In the beginning, there was God. Genesis 1 sets the whole thing up. In the opening scene, we see that God existed and that He is creative. Later on we learn that humans are made in His image. While we don’t know to what extent that is, we can assume that at least some aspects of your/my/our existence are similar to God’s existence. Knowing this can help us understand why He was interested in using His creativity to architect our world. He wanted to create something he could be in relationship with. We know this because He “walked with Adam in the cool of the day” and gave His Son over to death so He could be around us again (more on this later).
Back to the Beginning.
God went on creating all things we know and called it good. He liked what He made. He set up a world, then made humans to “…multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Gen. 1) From this we can get a sense that the earth wasn’t all that peaceful. If He instructed humanity to subdue and have dominion over earth, it must have been wild and reckless. We know from Genesis 2 that He created Eden especially for Adam. This could have been God’s way of throwing Adam a bone. This bit may be conjecture on my part but he didn’t want to throw Adam to the wolves – literally – to let him figure it out. He made a garden to start from. If you’ve been survival camping, you know having some materials to work with can be a game changer.
God, Adam, eventually Eve. It’s a great time on earth, hanging out with the God of the universe, growing salad, etc. Then the serpent, proof that evil was allowed to exist in some form on earth, sticks his dirty little nose into God’s plan for relationship. I don’t want to go too far into the story of why the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil existed except to say that it’s existence in the garden would be a necessity if any real relationship were to exist between God and humanity. If Adam and Eve couldn’t choose something else besides God, their relationship with Him wouldn’t be something they could pursue willingly. hopefully this makes sense.
Once Adam and Eve ate “the fruit”, the drama of the Bible begins.
Adam and Eve are going at it alone now. They disobeyed God and lost the privilege of the garden (sound familiar, parents?). Now all that evil that is in the world can interact with them on a damaging level. They aren’t under that covering of relationship with God where “perfect love casts out fear”, among other things. I don’t know the exact moment they realized disobeying God was the wrong decision but they probably regretted it for the rest of their life once they realized the gravity of what they had done. They knew it was wrong. God knew it was wrong.
Based on the rest of the story of the Bible, it might be safe to assume that God didn’t want it to stay this way. He had a plan to give humanity a second chance.
As the story progresses, we meet a man named Abram. In Genesis 15 and 17, God offers him a covenant style relationship. The parameters are that God would make Abram fruitful with a family that would bless the whole earth, be blessed among other nations, and set His attention on Abram in a special relationship if Abram and his family would set themselves apart from other people through circumcision, and follow all of God’s commands. This would become the parameters for what we know of as “the law”. This is a big step forward in God’s goal of giving humanity that second chance.
I want to make a special note here. The Law is God’s standard for right and wrong. The Bible teaches that God is perfectly holy and righteous. As such, He cannot exist where any unholiness or unrighteousness exists. Either He leaves, or the imperfect thing leaves (i.e. dies). This is why God gave humans the law. So they would know what they need to do to be in God’s presence again.
We keep reading and find the lineage of Abram – now Abraham – going through life following the law, then falling away, then coming back to God, then falling away, all the while God is faithful to keep His end of the promise. In the old testament, Abraham’s family fails to keep their end of the bargain and God is faithful to His end of the agreement. The less they followed God’s commands, the less they were fruitful, blessed among nations, and otherwise connected to God’s presence. Notice something here. The covenant is never broken, God always keeps His word. Nowhere does the Bible say that it’s nullified or no longer in effect. We just forget about it as we watch Israel fall deeper and deeper into disarray.
Don’t miss this.
The law was given as parameters on how to be in relationship with God. It shows us two important things. One, what God’s standard of right and wrong is, and two, we are all guilty of doing wrong and can’t stop on our own, regardless of how hard we try (the law is extensive and humans are weak). This is the dilemma of the old testament, which is a representation of humanity as a whole. We are the Israelite story. The Israelite story is ours. Not by blood, but by action.
We finally read the whole old testament! When we get to the new testament, we see that Jesus comes to deal with our issues. God set up a way in the old testament to hide our bad actions with animal sacrifice but Jesus was sent to set up a new way to deal with our wrong-ness. Jesus made a way to erase it. No longer hidden, our disobedience is gone. God is getting closer to what He really wants, unhindered relationship with His creation.
We learn from the new testament that things have changed. To be in covenant relationship with God and be in that place of blessing as a part of Abraham’s family, we don’t sacrifice animals, we ask for forgiveness and take communion. We don’t circumcise anymore, we baptize. Our commitment goes from a fulfillment of the requirements to a celebration of Jesus fulfillment of the requirements for us.
But the covenant from Abraham still isn’t nullified. It’s out there, being honored by God. He will partner with us in life if we obey the law. The only thing that changed is how to obey the law. We now need to accept Jesus’ fulfillment and respond with commitment to God’s relationship. God hasn’t changed. He’s always wanted a relationship with humanity and has always stayed true to His commitments to give us a second chance.
This is the contextual history with which God looks at us.
We weren’t there through Eden. We didn’t vacillate between acceptance and rejection of God as we were led through the wilderness. We didn’t die on a cross. But God was there through all of that. It’s all connected. It’s why He sent Jesus; so our junk wasn’t baggage in the relationship anymore (so to speak). Jesus did all the hard work of relationship. This is the majesty of the Holy God and the beauty of the cross of Jesus.
All those stories. All those people. They are all a part of His re-instantiation of relationship. I wish someone had told me this when I became a christian. Hopefully this will help someone else understand.