Back to the Garden

There is more. There is also mortality, because the wages of sin, finally, is death (Rom. 6:23). Death was the penalty that God first threatened for disobedience in the garden of Eden: “When you eat from it you will certainly die” (Gen. 2:17 NIV). Now we are mortal; having sinned in Adam, we also die in Adam (1 Cor. 15:21–22). We are dead spiritually—dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). One day soon we will die physically, not simply because death is a part of life in the natural universe but also because God stands in judgment against our sin. Our inescapable mortality is the irrefutable demonstration that we are sinners who seek our own ungodly glory. Nothing is more un-godlike than death, which strips away every last pretension to deity. Here is the futility of our condition: we will end up right back where we started. Rather than subduing the earth, we will be subdued by it, for dust we are, and to the dust we will return (Gen. 3:19).

For those who die without Christ, there will be a second death, infinitely and eternally more terrible than the first (Rev. 20:14–15). As a holy judge, God will display his wrath against sin. Though it offends the sensibilities of the secular mind, the doctrine of hell as a place of endless torment and eternal separation from God is a plain biblical truth that was taught more by Jesus than anyone else in the pages of Scripture (e.g., Matt. 5:22; 10:28; Luke 12:5; 15:22–23). Sin leads to death, and after that, to judgment.

If the best explanation for the beauty of humanity is the biblical doctrine of creation, then the best explanation for the tragedy of humanity is the biblical doctrine of sin. As he wrestles with the mystery of our humanity, the Princeton theologian Daniel Migliore writes that “we are rational and irrational, civilized and savage, capable of deep friendship and murderous hostility, free and in bondage, the pinnacle of creation and its greatest danger. We are Rembrandt and Hitler, Mozart and Stalin, Antigone and Lady Macbeth, Ruth and Jezebel.” What accounts best for our divided hearts is our fall from created innocence to sinful corruption. “This is the source and explanation of all that is wrong with man and the world he inhabits,” wrote Philip Edgcumbe Hughes: “It is the sickness unto death from which man in his fallenness inescapably suffers.” Separated from God by our sin, we do not love him, worship him, obey him, or serve him as we should. Such is the depth of our fall that sin has become the pervasive and perverse condition of every human enterprise.

It all seems to be lost: the family, the church, the city, and the society that God intended—the science and technology, the law and the politics, the business and the arts. The world is the way it is, and we are the way we are, because we have fallen into sin. As a result, the heart of humanity has a deep and painful longing to return to paradise. Happiness is not only our hope, wrote G. K. Chesterton, “but also in some strange manner a memory; we are all kings in exile.” As Joni Mitchell set our longing to music in her 1969 song “Woodstock”:

We are stardust

We are golden

And we’ve got to get ourselves

Back to the garden.

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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