We live in a broken world. Everywhere you turn, you see the impact of sin. But why? Why did sin spread from Adam and Eve to all people? In the last post, we explored the possibility that sin spreads everywhere because we spread it. We don’t want to admit it, but we’re our own worst enemies.
In this post, I’d like to look in a different direction. Maybe sin spread to everyone because we’re all in this together.
Paul describes us all as being “in Adam” (1 Cor 15:22). When Adam rejected God’s plan and destroyed shalom, we all fell right along with him. Elsewhere he says it like this, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom 5:12). So Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden, forced to live east of Eden instead. Consequently, everyone who has come after them has been born east of Eden as well—separated from God, cut off from the source of life, dead in our sins (Eph 2:1; Col 1:2). We all fell together.
Now, I can almost hear the objections forming in your mind. They’re in mine as well. How can this be fair? We didn’t choose to break that commandment. Why are we being punished?
The simplest answer is to point out that although we didn’t break that commandment, we’ve broken plenty since. Just like Adam and Eve, we’ve made our own choices—deciding to focus on our own plans and desires, rather than pursuing and manifesting God’s glory in the world. So, even if we set aside Adam and Eve’s sin, we’re far from blameless.
But there’s a deeper answer as well. From the Bible’s perspective, we’re all in this together.
When I lived in Scotland, I learned a couple of interesting facts. First, it’s sometimes a bit awkward to be American in a place where American policies are not terribly popular. And second, Canadians do not like it when people think they they’re American.
The first point became clear because we lived in Scotland during the Bush/Kerry election, a time when Scottish frustration with the war in Iraq was high. So American politics and policies were on everyone’s mind. And people quickly noticed that I was American. You’d think it would be hard to pick out the American in a room full of Scots. But apparently it’s not. Several times complete strangers walked up and asked me about how I was going to vote in the upcoming election and whether I supported the war. On two different occasions, I got trapped in pretty intense political “conversations”—i.e., the other person vented about the evils of American foreign policy while I scanned the room for a window large enough for both me and my backpack.
Was it fair for these people to associate me with the actions and policies of my country? After all, I didn’t create any of these policies, and I certainly wasn’t involved in any of those actions. I’ve never even been to Iraq. None of this was my fault. I wasn’t responsible.
But I was.
I wasn’t directly responsible, of course. It’s not like I was in the Oval Office making the decisions. But I am an American. I am a part of the whole. I enjoy the many blessings that come from being a part of that whole, and I also bear some responsibility for the actions of the whole. Even if I thought that a particular decision or action was a bad idea, even if I voted against those who were making the decisions, I’m still a part of that greater whole that we call America. Consequently, I bear some responsibility for what America does. And I certainly share in any consequences that result. I may not always like it, but there is a real sense in which we’re all in this together.
All of this can be really annoying if you’re Canadian. The second thing I learned in Scotland is that although Europeans have an easy time identifying if you’re American, they have a hard time telling Americans and Canadians apart. So, if you’re Canadian, people tend just to assume that you’re American. And then you have to put up with all the grief that being American can bring where American policies are unpopular.
Of course, Canadians have an advantage. They can simply point out that they’re not American. People apologize, and the harassment ends.
Eyeing a window that is clearly too small for both me and my backpack, I consider taking the cheap way out. “Me? No, I’m from Canada.”
But, of course, I’m not. I’m American. And, although I like being American, it does come with some drawbacks at times. Because we’re all in this together.
All of this is part of what makes the story of the Fall so tragic. It’s not just a story about two people, the decision they made, and the horrible consequences they experienced as a result. More fundamentally, it’s a story about what happens when God’s people turn away from their God-given purpose and focus instead on their own plans, their own desires, their own glory. It’s a story about what happens when God’s people and God’s creation become separated from God himself, the source of life. It’s a story of death, guilt, shame, and alienation. It’s a story about life after the shattering of shalom, east of Eden.
[This is an excerpt from a book that I'm writing about the gospel, Good News for the Living Dead: A Fresh Take on the Gospel Story. You can read the other excerpts and keep track of new ones as they become available on my blog.]