We Wandered far from God
Part two of our Five Part Story is that We Wandered Far from God. As we examine this concept we always need to keep in mind part one, that God Loves the World. In other words our wandering is always done in the context of God's love.
Beginning in Chapter three of Genesis the story teller attempts to explain how humanity moved from the wonderful idyllic life in Eden described in the two preceding chapters to the situation in which God’s people found themselves; a world of violence, difficulties and death. Most of us know the basic story. Adam and Eve, our prehistoric progenitors were hanging out in the garden when a serpent showed up. We are told that the serpent was crafty (a gift of God?). The serpent, without lying outright, plants doubt in Eve’s mind that what God had told her about not eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, was true. God had told the first couple that if they ate of that fruit they would die. The serpent implies otherwise. Adam and Eve decide to trust the serpent. As the story goes on, when they ate the fruit, their eyes were opened and they knew they were naked; in other words their choice to listen to someone other than God left them exposed. This is the first story of human beings wandering off of the path that God had laid out for them.
The Genesis story continues with a series of further wanderings in which people move farther and farther away from God’s desires for them. These wanderings include the tale of Cain and Able in which murder (fratricide to be exact) enters the world. This is followed by the acknowledgement that humanity quickly became so evil that God decided to start over; the Noah story. While God does begin again the results are basically the same; after Noah is saved he plants a vineyard, gets drunk and one of his sons takes sexual advantage of him while he is inebriated (Genesis 9:20-27).
The initial saga is completed in Chapter Eleven with the Tower of Babel story. In this tale all of humanity refuses to do as God asks (be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth in order to care for it) and instead decides they will stay together, build a tower to heaven, invade God’s home and force God to do as they desire. God has other ideas and instead sends them on their way to fulfill God’s plan.
By the time the New Testament rolls around the metaphor of wandering far from God had been replaced with the word, sin. The two most basic meanings of the word sin are: 1) to miss the mark, as when an archer misses the bulls eye and 2) to break a law. Notice how each of these definitions is based on the concept of wandering far from God. Missing the mark reminds us that God has a “target” of behavior for which we are “shooting.” Violating a law reminds us that God has established rules which serve to keep us on the right path toward the “target” set by God. Thus sin, which has often been associated with a limited list of certain actions (adultery, murder, greed, theft, etc.) is more than that. Sin is the disease which has infected humanity; meaning that human beings are inclined to wander off of God’s path which leads to life, and onto paths which lead to death. Individual actions (adultery, murder, greed, theft, etc.) are merely symptoms of the disease.
The issue for the New Testament writers then was two-fold. First they had to name the symptoms of the disease. Jesus does this in subtle ways through many of his stories and parables, while the letter writers (Paul, Peter and James) name the symptoms outright. Secondly though, the writers needed to address the disease itself. They needed to tell the church how God had dealt with sin in such a way that human beings could find their way back to God; how the disease of sin could be put in remission enough so that they could live the lives God intended them to live. This will be the focus of the next three parts of the Five Part Story.