The Nature of Sin

I want to talk today about one of my favorite stories from the bible. If you have spent even a minimal amount of time in church, you’ve heard this story. It’s right up there with Moses parting the Red Sea and Daniel in the lion’s den. It’s the story of Adam and Eve, but more specifically the six verses that talk about original sin and the effect it had on mankind as a whole.

I want to look at it from a different perspective than you’ve probably heard because I think the story itself lends great insights into the nature of sin and what it means to actually sin. Much of the church talks about sin as if it’s just a list of rules that God writes down and then just commands us not to do. Very few churches or preachers give any serious guidance on WHY it’s considered wrong to sin and, because of it, I think it’s turned people away from the church.

I tend to think the stories in the book of Genesis are more on the level of myths that were handed down from generation to generation and that they aren’t exactly historical stories of things that actually happened. However, I would like to point out that it doesn’t necessarily matter if you believe in that one way or the other. The importance of the story isn’t whether it actually happened or not. The importance of the story is the lessons that it means to teach us. And that’s what I want to focus on today.

So, let’s look at the verses I want to focus on:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 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.

Genesis 3: 1-7

Choice Creates Evil

I used to wonder about this story. I used to wonder why God would place the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil right smack dab in the middle of the garden, knowing exactly what would happen if he did. If God meant for us to be perfect, and that his intentions for us have always been for us to be happy with him, then what gives? Why would he place temptation right in the center of the garden where people would walk by it every day? That seems like God put that tree there purposefully, intentionally, knowing full well what would happen. So, and I can hear the atheists clapping here, that means that God himself created evil and that man never really had a choice after all. Right? All the suffering and pain that stems from original sin, that all came from God (or so we think).

I think those are the wrong questions and assertions. We focus on the the fall. We rationalize the fall by saying it was part of God’s plan for grace. And we rationalize the suffering of countless “innocent” people by suggesting that it was meant for God’s glory.

I don’t see it that way. I like to focus on the choice made by God. And what is that choice? The choice is between creating beings who have no choice, who never know evil or suffering, but also never know what it’s like to freely choose between good and evil and the power that comes from that. Or, you create a being that is capable of choice, thereby inherently “flawed” at it’s core, knowing full well that it will choose evil and suffer immensely because of it.

The point that I am getting at here is that the choice creates evil. A truly free and autonomous being must have all of the options available to it, or else it just becomes an automaton or a robot that merely follows the programming it was given. From the perspective of God, that must’ve been an interesting choice to make. We like to blame God for our suffering, but we as humans kind of do the same thing, don’t we? We gravitate towards the people who are most free (i.e. those people who are their own person) because there is something inherently beautiful about them. I think that God saw the beauty in choice. To choose to do good (or what we define as good anyway) over all the other choices in the world is an amazing and beautiful thing. That beauty is unmatched by any evil and suffering we create.

So, you ask, why do bad things happen to good people? The answer is that the freedom to choose is what creates evil. Your ability to look at things and choose how you respond to them is what creates evil. THIS IS POWERFUL STUFF IF YOU TRULY UNDERSTAND IT.

Choice is Central to Who You Are

Another way to put it is that pain in this life is inevitable, but suffering is truly optional. You can read more in depth stuff about the power to choose in both Stephen Covey’s work and Viktor Frankl’s work. True choice does not exist in the external world (you may not get to choose the things that happen to you). True choice is what exists internally, at the center of who you are (you get to choose how  you respond to external events). So why was the tree placed at the center of the garden? Because it’s an allegory for the choice that exists at the center of your persona.

In that way, then, we are defined by our choices. If you read the whole chapter (Chapter 3) we see the consequences of Adam and Eve’s choice. Man is cursed to work by the sweat of his brow, and woman is cursed to incredible pain in childbirth. These are both fantastic allegories for the nature of choice and the effects of sin on our psychology. What God (or the person writing Genesis is attributing to God) is calling a curse is actually a huge clue to how we are fundamentally wired to handle choice and the evil and suffering that is created by that choice.

The notion is simple: a deep purpose (your work) and incredible pain (birth and rebirth) work together to create something beyond the suffering of our daily lives. This is why the best thing you can do for depression is to create your own pain (so to speak). Work is hard and it hurts. Giving birth is hard and it hurts. But that’s the choice you make…the choice to work and the choice to give birth. Those things exist as a fundamental purpose for you life, and, hence, are part of the overall prescription for the suffering and the emptiness that exists deep within us.

Those who suffer depression and face suicide are the ones who are overwhelmed with a deep sense of hopelessness. Loss of hope comes from that inner tug that exists in the center of us, the part of us that thinks all of this is meaningless. You can look at the world and decide that everything about it is fundamentally meaningless, or you can look at the world and see a rich tapestry of purpose. Those who choose the latter are ultimately the most happy.

Choice is What Leads us to Salvation

So if choice is what creates evil and choice is central to who we are, does that mean that evil is central to who we are? I would so no, because evil is a construct that we create. We, the people, are the arbitrator’s of what is good and what is evil. When we speak of good and evil, we speak subjectively of what is good for people and what is bad for people. So, evil is our construct, which means that it’s not the intention of God at all.

God’s intention, as is laid out in the bible, is that of salvation from ourselves. So, the nature of sin, and all the things that God tells us are sin, isn’t to just give us a book full of rules for us to follow blindly. That goes against the very reason he created us in the first place! The reason we were created was to be choosers! So, to say that the way to salvation is to go to church three times a week, pray three times a day, and don’t break the 10 commandments is to miss the entire point of the bible (and why we were created in the first place)!

When God speaks of sin, he is speaking of the things that are fundamentally bad for us. You can prove this to yourself by looking at the types of things that the bible considers to be sin. Murder is a sin, because to murder someone is to be so angry and unhappy in your core that you must direct that onto another person and create suffering and pain. Stealing is a sin because to steal is to decide within yourself that you don’t have enough and that you aren’t enough to go get the things you need in this life through more honorable methods. Notice that the common thread that all sin has is that it does things to us internally that create unhappiness and suffering.

You as the chooser need to be aware of that. The choice you make isn’t between going to heaven and going to hell (and being good little christian boys and girls). It’s the choice to either create internal joy or internal suffering and to project one or the other onto the external world. If you are suffering inside, you will commit what we call “sin.” If you are full of joy on the inside, you create create that joy in the real world and it will spiral out of you.

The nature of sin, then, is the nature of suffering. God knows this, and because of that gives us guidance on how to cultivate our spirit so that we can experience true joy and inner peace (i.e. salvation). It’s the message of the cross. It’s the big blaring neon sign that nobody ever talks about in the crucifixion of Jesus. We think that Jesus died for us so that he can come down and save us. But Jesus’ message was that the KINGDOM OF GOD IS WITHIN YOU. The reason that the blood of Jesus is so powerful is not that someone had to die for us to take on our punishment. The reason is the example that Jesus gave us in his crucifixion. His choice to look past the pain and have empathy for those around us. That is a level of inner peace that only few achieve in this life.

So, our salvation, as is symbolized by the blood of Jesus, is one of the inner workings of choice. The decision to forgive those that hurt us. The decision to love our enemies. The decision to do good to those that spitefully use us. These are choices we make, choices that are central to who we are. When you choose to look beyond the pain, you find compassion and that compassion is what creates joy. Your salvation lies in your power to choose. So practice choosing things that empower you. Practice choosing things that create gratitude and contentment within you. Practice choosing things that allow you to see purpose in pain. This is the nature of sin. This is the way of salvation.

If you enjoyed this post, feel free to leave a comment below. Also, please share it with someone who could use encouragement. Thank you for your patience and God bless!