East of Eden, this trance in which were caught. Serpents all around, lies within, lies without. Death, death, unspoken though it be, prevails. Prevailing misery, wrapped in supposed ecstasy. Whisper, whisper; slither near, they speak the lies into my ear. Sell it all, the order built tall, fails. Embrace it all, accept all, end null. Trudge on and live and die, for what do we expire? Only all we desire. Endless cycle of misery, never free. Eat the apple, embrace the noose. Slither near, oh yes, my dear. Come here, constrict me. Worthless cycle, the viper of this world, strikes fast yet the venom kills slow. How strange, but the hand that feeds me, bites me. Diluted profit, fruitless field, this the futility that we yield. Strive for the Garden, yet we embrace the curse; oh, the contradiction that is humanity.
East of Eden, for a season, the King will soon return. Every foe vanquished, for every thorn a rose. The King, He soon shall reign! Then, the refrain, forever remain, “life, life!” The serpent is gone, we sing a new song forever of our Savior. We ate of the tree, He died on a tree to be the curse we created, and with His death, death’s defeated.
I was in Germany for my job a few years ago. I got to wander the streets of Nuremberg with a few friends. It was a great time until…
Until my friends just happened to stumble upon the red-light district. I saw a woman, made in the image of God, standing naked in the arch of a door offering herself up for purchase. It was very sad.
…Imagine a dozen roses being trampled underfoot and ground into the pavement. Or your families heirloom vase being thrown crashing to the ground. The intended beautiful design gravely marred and belittled…
We didn’t walk down the street.
…Nuremberg is a beautiful city. The city from all I could tell is thriving. Yet it has places, I suppose like any city, where the thin veneer has washed away and the anti-creation is showing. Where the inner man is as visible as the graffiti on the walls…
Here’s a poem I wrote later that day:
Strained by tears that she wears inside
Never to hide
Ever inspected for beauty
Yet coldly rejected
Infected by the strain
The strain of prideful lust
Her bosom embraced but not with kind face
Ever the look of lust
She is a mere possession
A brief obsession
To use and then discard
Disregard that she’s a person and use her for your end
clothed in agony,
the only veil she knows
She roams the streets
Anything for the right price
O’ but this woman that we deface
Is more than a nice face
Men may have her
and hate her
but for her,
Christ He died!
Jesus cries, Daughter!
You are my daughter, no whore!
I will embrace and wipe your tears
I will love and calm your fears
O’ my child, for you I weep
I long to tenderly clothe you
To clothe you with love
To you, show the meaning of true love
When Jesus our King returns
Clean will be the streets
Just a word and all wonders wrought,
God announced, and behold, it was all good.
Creation had communion with the Creator,
God walked in the Garden.
Yet with Adam the serpent did conspire,
and brought the world into mire.
Beckoned to the grave,
The curse burst upon the scene,
but in the midst a seed of hope was seen.
Yes, long of told
the Scriptures told ,
of a King who’d come.
In His wake,
death shall quake ,
and the deserts they shall bloom.
Yet, many men came and went,
was the hope of promise spent?
Many lambs, prophets, priests and kings,
yet none with true salvation in their wings.
Darkness for a time,
no prophet’s voice was heard.
Yet in the darkness,
I light it shone,
and it would overcome the darkness.
Behold, O’ world, your Prophet, Priest, and King,
Jesus the Promised seed and Lamb.
The curse brought in shall be expunged;
yes, replunged upon the Son.
Christ was crushed as promised,
but in His crushing, crushed Satan, sin, and death.
Yes, He was cursed to reverse the curse.
He felt our plight to set all things right.
Yes, creation Creator collided
yet we did not hide
for God He brought no wrath,
there was no blood bath,
the world did not implode or explode into non-being.
Instead, angelic greeting:
“Peace on the earth,
goodwill to men” because the Great I AM is come.
Our Lord, Messiah, Savior in a crib.
Prince of Peace,
Bright and Morning Star,
He who lay the foundations of the earth,
laid in a manger.
The Infinite born,
a swaddled babe.
Yes, He that holds the nations in His hand,
grasps His mother’s hand.
He that calls the stars by name,
spoke no name,
He formed Himself
in His mother’s womb.
He upheld the nails
that held His hands.
He died for you,
He became poor
to restore our riches.
Yes, He felt our plight
to set all things right.
He was born to die,
that we might live.
salvation in His wings.
Man once again will be in the Garden
because God’s Son walked from Gethsemane to Golgotha.
No more brier prick or thorn to stick.
All shall be made new.
When our King all subdue,
all shall be made new.
All foes to be forgotten.
Forever banished now.
Satan’s role will be revoked,
the Lord Messiah come.
The demons tremble in His wake;
the blind see,
soon the groaning’s cease.
This is the time in between,
the already and not yet.
The Kingdom has come, but not consummated;
it shall be slightly belated.
Peace on the earth,
goodwill to man,
God’s eternal plan in fruition.
The Kingdom has come in God’s Son,
the lion to lay down with the lamb.
No tent or temple,
for the LORD tabernacled.
Yahweh is Messiah.
born the balm,
for the vacuum of our souls.
Yes, the myth came true in the manger.
God is no longer a stranger,
but makes Himself known in His Son.
Jesus, Joshua’s namesake, true!
The LORD our Savior come!
He was, and is, and is to come.
All things consummate(d) in Him.
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Sin Leads to Enslavement
Sin is like Gollum’s ring. It enslaves and destroys. It looks so good but ends in lava.
Truly, “What we revere, we resemble, either for ruin or restoration,”[i] and we all revere something. So “when we speak of ‘worship’ …we are not speaking about an activity of one’s life, but speaking of the activity of one’s life.”[ii]
Thus, “What distinguishes us (as individuals, but also as ‘people’) is not whether we love, but what we love. At the heart of our being is a kind of ‘love pump’ that can never be turned off—not even by sin or the Fall; rather, the effect of sin on our love pump is to knock it off kilter, misdirecting it and getting it aimed at the wrong things.”[iii]
Yet when we aim at the wrong thing, worship the wrong thing, and thus deprive God of His glory, He deprives us of ours[iv] and we end up empty and doing all manner of wickedness. This is woven into the fabric of the universe, our very existence.
We will worship. That’s not the question. The question is who or what will we worship and to what end. What will be the result?
One catechism asks, “With what design did God create man?” The answer: that we should know God, love and glorify Him, and so be happy forever.[v] Truly “God is to be worshipped, not simply because he demands to be, but because this is the proper destiny of his creation.”[vi] Worship is inevitable.[vii] It will and is happening. The question is not will you worship but what? And what will it lead to?
Will it damn you and lead to enslavement; or will it bring eternal shalom and human flourishing (i.e. true cross-cultural human flourishing not the mere individualistic perception of flourishing) (recall Rom. 1 and 6)? Is it true or is it false?
When we worship the LORD we are going with the grid that is innately ingrained within us since the beginning. This is innate within us but it is strangely not natural. We have been dispossessed of where we were, where we should be. Yet, it is where we should be. The worship of the LORD God is true and right but it also works, it is the way it was designed to be (and thus it not surprisingly works that way).
We were made for ineffable joy and thus we not surprisingly seek for it. The thing about the joy we seek (sehnsucht) is that it’s not quite like our hunger, thirst, or other desires; it cannot be filled within the earth. So, apparently, we with our longing seek to fill it with that which cannot fill it. We think that, similar to our other “thirsts,” it too can be quenched here on earth through tangible means. Yet experience, many wise people, and Scripture have exhorted us that that is just not the case. There is a greater thirst within us, yet also a greater quenching. There is joy unimaginable, though now not wholly obtainable.
So, hear Romans 6:20-23: “When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at the time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Thus, sin is not good because it enslaves and leads to death although it promises life and fulfillment.
[i] G. K. Beale, We Become what we Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2008.).
[ii] Noel Doe, Created for Worship, 20.
[iii] James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 52.
[iv] cf. Noel Doe, Created for Worship, 29.
[v] Longer Catechism of the Eastern Church , question 120.
[vi] Noel Doe, Created for Worship, 39.
[vii] cf. e.g. Noel Doe, Created for Worship, 230, 231.
Sin, Resulting in the Fall, Explains Humanities Wretchedness and yet Greatness
I think it’s accurate to say that “any viable worldview must successfully explain the seemingly paradoxical nature of the human condition.”[i] The philosopher Blaise Pascal lamented, “What sort of freak is man! How novel, how monstrous, how chaotic, how paradoxical, how prodigious! Judge of all things, feeble earthworm, repository of truth, sink of doubt and error, the glory and refuse of the universe!”[ii]
“the inexplicable phenomenon of mankind: unquestionably corrupt, subject to inconstancy, boredom, anxiety and selfishness, doing anything in the waking hours to divert the mind from human wretchedness, yet showing the vestiges of inherent greatness in the mind’s realization of this condition. Mankind is also finite, suspended between twin infinities revealed by telescope and microscope, and aware of an inner emptiness which the finite world fails to satisfy. No philosophy makes sense of this. No moral system makes us better or happier. One hypothesis alone, creation in the divine image followed by the fall, explains our predicament and, through a redeemer and mediator with God, offers to restore our rightful state.”[iii]
Human greatness split the atom, human wretchedness uses the same to kill millions of people. A great, though wretched, leader, Adolf Hitler, will lead a nation to slaughter millions. A great leader, Winston Churchhill, will lead a nation in their defense. As much as we are great, we bare God’s image. As much as we are wretched, we bare Satan’s. Ben Carson, with his intelligence, will fight for cures; others will inject poison. Humanity is simultaneously great and wretched. What explains this paradox? We all innately sense it but why is it here?
Humanity is fallen. So “the line between good and evil is never simply between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ The line between good and evil runs through each one of us.”[iv] We are made in God’s image and thus can do fantastic things and fantastic good but we have been marred by the Fall and often reflect Satan so we can also do acts of unbelievable wickedness.
Thus, sin is not good because it wreaks havoc on our greatness, on the fact that we were created in the image of God, and distorts it to evil ends.[v] How sad that we who are capable of exploring the limitless expanse of the sea, the mind, space, and biology so often content ourselves with razing and rioting. How sad that though we as humanity are capable of such good, there is such grave injustice. I’ve read for example that a woman born in parts of South Africa is more likely to be raped then to learn to read.[vi] This surely should not be!
[i] Robert Velarde, “Greatness and Wretchedness” “How can one species produce both unspeakable wickedness and nearly inexplicable goodness? How can we be responsible both for the most disgusting squalor and for the most breathtaking beauty? How can grand aspirations and self-destructive impulses, kindness and cruelty, be interwoven in one life? The human enigma cries out for explanation” (Thomas Morris, “Making Sense of It All: Pascal and the Meaning of Life” as quoted in Robert Velarde, “Greatness and Wretchedness: The Usefulness of Pascal’s Anthropological Argument in Apologetics”).
[ii] Pascal, Pensees, 131/434.
[iii] D.G. Preston, New Dictionary of Theology, ed. Sinclair B. Ferguson, David F. Wells, and J.I. Packer (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), s.v. “Blaise Pascal” as quoted in Robert Velarde, “Greatness and Wretchedness: The Usefulness of Pascal’s Anthropological Argument in Apologetics.”
[iv] N.T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God, 38.
[v] Sadly, “human nature itself, with its vast and mysterious amalgam of capacities to think, feel, supervise, love, create, respond, and act virtuously—that is, with its vast capacities for imaging God—has become the main carrier and exhibit of corruption” (Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, 30-31).
[vi] Yet how strange and how sad that we hate the thought of this and yet many still struggle with the wickedness of pornography. Most of humanity hates the thought of human trafficking but yet enjoys the very things that feed that market.
Sin is Humanities Death Wish
I was always told growing up that it’s not good to do bad things. And for a time I was content with that. It didn’t need to be explained to me. However, as time has gone on and temptations have increased, or at least my perception of them, I find it helpful to understand and remind myself of why “it’s not good to do bad things.”
Obviously, “it’s not good to do bad things” because it doesn’t please God but why doesn’t it please God? Why are bad things bad? We see from reflection on Scripture that bad things are bad because they are not in accord with God’s character and thus apart from being bad they do not finally work with the way things are. In short, they are against the universe. Against existence. Against the way things are. Against the way things work. This is because God is good, supremely good. And creation is thus to operate in a certain way. Sin, evil, and bad are not innate within God’s good creation. They don’t “work” and will one day soon be expelled from the whole system. Then, and only then, will all things be put right and made new.
Thus, “The consequence of human sin is not to be seen as an arbitrarily imposed penalty, like a judge imposing a fine for drunk driving, but rather as an inevitable outworking of the implications of sin.”[i] “Death is not an arbitrary punishment for sin; it is its necessary consequence,” because “the turning away from the living God which constitutes idolatry is the spiritual equivalent of a diver cutting off his own breathing tube.”[ii]
To turn from God, to sin, is not only wrong but also foolish. Why? Because “God is our final good, or maker and savior, the one in whom alone our restless hearts come to rest. To rebel against God is to saw of the branch that supports us.”[iii]
Sin is humanities death wish in everyway.[iv] To be separated from God is to die, physically and spiritually. Human flourishing, true shalom, is bond up with God.[v] Apart from union with God we can seek but we won’t find.
The world is a dichotomy. It’s two paths. The wise and the fool. New creation and de-creation. Damnation and liberation. Life and death. Hell and heaven. Where, in a very real sense, are you going?
Sin is thus not good because it is innately against true human flourishing.[vi] Sin is not good because it is humanities death wish in every sense.
[i] Anthony N. S. Lane, “Lust: the human person as affected by disordered desires” 35 in EQ 78.1 , 21-35.
[ii] N. T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God, 109.
[iii] Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, 123. “Sin dissipates us in futile—and self-destructive—projects. Sin hurts other people and grieves God, but it also corrodes us. Sin is a form of self-abuse” (Ibid., 124). “Sin against God is therefore outrageous folly: it’s like pulling the plug on your own resuscitator” (Ibid., 125-26). Thus “because it is futile, because it is vain, because it is unrealistic, because it spoils good things, sin is a prime form of folly” (Ibid., 126). Proverbs 8:35-36 says, “For whoever finds me [i.e. “wisdom” which is the fear of the LORD] finds life and obtains favor from the Lord, but he who fails to find me injures himself; all who hate me love death.”
[iv] “The association of sin with physical and spiritual death runs like a spine through Scripture and Christian tradition” (Cornelius Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, 47).
[v] “The biblical vision of human flourishing implicit in worship means that we are only properly free when our desires are rightly ordered, when they are bounded and directed to the end that constitutes our good” (Desiring the Kingdom, 176). Likewise John Frame, God’s “law is not arbitrary, but is based on his own nature… His moral standard is simply himself, his person, his nature” (Frame, The Doctrine of God, 448 see also Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life, 133-35). G. K. Chesterton said, “God is not a symbol of goodness. Goodness is a symbol of God” (Chesterton, William Blake [London: House of Stratus, 2000], 40).
[vi] “Human flourishing” rather is “the same thing as glorifying God and enjoying him forever” (Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, 37-38).
Sin is a Rebellion and a Rampage
Sin is moral. It is an act against God. It is a transgression against God’s law. But not only His law but also His good plan.[i] Sin is not merely moral or highhanded treason it is also a rampage because it is mad; that is foolish, a form of insanity. It goes against good sense. It is a rampage because sin destroys the good.
We have all seen the pain and sorrow that moral derogation has wrought in our lives. We see it for instance in sins of others against us and those close to us, we see it in sins which we have sinned against others, we see it in the world at large (e.g. my parents were divorced, a very close friend of mine was molested as a child, and a friend of mine that struggled with drug addiction committed suicide). There is, for sure, a law written on all our hearts, we go against it to the shame and suffering of humanity; and yet, we all do indeed go against it.
Humanity has and needs a moral standard. This points us to the Creator who gave it to us when He created us in His image. However, it also points us to the Fall. We all fail to measure up to the standard. We can all think of a hypothetical world where everyone followed these standards and where the result was great happiness. Yet, this is not the case. We do not follow these good (innate) standards. How odd. We know the good we ought to do, or at least that there is “a good,” and yet fail to do it.
Sin leads to terrible depraviltiy, hopelessness, and disregard for humanity or anything good. This is vividly portrayed, for example, in Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic book The Road. We don’t want to suffer what is portrayed there. We don’t even want to think of the horrors of Dachau and Auschwitz. We all know the wickedness of Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot, and Joseph Kony. Yet perhaps their nearly unbelievable atrocities allow us to belittle (in our conscience) our own wickedness. However, even if our sin is so-called “low-grade wickedness” it is the equivalent of their sin, just on a micro level. It has the same seed, though perhaps it hasn’t came to full bloom yet.
What must be realized is that all sin is a movement towards un-creation.[ii] In C.S. Lewis’ words, through sin man becomes the “unman.” Through sin everything that was very good (see Gen. 1:3, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31) becomes cursed instead. Sin covers beauty, boasts in badness, and hides from the supreme joy we all seek. Sin is a rampage.
Sin is a leech and parasite. It lives off of and feeds on life and vitality.[iii] And it kills it. Bleeding it away little by little until the carrier is completely eaten away and destroyed. Note that this death, though complete, can be imperceptible.
Sin leads to de-creation as well as desecration. Humans were made in God’s own image yet through sin that image has literally been put into dirt; man becomes dirt and ashes from whence he came (hence de-creation). From perfection to misdirection, from shalom[iv] to shattering. Everything has come undone. The creation groans with longing. Sin is not merely moral. It is the decay of all things. Sin wrought a wreak and we are still wheeling and writhing in pain.[v]
Thus, sin is not good not only because it is moral rebellion against a good and all-powerful God but also because it is a rampage against His good creation.
[i] “Sin represents an attack upon the harmony of the created order, and not merely a moral lapse” ((Revd Victor James Johnson, “Illustrating Evil – The Effect of the Fall as seen in Genesis 4-11,” 60 in Melanesian Journal of Theology 11-1&2 ). If Jesus is the exact image of God and we were created in God’s image then as we image Jesus—as we are recreated—then we get closer to our beginning, closer to where we were created to be; actually quite a bit beyond that. So in Christ and His truth we are being renewed but through Satan and his lies we are becoming undone. The cosmos is breaking up and will finally be dissolved because of sin and yet remade in and because of Christ.
[ii] “Evil is the force of anti-creation, anti-life, the force which opposes and seeks to deface and destroy God’s good world of space, time and matter, and above all God’s image-bearing human creatures” (N. T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God, 89)
[iii] “Sin is always the corruption of something good. Its existence is parasitic; it borrows, or rather usurps, its reality from whatever it corrupts” (H. A. G. Blocher, “Sin,” 784 in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology).
[iv] “In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight… a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be” (Cornelius Plantinga Jr., Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995), 10; italics original).
[v] Abnormal, sick, unhealthy, dysfunctional, maladjusted, or pathological—“wherever anything wrong exists in the world, anything we experience as antinormative, evil, distorted, or sick there we meet the perversion of God’s good creation” (Walter M. Wolters, Creation Regained, 55).
interruption of joy
This the plane on which we play
We search for joy
yet buy into a ploy
(that retards our chase)
Oh this race,
Rocked and writhing from the Fall
We crawl into the grave,
We buy into the lie
and then we sell it
We run, and run, and run
and fall into the pit we dug
We raze shalom
and raise Sheol
We damn the good
and embrace Gehenna
We are surely dispossessed,
East of Eden