Christianity continues to hold out a solution to what a culture continues to deny.
In the video above, we see various portraits of people holding signs that reveal something about their character. They are, in some sense, marked by their actions and attitudes.
The Scriptures describe God’s plan in terms of God’s character, His shalom, to borrow the Hebrew term, which refers to His peace, His goodness, and His great desire for the wholeness of the created world, including you and me.
And yet we’re so very broken. We don’t have that wholeness. Sin is, according to one author, the “vandalism of God’s shalom.” God’s shalom was most fully violated in the breakdown of God’s image. Adam bore that image, but ruined it. All of Adam’s sons and daughters are now forced to bear the weight of that broken image.
So Scripture offers us so many different metaphors for what’s happened. The Hebrew texts describe it in terms of rebellion (pesha), infidelity (meshubah), trespass (ma’al),transgression (‘abar, parabaino), becoming dirty (tum’ah), wandering (‘avon), failure (chatta’t), and disloyalty (beged). The Greek texts describe it in terms of a fall (paraptoma), being unjust, unrighteous (adikeo), rebellious (asebeo), defeat (etao), ignorance (agnoeo), and missing the mark (hamartia).
What’s happened in our world is that we moved away from these understandings. In his book Whatever Became of Sin?, the writer Karl Menninger observes the way that sin has been redefined in western culture:
(1) Originally, sin was defined by violation of God’s standards as revealed in the text of scripture. Western culture built its laws and ethical foundations around the character of God.
(2) As time progressed, the law courts began to be seen as the embodiment of morality. Yet still, within this system, shame existed for the individual for violating an unchanging standard. Punishments in colonial times and beyond included such things as the stockades, where criminals would be publicly shamed for their crimes.
(3) As time went further, sin began to be seen more and more through the lens of psychology. Sin was not a violation of an absolute standard, but the result of aberrant psychological patterns and maladaptive behavior. We are not sinful people, we are diseased. We no longer need to point to the curse of Eden, but instead at unhappy childhoods and past traumas that have shaped our psyche into the twistedness that they now have become.
(4) Finally, sin has begun to be seen through a sociological lens. It’s not even the individual’s psychology that makes man sinful: it is the shaping of an entire community. It is not unusual, after tragedies such as that of Columbine or Virginia Tech, to hear public officials make statements such as ‘We are all to blame.’ The message is clear: the family, neighborhood and society in which you are raised has a large bearing on your moral development.
THE TEST IN THE GARDEN
Luke’s gospel is deeply concerned with situating Jesus in the context of secular history. The stories of Jesus’ birth are embedded right in the center of a hostile political environment, and in an era where whole families had become divided by sectarian religious beliefs.
When we first meet the adult Jesus, it is at His baptism. John the Baptizer was His cousin. He’d grown up as a preacher’s kid, but at some time or another he’d moved to the “wilderness,” some sort of Palestinian desert. So we can imagine people took notice when he finally returned, looking like Grizzly Adams but with a mouth like a rock star. He preached a message of repentance and justice.
So Jesus was baptized by His weird cousin – and it was here that the Spirit descended “like a dove,” and the Father said, “this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” This is the first time in Jesus’ adult life that He is called “the Son of God,” connecting Jesus to the prophecies about His miraculous birth.
But then Luke does something odd: He gives us Jesus’ family tree. Which wasn’t uncommon for writings of that era; it’s just odd to find it right smack in the middle of the story like this. But if you read all the way through, you find that John traces Jesus all the way back to the very beginning, to Adam, who is also called “a son of God.”
Which means that we have two “sons of God:” Adam and Jesus. Adam was tempted in the garden by Satan. In the next section, Jesus enters the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. Both lived in the shadow of a tree: for Adam it was the tree of knowledge, for Jesus it was the cross.
The whole point is this: where Adam failed, where we fail, Jesus is victorious. And His victory can be our victory. The point of this story is not that if we “try harder” we can do what Jesus did. The point is that we can’t do what Jesus did unless we trust in what Jesus achieved through His death on the cross.
And the most beautiful thing of all is this: when we trust in Him, God sees us the same way He views His Son; the Bible even uses the word “adoption”(Romans 8:15). Which means because of what Jesus did in the wilderness and on the cross, we can hear God say to us: “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.”
WHAT IT MEANS
Of course we know that “sin” is an archaic word that means nothing to a culture shaped by the sophistication of charismatic authority structures and rational thought.
But that seems awfully academic. Especially to the faces in the video.
Could it be that we each know that we’ve been marked in some way? See, in this life you will be marked by one of three things:
(1) What I’ve done
(2) What others have done to me
(3) What Jesus has done for me.
Jesus achieved victory in a Garden where you only achieved failure. The image of God that was broken by Adam – and us – was restored by Jesus, the second Adam:
“You know what happens when a portrait that has been painted on a panel becomes obliterated through external stains. The artist does not throw away the panel, but the subject of the portrait has to come and sit for it again, and then the likeness is re-drawn on the same material. Even so was it with the All-holy Son of God. He, the Image of the Father, came and dwelt in our midst, in order that He might renew mankind made after Himself…” (St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation, III.14)
Tomorrow, we’ll look deeper at the actual showdown between the Son of God and Satan.