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Why People Experience Bad Things: Rebellion & Disobedience

We are in the midst of our series, How Long, O Lord? Why Bad Things Happen, where we are wrestling with the questions that arise when we face difficult circumstances and suffering. How can there be a good and all-powerful God, while at the same time have the existence of sin, evil, and suffering? Last week we saw how the rebellion of the man and woman invited brokenness into the good creation, and now we will explore one of the reasons why people experience bad things: personal rebellion or disobedience.

How do you respond to your own disobedience?

From time to time we all make broken decisions. It is part of living in a broken world and being a contributor to the general brokenness. However, our responses to these decisions can be very revealing. Years ago I read a book entitled, The Road Less Traveled, by M. Scott Peck where the author shared that there were two kinds of people in the world: neurotics and character flawed. Neurotics are those people who feel guilty about most things and will quickly own any wrong doing, whether it is their behavior or someone else in the room. Character flawed people are those who never take responsibility for wrong choices, but will explain away or blame others for the event. As you examine your own journey with bad choices, which category do you belong?

In our story this morning, we are going to see a couple embrace a character flawed approach to their own broken decisions and we will see how God responds to this approach.

Responding to disobedience by hiding

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”  Genesis 3:8-9

disobedience causes us to hide from GodIt would appear that the presence of God in the garden was a regular occurrence. Once the man and woman had disobeyed, and the consequences of their decision began to be realized, they tried to hide from God. We are introduced to one of the many responses people have when they make sinful choices: hiding. Quite often people will try to isolate themselves from people, as well as God, in order not to have to face the possibility of public shame, embarrassment, guilt, and exposure. However, just like the man and the woman in the story, hiding never works.

I love how God shows up in the story. He knows what has happened, yet he does not enter the garden in a rage storm; rather, he simply asks a question of the man concerning his location. Quite often God will simply ask questions, but these questions are not for his benefit; rather, they are for the person’s benefit. The purpose of God’s questions is to force the individual to name and accept responsibility for his/her choices. How will the man respond?

Responding to disobedience with fear

He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”  Genesis 3:10

The man shares a series of emotions and actions for his answer to God’s question. In response to hearing that God was in the garden, he experienced fear for the first time concerning a visit from God. He was afraid because he was now exposed or broken due to his choice to disobey God. As a result, he chose to hide and not encounter God.

Have you ever entered a difficult season with God due to a series of bad choices and chose to run away from God? You no longer wanted to be in his presence, nor in the presence of his people, nor have anything to do with him? One of the hardest things to do is to own our broken decisions. We want to blame, we want to hide, we want bad feelings of guilt and shame to go away, but we want to do it on our own terms and in our own timing.

The only way to deal with these types of feelings is to be honest about them and take responsibility for choices that have been made and seek God’s forgiveness. God asks us questions so that we will come back to him; his questions are not meant to chase us away.

Responding to disobedience by blaming

And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”  Genesis 3:11

When the serpent spoke to the man and woman about the parameters of the garden, he described God’s limitations as something God just happened to say, but when God returns to his statement, he makes it clear that it was a command. God now confronts the man concerning his new awareness of being naked and asks him if he disobeyed.

The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”  Genesis 3:12

I want to give props to the man here. When you are in an awkward situation, you need to make to the choice to go big or go home. The man chooses to go big. He blames God and the woman for his present situation. Its like the man is stating that things were great when it was just the man, God, and the animals, but God had to mess things up by adding a woman to the garden and she led him astray.

Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”  Genesis 3:13

I get the impression that the man must have been pretty happy with God’s response at this point. He blames God and the woman, and then God moves on to deal with the woman. Seeing God’s response to the man’s deflection, it appears that the woman tries the same approach, The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

The woman blames the serpent, hoping that God’s gaze will shift someplace else.

The consequences of disobedience

So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, “Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”  Genesis 3:14-15

It appears that God has finished his series of questions, and now responds to each of the characters in the story, in reverse order, and provides a punishment that is fitting to the actions of the individual. The serpent will be cursed to crawl on its belly, which appears to be a posture of humility because it raised itself up in rebellion against God’s established order. Also, the serpent will now be in a constant state of conflict or animosity between its future generations and the future generations of humanity.

To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”  Genesis 3:16

God now turns to the woman. The woman is told that the process of giving life for her will now be accompanied by great pain. The consequence for her rebellion is that her calling to be fruitful and multiply will now be more difficult as a result of her choice. We also learn that something will change in her relationship to the man. Prior to their disobedience, the man and woman were equal partners in God’s mission for the world. After their rebellion, the woman will no longer be in this position.

There is much difficulty in determining what this particular consequence actually entails because the passage is very difficult to translate. The term for “desire” is only used one other time and it is in the context of God’s confrontation of Cain after he killed Abel. God tells Cain that sin is crouching at the door and “desires” to have you. Also, the pronouns are confusing in this passage as to what will actually rule over the woman: is it the man or the desire and what is the desire focused on?

I believe this particular consequence is focused on the subordination of women in marriage and in culture, as has been seen throughout history. Subordination is a result of the rebellion, not a part of the original created order. As followers of Jesus, and members of a post-resurrection community, we need to wrestle with the continued existence of this subordination because of redemption. Does redemption entail the restoration of the original garden model or some other structure?

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”  Genesis 3:17-19

Finally God addresses the man. The man will now be in combat with a creation that is going to be antagonistic to the call to work. At the same time, humanity will now be doomed to return to its original elements and no longer have the breath of life. Humanity is now broken, separated from God, and forced to struggle in a world that is also cursed.

However, God does not abandon humanity.

The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.  Genesis 3:21-24

God provides garments for the couple in order to cover up their nakedness and continues to journey with them. However, God must remove them from his presence in the garden and keep them away from the tree of life so that they do not become immortal in their present state of brokenness. God removes them from the garden and provides guardians to keep them out.

The implications of disobedience

As we reflect on this particular passage, there are some insights we can gain as we move further in our study of why bad things happen and the nature of sin and our choices.

1.  Sometimes we experience bad things because of our rebellion and the consequences of that rebellion. We experience suffering in our lives because we make sinful choices and want to pursue paths that are in opposition to God’s path.

2.  Consequences for broken decisions are not always clear and may have nothing to do with our present circumstances. We want to live in a universe of simple math: I do good and good things happen, but if I do bad, then bad things will happen. The problem is that we do not live in that type of universe. People may live a life of rebellion and seemingly never experience the consequences for their decisions.

3.  Something may be sinful, but have no apparent negative consequences to make it clear as to why it is sinful. God determines what is acceptable behavior, not humanity. We often want to make something sinful because it has bad consequences, but sin is not determined simply by its consequences (though this can be the case); rather, it is determined by God’s determination of what is to be considered sin.

4.  Everybody thinks they are the exception to the rule. Many of us go through life living on the edge of obedience/disobedience because we do not really believe all the rules apply to us.

5.  We regularly underestimate the consequences of our disobedience. We make broken decisions and then are surprised at the negative consequences that occur in our lives and the lives around us. Sin does not like to thrive in isolation; it loves to grow and spread and loves company.

consequences of sin

6.  Our sinful decisions can make it difficult for us to live out of God’s calling upon our lives. God has a plan for our lives, but we can make broken choices that can complicate the fulfilling of that call.

7.  Common responses to brokenness are fear, hiding, and blame. When we sin, we should seek to confess, repent, and make restitution concerning our broken decisions. However, quite often we do not want to face that difficult process and we revert to broken responses to our original broken response. We hide from others or blame others for our actions, or we revert to some other behavior in order not to face the truth.

8.  Our sinful choices do not need to define us. Rather than being defined by our choices, they can become the means by which we can experience the grace, mercy, and forgiveness of God. This is what we call the process of confession or repentance. God continues to ask us questions so that we will return to the One who loves us the most.

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