of the presence of chaos, the evil, or conversely, the striving to resist the entropy that comes so naturally. Never have I spoken to someone that was doing or feeling anything unpleasant, unkind, or harmful and heard them say that’s exactly how they want to feel, or that wrong is the thing they want to do. People want to feel whole, complete, good, loving. This story explains to me the presence of the contradiction in us – that we were made in God’s image, with his law written in our hearts, but a poison is among us. For now.