Fair warning: This entry will be a bit longer than the first, but I think it’s worth the time.
THE SINFULNESS OF MAN
There is another side to Isaiah’s encounter with the Lord. On one hand, we get a very clear picture of the magnitude of God’s holiness. He is big. Job puts it into words well by saying that the Lord is “too wonderful” for the mind of man. But just as we receive great insight into the character and nature of God we are also given a look at the character and nature of mankind. And the image set before us isn’t so pretty.
From the very beginning of Scripture, we see this holy, holy, holy God who designs a glorious creation with the intent that it would follow Him into a gloriously unified future. That lasts two chapters of the Bible. After Genesis 3, story after story shows us the ferocious pursuit of God towards His rebellious creation so that it might be reconciled to its true purpose – worshiping its Creator. When God creates Adam and Eve, He places them in the Garden of Eden with one rule: don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This isn’t even a hard rule. He doesn’t tell them not to look at it. He doesn’t tell them not to draw pretty pictures of it. He doesn’t tell them not to climb on it. He simply says, “Don’t eat from this tree. I’ve given you fruit on every other tree of the garden. Eat from those, but not this one.”
More than that, God prescribes the punishment if they choose to disobey. He says that “in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Eat of it and die. Don’t eat of it and live. Simple, right? Apparently not. As the story unfolds, Adam and Eve are both deceived by the serpent, Satan, they eat from the tree, and then run around the garden sewing fig leaves together in order to clothe their newfound nakedness. What is interesting is God’s response in the following verses. The Bible tells us that Adam and Eve run and hide behind some trees because they “heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden.” Next, they hear His voice. “Where are you?”
Remember the punishment God told them would be incurred if they disobey? Death. My future is on the line here. Your future is on the line. In fact, the future of all mankind depends upon what happens next because if God kills them you and I aren’t here today. But He doesn’t. He takes their immortality. He casts them out of the Garden. He promises trial and suffering for the rest of their lives, but He doesn’t kill them. Instead, He does something even more remarkable than deferring their punishment – He promises redemption.
“I will put enmity between you [Satan] and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
This is the very first promise of a Savior in the Bible. This is the first shadow of Christ and we see it immediately after this man and woman that God set in perfect unison with Him have chosen to deny that privilege and live on their own terms; the very moment they spit in the face of God who gave them life and breath; the instant they rebel against their kind and loving Father, He pursues them. Yes, He disciplines them, but even that discipline is a form of loving pursuit. They just broke everything the Lord created and called “good,” and rather than rain down His wrath He says, “I will fix this.”
I prefer the NIV translation of Genesis 3:15 in this case as it says, “He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” We know very well from the rest of Scripture that God lives up to His promise by sending Jesus into this world, subjecting Himself to the abuses and crimes of His own creation, walking voluntarily to the cross where He hangs and dies for us, and rises again crushing the head of sin and death forever. What a God we have!
I know…this section is supposed to be about man’s side in this issue. So let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here. Looking back at the Garden, there are still consequences for the rebellion of Adam and Eve. Consequences with the promise of redemption, but consequences no less. They are removed from the Garden and have forfeited their right standing with the God of the universe, meaning they no longer have a unified relationship with the Lord. Something tragic stands between them. Something the Bible calls “sin.” When Adam disobeyed the command of the Lord, he ushered in a division that the world had never known. Sin fractured the perfect creation God had looked upon and called “very good.” It separated us from our Creator.
I like to think of this separation as “The Great Chasm” because of a story Jesus tells His disciples in Luke 16:19-31. He describes a rich man who has no love for God and man and ultimately finds himself in hell. Once there, he looks up and sees Abraham in Heaven and begins to speak to him. The rich man asks if he can come over, but Abraham replies with a no because “a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.” I believe this provides an appropriate illustration for the separation between man and God that was caused through the fall of Genesis 3.
Part of God being holy means that He is perfect, or sinless. Sin cannot exist in His presence nor can anything tainted by it. Because you and I are sinful people, we cannot exist with Him. Furthermore, because we are finite creatures that have committed an infinite offense in sinning against God, we cannot pay that debt by any effort of our own. What is finite by nature cannot pay for something that requires an infinite price. So our great chasm has two sides: on one is the Holy, Righteous God of the Universe and on the other sinful, rebellious mankind, neither able to co-exist with the other.
It’s a scary picture, isn’t it? This is the reality that falls upon Isaiah as He stands before the Lord. This is what drives him to pronounce pity over his own existence. He has an acute awareness of his own sin as well as the sin of those with whom he inhabits his city. He knows he is guilty, that he has offended God, and he knows that he deserves to die. Nothing tainted can exist in harmony with a holy, holy, holy God. Without the Lord uttering a single word, Isaiah understands his sentence.
The implications of the Great Chasm of Scripture are brought to the forefront right here in this story. Isaiah walks into the presence of the Holy God of the universe and can recognize nothing other than the fact that he has no right to stand before Him because of his own filth. You and I have no rights before God. We had those taken from us in the Garden of Eden. Adam stood as a representative for humanity. God counts his sins as our own because we would have done the same thing. If you don’t believe me, consider this: how has today gone for you? Been perfect? How about this week or this month? Made any decisions that the Lord might consider sinful? You either know that you have screwed up or else you are deceiving yourself.
If ever there was to be a cry of injustice against God, this is it. Why call Him unjust for destroying nations in the Old Testament? Why call His divine intervention “coercion”? Why not cry out over the fact that He lets His Son take the place of criminals on the cross? Which is the more arrogant position for us to take? I do not intend this to be a question that offends for the sake of offense alone. It is a legitimate question to consider and one that God Himself asks of His creation often, like in the final four chapters of Job. This truth is meant to bring about humility.
As I think about it, I may have been wrong in saying that we have no rights before God. I think there is one thing that we can demand of Him in terms of how He treats us. We can always insist upon His justice, but my guess is that is a right you would do well to give up – especially if you are directing it towards yourself.
But the story doesn’t end there…