It’s Not The Problem. I’m The Problem.

While preparing for a sermon on Genesis 3 several weeks ago, a thought grabbed me that hadn’t really been an issue before.  The thought was this: the fruit on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil wasn’t really bad fruit.  While I’d probably processed that intellectually before, I hadn’t really thought of the bigger, concrete ramifications of that.

I guess I grew up under the impression that the fruit from that tree in the center of the Garden of Eden was sort of like the poisoned apple in Snow White.  The old woman then obviously sort of steps into the role of the serpent.  But I think that’s more of Brothers Grimm theology than actual biblical truth.  In reality, I believe the fruit itself (whether apple or otherwise) was as healthy and nourishing as any other fruit in the perfect garden, possessing the same poison-free chemical composition.  And if that’s true, I’m guessing that many have had the same misunderstanding that I’ve had much of my life.

One indicator I have that many might think the fruit Adam and Eve ate was tainted was a hymn that we sang in worship the same weekend I was preparing this sermon, the hymn titled “The Tree of Life” by Stephen P. Starke.  I actually like the hymn a lot and think it does a nice job of telling the narrative of what happens in Genesis 3.  However, my guess is that when people sang “Oh, day of sadness when the breath, Of fear and darkness, doubt and death, Its awful poison first displayed, Within the world so newly made,” a good percentage of those people probably assumed that the poison spoken of here was in the apple, not the general poison of sin.  And I’m guessing many of those same people might miss the important application point I’d like to share with you here today.

To begin, we probably should determine with some certainty whether or not the fruit was indeed poisoned if we’re going to make a bigger point out of it.  Obviously, I now believe that the fruit wasn’t poisoned.  There are several reasons why.  First, we’d naturally assume that the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was created on the 3rd day of Creation, part of the vegetation that God brought forth from the dry land.   When God created all of this, like all the other days, he described it as “good” – perfect, holy, and faultless in every way.  “Then God said, ‘Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.’  And it was so.  The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.  And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.” (Genesis 1:11-13)

Second, when God tells Adam not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, he designates it as unique, he designates eating from it as “not good,” but he doesn’t designate the tree itself as inherently “not good.”  The disobedience against God’s command is what would usher in death, not likely the chemicals consumed in the fruit.  “And the LORD God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.’”  (Genesis 2:16-17)

Finally, when Satan tempts the woman to eat from the fruit of the tree, we’re told that she sees the food as healthy for consumption in addition to being (as Satan suggested) a way to gain knowledge that God possessed that she and Adam didn’t yet have.  In other words, her analysis of the fruit of the tree was the same analysis that God himself had made when he created it on the 3rd day, i.e. that it was “good.”  “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.” (Genesis 3:6)

I hope you’re now convinced that this fruit was good stuff.  Everything that God created was good stuff.  However, he did have specific intentions for how we were to use this good stuff.  And maybe now you’re also already understanding the bigger application point here.

Sometimes Christians fall into the trap of thinking that “the fruit” is the problem.  The Christian church, for instance, in history and by different branches has for many years labeled good things as “evil.”  Middle Age monasticism perceived society as evil.  Some mendicant church orders have perceived money as evil.  Occasionally Pietists, Puritans, and others have made statements implying a perception that sex is evil.  A Methodist by the name of Thomas Bramwell Welch popularized something called “grape juice” in the late 19th century because alcohol, for the most part, had been perceived by his church as evil and they wanted to continue celebrating the Lord’s Supper without consuming wine.  Many Southern Baptist communities in our country have done a pretty decent job of outlawing tobacco, dancing, and gambling and other card games because they are perceived as evil.

I’m not at all trying to unload on certain faith traditions or periods in church history.  My point is that many, many Christian leaders throughout history have mislabeled good gifts from God as evil.  We really don’t have any right to label anything that God created naturally or that the Bible seems to give approval to as “evil.”  And just as damaging in all of this is that it reveals one of the real problems with mankind in a Post-Fall world, a problem that we see in Adam and Eve almost immediately after their sin: blame shifting.

It’s very important for us to be clear about what is good and what is evil.  Money is a gift from God.  Money is not sinful.  Believing that it gives me more control over this world than I actually have, however, is.  My sinful nature is perverse enough to use money in the realm of greed, pride, oppression, stinginess, hoarding, self-esteem, self-centeredness, etc.  Sex also is a gift from God.  Sex is not sinful.  Irresponsibly and selfishly using it as my unfettered pleasure toy, however, is.  Our sinful natures are weird and perverse enough that we humans get very creative in how we distort God’s design for this gift – premarital sex, extramarital sex, homosexuality, transexualism, pedophilia, masturbation, bestiality, polygamy, etc.  This is why Paul simply says to the Ephesians, “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality.” (Ephesians 5:3).  He doesn’t list 100 violations of God’s gift of sex because he knows there’s some sick dude out there who will invent number 101 and think he’s getting away with something.  Adam and Eve also clearly understood this – that it was their sickness, not God’s good gifts that was the problem.  This is the very reason that after the fall into sin they covered their nakedness….they understood that they were now capable of taking God’s good gifts and distorting them for their own perversions.  You see, there is disobedience at the core of the sinful heart, not in God’s good gifts.

We could go on and on like this.  Alcohol isn’t evil.  It’s a gift.  It unfortunately often gets abused by sinners who are immaturely looking for artificial highs or who are self-medicating emotional wounds, both of whom are in reality only compounding their problems.  Dancing isn’t evil.  It’s a gift from God.  It unfortunately often gets abused by sinners who are desperate to validate themselves by getting some attention at the club or perhaps by some guys who are looking to take advantage of some sinners who are desperate to validate themselves by getting some attention at the club.  Society isn’t evil.  Cities need Christians injecting Christ into them, which is part of what makes the Christian exodus from urban centers, following the American dream of isolation from other people a little more disappointing.  Community is a gift from God.  Valuing community is essential to the health of a church.  Society and community are not bad things.  Society unfortunately sometimes gets abused by sinners through seemingly easier access to violence and rudeness though.  You get the point.

When we look at the world, we want to be sure that we’re making a distinction between things from God that are good and the sinners who are distorting these good creations.

The final point in this discussion is really also the climax of the Genesis 3 account.  Adam and Eve had abused God’s good gift (and yes, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was indeed a good gift.  It provided an opportunity for humans to express their love for God above their love for his creation through their obedience to his command.).  Despite our fall though, mankind’s weakness never trumps God’s strength.  Our rebellion and sin cannot overcome God’s grace.  And when Adam and Eve sinned, God came not with a heavy hand, but with more blessing – a Serpent Crushing deliverer whom we know as Jesus.

This Jesus cured Adam and Eve not by offering an antidote to the non-existent poison of the fruit, but an antidote to the poison of their disobedience.  He injected his own obedience to God’s commands.  And, like it did for Adam and Eve, Jesus’ imputed righteousness to us cures us of all of our misuses of God’s many, many good gifts of time, talent, money, sex, alcohol, gambling, card games, dice games, board games, video games, internet, facebook,  parties, music, dancing, clothing, books, magazines, coffee, food, desserts, chocolate, cable tv, network tv, public access tv, movies, Netflix, exercise, dieting, fishing, golfing, ultimate frisbeeing, vacationing, pets, sports, children, religion, etc.  I probably missed one.  The truth is that, YES, you and I are so twisted that we can take any good gift from God and abuse it by using it in a way that doesn’t glorify God.  And we’re also so delusional that sometimes we deny that we’re capable of such travesties.  Fortunately, the most important truth is that Jesus cures us from all of it.  While the evidence suggests that I’m the problem, it also suggests that Jesus is the perfect solution.

“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.”  (Genesis 3:15)

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3 thoughts on “It’s Not The Problem. I’m The Problem.

  1. Chris Grabow says:

    Pastor Hein- have you read up on Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body? Or Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae? These give a much clearer picture of Catholic teaching on human sexuality than the “famous example” you have quoted here- which I have never heard of.
    Overall a great message here though. Thanks for being willing to say the things that a lot of people don’t want to hear! 😀 Keep on writing!

    • Hey Christine, the quote actually was from a comment that JPII made in his Wednesday evening lectures on the “Theology of the Body.” I had written it down in notes from another presentation I’d heard. While the meaning was essentially the same, the original quote wasn’t in nearly as blunt of language as what I’d listed. JPII’s official words from the 1980s lectures (which can be found all over the the place online) were in significantly loftier language, which admittedly could lead to greater misinterpretation from Protestants or others who might be looking to criticize. In fairness of letting the man’s words speak for themselves rather than swallowing whole another’s interpretation of the man’s words, I removed any reference to that specific comment.

      I’d still suggest, generally speaking, that the statements of purpose for sex in marriage are too narrow and the restrictions made regarding birth control are too strong from a number of the Catholic sources I’ve run across. I’ll spare you the links.

      That said, I do appreciate what JPII was trying to do in his statements on human sexuality. The second half of the 20th century saw a significant societal dehumanization of sex and I think JPII was simply trying to put the focus back on what sex really was designed to be – a gift from God to be used in a way that glorifies God. Christopher West does a nice job in his explanation of JPII’s “Theology of the Body” (called “The Good News About Sex and Marriage”) by putting the concepts in much easier to digest language.

      My understanding is that (while having a more liberal interpretation than I’d like) JPII loved the Genesis 1-3 account of the first marriage and was simply using it (as well as the rest of Scripture) to try to explain how sex is an expression of marital love that reflects the intimacy of God himself. In other words, it’s not merely a “pleasure thing.” The more I think about it, the more I have a hard time criticizing a guy who is promoting that, even if I do think that some of the comments he made along the way went beyond God’s revealed will for sex.

      Anyways, thanks for your thoughts and giving me the chance to think about it a little more in depth. I have not yet gotten around to reading Humanae Vitae. My only real knowledge of it is that it faced a lot of controversy regarding birth control issues which I’m guessing overshadowed many of the other main issues it addressed. Will have to check it out sometime.

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