A piece of fruit and a woman. For the longest time I thought they were the source of all mine and the world’s problems. If that woman hadn’t eaten that darn piece of fruit, all would be well. Regrettably, a simple story (Genesis 3), which I chose to read literally, ended up forming my view of evil and sin.
Fifteen years ago, if you had asked me, “Who is the serpent in this story?” I would have answered, “Satan.” Why? In Revelation 12:9 it mentions a “serpent” and identifies it as a dragon, a devil, Satan. My assumption was that the serpent of Genesis 3 and Revelation 12 were one and the same. Pretty simple stuff. Except, hundreds of years went by between the time Genesis 3 and Revelation 12 were written. I never thought to ask how the ancients would have identified the serpent for all that time before Revelation appeared on the scene. Yet, it was this supposed connection that shaped my view of evil and sin. Let me explain.
Evil, the older of these diabolical twins, resides outside of me. It is a force which emanates from a being, the serpent, Satan. Satan opposes God and tempts me, much like he did the first woman (Eve), to disobey God. When I yield to the tempter, my disobedience is sin. Sin is an act. Sin can also be a disobedient thought. And the worse part of all, sin is part of me. I am by nature a sinner. Sinfulness is much like genetics. It is transferred from one generation to the next. The ultimate bummer is that every act of disobedience, as well as my very nature, makes me a prime candidate for the death penalty. Again, this idea of evil and sin was based on my literal reading of Genesis 3, and in turn twisted my life into a disfigured and unsavory pretzel in two ways.
First, I didn’t trust myself. Because I saw myself as a sinner, I couldn’t trust myself to discern what was right or wrong. Because sin was an act of disobedience toward God, it was important to know what God deemed as appropriate behavior. The list was found in written form within the Bible. Who penned these laws? Men. Who decided which laws ended up in the Bible? Men. Who was responsible for interpreting them? Until recently, only properly trained and sanctioned men.
Hit pause. Weren’t these laws given through divine inspiration to men? Well, who made this claim? The Bible. Who wrote the Bible? Men. Resume play.
This thinking led me to trust men rather than myself. These “others” were God’s inspired, chosen, and ordained. They were trustworthy. Not me.
Second, I was afraid of God. Honestly, I didn’t like God very much. God had set me up for failure. If I didn’t obey God, death was my punishment. Yet I was taught that complete obedience was impossible. And even if I could do the impossible, I was damned because I was born this way, a sinner. Why did God make the consequences of sin be death in the first place? Why not make the punishment less severe and not permanent? Perhaps two plates full of one’s most detestable vegetable with no condiments provided for relief. If this is the way God operates, why would I want to spend eternity with this kind of God?
Over time I found a way of reading Genesis 3 and all of the Bible that provided a different way of understanding evil and sin. In my next blog, I will share this with you.
Rev. Tony Minear, PhD. is the Lead Pastor at Church of the Beatitudes a Progressive Christian Church based in Phoenix AZ.
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