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March 1
Lesson 1

Because of Sin

Focal Passage: Genesis 3:8-24

Background Text: Genesis 3:1-24

Purpose Statement: To recognize the relationship between our human condition and our sin

Key Verses: “The LORD God sent him out of the garden of Eden to farm the fertile land from which he was taken. He drove out the human” (Genesis 3:23-24).

I was a good boy growing up. I never swore, and I never spit. I was always kind to animals, and I was mostly kind to my younger sisters. Was I perfect? After 63 years, my mother would say yes, but you shouldn’t believe her. I was good, and that seemed good enough.

That belief represents the big problem with us as humans. We tend to think we are pretty good. We do what we think is the right thing most of the time. We are also fairly adept at setting aside those not-so-good things in our lives when we evaluate ourselves because we tend to think they don’t matter.

We think we are pretty good, and that should be good enough. The truth is, we have a marvelous capacity for self-deceit. We accommodate our blindsided biases and shortcomings as just honest mistakes that shouldn’t factor in when we tally our righteousness.

This lesson takes us back to the beginning, to the first humans and the first sin. The story of the first man and woman challenges us to look honestly at our human condition and at the consequences that arise when we follow that condition instead God’s intention and will.

That “Human Condition”

If nothing else, Genesis 3 helps us understand that humans are all alike. I’ve come to believe we are created with a spectrum of living and acting. At one end of the spectrum, we are created to dream. We can aspire, imagine, and see things that could be, and live almost without limits. At the other end, we are locked down by the knowledge of our own limitations. We see what we cannot do, or perhaps should not do, and the limitations keep us grounded.

Our human condition, then, is the push and pull between those two ends of the spectrum of our lives. Motivational speakers play to our aspirations. You can do whatever you dream of doing, they tell us! Rules and commands remind us of our limitations. Everything we might want to do does not grant us license to do it, they tell us.

So, throughout our lives, even daily, we are urged from deep within to consider sin. That is, I see what I’d like to do but shouldn’t do; or I don’t believe I can be more than the minimum in my life, yet my potential is so much greater than I want to believe. The tension is critically important for us to exist and act appropriately as human beings, those “less than divine” (Psalm 8:5). Indeed, we can’t be the boss of the world and do whatever we want, although perhaps we can do more than we sometimes think we can.

The woman in Genesis 3:2-3 explains that important tension for us: She could eat of any tree in the garden, except the one God said they could not eat of. Of course, as she explained that to the snake, she actually added more restrictions (Genesis 3:3). God actually had said, “Eat your fill from all of the garden’s trees; but don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because on the day you eat from it, you will die!” (2:16-17). God did not say the humans could not touch the tree.

Imagine how different our existence would be if, at that point, the snake had responded with, “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t know! Have a nice day!” But the snake, Scripture tells us, is “the most intelligent of all the wild animals that the LORD God had made” (3:1). Other Bible translations use words such as “more cunning” or “more crafty,” giving it an almost sinister cast.

We know the story: The snake denied what God had commanded and convinced the woman that things would only get better if she ate fruit from that tree. In fact, if she did, the snake promised, she would “see clearly” and “be like God, knowing good and evil” (verse 5).

Although we pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” we know that temptation is all around us. It whispers in our eager ears and invites us to step away from the tension of living a balanced life, to do what we want to. In fact, we know that we don’t even need a snake. We find it easy on our own to walk a little distance away from God. But taking that walk, even a short one, is sin. Anytime we live or act apart from God, we sin.

Considering sin ought to scare us to death. Instead, it’s as if we become comfortable having a snake roam around our homes. The danger is so evident, but for some reason, we forget how dire, how tragic a mistake we make when we assume a sin is “not so bad.” Eating a piece of fruit isn’t the same as killing someone, right? Deciding we know better than anyone else what is best isn’t that terrible, right?

Our “not so bad” choices become the path to getting what we want, but they also pave the way to losing all that we are. Much of the brokenness in our lives is not due to the evil we have done. Frankly, some of us might even say we haven’t done anything terribly evil. Much of our brokenness comes because we have considered that our own decisions—made separate and apart from God’s love and guidance and will—are the best. “You will be like God,” the snake assured the woman, and the woman sinned.

What happens when you consider the sin in your life?

Acting Out

Someone once said, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” We’re not sure who said this, but regardless of its origin, the greater truth stands: Considering doing something certainly puts us on the path to action, but it is far different and has less of an impact than actually doing or saying something that changes reality for us.

Potential and actual are different. Actual means “pertaining to an act––something real or existing.” It’s dangerous to think about doing something that might be sin (potential); but when we actually follow through, it becomes so much more harmful and tragic.

My wife and I always made sure to teach our boys the importance of thinking before reacting instantly and perhaps lashing out. The latter might feel good at the time; there is a lot of power in reacting. But those are actions we cannot take back or remove once they happen. It’s sad to read about someone with road rage who ends up hurting or killing another person because the one with rage couldn’t control the impulse that led to such terrible things.

The woman in Genesis 3 was deceived by the snake. The tree indeed was “beautiful with delicious food” (verse 6). Her thoughts propelled her actions at the idea of something so beautiful and delicious also providing wisdom. She wanted something and refused to allow any limitations to her actions, so she picked the fruit.

But even at that point, it wasn’t too late. God told the man and woman not to eat of it. Picking it was foolish and dangerous, but God did not tell them they would die if they did. But then she bit into it, and “also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (verse 6). Scripture doesn’t indicate that the man protested or objected in any way to eating the fruit.

The sin was cast. In that simple act, the human beings broke their relationship with God. We might argue that, as soon as the woman considered taking the fruit, the relationship was broken; but the act itself proved the willingness to step away from God and disobey what was a simple command. Don’t do it, God said, but that’s the thing they were drawn to do.

Why do we sin? Why are we willing to break our relationship with the one who has given us everything? Perhaps it’s because we are not satisfied with our place in the universe. We break relationship with God but also with one another, and then the best we can say is “Sorry” when the wound is opened and the hurt flows out. We don’t live in Eden because we have become too comfortable “doing sin” and creating pain, hurt, strife, and conflict.

Unfortunately, this story is our story. Even when we give it our best shot and try as hard as we can, it seems too easy to give up the tension of the human life. So we slide to one end or the other of the spectrum in hopes that things will ease up, and we will feel more relief. The truth, of course, is that after we do that, we only end up feeling worse and adding guilt, shame, and fear on top of it all.

At the very core, we give up our love for God for the sake of the trinkets of this world or so that we can have our own way. You can see, then, that sin is not simply doing some things that might be impolite or even a bit wrong. Sin is the shattering, crushing, and quiet breaking of our love for the Creator of the universe.

How does the story of the first sin help you better understand what makes you step away from God, and how might it work to keep you closer to God on a daily basis?

Consequences

Our son Aaron was about 60 miles from home, on Christmas break from college, when he called. The low-fuel light was on. He had long since passed what was the last gas station on the interstate before Fargo, and he didn’t know what to do. I suggested that he leave the interstate and take a parallel road that had more towns, and perhaps he could fill up somewhere along the way.

Later, Aaron called again. He had passed through two towns where the stations were closed or didn’t exist, and he was panicked. At that point, he was about 30 miles away, so I told him to drive until he made it to the first gas station or ran out of gas; then we would come and help out. He was nervous and unhappy, to say the least!

The next time we heard from Aaron was when he rang our doorbell. He had made it all the way and had coasted into the first gas station and filled up. Aaron did not want to talk about his experience, but we once again repeated the too-true rule: It is just as easy to fill the top half of the tank as it is the bottom half. In a way, Aaron had avoided the consequences of a bad decision that day––sort of. His free and breezy trip home had turned into a nervous and worried affair, even though he didn’t actually run out of gas.

In the last part of our Scripture for this lesson, we find consequences that arise out of the decision to eat of the tree’s fruit. We find out what happens because of sin. Some of these seem to be punishments, but it’s important to recognize natural consequences of our human choices, some of which are bad ones.

As God dealt with the disobedience of the humans, God described the future of the snake, the woman, and the man. As it turns out, all of them are descriptions of how we live in the world today.

Some people think this story helps, in part, to explain why snakes and people don’t usually get along well, why women have such pain in childbirth, why it is just so hard to grow a good crop, and why we die. This is our present reality and makes a good answer to the “why,” when we think about the world the way it is today. It’s as if the Bible is saying, “It didn’t have to be this way. But because of what happened, because of sin, it is now this way. So we must live with it.”

First, God cursed the snake (Genesis 3:14). God also “put contempt” between the snake and the woman and her offspring (verse 15). The consequences for the man and the woman were just as profound, if not more so. God told the woman that her pregnancy would be painful (verse 16). God cursed the land because of the man and declared that the man must labor hard among “weeds and thistles” that would grow among the plants the man tended.

Because of their sin, this Scripture tells us, the humans “saw clearly” (verse 7). They had a deeper comprehension of the world around them. It was a natural and expected consequence of eating the fruit of the tree. The next consequence, however, was that they realized they were naked. In that first moment of shame, they had to sew fig leaves together. Both of those things were consequences: one potentially good, the other tragic.

The next consequence marks a sad moment in human history. Apparently, most every evening, the Lord God would walk in the garden. Perhaps the humans met God there and communed in blessedness. But on this day, they hid, and God had to call, “Where are you?” (verse 9). You see, it’s neither a punishment nor God’s fault or actions that the humans had broken the divine relationship. It was a terrible consequence of their actions, their sin.

I believe the final consequence came in where the humans would live. It’s a decision God made, but it appears that in order for there not to be another bad choice by the humans (to eat of the tree of life), they had to leave the garden of paradise. Some might call this a punishment, but I think that, because of the change in the nature of the humans and their newfound knowledge, the garden could no longer sustain them without further danger, so they had to leave.

Verse 24 says that God “drove out the human.” Their sin (stepping away from God) also meant that their entire lives would change and, in a way, become far less than what they were before.

Knowing that God loves you, how can that begin to change your choices in life?

Most loving God, grant me the power to follow you and live according to your will for me; in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Unit 1 Wilderness

Why would God create a world that includes suffering? Why did God cast the man and the woman out of the garden? Couldn’t they have said they were sorry and started again? Why were the children of Israel placed in such a hard position in the wilderness after having suffered for over 400 years under the Egyptians? Why were they carried off to captivity for 70 years in Babylon? Why did Jesus have to suffer at both ends of his ministry, fasting in the wilderness and praying in the garden?

As we look at these accounts from Scripture and ask why, we should also ask how suffering affected the lives of the persons involved. Was it the result of their own behavior—a consequence or a punishment by God? Did it occur by happenstance? Did the suffering bring about a difference, even a difference for the better, as they faced the suffering and were led into the future in order to change the world?

Another guiding question is to ask what our response to God will be when we experience suffering. We find a mix of responses in the Scriptures, from anger and dismay to obedience and humility. Each can inform our own times of suffering and challenge us to remain hopeful.

One last insight: The word suffering comes from a Latin word that means “to bear under,” or “to endure.” Suffering is not something we have to eagerly claim. It is something, however, that we indeed can claim, learn, and grow from as we bear under and endure it. Whenever suffering comes to our lives, we can trust that God joins us and will walk with us. God is with us. We are not alone.

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