I’ve been a pastor for going on 15 years. I love my work. It is diverse and interesting. It forces me to stay mentally and spiritually alert and sharp. It is challenging and enriching in so many ways. And, I am also frequently “whiplashed” by it. A typical week in the life of a typical pastor fuses together the wildest possible variety of human experiences. We’ll go from blessing one marriage to finding out another is ending; from celebrating success with congregants to sitting with them in defeat; from welcoming new life into the world to sitting by the bedside of those standing at the very threshold of eternity.
I’ve learned over the years that what we say in those latter moments counts immensely. It is easy to rush to cliché and platitude. “Don’t worry: all things work together for good…” we say to the woman whose husband has cheated on her. “Buck up: it was just her time…” we say to the parents whose child has succumbed to cancer. “Take courage: it’s all part of God’s plan…” we say to the man whose job a shift in the global economy has just washed away and who is now struggling to put food on the table for his family.
Whatever the truth of any of the forgoing statements, they obscure something that’s crucial to recognize; namely, that evil is not native to God’s world. It is an intruder. It is a falling-away from original goodness. Genesis 3 presents it clearly. Our first parents, Adam and Eve, were deceived by the serpent. They ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And just as God had promised, death came marching in. The Apostle Paul summarized our chapter today by saying, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people…” (Rom. 5:12). Sin opens the door to death.
“Death” takes many forms, the end of life being the most obvious. But we can say more. Death, in the biblical mind, is a thwarting of the goodness of life within life itself. Look back at Genesis 3. The first pair ate from the tree, and the following things happened:
It is critical that we recognize this. Our hearts know that things are not the way they are supposed to be, and we do ourselves and those around us a great disservice by whitewashing the presence of death with pious platitudes. Isaiah said, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil” (Is. 5:20). Go ahead. Take some time today to identify those things in your life that are not the way they are supposed to be. Name them clearly in the presence of your good God. Only then will you be able to begin to identify his presence and purpose.