Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Crisis & Choice, Pt 3: “Choice and Consequence”


The mythical story of the Pandora's Box tells of how Greek god Zeus’ plotted to ruin man, seal his fate and cause suffering on earth. Zeus created the beautiful Pandora, sent her to humans and gave her a mysterious chest or box, along with a warning not to open it. Of course, curiosity got the better of her. She knelt in front of the box, took a peek inside and out flew the all the evils and miseries into the world to inflict the world.

Critical questions often surfaced after a disaster or a tragedy. People ask, ‘What are the roots of evil?” “Why do bad things happen to good people?” and “Why me?” Genesis 3 introduces the doctrine of original sin, the downfall of man and God’s divine grace. Satan tempted man with the same deception and temptation that caused his own fall: to be like God, not just with God. Man’s sin severs fellowship with God, but Christ’s death reconciles us to God.

However, the foremost questions on everyone’s minds are not moral questions, but religious ones: “Did God make a mistake in creating humans or the world? Couldn’t He do better or right? Why does He still persist or bother with humankind today?”

The Creation of Man was Very Good
3:1 Now 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'?" 2 The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but 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.'" 4 "You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. 5 "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." 6 When 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. 7 Then 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. (Gen. 3:1-7)

One of the most acclaimed movies of 1998 was Jim Carrey’s “The Truman Show,” an inside look at the life, the mind and choice of a man whose every move, word and breath were monitored. Truman was born, raised and kept for 30 years, from the day he was born to be the star of an unedited 24-hour hit TV show watched by cameras, sponsors and audiences all round the world. It was the highest rated show and the biggest commercial success. Everyone loved the Truman Show, except Truman, who did not know his life was a fake, a show and a joke.

When Truman finally realized that his wife, his best friend and even his father were actors to keep him from leaving the movie set island he was born into, he escaped in a sailboat across the man-made ocean. Before he exited the door for good, the creator of the show spoke from the control room, “Truman. You can speak. I can hear you.” Truman asked in disbelief, “Who are you?” The voice replied, “I am the creator of a television show that gives hope and joy and inspiration to millions.” Truman inquired, “And who am I?” “You're the star,” was the answer. Truman questioned defiantly: “Was nothing real?” The voice admitted, “You were real. That's what made you so good to watch.”

The dilemma of creation is to create real people. A person, by definition, is a human being with personality – thoughts and feelings, flesh and blood, fully human, fully alive. God gave us charm, wits and disposition. He did not create us from wood, stone or metal. He also gave us a free will, the capacity to make choices, which is the sheer essence, the chief distinctive and the purest definition of a human being.

God did not make us a robot, a dummy, a puppet on a string, a bird in a cage, or a fish in a bowl. He did not put us in a fake environment, an artificial setting, a virtual or an imaginary world. The irony of creating free human beings is that He cannot force us to obey or follow Him nor can He completely shield us or stop us from encountering danger, making mistakes and feeling regret; neither can we erase, undo or cancel the past. He gave us the freedom to love or hate, heal or hurt, build or destroy. We can choose to obey or disobey Him, receive or reject Him, run from Him or turn to Him. God doesn’t want us to come to Him because we have to, but because we want to, we choose to or like to.

C. S. Lewis said, “God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can either go right or wrong. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong; I cannot. If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what had made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.” (Mere Christianity p. 48)

God cannot create us as free human beings and control us like robots. Either you are free or not free; either you have a choice or you do not; either you are in a real world, or you are in a simulated world. God cannot do injustice to or contradict himself. In other words, God has made the best possible world and the most conceivable human being. After God had made man, He considered all that He had made very good (Gen 1:31).

Sadly, man chose the only thing forbidden to him. God’s creation did not go wrong, but man made the wrong chose (v 6) and the wages of sin is death.

The Wages of Sin is Death
8 Then 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. 9 But the LORD God called to the man, "Where are you?" 10 He answered, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid." (Gen. 3:8-10)

A few years ago, while I was vacationing at a relative’s apartment, I listened to a musical from his CD collection. The Broadway musical was adapted from Robert Louis Stevenson's famous story of Jekyll and Hyde. The story began in London, 1885, with a brilliant doctor’s inability to save his own father from madness. The distraught Dr. Henry Jekyll therefore experimented with a way to isolate and rid the evil nature of man from his good nature. When the hospital authorities prevented him from the dangerous research and from experimenting on a live human being, he tested the serum on himself and became the changed, but violent and deadly Edward Hyde. Instead of extracting the evil nature permanently from man, he replaced the dual nature that coexisted in man at the same time with either the good or bad nature for a certain block of time.

Dr Jekyll then distanced himself from his fiancée and closest friends, too. When the bad nature surfaced, the sinister Mr. Hyde killed mercilessly. He killed five members on the Board of Governors at the hospital that had blocked his dream research and, bizarrely, a prostitute who had fallen in love with Dr. Jekyll.

The good doctor realized the murderous nature and acts of Hyde, whose voice now haunted him, were overpowering him. Dr Jekyll battled for control over his alter ego, which he failed miserably. At his wedding, the evil Hyde appeared and threatened the fiancée after killing one of the guests. Mr. Hyde, however, froze when his fiancée spoke lovingly and tenderly to the good nature within him. When his lawyer friend could not bear to kill the pleading Mr. Hyde, Hyde ran to the man’s sword and killed himself.

Fallen man has become a monster, a predator and a terrorist. Without God, man is conflicted, unrecognizable and genocidal. Separation from God was difficult, painful, sad, bleak and unbearable. Further, man was bent on destruction, thrilled with destroying and hurling towards self-destruction. He is a ticking time bomb, a raging maniac and a threat to his own species. Ironically, the capacity to make choices, as Rick Warren said, is “our greatest blessing and our worst curse.”

Since then, the world has always been on the brink of a disaster, a plague or a war, and the primary and the usual suspect is man. We have war against drugs, civil wars, war against civilians, war against nations and military, biological and chemical warfare. No amount of vaccine, inoculation and antibiotics can save us from ourselves. Our water, air and food are vulnerable; our streets, schools and kids are not safe. In the area of our moral lives, we are no longer shock by depravity, perversity or abnormality. In politics we come to expect deception, corruption and hypocrisy. Theologians call it the total depravity of man. The truth is none of us is immune from sin’s stain, infection and contamination. No glove, mask or suit can distant us far enough from sin’s reach. You cannot quarantine, radiate or sterilize man’s heart. Surveillance, intelligence and enforcement do not work. Nothing can stop man from generating sores and spores, releasing anthrax and smallpox, conjuring and concocting evil. There is no protection, security or firewall from the virus of sin.

We are separated from God, torn within, disconnected from others and a threat to society and creation. We reject, blaspheme and deny God. Emotionally, we are on the verge of a psychological, mental and relational meltdown. We blame, discriminate and covet. We rob mother nature, plunder her wealth and poison her resources. No wonder Paul the apostle said, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? (Rom 7:24)

The Free Gift of God is Eternal Life
14 So the LORD God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, "Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. 15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel." (Gen. 3:14-15)

At a Promise Keepers conference in Los Angeles, a speaker told the story of a wealthy man and his son who had collected some of the paintings in the art world. The winning tandem, however, was interrupted when the son was sent to combat in Vietnam, where he died while rescuing another soldier, leaving a grieving father whose interest in art disappeared with the loss.

One day, the young man whom the old man’s son had rescued in the latter’s death visited the old man with a gift in his hand: a portrait of the old man’s son that the visitor had painted. The father couldn’t stop staring at the painting, with tears wetting his eyes and face, beaming with pride and love, thinking of and longing for his son. From that day on, that was his favorite portrait and the first one he would show to visitors.

When the old man died, art collectors from around the world came to bid for the man’s legendary collection. However, the first auction was the painting of the son. Everybody was anxious to see the famous paintings, but they were exasperated by the amateurish painting and horrified at its inclusion in the high-class auction. The bid for the son’s painting went lower and lower until the old man's former gardener happily offered $10 for a piece of his master’s collection that he could afford.

After the bid was accepted, the auctioneer immediately announced that the auction was closed and the paintings were no longer for sale, to the howls and protests of the crowd. “What is the meaning of this? We want a formal explanation,” they yelled. The auctioneer said, “I am sorry. The old man had secretly stipulated that whoever bought his son’s painting would get his entire estate, too!” (Revised by writer)

The story of God’s creation come with a happy, surprising, but long ending. God knew that man had sinned and fell short of God’s glory. The indictment is swift: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Rom 3:10-12)

However, at the same time, God’s plan of redemption, forgiveness and righteousness were set forth in history. What man has done and cannot redo, Jesus Christ has undone. When we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly (Rom 5:6); while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8). Rom 5:18-19 says, “Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”

Jesus, the promised offspring of Eve, came as the Suffering Messiah, whose crucifixion on the cross was a joyful celebration to Satan, but a decisive whack on his head, so that we are no longer slaves to sin and the world, but children of God in Christ Jesus. Gal 4:3-5 says, “So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.”

Many people go mad trying to make sense of suffering, but there is no understanding of suffering apart from the suffering of Christ. He is a Sufferer, a Sympathizer, and a Shelter. Heb 2:18 says, “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” Jesus not only “suffer,” but “must suffer.” He not only suffered things, but suffered “many things.” (Matt 16:21, Mark 8:31, 9:12, Luke 9:22, 17:25). Because of His suffering, He can sympathize with us. Hebrews 4:15-16 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” In Christ we are no longer victims, but victors; we are casualties no more but more than conquerors.

Conclusion: Have you accepted the salvation that Jesus offers? Have you experienced non-condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus? Do you know that through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set you free from the law of sin and death (Rom 8:1-2)? That our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us (Rom 8:18)?

Small Group Discussion:
1. What is your idea of a perfect person? If you were to have a say in creating man, what would you add and subtract to man’s being (Gen 1:31)? What characteristics does the original man possess before the Fall? Do you think there is anything to add or subtract?
2. List what man is free to do and not to do (Gen 2:16). Is giving man free will a good or a bad decision, wise or an unwise? What are the pros and cons? Do you personally prefer to have a choice? Explain.
3. How was Eve tempted? Why did she listen to Satan (Gen 3:1-4)?
4. Did surrendering to temptation reap its promised rewards and benefits for man (Gen 3:5-7)? What were the unintended consequences?
5. How does sin affect man within (Gen 3:10)? His relationship with God (Gen 3:10), others (Gen 3:12) and creation (Gen 3:17-19)? How does sin affect man’s relationship with 1) Himself, 2) God, 3) Others, 4) Creation.
6. How does Satan enslave man in sin today? How do we resist temptations?
7. Who is woman’s offspring? What did Jesus’ death on the cross accomplish (Hebrews 2:14)?
8. Did God abandon sinful man? How did God demonstrate His care for sinful men (Gen 3:20-21)?


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