Sunday, September 20, 2015

Falling out of Love

Last week, Peter began our series on Old Testament foundations with a sermon on Creation. And as God, in his infinite wisdom, displayed his power as he put the universe together, we see from Genesis 1 that he repeatedly stands back from His creation, and says “it is good.” If anyone here has ever been part of a big successful project, you know this feeling: you see the pieces coming together and deep inside you have this wonderful feeling: “it is good”. If anyone has ever written a piece of music or painted a picture, you complete a phrase or a corner and deep inside you have this wonderful feeling: "it is good". Six days, six times: light - “it is good”; suns and planets - “it is good”; vegetation - “it is good”; animals - “it is good”; all good,  And then, toward the end of the creation account, God has made Adam and Eve, and he says “it is very good” -- after all, that’s the reaction you have when you get to the end of a big successful project, or a composition or a painting -- And as Peter described so powerfully last week, human beings are what God had in mind from the very beginning.

Scientists have just starting to understand this more fully. Here’s a book (Nature’s Destiny) discussing the fact that the more we look at the characteristics of nature, the more it looks like humanity was somehow designed into it from the start. Here are two quick quotes:

It is as if from the very moment of creation the biochemistry of life was already preordained in the atom-building process, as if Nature were biased to this end from the beginning.” And “[we see in the] details science’s relentless progress toward an unexpected conclusion -- that the universe was intentionally designed for human beings”(!)

And God said, “it was very good”. Then, having accomplished the most extraordinary engineering feat of all time, he rested. But “hold on”, you might say -- something must have gone terribly wrong. When we look at the world as it is today, “very good” isn’t usually the description that comes to mind. In 2003, a popular song described the world in these words:

Whatever happened to the values of humanity
Whatever happened to the fairness and equality
Instead of spreading love we're spreading animosity
Lack of understanding, leading us away from unity

If you listen to the news, you realize that the world is no longer “very good” or even “good”. Something is broken. Something needs fixing.

Now this one is w-a-y too big for me, but this is related to how I spend my day job: I fix things. I’m an engineer. Please don’t judge me for it; that’s how I’ve been trained. And the first thing that an engineer does when introduced to a problem is to try to understand it down to the ground. As Albert Einstein wrote: “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask.

So let’s carefully consider the problems in our world this morning. And let’s not immediately assume (in our season of federal elections) that those problems are due to some government policy or that they can be solved by some other government policy. Instead, let’s get to the heart of the issue. Let’s understand the essence of the problem. How do we understand the source of injustice in the world, the source of inequality and the source of instability? To address this very important question, we need to go back to the very beginning -- to the first three chapters of Genesis and to the Garden of Eden.

At this point, no one could blame you for inwardly saying “oh boy” -- and perhaps even cringing a bit. After all, our society makes it very uncomfortable for anyone who takes Adam and Eve seriously. “You don’t really believe in Adam and Eve, do you?” they will ask. “Well, why not?” I might reply. In response, I often hear this most curious of claims: “Don’t you know that science has proven that Adam and Eve never existed?” As someone trained in the sciences, I figure I must have missed the publication of that experiment. So I ask “Oh really? How did it do that?” And the answer that I get is typically (often with a bunch of hand-waving), “You know... evolution.” Well, I do know evolution, but it simply cannot possibly do any such thing as “prove that Adam and Eve never existed.

The closest thing to “scientific evidence” against Adam and Eve is related to what was once called “Mitochondrial Eve”. It is an interesting story. You see, in each cell of your body, there are bits of DNA. Some of your DNA exists in your cells’ nuclei, and we call it your genome. But you also have bits of DNA in your cells’ mitochondria, which we believe are entirely derived from your mother. In 1987, a paper was published claiming that this mitochondrial DNA could be a kind of “molecular clock”.

The idea is simple: and it is like a crime scene investigation. If you saw a spray of shot on the wall of a building, and you wanted to know how far away the shotgun was when it was fired, what would you do? Well, you’d need to first measure the shot dispersion, and then you’d need to know the dispersion mechanism -- what kind of shell, what kind of gun -- that kind of thing. If you knew the dispersion and the rate of dispersion, you could estimate the distance between the gun and the wall when it fired.

And the “molecular clock” idea is just that. If we measure the dispersion of mitochondrial DNA around the world, and if we knew how fast it disperses, then we could estimate (roughly) how long ago we all shared a common ancestor. So that’s what they did. They measured the dispersion in mitochondrial DNA from 145 people around the world. But the other part of the equation is tricky. How do we know how fast such DNA changes? Well, in 1987, they didn’t, so they used the best guesses from that time. Their results were published far and wide - appearing on the cover of Time and Newsweek. According to those best guesses, that early female ancestor of all humans lived roughly 200,000 years ago -- hardly in keeping with the Genesis account.

But the story doesn’t end there -- just the coverage in the popular press. You see, in 1998, a number of scientists came up with a clever way to actually measure the how quickly mitochondrial DNA changes (they measured the differences over a family of people with a known family tree!) But guess what: they found that the mitochondrial DNA dispersion rate was roughly twenty times faster than the best guesses of 1987. And that means that within the error bars, the early female ancestor of all humans lived around the time that the Bible says that Eve lived. The estimate according to their measurements would have her living about six thousand years ago.

Now please understand that this is no “proof” of anything. There have been hundreds of papers published on the topic since then, many of which have tried to counter this result. It is, however, something to keep in mind if anyone ever tries to deceive you about what science has to say about Adam and Eve. And it is also a good example of just how science journalism works: you see, if a published scientific estimate challenges the Bible, it will be published with trumpets and fanfare. If a published scientific estimate agrees with the Bible, you’ll never hear of it in the news -- you’ll have to go to the scientific journals (the journal Science v.279 - by Ann Gibbons - for this one) to find it.

You see, the real reason that folks will give you a hard time for paying attention to Adam and Eve -- the reason for the mockery and the ridicule -- is not that they have examined the story and found it untrue. Instead, they are scared of the story -- it is too true. At its heart, it pulls back the curtains and reveals the truth about the human condition. You see, to learn about the important aspects of human nature, it won’t help us to study the genome. If won’t help us to study the behavior of monkeys or fish or gorillas. It won’t help us to scan the brain. Since the time it was written down, one of the very best ways to understand human nature has been to read the story of Adam and Eve.

So this morning, let’s learn a bit about humanity from this remarkable story. Let’s start by considering what the text tells us about how things were before the “fall”. This is good for two reasons. First, as an engineer, one of the most important means to understand a problem is to appreciate how things were supposed to work. Second, once we appreciate that the story is worth paying attention to -- once the text demonstrates a deep understanding of human nature -- then we will be more willing to let it teach us the more difficult lesson.

Genesis chapter 1: the first thing we discover from the text of Genesis is that humankind has been created in the image of God.

So God created mankind in his own image,
   in the image of God he created them;
   male and female he created them.

While we might not be able to appreciate all the implications of being made in God’s image, we understand clearly that whatever else it might mean, it certainly means that we are not just another animal. And, of course, the evidence is strongly in favor of this conclusion. We simply need to look around us. Skyscrapers, symphonies, space shuttles, sneakers, skateboards, submarines -- there are no hints that any of the animals care about any of these things. We are not just any other animal, and you should be really, really skeptical of anyone who wants to tell you otherwise.

But that’s not all, in Genesis chapter two, the next thing that we learn about the human condition is that it was Adam’s job to be the gardener in Eden (verse 15: The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.). And this happened even before sin entered the picture -- when things were still “very good”. We sometimes forget that. You see, work can really and truly be a blessing rather than a curse. In the Old Testament, the Bible says, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.” In the New Testament, we read, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord.” Following this advice might not be enough to make you happy, but ignoring this advice might just be a guarantee that you won’t be happy! And once again, the text is in sync with our experience here: I hope each person here has had moments of fulfilment in good work.

The third lesson we encounter from Genesis chapter two is that we have been made for community (verses 18-24). God recognizes that it was not good for man to be alone, and he made a suitable partner for him. Friendship is a gift from God. Relationship is a gift from God. Communication using language is also a gift from God -- to enable those relationships.

So far, so good:
  1. we aren’t just animals (obvious from looking around),
  2. we’re designed to work (hopefully, we’ve all derived fulfilment from working hard, so that’s confirmed, too), and
  3. we’re designed for community and friendship. (no controversy there!)
These three critical aspects of the human condition are called out explicitly in the book of Genesis. In contrast, scientific journals have nothing to say about any of them. So if you think that fulfilment in work and friendship and communication are important to your lives, then you must agree that the story of Adam and Eve is worthy of our attention.

And just in time, too, because when we turn the page to chapter three, we encounter the challenging part of the story. Here, in the first temptation, we discover that we are really, really easy to deceive. We don’t like to hear this truth. We want to pretend that we are wise, and logical, and perceptive and strong. But we aren’t. Someone comes along and tells us a pretty little lie, and we cave in so fast, it’s pathetic. And in this truth, we discover that the source of injustice and the source of inequality and the source of instability is not an external one -- it is not something that we can legislate away -- the problem is inside us.

And so (you know the story) Satan, speaking through a serpent, approaches Eve, and begins -- as he always does -- by trying to undermine her confidence in God’s word: “Did God really say that?” he asks. That should be such a red flag! It is so sad that we so often don’t seem to recognize this question for what it is. As night follows day, this devious question is followed by the temptation to sin. And in this case, this temptation is nothing less than the most primal of all temptations: “your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

There it is: Enlightenment & Morality. Becoming like God; knowing good and evil. No surprise that the devil makes his temptation seem so lovely - seem so attractive - seem so desirable. Enlightenment & Morality. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? But built into this so attractive of proposals is a subtle and fatal poison: you see, once we set God’s words aside, we don’t actually know good and evil. Once we disobey God’s instructions, we don’t really know good and evil. Instead, we just convince ourselves that we now know good and evil. And that’s a trap that it is impossible to escape from on our own.

The fact is that this isn’t just a story going back thousands of years. This isn’t just a sin implicating Adam and Eve. No! The genius of this story is that it so accurately describes the state of every man, woman and child on the planet. We actually think that we know better than God when it comes to right and wrong. We set ourselves up as the final judge and arbiter of morality and truth. And the consequences are disastrous!

Before the “fall” -- before Adam’s sin -- it was obvious that the Good was an objective Truth. That is, Good exists above whoever was observing it, and It has priority over any observer. After the “fall”, we instead hear people saying such nonsense as “that may be good for you, but it is not good for me” -- as if the subject (that is, the person doing the observing) has priority over the good, rather than the other way around.  

But let's go back to our text, and take a look at the consequences there. Once again, there are three. Once again, they are called out explicitly in Genesis; and once again they resonate with our experience.

What is the first one? Adam and Eve, having disobeyed God, were ashamed, and hid from Him. (chapter 3:8 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... and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.) And this is also what we find in the world: everyone naturally wants God to keep out of their business. After all, for those (all of us, now) who pretend to be able to decide what is good and evil, the Judge of all things - the One who truly decides what is actually Good and actually Evil - cramps our style, and makes us really uncomfortable.

Second: whenever anything goes wrong, or feels wrong, it is always someone else’s fault. Adam blamed Eve (3:12). Eve blames the serpent (3:13). And so it goes down through history. But this is simply another echo of the “fall”. After all, if I get to define what’s good and what’s evil, it is only a baby step further to redefine everything that I do as “good” and everything that inconveniences me as “evil”.

Third: both relationships and work are now full of challenges. (v. 16-19) When every man and woman imagines that he or she is the ultimate standard from which good and evil can be judged, what happens when two or more people get together? Unless there is agreement on every detail, there is bound to be conflict -- exactly as we find throughout the world.

The “fall” damages the image of God in every one of us. As we impose our own personal vision of good and evil on our work, we are no longer able to find pure enjoyment and fulfilment in it. Instead, we complain about the conditions or the compensation, and compare ourselves with others. And when we impose our own personal vision of good and evil on our relationships, we are no longer able to find the community we need in them. Instead, we blame the other person for any problems, and pretend that our feelings have priority over the truth.

And so we have seen this morning, the opening chapters of Genesis demonstrate a profound understanding of the human condition. We are by no means just another animal, we’re made for community and to find fulfilment in what we’ve been designed to accomplish. But we’re broken. Each of us, rather than acknowledge God’s right to determine what is good and what is evil, each of us sets ourselves up in that place, pretending to have that right on our own, and in so doing, we break faith with our Creator. We are being unfaithful to the one who deserves our complete allegiance. Our constant desire and habit of judging everything around us is by no means an expression of a pure heart. Instead, whenever we judge those around us, we reveal the consequences of the fall in all of its shame, and taken to their logical conclusion, they result in the complete and catastrophic breakdown of relationships and of society.

In this state of rebellion, we are entirely unable to recover on our own. We continually deceive ourselves as to our ability to judge anything and everything. It is only by the grace of God that we are preserved, giving us the opportunity to finally accept His remedy, His solution to the human condition. Next week, Andy will have the opportunity to describe God’s wise and reasonable plan for our salvation. But as you can well imagine, at least part of the solution to a problem that begins with our breaking faith with God is to come to the place where that faith is renewed.

Not only is that the story of scripture, both Old Testament and the New, but it should also be the story of our lives: when we acknowledge the mess we’ve made of it, and ask God to have mercy on us, throughout the scripture He demonstrated compassion, providing atonement and reconciliation for his failing children. I’m sure that you, like me, will be looking forward to Andy’s sermon next week.