- Religion and Philosophy
Christianity From 30,000 Feet
For those of us who are Christians, many of us have spent (or will spend) years and years in rows listening to someone speak about the events, letters, and prophecies found in the Bible in microscopic detail. While we benefited greatly from and found enormous value in the detail, we were often left to piece together the big picture on our own. When I was younger, the big picture I was given was John 3:16.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) NLT
This verse was great but it didn’t really help me understand how the pieces of the Bible fit together. Studying and trying to figure out the Bible can be daunting for those of us who are new to it. Where do I begin? Why is it not in chronological order? How do I make sense of it? What is the big picture? So, I’ve decided to step out on a limb here and write a little bit about what I think the big picture is based on what is found in scripture. If you have other ideas or if you think I've missed something important please feel free to share!
God created everything. Let's just pause there for a second... So this includes Adam and Eve who were placed in charge. He only gave them one rule, because only one was needed. The world was not a dangerous place yet! Rules are there ultimately for protection. Sin hadn't yet entered the world so no need for a lot of rules yet. The one rule established God’s authority over them and gave them free will--the ability to choose. The rule: Do not eat the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden. Satan tricked them into thinking that God was keeping something good from them, and they broke the rule and ate the fruit. At that moment, sin (aka selfish disobedience to God) entered the world and the world became a dangerous place.
The fruit was from the "Tree of knowledge of good and evil". That magical fruit changed them. Suddenly they became aware of their ability to say no--their ability to be selfish. Ultimately, the selfish nature that was produced in Adam and Eve was passed down to the rest of us. We could no longer be accepted based on our actions or our goodness. We were unclean because of our sin and selfishness. We were in danger of being eternally separated from our Creator because of that sin. God couldn't just ignore our sin, because justice is at the core of his nature and the scales must balance. There had to be payment. Thankfully, love is at the core of His nature as well.
God knew we could not measure up to the standard of perfection required by His holiness. And He knew His love and mercy would not allow him to do nothing. So he gave Moses the law. This was step one. While He knew we did not measure up, we had no idea. If he had told us that we did not measure up, we would not have understood. We had no measuring stick. The law was not intended to be a bar for us to jump over. God knew it was impossible for us to be good enough to get over the bar. Instead, it was intended to be a measuring stick to show us what God already knew--that we could not possibly measure up no matter how hard we tried. We could not be clean enough or good enough to satisfy God’s just and holy nature. He gave us prophets to point to the Messiah who would be the true solution. He gave us animal sacrifices to show us that we could not simply ignore our sin or sweep it under the rug. Payment and sacrifice was required for us to be forgiven. But these animal sacrifices could not actually cleanse anyone. An animal sacrifice wasn’t enough. It simply highlighted that man could not gain forgiveness based on his performance. This was the setup for the final act.
Jesus, God’s chosen sacrifice, was born into the world through a virgin. It had to be a virgin, because a human father would have passed on his sinful nature to the child. The sacrifice had to be perfect and sinless, otherwise he would be paying for his own sin and would do us no good. Jesus taught to show us who God really was, and he showed that God had chosen him through miracles and other signs. He developed quite a following as people began to realize that the promised one had come. But they didn’t understand that His primary goal was to be a sacrifice--they hadn’t understood that part of the prophecy. They expected a King to reign over them who would free them from Roman rule. Much to their surprise, he was executed and buried by the Romans. And then they saw him walking and talking three days later. Suddenly they remembered He had predicted his own death and resurrection. Jesus began to guide them through the Old Testament prophecies and finally they understood. Finally things made sense.
God had a very specific plan. We know that God knows the future; fulfilled Old Testament prophecies written about the arrival of Jesus make that clear. God chose to put the tree in the garden knowing that sin would spring up and cause Jesus to be sacrificed. Why? This is speculative, but I think it’s because God didn’t want robots. A robot does what you tell it because that’s how it was designed. A robot can't love, can't desire, can't choose. He wanted us to have free will, not only so that we could love Him but also so that we could love each other... freely! Our love and our obedience mean something and have value simply because we have the ability to say no. Love given freely to God is incredibly valuable in God’s economy. So much so that he was willing to give us free choice knowing what we would do with it.
He loves you enormously and desires a relationship with you. In fact, I would argue that somehow all the pain, suffering, and sin of this world is counterbalanced and justified by love itself. Otherwise, why put the tree there? Does God need our love? No. In fact, we need His even though we may not realize it. God is whole and complete without our love to "sustain Him." He offers us His love and desires that we love Him in return. It's an enormous privilege for the God of the Universe to desire a relationship with us. How amazing to be adopted by royalty! How incredible to be forgiven and declared righteous when we know we did nothing to deserve it. This is the God of the Bible. This is the big picture (at least from my perspective).