Let’s say you and a friend decide you want to take off for a road trip across the United States to Washington. You get your oil changed, you fill your tires with air, and you fill up your gas tank. You’re all ready to go. You pull out of your driveway and head off with only open road and excitement in front of you. Now you don’t have a GPS, but you do have a map (yes they still make those). You’ve traced your route on the map and are confident that you and your friend can make it to your destination without much trouble.
You’re determined to get there in as little time as possible so you rarely stop for anything more than gas. You and your friend take turns driving while the other person tries to get some rest. A little over a day goes by and you are about to reach your destination. The sun is just breaking over the horizon and you are about to cross into Washington soil. Out in the distance you see a sign that isn’t quite visible to you. As you get closer the sign becomes crystal clear. It reads, “Welcome to Oregon!”
Both you and your friend read this sign with disbelief. “Oregon!” You both say out loud. “But how can that be?” You set out for Washington but arrived somewhere else. The only explanation is that somewhere you took at least one wrong turn.
It seems to me that this same thing happens to many people when they attempt to read the Bible. More specifically, I think that many of us take a wrong turn earlier on in our thinking about the story of the Bible, and this results in us arriving at a destination that the Bible never attended. We may arrive close to the destination, but it is far enough off to cause some significant changes. This wrong turn, I believe, happens very early on in our journey through the Bible. I think this wrong turn happens right in the beginning, Genesis 1–3.
The First Route
It seems (at least in my experience) that we often begin the story of the Bible in Genesis 1–3 like this:
A good God makes all that there is in the universe–the sky, the plants, the sun, the moon, animals, etc.–and places man within this good creation. God has set before man a sort of moral standard that is to be kept. However, man fails to meet the standard and disobeys God. Due to this disobedience God kicks man out of paradise in the garden, because an all-holy God cannot be within the presence of sin.
This reading of the Genesis narrative puts us on track to answer this question: How can an all-holy God embrace a sinful disobedient human if he is to be a “just” God? This is the destination we arrive at often. The whole problem is that God had to kick humans out of his presence because we commit sins, and we read the rest of the Bible as solving the issue of humans not being able to get back.
But what if that’s not the issue? What if that’s not the right route? What if the problem isn’t that we can’t get back in, but rather that we don’t want to? What if the issue isn’t that God kicked us out of the Garden, but rather that we ruined the Garden?
The Second Route
This is what I’m suggesting as the second route. When taking this path Genesis 1–3 reads like this:
A good God makes all that there is in the universe–the sky, the plants, the sun, the moon, animals, etc.–and places man within this good creation. He places man there to manage it, care for it, and reflect God’s goodness within it. However, man chooses to reject his task and sins. Failing to reflect the goodness of God, humans have defaced God’s good creation. Both humans and the world are now fractured and broken.
This reading of the Genesis narrative puts us on track to answer this question: If God is truly good, how is it that He will make all things right? How will He repair humans and the creation? How will He take humans who are in rebellion and reconcile them to Himself? This seems like a small shift, and it is. But just like the story of the road trip this reading can make us arrive somewhere rather different than intended.
Why it Matters
So what difference does taking one route over the other really make? Well let’s explore that.
Route one can easily be souls making it to heaven now that they can be with God. Route two has the end of the story being a recreation of all things, the new heavens and the new earth (Rev. 21).
Route one can invoke the image of an angry God that is overcoming His difficulty of embracing us because we are imperfect. Route two gives us the image of a God who is committed to redeeming all things and bringing all things back to order by summing up all things in His Son (Eph. 1:10).
Route one can easily have us lose the significance of Jesus’ earthly ministry and the Old Testament story of God’s dealing with Israel. Route two helps us to see the importance of Jesus’ earthly ministry and the importance of God’s redeeming purposes in His covenantal workings with Israel.
Route one can easily underemphasize the importance of the Christian life between now and the return of Jesus and reduce it to just waiting around and trying to snatch souls away from fire. Route two calls believers to once again embody their God-given task of reflecting the goodness and love of God to all creation. The Church is not just a collection of people who get to go to heaven but are members of Christ’s body and participants in His bringing of the kingdom of God to earth as it is in heaven as they participate in His death and resurrection.
These are just four examples showing just how differently one might see God, themselves, the Bible, and their present circumstances if they take route two instead of route one. It is not that route one is awful, contains no truth, or doesn’t have any beautiful scenery. It indeed does. However, I believe there is a richer and more full journey to be taken by those who travel down the second route. No longer is the story you find yourself in revolving around getting acceptance into God’s presence, although there is something to be said about that for sure.
Instead your story is about participating in the redemption and restoration of all things brought about by God taking on flesh and walking in our midst. It is about you finding release from your bondage and cooperation with Sin and once again fulfilling the purpose God set before humanity. It is about dying with the Messiah and being raised to new life. It is about belonging to Christ’s body and being the salt and life of the earth bringing about the Kingdom of God in the power of the Holy Spirit.
“…he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Eph. 1:9–10)
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