Other sermons in this series
One of the most common questions people have about Christianity is this: if God is such a good God, and he’s powerful and he can do whatever he wants, then what’s wrong with the world? You only need to glance at the news to know something’s not right. A large boat packed with migrants capsized in the Mediterranean last Wednesday, possibly killing all 500 people. The death toll from Ecuador’s earthquake last Saturday has risen to 646 people. If God really is a loving and kind God, why does this stuff happen? Why do friendships end and families break apart? Why do people get really sick? Why do people die in freak accidents? Or get murdered? Why are there natural disasters which kill thousands and thousands of people? Why are there terrorist attacks, and genocide, and terrible acts of violence? Why doesn’t God fix it all? Why doesn’t he put a stop to it all? Where is he when all this stuff happens?
There are complex answers to each of those questions, and there are complex reasons behind each of those scenarios, but there is one basic answer and reason that underpins all of them. And it’s in Genesis chapter 3, that was read out just before.
If you weren’t here last week, we’ve just started a ten week series called One Story, Ten Questions, and the idea of the series is to give you the big picture of the Bible, as well as answers to commonly asked questions about the Bible. And last week, Jeremy took us through creation in Genesis 1, and he showed us that the world wasn’t always like it is now — when God made the world, it was good and beautiful. The first two humans from whom we are all descended, Adam and Eve, they were made in God’s image, and they were given the authority to rule the world and its creatures and have dominion over everything, not so that they could trash it or abuse it, but so that they could look after it and help it to flourish. And they lived in peace and harmony with each other and with God.
But when you look around at the world today, it’s nothing like that. The world is not in a state of peace and harmony. And it begs the question, what went wrong? That’s actually the next stage of the big story of the Bible that we’re looking at. And we’re going to see it comes down to three broken relationships.
HUMANITY REJECTS RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD
I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie, The Truman Show, it’s one of my favourite movies. It has a big twist right in the middle of it, and I’m about to spoil it. But it came out in 1998, so you’ve had 18 years to watch it. So too bad. Anyway, it’s about this guy Truman Burbank who’s an ordinary guy, it seems, he lives an ordinary life and does ordinary things. But completely unbeknown to him, he is the leading role in a super popular reality TV show all about him. He lives in a small town built inside a massive, massive dome-shaped set filled with hidden cameras, and all the people in the town are just extras who work for the show, pretending to be ordinary people. Truman’s wife is an actor, his best friend is an actor. In fact, Truman’s the only one who isn’t acting. And millions of people around the world watch the show for entertainment. And in the movie, Truman realises that the world he lives in is a sham, and then he tries to escape. And at the end of the movie, Truman finds his way to the edge of the massive sky-painted dome-set and finds an emergency exit in the wall. And he’s just about to walk out. And then the show’s producer in desperation calls out on the loudspeaker like the voice of God from heaven, and he begs Truman not to leave.Millions of people love watching your TV show. So stay in the world I’ve created for you. It’s safe. The world out there is ugly and dangerous. But Truman wants freedom, he wants to live in reality and have real relationships, so he leaves.
Like Truman, Adam and Eve begin to suspect that the world they live in is a sham, that they’re missing out on a greater understanding of reality. God’s told them they can eat from any tree in the garden of Eden except one, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and if they eat from that tree they’ll die. But Adam and Eve begin to suspect that God is lying. And they become convinced of that by a talking serpent.
Have a look at verse 1.
1Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
Now lots of people get hung up on this serpent. How did something so insidious slip under God’s radar and find its way into the garden? Was God not paying attention? Well no. If you look at the verse carefully, it says that God made the serpent. This is no accident or mistake. This is humanity’s first test: will they trust God or not?
And notice how deceptive the serpent is. “Did God really say, ‘You can’t eat from any tree in the garden’?” Wait a minute. God never said that. He never said ANY tree, but the serpent is deliberately trying to make God out to be a cosmic kill-joy. Eve corrects the serpent in verse 2, but check out what she says in verse 3.
2The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and YOU MUST NOT TOUCH IT, or you will die.'”
God didn’t say anything about touching the fruit, he only said they couldn’t eat it. Eve’s making God out to be stricter than he actually is. She’s doing the same thing the serpent was doing; she’s beginning to taint the truth herself. She’s beginning to believe the serpent: God’s holding something back from them. And that’s when the serpent pounces. Verse 4-5.
4“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5“For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
God is lying to you, is what the serpent is saying. This tree will give you knowledge that will set you free and give you power, and God doesn’t want you to eat from it because he doesn’t have your best interests at heart. And how does Eve respond? Does she say, “No you are lying Mr Serpent, and we love God, and we trust that he knows what’s best for us.” NOPE. Verse 6.
6When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
But does eating the fruit give them the joy and happiness and freedom they were hoping for? No. Verse 7.
7Then 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.
Eating the fruit doesn’t bring joy and freedom the serpent promised, it brings shame and fear. So they make clothes for themselves. But not only that, they’re afraid of God, because they don’t trust him anymore. He’s potentially dangerous now. So they hide. From verse 8.
8Then 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.
This is how humanity rejected God. This is how humanity’s relationship with God was broken. This wasn’t merely a case of God saying, don’t eat the fruit, and we were naughty and we ate the fruit. This was a case of God saying, I love you and I know what’s best for you and I want you to trust me, and we went, no you don’t love us, we don’t trust you, you’re evil and you’re hiding something from us.
But we were wrong. We thought we would find greater freedom and joy and happiness if we had a greater knowledge of reality, like the Truman in The Truman Show. But actually, disobeying God just brought shame and death. God was trying to protect us from something that would actually kill us. But we didn’t believe him. We didn’t trust him. And that’s what sin really is.
You see, when the bible talks about sin, its not just talking about doing something naughty or breaking rules. It goes much deeper than that. It’s on the level of relationship and trust. The highest level of respect or honour you can have for someone is trust: to trust them; to have faith in them. That’s the foundation that love and communication and intimacy and everything else is built on. If there is no trust, there can be no relationship. And what we’re really doing when we sin is we’re saying to God, I don’t trust you. I don’t want to live the way you want me to live, because I think you’re trying to hide real joy and happiness from me. So I’m going to live my own way.
And we’re all guilty of that. Not just some of us, but all of us.
You see, when Adam and Eve sinned, their actions didn’t just break their own relationship with God; their actions broke humanity’s relationship with God. We are Adam and Eve’s kids, we are their descendents, and we inherit their broken relationship with God by virtue of the fact that we are human. When you are born, you are born into a broken relationship with God, because you are born into a race that is at odds with its Creator. And that broken relationship with God immediately begins to affect the way you behave. And so we’re all guilty of sin. We’re all guilty of not trusting God, and doing our own thing. As it says later in the Bible in Romans 3:23, All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. It’s not like the world is divided into good and people and bad people – we’re all bad people.
In 1945 after WW11 was won, the Allies then began a process of “Denazification” of Germany, which involved getting rid of Nazi ideology in Germany so that nothing like this would ever happen again. A lot of the German citizens and even the German soldiers had never been to the concentration camps, and although they knew something bad was going on in them, they didn’t know the full extent of it. And so as part of the program, German prisoners of war were forced to watch films which documented the Nazis’ treatment of “inferior” people. I’ve seen one of those films before, it was made into a documentary that was released pretty recently, it is absolutely horrific. This is a picture of a cinema full of German POWs watching one of those films. I’ve blacked out the film itself. And this is a picture of their faces as they watch it. You can see that some of them are unphased, but others are distraught. This is a picture of a group of men realising, perhaps for the first time, we’re actually the bad guys. We’ve been fighting for the wrong side.
Do you recognise that about humanity? Do you recognise that because humanity has collectively rejected God, and we’ve all sinned, we’re the bad guys! You might not have done the same horrible things that others have done, just like I’m sure some of those soldiers had nothing to do with the concentration camps. But the flag they flew was the Nazi flag, and everything they lived and worked and fought for was evil. The flag we fly is the flag of humanity, and because of humanity has rejected God and has a broken relationship with God, and unless we are reconciled to him, then by default, everything we live and work and fight for is evil. We are the bad guys.
And this broken relationship we have with God has a domino effect – it affects our relationship with each other and our relationship with the world. And you can see that already happening with Adam and Eve.
BROKEN RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN EACH OTHER
Look at how Adam and Eve’s relationship was ruined. Reading from verse 9.
9But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” 10He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
There’s only one person in my life who I’m happy to be completely naked around, and that’s my wife. But I don’t want to be naked around anyone else, because I’m ashamed of being naked in front of anyone else. And most ordinary people feel the same. That’s why we’re all wearing clothes today. Nakedness represents intimacy and close relationship, and Adam and Eve were happy being naked around God originally, because they had a close, intimate relationship with him. But that relationship is broken, the intimacy is lost, and now they feel ashamed of being naked in front of him. So they make themselves clothes, to hide their nakedness from God.
But you see, they’re also hiding their own nakedness from each other. There’s a sense here in which intimacy between the Adam and Eve is lost, and they don’t even want to be naked in front of each other. Check out what Adam does when God asks him straight up if he’s eaten the fruit. Not only does he pin the blame on God, but he throws Eve under the bus as well. Verse 11.
11And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” 12The man said, “The woman you put here with me-she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”
You see what’s happened? Adam no longer trusts Eve. Two seconds ago she was his partner in crime. And suddenly now she’s the one responsible for messing everything up. Eve then blames the serpent in verse 13, so God curses it in verses 14 and 15. But then have a look at what God says to Eve in the second part of verse 16:
Your desire will be for your husband, yet he will rule over you.
God makes child-bearing painful for Eve, but there’s judgment concerning her relationship with Adam as well. She will long for intimacy with her husband, yet rather than leading her with love and kindness like he ought to, he will rule over her like a king over his subjects. It’s not a picture of love and trust; it’s a picture of the husband-wife relationship gone wrong. And it’s all caused by their broken relationship with God.
You see, when our relationship with God is broken, we don’t just lose our trust in him, we lose our trust in each other. We lose intimacy between us. We don’t want people to see what we are really like, and who we really are, do we? We want to hide our shame and our guilt, like Adam and Eve, from God and from each other. And when we lose intimacy with others, then we stop caring about others, and we hurt each other trying to protect ourselves and our own interests.
And you see that selfishness rampant in humanity today. The moment we are born we are incredibly selfish. Just ask any mother with a baby. I’m hungry, I’m uncomfortable, I want cuddles, I just want to cry, me, me, me, me, me. And then it just gets worse as we get older. We trample on each each in order to get ahead and to achieve our goals, we all let each other down, and we all fail to live up to our responsibilities as good parents or children or brothers or sisters or friends or coworkers, because we’re too busy chasing our dreams.
Now we’re usually pretty good at spotting sin and selfishness in other people, and as I’ve been talking, maybe you’ve been thinking to yourself, yeah I can think of some people like that. But do you recognise this stuff in your own heart? Can you see that this isn’t just something that those annoying, selfish people out there do? This is something in all of us. This should drive us away from arrogance and pride and towards humility, because we’re all in the same sinking boat as each other. We’re all in the same predicament. Our relationship with each other is broken, and it stems from the our broken relationship with God, that started with Adam and Eve.
BROKEN RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN US AND THE WORLD
But there’s a third relationship that is broken too, and that’s our relationship with the world.
I said at the beginning that God made humanity in his image, we were the pinnacle of creation, the last to be created, and we were made to multiply and rule over the world as God’s co-regents and have dominion over it so that we could look after it. Looking after the planet was our God-given responsibility. And obviously, we were to do that with God’s help and advice, which wasn’t a problem because we originally had a good relationship with God. But then when that relationship broke, so did our ability to look after the world.
Look at the judgment that God pronounces on Adam from verse 17.
17To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. 18It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. 19By 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.”
The whole world is now cursed because of Adam, and his life is about to become a whole lot more difficult. I don’t think that God is saying here that he’s going to do an extra act of creation in order to make these pesky things called thorns and thistles. I think thorns and thistles were part of God’s original creation. Adam’s job as chief gardener in the Garden of Eden was to garden – to manage the weeds and the thorns and thistles, and to expand the boundaries of the garden to the fill whole earth as he multiplied with Eve.
But he can’t fulfill that task now. Why? Verse 23 and 24, God kicks him and Eve out of the garden, which separates them from the tree of life and the ability to live forever, verse 22. And so now they have to make their own food, and it’s going to be really hard work, and worst of all, they’re going to die! They used to be in control of the world with God’s help, but when their relationship with God was broken, the world spiralled out of their control.
And you can see how affects us even today. We don’t have any control over the world, despite all our technology and science, and we’re struggling to look after our world well. We’re cutting down forests like there’s no tomorrow, animal species are dying out at an incredible rate. The amount of rubbish we’re producing on a global scale is unsustainable and it’s poisoning our waterways and oceans and habitats. The amount of pollution we’re pumping into the atmosphere is destroying our planet. The list goes on and on.
And now you see why there’s something wrong with the world. The world is broken because humanity has rejected God. Our relationship with God is broken, our relationship with each other is broken, and our relationship with the world is broken. We should be grieved when terrible things happen, but we shouldn’t ultimately be surprised, and we shouldn’t shake our fists in the air as though its God’s fault, NOT OURS. Our species has rejected its Maker, and we’re paying the price for it. The world is broken because of us.
THE HOPE OF RESTORATION
Now that’s a pretty bleak picture, but there’s some good news. What you’ll see as we go on in this series in the weeks ahead is that the rest of the Bible is all about God reversing the damage started in this one chapter of the Bible. This particular episode in the Bible of humanity rejecting God, is the initial mess that the whole story of the Bible seeks to resolve. And if you don’t understand that this is the main conflict, then the rest of the Bible won’t make much sense. If you don’t understand the main conflict of The Lord of the Rings, if you just skip the beginning part of the book (like the first 50 chapters or whatever it is), then the rest of the book just sounds like the tale of a little hobbit and his friends taking an interesting trip to a volcano so they can chuck a ring in it and go home. But if you understand the main conflict from the beginning, if you understand that this one ring has been created by Evil Lord Sauron to conquer Middle Earth and it has incredible power, and now it must be destroyed before it gets back into his hands, then you can appreciate why this little hobbit is going taking such a perilous journey to destroy this ring.
And it’s the same with the story of the Bible. Once you understand the main conflict of the Bible, and how serious man’s rejection of God was and how serious the consequences were, you begin to understand the great lengths God had to go to in order to reverse the damage done by Adam and Eve. The promises God makes to Abraham that we’re looking at next week, the Law that God gives to Abraham’s descendants the Israelites that we’re looking at the week after that, in fact the whole trajectory of the Bible is leading us to the climax of the story, which is the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is what it took for God to deal with the problem of sin in the world: the death of his own Son.
And when we look at Jesus in a few weeks time, we’re going to see that just as humanity’s relationship with God was broken because they didn’t trust Him and they thought he was evil, we can be reconciled with God by putting our trust and our faith back in Him and His Son Jesus. That is how our relationship with God, and hence all our other relationships, can be restored.