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 from it you will certainly die.”
Today marks the first day of Lent. Observing Lent has not been part of my tradition, just as Advent has not been. I wrote a blog about Lent a decade ago, so I guess it’s time again.
Many churches observe the imposition of ashes, with these words: “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” It is a reference to the judgement pronounced on Adam in Genesis 3:19 after his rebellion to God’s command.
I’ve never participated in that particular ritual, but the allusion to the Genesis creation account resonated with me today.
I’ve been meditating on how little salvation means to me. I don’t mean that I don’t care. My words will say that Jesus’ death for my sins is the most important thing in the universe. Yet my heart has a hard time feeling it. I have to conclude from this that I’m just not that convicted about my sin. I’m a pretty good guy; let’s face it, we Pharisees have a lot to be proud of. That’s not to say that I reject the doctrine that “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23), but to me sin is just a word I use to describe myself in the abstract. It doesn’t touch me viscerally.
If you read God’s command to Adam honestly, you have to say, “Really? Eating from that tree carries a death sentence? What kind of power trip are you on? How can it be such a big deal?” Maybe the Queen of Hearts might say such a thing, but the loving creator of the universe?
Chances are, unless I am unique, some similar kind of rationalization of your sin continues to this day. “Yes, I was harsh to my spouse/child/employee/boss, but they pushed me too far.” “No, I didn’t give my employer a full day’s work, but I worked harder than most of the others.” “Of course I took some office supplies home; no one really cares.” And so it goes. We don’t see sin as really that terrible. Certainly not worthy of death. So it’s hard to connect emotionally with the idea that I deserve eternal torment for my life.
The problem is, my standard is not the one I’m accountable to. God’s standard is clear. From the beginning, the wages of sin have been death (Romans 6:23). What we miss as we gloss over the Genesis account is that Adam’s actions were high treason against the Kingdom (rule, authority, dominion) of God. While Adam was given dominion over the creation, he himself remained subject to his creator. In defying the only prohibition given to him, he removed himself from under that authority and placed himself on equal footing with the Lord of Hosts.
Not convinced? High treason is a crime that undermines the offender’s government, or criminal disloyalty to one’s country. This pretty accurately describes the actions of Adam and Eve. Under English common law, punishment for treason generally included drawing, hanging, beheading, and quartering. All at once? That sounds harsh. Is that really what sin is? Connect the dots for me.
When the serpent tempted the woman, she countered with a more-or-less accurate representation of the command. The serpent flatly contradicted God in asserting, “You will not surely die.” (Genesis 3:4). So now they were faced with the choice of remaining in obedience to God, submitting to his rule and authority, or of believing the serpent and grabbing all the gusto. In rejecting God’s command, they rejected his authority, his right to make the rules. They set themselves up as independent, superior authorities. In other words, they said, “I know what you said God, but I have a better idea. My way is better than yours.”
Not much has changed in 10,000 years. Rebellion is so entrenched in our nature that we hardly even blink in the face of it. Some popular parenting advice even advocates for it in children as a sign of a healthy development. Speed limits are “suggestions”. Red lights are a challenge to see how many more cars can squeeze through. Homework is optional. Rebellion is good. You shall not surely die.
In pulling my focus back to the garden and the pronouncement “for dust you are and to dust you will return,” (Genesis 3:19) I am challenged at the beginning of this Lenten season to change my thinking about my rebellion, my sin, my treason. I must begin by embracing how utterly and completely I have earned my death sentence. I need to hate sin with the hatred of a holy, perfect God, and confess (agree with him) that I deserve a punishment as least as severe as the most heinous criminal I can think of. Only then will I be able to glimpse the magnitude of the grace that has been given to me.
Easter is the celebration of the fact that “it is finished” (paid in full) was attested to by the resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:4). My gratitude will be directly proportional to the extent to which I believe I deserve the judgement that was poured out on Jesus on the cross. The more I acknowledge the heinousness of my treason, the greater will my appreciation be for being redeemed from my just sentence of death.