Sunday, 23 March 2014

When life gets tough

Exodus 17:1-7

The wilderness is a place of barrenness. It is the place abandonment, loneliness, hunger and thirst. It is a scary place because it is about coming face to face with forces that are far bigger than us, which threaten to overwhelm us.  Few voluntarily go into the wilderness.

But the wilderness has also been, in Christian thought and experience, the place of meeting with God.

Jesus, at the beginning of his ministry went into the wilderness for 40 days, in order to meet with God and to face the demons and devil.

And the people of Israel had been a slave people in Egypt. They had cried out to God and God had rescued them. And through the leadership of Moses he brought them out of slavery and promised them a new land. But to get from Egypt to the promised land they had to go through the wilderness.

And in our story, we meet them in the wilderness. They have no water, and they are thirsty. It was serious. And they begin to grumble. They say to Moses, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt to die of thirst in the desert? It is better to be a living Egyptian slave than a dead refugee’.

It is very understandable.

When things get tough we start to grumble.

I was talking to a fellow vicar who was saying that he wondered at times whether some particular sins get a grip on particular communities. They are sins that are not challenged and that then spread like a virus. He was saying that he felt that in his particular community that sin is the sin of grumbling.

Grumblers are people whose glasses are always half empty.
Even if the most wonderful thing happened, they would still find something negative in it.
And grumblers can never be satisfied – because even if they get what they want they would still grumble.

There are two problems with grumbling:

1. When we grumble we are blind to the goodness of God.

The New Testament writers urge us in all our prayers, in all situations, to pray with thanksgiving: it is when we start to say thank you to God that we begin to see the blessings that he has given us.  

And what makes the grumbling here surprising is yes, the people of Israel are thirsty, it is serious, but they have seen  God do astonishing stuff: the plagues, the crossing of the red sea, the provision of quail and manna. And rather than give thanks to God for what God he has done – and no doubt, for what he could do - they grumbled.

The writer of Psalm 95 picks this up. He writes,

‘Today, if you hear his voice,
 do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah,
as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness,
where your fathers tested and tried me,
though they had seen what I did’.

2. When we grumble we begin to play the blame game.

The people grumble and they then blame Moses, even though Moses had been obeying God. [v1 says, ‘They travelled from place to place as the Lord commanded’].

It is always good to find someone who you can blame. It might be the vicar, the diocese, the local authority, the hospital, social workers or bankers, the government. It is the easy option. It saves us from looking too hard at ourselves.

It is too easy to blame politicians: to say that they are all the same, they’re corrupt and they’re in it for themselves. Somebody has to do the job. Somebody has to decide how limited resources are to be spent. Somebody has to make some very tough decisions. And because we live in a democracy there is an alternative to grumbling about the present bunch – you. Get involved! You probably could do a better job, but we’ll never know until you are prepared to put your head above the parapet and do something – rather than just sit in the comfort of your armchair and blame the people who are actually doing something.

But this story is also about Moses.

He too finds himself in a very tough place. He’s taken the people to the place God asked him to take them to. There is no water, and the people want to stone him.

He could, I guess, play the grumbling and blame game.
He could grumble about the people – they leave it all up to me; I’m the only competent one. The reason we are in this mess is because the people simply don’t deserve me.
He could grumble about God.

I like the quote: “I started wondering if God really existed. The world seemed too empty and lonely for there to be a God in it. But I figured he must exist because I kept blaming everything on him.” [The HippieSnowflake Obsidian: Memoir of a Cutter]

But he doesn’t.

1. He takes the situation to God:

Moses remembers
·         how God has spoken in the past;
·         what God has already done;
·         the promise God has given this people. He wants their good.  

So he has a confidence to bring the situation to God.

[There was a King of Israel, who lived many years after Moses, a man called Hezekiah. His enemy had conquered the neighbouring countries. They were big and powerful. And now they surrounded Jerusalem. And they send him a letter telling him that they are going to do to Jerusalem what they have done to every other capital city. And Hezekiah is helpless. So he takes the letter, kneels down by his bed, and places it before God.

Or take Jesus himself. He knew that he was about to be arrested, falsely accused, tried in a kangaroo court, mocked and shamed and then put to death in one of the most painful ways imagineable. So he goes to a garden and he falls down and he prays. He prays that God will have mercy on him. He prays that God will provide some other way, but that if not, he will still do it. And we are told that God did not provide some other way, but that ‘an angel came and strengthened him’.

And Moses here brings the situation to God.]

He prays: ‘What am I to do with this people? They want to stone me’.

2. He doesn’t give up.

God says to him, ‘Go out in front of the people; take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go’.

That is probably the last thing that Moses wanted to hear. ‘God, please let me retire. I am 80 years old. Surely some of the younger people can do this.’

But God says, ‘No. I called you to do this. And you are to carry on’.
And Moses obeys.

He goes ahead with elders. He comes to the rock. He takes up his staff. This was the same staff that God had used to do astonishing wonders in Egypt.
On one occasion Moses had struck the river Nile with his staff and it had become undrinkable. Now he strikes the rock with his staff, and water pours from the rock. And the people drink.

God calls Moses to keep on doing what he was doing – especially now that it was getting hard.

But I also note that God did not call Moses to do this on his own. He told him to take elders with him.

There will be times when God leads you into the wilderness.

For all of us there is an Egypt back there, a place of slavery. And there is a promised land up there. But between that place and that place there are times of wilderness.

It may be that you have lost the sense of intimacy with God that you once had. It may be debt, sickness, redundancy, disappointment, rejection, shame or the hatred of others or death.
There are many Godly people in the bible who know that experience.

Psalm 23 speaks of walking through the valley of the shadow of death

Psalm 66:12 states, ‘You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water ..’

[Psalm 44:17ff: “All this happened to us, though we had not forgotten you or been false to your covenant. Our hearts had not turned back; our feet had not strayed from your path. But you crushed us and made us a haunt for jackals and covered us over with deep darkness”.]

But when you go through it, could I urge you

1. Don’t grumble or look to find someone to blame, like the people of Israel.

CS Lewis writes, Hell begins with a grumbling mood, always complaining, always blaming others . . . but you are still distinct from it. You may even criticize it in yourself and wish you could stop it. But there may come a day when you can no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood or even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself, going on forever like a machine. It is not a question of God 'sending us' to hell. In each of us there is something growing, which will BE Hell unless it is nipped in the bud.

2. Turn to God, to seek him, like Moses.

Do pray. Bring the burden to God.

 And pray with thanksgiving. Even if you find yourself in a deep hole, still thank God for what he has done, for what he has given, and for what he has promised.

One of the prayers that we pray at the wedding service begins like this: ‘Blessed are you, O Lord our God, for you have created joy and gladness, pleasure and delight, love, peace and friendship’.

Or one of the most beloved prayers of the Anglican tradition states, ‘We bless thee for our creation, preservation and all the blessings of this life; but above all for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory’.

3. Keep on keeping on.
Be obedient to the call God has given you. Use the gifts, the staff that God has granted you.

Several years ago, before I came here, I went on a conference for church leaders. And we were all asked to look at this passage, and to reflect what it taught about leadership. The thing that struck me was the reference to the staff. When God tells Moses to strike the rock with his staff, he was not asking him to exercise blind faith. Moses had seen God work through the staff. God had done astonishing things through it. 

Now I suspect that we don’t have many people here with literal staffs that do the sort of stuff that Moses’ staff did. But for me it was a reminder that the metaphorical staff that God had given to me was the gift of teaching Jesus through teaching the bible. It is when I have done that that I have seen God work most powerfully and when lives have most been changed. And for me this passage was the call to continue to teach Jesus through teaching the bible.

So what is your staff? What is the gift that you have seen God use in the past – both to speak to you and to bring good to others? Maybe it is the fact that you are able to listen, you have practical skills, you are an administrator, or maybe it is when you offer hospitality, or your commitment for the socially dispossessed, an ability to teach, or skill with IT. Maybe God has given you the gift of speaking in tongues, or of a prophetic ministry. Maybe you are someone who finds that when you pray for people things happen.

It is very easy to forget our staff, especially when things get difficult. But God says to Moses, ‘Take up your staff and go’.

But again I note that this is not something that you should do on your own. Moses went with the elders. We need to find a few people who can help us in our Christian life – forgive me for going on about this, but this really is why small groups are so important. They are the place par-excellence where we can discover, grow and use our gifts

4. But there is a fourth thing, which is not obvious from our passage, but which one of the first followers of Jesus makes clear when he is thinking of this story.

Remember that God is in the wilderness

Paul writes [1 Cor 10:4], ‘The rock which Moses struck, the rock from which life giving water flowed, was Jesus.’

In other words, when you go through it,
·         remember that Jesus has gone through it. He spent 40 days in the physical wilderness – but that was only to begin to prepare him for the wilderness experience of crucifixion and abandonment by God.
·         remember that because Jesus was struck, we can now know and drink of his life giving presence.
·         Most of all, remember that he was there in the wilderness – he was there in what seemed to be a solid lump of rock. And that was where Moses and the people of Israel met with him.

So often it is when we go into the wilderness – when we are stripped of everything in which we would usually put our trust - that we most powerfully experience the voice, the power and the presence of God.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Jesus Christ, the most cursed man in history

Noel Edmunds tells the story of the time when he was racing, had a crash and was thrown from his car. As he lay on the ground, he exclaimed, 'Jesus Christ'. To which the person running to help him said, 'No, No. Not him. Just one of his faithful followers!'

Jesus' name is possibly the name that is most used by people in this country when they swear. He has certainly surplanted Gordon Bennett. And Gordon Bennett probably never existed: linguists say that the name developed out of a softening of 'My Gawd'. 

But as the article I was reading about Gordon Bennett stated, 'It's not an epitaph one would wish for - to become the physical embodiment of a swear word'.

Several years ago, if people said 'Jesus Christ', they would have been saying the words consciously knowing that it was blasphemy: either because the wanted to look big, or they wanted to shock, or they really did hate Jesus (and maybe the church). You certainly couldn't say them on public TV or radio. But my guess is that most people today don't think twice about saying 'Jesus Christ'. They are not making a statement. It is what you say when something surprising or painful happens.  

But the interesting thing is that, ever since his birth, Jesus has been cursed. 

When he was in conflict with the religious leaders of his society, they challenge him: 'You're demon possessed; you are a Samaritan'

When he hung on the cross - well, listen to this,  
"They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!’ In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. ‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he can’t save himself! Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.’ Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him."

And within a few years of his death and his resurrection, people were mocking both Jesus and his followers. To choose to follow Jesus was to become a member of one of the most despised groups of people. There is a very famous grafitti probably dating from the early 200's: 'Alexamenos worships his God', showing Christ on the cross with an asses head. 

And amazingly, the bible states 600 years before he was born, in a passage that most people agree is talking about Jesus, that he would be 'despised and rejected, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem'. (Isaiah 53:3)

So why? Why curse Jesus?

And why curse that man if he was such an amazing teacher? He taught things such as 'love your enemies', 'pray for those who persecute you' and 'greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends' - and then says that he will lay down his life for us.

Why curse him if he did such amazing acts of compassion and power: feeding the 5000, healing the sick, even raising 3 people from the dead.

I think that Jesus himself gives the answer.
He says to his followers on one occasion, 'If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world'. [John 15:18f]

The reason that they hated Jesus was because he was different. 

He does not 'belong' to our world. 

I don't mean he was an alien. He was completely human like us.

But his identity did not come from his family, or his tribe, or his religion, or his country. His identity came from his relationship with God. He had this deep conviction that he was the beloved Son of God

He wasn't motivated by the things that other people are motivated by: he wasn't motivated by fear of death, desire for comfort or ease, respect or fame. You couldn't bribe him and you couldn't threaten him. Instead he was driven by a deep love for God, a deep love for the people who God had made, and a desire to do what God wanted him to do. 

And because he was different, he wasn't a member of any religious club or political faction.
In fact he challenged the authority of the religious and political factions of the day.

Their authority rested on their moral achievements. They taught the law of God (or at least their version of it) and they kept the law of God as they taught it. And because of that they were honoured and respected and listened to in society.

But Jesus challenges them:
·        he challenges their hearts (he calls them white washed tombs);
·        he says that they do the public stuff (like praying, giving, ostentatious tithing) without doing the really serious stuff (love, justice and mercy); 
·        he says that they cannot love because they haven't realised how much they depend on mercy (the story of Simon and the woman who washes Jesus feet with her hair); 

He tells them of a God who has not come for the righteous but for the sinner: he tells the story of the shepherd who searches for the one lost sheep; the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector. 

And because Jesus was different, he was free to identify with both the religious authorities, but also with the marginalised, with hookers, terrorists and tax collectors. It is hard to imagine a more explosive mix.

He partied with them. But he didn't become part of their group. 

And Jesus makes some of the most outrageous claims:
·        to forgive sins,
·        to teach with an authority greater than that of the bible - speak the words of God,
·        to be the answer to people's deepest longings and desires.

He says that one day everyone who has ever lived or will ever live needs to stand in front of him and give account of their lives. 
He claims that none of us are going to get to God by our own efforts, none of us is good enough, but that we can get to God if we put our trust in him and receive the forgiveness which he offers.

So perhaps it is not hard to see why people hated him, why they curse him. 

He shakes our convictions
He opens the window to our souls and we see all the rubbish inside. And we realise that we will never be good enough, or clever enough or radical enough to get to God. 
He shows us that deep down we need God, his forgiveness, his guidance and his strength. 

And perhaps, even if people don't mean it, it is not so strange that in our culture which values self-dependence and self-affirmation and self-improvement and self-worth and doing it my way and the freedom to do or to be whatever I want - the one whose name we use as a swear word is the one who taught us that what is needed is dependence on God, that our value lies in God’s love for us and that the best way to live is doing it God's way. 

Jesus may well be the most cursed man on earth - I can't think of any others who have become the physical embodiment of a swear word.

But what is odd is that the bible tells us that Jesus is cursed not only by human beings but was also cursed by God.

The Old Testament says that anybody who hangs on a tree is cursed: So crucifixion - the nailing and hanging someone to a piece of wood - was not only a most dreadful way to die. It was also a sign that the one who was crucified was under the curse of God.

And one of the first followers of Jesus, a man called Paul, picked up on this when he was thinking about Jesus' death. He said, 'Christ redeemed us from that self-defeating, cursed life by absorbing it completely into himself. Do you remember the Scripture that says, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”? That is what happened when Jesus was nailed to the cross: He became a curse, and at the same time dissolved the curse.' (Galatians 3:13f)

It might sound complicated, but it is quite simple. 

Paul's argument is this. Each of us sins. We do not love as God would have us love. Each of us is therefore under the curse of God.
Jesus did love and he did not sin. He was not under the curse. But, because he loved God and because he loved us, he chose to become the most cursed man on earth in order to take the curse that is ours into and onto himself. 

And he has said that we can find peace and purpose not by working harder to be good or religious (we will never be good enough), not by becoming famous or getting rich or finding human love (it will let us down) - but by coming to him.

The death of Jesus and the curse of God are, of course, not the final word. Having dealt with the curse, God raised Jesus from the dead.

And he is now Lord, and because he freely took the curse onto himself, he has become the source of blessing. 

So I would invite you to call on the name of Jesus Christ, the most cursed man in history

To be honest, it is a bit of a risk to use that name as a swear word. We are going to look very foolish on the day of judgement if it turns out to be true. 
But Jesus Christ. 

We are told that all who call on him will be saved: saved from the curse, saved from our sin, saved to begin to live for God, saved to begin to love and to know God and the blessings that he gives. 

Sunday, 9 March 2014

The nature, cause and consequence of evil.

Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7

This is a passage which is helpful as we come to the first Sunday in Lent. It forces us to examine ourselves. It tells us about the nature of evil, the cause of evil and the consequence of evil.

1. The nature of evil.

We like to think of evil as something that is out there that happens to relatively good people like me. Evil is in those uncontrolled forces: natural disasters (floods), sickness, death. It is in those few people who do really appalling things – the Hitlers, Ceaucescus, Fred Wests of this world.

But the stark reality is that evil is not out there. It is in here.

I was struck by an illustration that I read. A man called Key Warren visited Rwanda after the 1994 genocide. He writes,

The first time I visited Rwanda, I went looking for monsters, albeit a different category of monster—the kind that isn't relegated to B movies. I had heard about the 1994 genocide that had left one million people dead—tortured, raped, viciously murdered—and somehow I thought it would be easy to spot the perpetrators. I na├»vely assumed I would be able to look men and women in the eyes and tell if they had been involved. I was full of self-righteous judgment.

What I found left me puzzled, confused, and ultimately frightened. Instead of finding leering, menacing creatures, I met men and women who looked and behaved a lot like me. They took care of their families, went to work, chatted with their neighbours, laughed, cried, prayed, and worshiped. Where were the monsters? Where were the evildoers capable of heinous acts? Slowly, with a deepening sense of dread, I understood the truth: There were no monsters in Rwanda, just people like you and me.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote: "If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?"

So what is this evil?

Simply - evil is the rejection of the command of God. It is rebellion against God.

God says to Adam and Eve, ‘Don’t eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’. They eat it.

Evil happens when God says, ‘Don’t do it’ and we do it. It is when God says, ‘Do that’, and we don’t do that.

James writes, ‘If you know the good you ought to do and don’t do it, you sin’.  (James 4:17)

There is a great deal of discussion about what the tree of the knowledge of the good and evil stands for.

Most commentators say that it represents knowledge of everything, the good and the bad. And it was a knowledge which could be obtained - albeit in a wrong way - by eating the fruit of the tree.
That is certainly how the serpent presented it to Adam and Eve. It said that if they ate of the fruit they would then know good and evil, and they would be like God.

However I would like to suggest an alternative reading. It is not an interpretation I found in any of the commentaries I read, so I offer it with extreme caution. I just wonder whether the tree is called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because, by putting the tree in the garden, and giving them the command not to eat of the fruit of that tree, God has already given them the knowledge of good and evil. There is no difference between the fruit of this tree and the fruit of any of the other trees in the garden, of which they can eat. It is simply that with this tree, he gives them the freedom to decide to obey him or disobey him: the freedom to do good or to do evil.

So when the serpent tells them that if they eat the fruit of the tree they will know good and evil, it was a lie. It was not eating the fruit that would enable them to know good and evil. Because of the tree and because of the command, they already knew about the choice between good and evil. 

To reject the command and eat the fruit – because it involved rejecting the command of God - was the evil.
To obey the command and not to eat the fruit was the good.

Evil occurs when we do not do what God wants us to do, or when we do what God does not want us to do. It is very simple.

2.  The cause of evil

a) Evil happens when we stop trusting in the goodness of God.

If we trust that God is God, that he is on our side, that we are beloved adopted sons and daughters, and that God really wants the best – then even if we don’t understand a command, we will still do it.

When you go to the doctor and complain of a problem, and the doctor tells you to take some tablets, you take them. You take them even if they taste awful – because you trust that the doctor knows what she is saying. But if you begin to doubt her competency, or if you begin to doubt whether she does really want to see you get better, then you will probably stop taking them.

So the serpent questions the goodness of God.

It says to the woman: ‘You will certainly not die. .. God knows that when you eat of it [the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’.

In other words it is saying that the reason God gave you this mysterious command not to eat the fruit of this particular tree is because God doesn’t want you to become like him. He is jealous of you. There is something in that garden, says the serpent, that God is keeping from you.

Evil begins with a wrong view of God; it begins with a wrong theology.

That is why the Ten Commandments begin with a statement about God and the command to worship God. ‘I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt. You shall have no other Gods but me’. Do you see what he is saying? He is saying, ‘I’m the God who is on your side. I rescued you from slavery. I did amazing things for you. So you can trust me.’

It is why, for example, in most of Paul’s letters, the first half of the letter is about God, about who he is and what he has done – and what he has done for us. Paul then goes on to say, in the second half, ‘in the light of that, live like this’.

Romans 12:1 is the classic statement: ‘Therefore..  in view of God’s mercy [which is what he has spent the first 11 chapters writing about], offer your bodies as a living sacrifice’.  

It is why theology matters. We need to get the mind – our thinking about God - right first. And when our knowledge of God gets twisted or perverted, then evil begins to take over.

When we doubt the goodness of God, we begin to doubt the goodness of what God says, especially if we don’t fully understand why God has given us certain commands:

[Why can’t I choose which God to worship? Isn’t it a human right?
Why is he so phased if I use his name as a swear word? Is God a bit sensitive? Can’t he chill out a bit? What about freedom of speech.
Why shouldn’t I work as many days as I like, when I want? The economy needs it, there are bills to pay, and we want to go on that holiday.
Why should I bother about my parents or their generationLife is busy and they understand. And the previous generation got us in the mess that we are today.
Why can’t I get rid of those people who stand in my way – especially if nobody else sees or I can get away with it?
Why shouldn’t I have sex with who I want, whenever I want, in whatever way I want? It’s my body. I can do what I like with it. And if they’re up for it ..
Yes, I agree that stealing is not great, but what is the harm in taking stuff from the big boys, from people like Tesco or the Inland Revenue? They won’t miss it, and they’re making big enough profits from screwing little people like me.
Why shouldn’t I say something that isn’t completely true about someone? What’s wrong with a bit of exaggeration? They said stuff about me which was much worse. 
Why shouldn’t I want what my colleague’s got? It’s a free world. And anyway I know that their partner fancies me – and if they’d be happier with me... It’s a free world.]

There are two ways of looking at the commands of God.

The first way is to look at them and to say, ‘The God who made us and loves us gave us these commands. I can begin to see the wisdom behind them, but even if I don’t fully understand why, he is still God and I trust him that they are for good. So I will obey him’.

The second way is to look at them through serpent shaped spectacles. God? Does he exist? Does he care? How do you know what he thinks? These aren’t his commands; they were written by prejudiced men from a long gone past. They are a challenge to my freedom to be whoever I want to be, and to do whatever I want to do.

So the first cause of evil is when we question the goodness and the love of God.

But there is a second cause of evil:

b) Our wrongly directed desires cause us to commit evil

The devil questions the goodness of God. He then lets human desires take over.

'When Eve saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eye, and desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate'.

All three things are good. They are about the physical needs of the body, the longing for beauty and the pursuit of knowledge.

But when we let our desires rule our head and our wills we are in trouble.
We allow the things that we crave, the things that give us physical satisfaction, to shape and direct our lives – whether that is food or alcohol, drugs, the pursuit of money or stuff, pornography or sex. And they will destroy our relationship; and they will destroy us. 
James writes again: 'What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight' (James 4:4)

And the desire for beauty - whether in art, music, things or people can also end up controlling our lives. It is a precious servant but a tyrannical lord. If we put that desire first, before what God has said, it will lead to evil, to our own destruction, and the destruction of others. 

And the desire for the pursuit of knowledge can again become something so destructive, if it is not brought under the authority of God. we have seen how destructive a headlong pursuit of knowledge can be. We see it in a Hiroshima or Nagasaki; in the use of chemical weapons on the Kurds or Syrian opposition; we see it in the proliferation of some GM crops when we simply can’t know what the long term consequences are going to be.

We’re like 7 year old kids who have been told that we can’t watch a particular film. ‘You’re not old enough’. But someone at school tells us it is really great, that it has got some really good stuff in it, and that they don’t want you to watch it because they’re really mean.
And so we secretly watch it – and for weeks afterwards we have nightmares. We’ve got the knowledge, but we don’t have the maturity to handle it.

So the root of evil begins to get a deep grip on our lives as we doubt the goodness of God and as we let our desires control us. 

That is why Lent, as a time for self-examination, can be so helpful. We consciously use this time to look again at our desires, to prayerfully thinking through whether we are in control of our desires, or whether our desires are in control of us. And the simplest way to discover that is to see whether, for the sake of God for a period, we are able to give something up. 

3. The consequence of evil

Everything that the serpent says is shown to be a lie. 

'You will not die'. They do not die physically there and then. But that which was life in them does die. They will be cast out of the garden, and they will know death. 

'You will be like God knowing good and evil'. Well they do experience first-hand knowledge of the consequence of evil. But they certainly do not become like God. 

'Your eyes will be opened'. Their eyes are opened: not because they discover the secret of the knowledge of good and evil. As we’ve said, God had already given them that. 
Instead they see themselves and they see the other in a new way. They discover shame: the shame of having believed a serpent (a wild animal); the shame of having listened to the lies about God; the shame of having been led astray by their desires; and the shame of having been caught out.

And they cover up.

This is not some ancient storyteller trying to explain the origin of clothes. This is about something much more significant, much deeper.

Before, they were known in their nakedness to each other.
Now there is something between them.

Before they knew each other completely – they knew each other’s thoughts and motives. They knew the other’s heart. Now they don’t.
Before they had been led by trust in God and obedience to him. Now they are led by the unpredictability of their desires.
Before they were two as one. Now they begin to blame the other: ‘She made me do it’. And Mars and Venus declared war on each other.

And  we are told in the next few verses that they even hide from God. Having deliberately disobeyed him, they cannot face him. And because they, because we, can’t face him – we believe the other lies about him: that he has no power – he does not act, that he doesn’t speak, and that he doesn’t exist. And that sounds good to us, at least for a while, because if the God out there does not exist, then we are ultimately answerable to nobody and we can do exactly as our desires, the god in here, guides us.

Evil is a denial of life and a denial of reality. It is the greatest ostrich act of all time. It is when we LIVE backwards. You will realise that EVIL is LIVE the wrong way round.

It happens when we direct our life away from God rather than toward God. When we believe the lies rather than the truth about God. When we think it is all about my freedom to do what I want.

This is the root of the human problem. We’re all part of it. This is the beginning of the stuff that lead to the genocide in Rwanda. And this is the problem that the rest of the bible, and ultimately Good Friday and Easter, sets out to solve.