It lays at the heart of the hippy movement of the 1960s and 70s; for those who move to half-acre properties in places on the outskirts of our cities where people are “truly friendly”; and for those who move to the sunshine state where it is “beautiful one day, perfect the next”. It is also something that we have sought for in the church in our search for authentic communities of love. Yet even in the best of such communities, there is the disintegration of authenticity that is part of our broken world, especially with the diversion of our focus from God to the church. Although we cannot prove the existence of a prior paradise state, it still lays resident within us as a longing of the heart.
With the opening verses of Genesis 3, trouble comes to paradise in the form of a temptation. A temptation of a particular type that quickly moved humanity from unity, togetherness and completeness to the edges of despair that afflicts our human experience and the frailty of our human identity. As one scholar noted, these stories do not mention the term sin. Certainly, these stories do not intimate at, even indirectly, the most common understanding of the term sin – moral violation. However, one particular understanding of the term sin – to miss the mark – does resonate with the movement to despair and the frailty of human identity that the Genesis stories describe. It is such an understanding of the term sin that led the Pharisaical Paul, who was perfect according to the law, to declare that he was the chief of sinners. On the moral level, Paul could not be faulted – he kept the Law. On the Damascus Road, he learnt that in the very defense of the Law, he had persecuted Jesus the Christ and by doing so had severely missed the purposes of God.
The response to the temptation itself was to miss the mark of God’s intention for humanity. The temptation was to act and live independently from God – to seek our own glory and prestige. This is the true meaning of arrogance. Its aspirations for knowledge of good and evil resulted in a breaching of our human identity that produced a frailty of our human nature that affected our fundamental relationships. It brought an estrangement from God (Genesis 3:10; Isaiah 59:1-2; Romans 8:7-8); a disharmony with other people (Genesis 4:8; Colossians 3:5-9); a betrayal of ourselves with a bondage to self or selfishness (James 1:14; Galatians 5:19-24); and death to our spiritual sensitivity (Genesis 2:17; 3:24; Romans 6:23; 8:6; Ephesians 2:1; James 1:15). This brought a total confusion to the understanding of our nature – the fundamental question of who we are. This state of despair is not easily lessened by the obedience to the Law. The keeping of the religious and moral aspects of the Law do not necessarily negate this act of independence. This is because working for God is a lot easier than working with God.
Jesus came specifically to address the movement from dignity to despair that is part of our human condition. He addressed our estrangement with God, breaching his own relationship with God in order to bring us back to God; his sacrifice on the cross had the two-fold effect of bringing forgiveness for our sins and enabling us to die to sin and live to righteousness; he revealed the nature of God’s love and enabled us to participate in that love and through it to love others; and he enabled us to once again to become sensitive to our spiritual nature and our ability to worship and experience God on a spiritual level. The “Good News” is that in Jesus Christ, God has done everything necessary to liberate us from sin and restore the broken relationship with God and others. This process of restoration is encountered by our understanding that:
- Jesus came into the world to save the world (Matthew 1:21 ; Luke 19:10; 1 Timothy 1:15; 1 John 4:14);
- Jesus died to save sinners (Isaiah 53:5-6; John 10:10-1; Romans 5:8, 17; 6:23 ; 2 Corinthians 5:18-20);
- We accept the offer of salvation through faith, accepting God’s gift of His Son (Romans 3:24 -25; 5:1; Ephesians 2:8-10);
- Saving faith is the act of receiving Jesus Christ (John 1:12 ; Revelation 3:20 );
- New life is restored through Jesus Christ – God’s life in us, eternal life (1 Corinthians 6:17 ; 2 Corinthians 5:17 ; 1 John 5:11 -12); and
- The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from sin and takes away guilt (Hebrews 9:14 ; 1 John 1:8-14).