By: Charles Park
I just finished up a year-long Sabbatical. After so many years in full-time ministry I appreciated having an extended break! I was able spend a good deal of time working on my chronic back problems and, fortunately, I’m seeing some real improvement on that front. And with more space in my schedule I found myself full of thoughts about faith, many of which I’m anxious to share in upcoming sermons. I’ve even begun writing a book - that’s what people do on sabbatical, right? But some of the thoughts I had during my sabbatical were more troubling. One question in particular plagued me: “Am I enough?”
I had to admit that I am worried about my physical condition and it brought up a lot of questions:
Have you ever had such thoughts? Have you ever felt inadequate and insecure about who you are and what you can do? These questions are not just about fear of failure. They go deeper than that. They’re about a deep-seated doubt about who we are. I was worrying about what failure would mean about my worth and my value.
These troubling thoughts go WAY back. The Bible tells us that the very beginning of human problems traces back to this worry and doubt. The famous story of Adam & Even and the “forbidden fruit” in Genesis describes the fall of humanity. This section of ancient scripture claims that the origin of all our problems come from taking the fruit of “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Genesis 2:17
Have you ever wondered why knowing and differentiating between good and bad would be such a big problem? Isn’t it a good thing to tell between good and evil? How can that be such a serious problem as to be called the ‘Original Sin?’
To answer, consider what Genesis tells us happens as a result of taking this fruit. There are three clear outcomes to the action of Adam & Eve (man & woman) in the story. The first thing that happens is this:
Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
To me, this is one of the most poignant and sad passages in the Bible. Before this moment, they were naked and they saw themselves fully and were happy with who they were. But now, when they see themselves, they feel compelled to cover up. Who they are is not enough anymore. They don’t like what they see. They must have something to cover themselves up.
The first fruit of the knowledge of good & evil is judgment that turns inward. They judge themselves as “not good enough.” So you see, this inner voice in our heads that constantly harries us — the voice that says “you’re not good enough” — has been with us from the very beginning. Isn’t that sad?
The second thing that happens is that the man and woman hide from God. They judge God to be unsafe. They don’t trust God anymore and they doubt whether God will be loving and accepting. For the first time they’re fearful. There’s distance between them and God. The scriptures say:
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?”
He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”
The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”
God sees them hiding and covering themselves up with ridiculous stuff, so God asks what happened here? And, what does the man do? He blames the woman. The blame game goes WAY back! Adam says, “The woman you put here with me, it’s all her fault!”
This is the third result of eating the forbidden fruit: their relationship is fractured. Do you feel the judgment and distance between them? They are alienated from each other, from themselves and from God. It flows in every direction. It’s ironic, but it’s not God who judged them, it’s human beings who judged God and themselves and each other!
The Bible calls this judgment the origin of ALL human problems. This is serious business. It’s so important that the next portion of Genesis re-tells the story in another way: Cain & Abel. Once again we see the fruit of judging: Cain feels insecure. Cain feels rejected by God. Cain judges God and Abel. He ends up killing Abel. Cain is alienated from God, from Abel, and from himself. The worst kinds of human evil come from this ‘original sin’.
Given all of this, I wonder why we, as Christians, don’t take judging voices seriously enough? The sad truth is that churches are full of judgment, as if judging was our job.
In fact, surveys show that Christians are known first and foremost as being ‘judgmental.’ It’s the word most associated with people of faith. All kinds of Christian leaders make it their priority to feed people fruit of knowledge of good and evil, turning people into judgy voices.
This is so tragic and so completely opposite what Christ came for!
Because the Cross of Jesus is meant to reverse the fall. Jesus’ death on the Cross takes away our ‘original sin.’ Through unconditional grace, the Cross reconciles us to God. The Cross shows us that God is safe and that God is NOT judging us. It’s settled! Of course, if we do something bad or criminal, there are consequences. If we commit crimes we may have to go to jail, we may have to make amends and our life will be adversely affected. But even bad behavior does NOT affect our worth and value before God!
The Cross has established our worth and value before God, and it will never change. Jesus’ willingness to die for us shows us that we’re worth the life of the living God — and that’s infinite! No amount of success and achievements can add more to our worth and value. The Cross reconciles us to our self by offering complete freedom from guilt and shame. No more judging our self. We no longer need fig leaf coverings. The Cross is our covering!
And the Cross reconciles us to each other through unlimited forgiveness. So all three judgments and alienations are addressed by Jesus’ death. The Cross is the antidote to the tree of knowledge of good and evil. It is the “Tree of life” that stands against the “Tree of knowledge of good and evil.”
You see, this is a fundamental choice in how we approach life. It is perhaps the most important choice a person can make. We can build our identity, our society, our religion, our worth and value through systems of good and bad. And we can use different things to determine our sense of good/bad. It can be a philosophy, a religion — or it can be Facebook and Instagram — where we compare and measure ourselves over success and wealth. We can build our identity on beauty or fame, or being a decent person, or a being a religious person . . . etc. But it’s all the same in the end, these are all ‘coverings’ that result from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
The Cross stands against all of that by taking away judging itself.
You see, the perfect man, Jesus, was condemned and died on the Cross. This shows that ‘Judging’ doesn’t work. Judging was judged on the Cross! Judaism and Islam object to notion of the Messiah dying on the Cross. Many feel that God who is just would not let that happen. But, justice is not the final word from God: LOVE is the final word from God!
So in this way, the Cross is a stumbling block an unsolvable offense to a world built on the tree of knowledge of good and evil. But to us who believe, we are choosing to believe that we are worthy and valued and loved by the grace of God shown through Jesus’ death on the tree. We are loved for who we are. We are valued for just existing, for we bear the image of God.
So, being a Christian means detaching worth and value from all those ‘coverings’ we’ve been accumulating all our life. Is it wrong to want to be successful? No! Go for it and enjoy your successes and achievements or anything else you like about yourself without guilt or shame! — BUT do not let them go to your head and define your worth. It’s an important difference because, if you think of yourself as valuable because you’re successful, then you become its slave.
Consider the recent college admissions scandal. All these rich and famous people tried to bribe their way into colleges for their kids. Despite being wealthy, influential and beautiful, they just had to get their kids into the right school, even using criminal means. Why did they have to do that? They destroyed themselves going after what they didn’t need. It feels like they were compelled, enslaved even.
But this is exactly what happens — always. All our “coverings” are never enough, because we have a deep hole in our heart that demands to be fed again and again. Once we build our life on some system of good and bad we become slaves to what makes us worthy in our eyes. We get deceived into thinking, if we can get that beautiful, if we can get that rich, if we can get that successful, then we’ll have worth and value, then we can rest easy, then we’ll finally have peace. But it is never enough.
So, how do we get freedom? We are told that Jesus emptied Himself on the Cross:
He existed in the form of God, but he did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself.
Jesus emptied himself of all his power and glory. He even let go of his identity as God! The Cross is repudiation of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. This is why Jesus is referred to as “the Second Adam”. He does not cover Himself, but He empties Himself. And this is what we too must do. We must empty ourselves of all those coverings that prop up our worth and identity. This is the main part of what it means to “take up our Cross daily and follow Jesus every day.”
The reward is: our identity and worth and value are forever secured. No matter what happens, through the ups and downs of life, we can feel secure in ourselves. Instead of judgment and alienation in all directions, we’ll be able to embrace our true self, embrace our reality, and embrace people. We’ll feel better in all three directions. We can empty ourselves daily and experience freedom and life in all it’s fullness. So, what does it look like daily to empty our SELF and follow Jesus?
To get moving in this direction I encourage asking yourself three questions every day:
What goes to your head?
What must you have?
What gets to you?
What goes to your head? Does success puff you up? Attention? Flattery? What must you have? Do you HAVE to be a good mother? Do you HAVE to get this thing or that? And, what gets to you? What sorts of things “get your goat”? Does it get to you if someone challenges the identity you have built?
These could be good moments to reflect on what is making up your identity and worth. Because If we HAVE to have something to be worthy and valuable then we need to consider whether that’s something we need to empty ourself of. Instead we want to let the Cross be the ONLY thing that defines our value and worth. Again let me state that it’s good to be successful, it’s good to be a good parent, it’s good to achieve big things etc. but when they become our value and worth, our “covering”, that’s when they become dangerous and destructive. We must repent. We must empty ourself of everything but the love of God shown to us in Jesus’ death on the Cross.
One of the most powerful things we can to do is to receive God’s unchanging, unconditional love into our hearts. We named our church The River based on Jesus’ promise that “whoever believes in me will have Rivers of living water flow from within them.” John 7:38
We believe that’s an actual promise for our community. The Holy Spirit will flow freely in our lives. Whatever you may have judged about yourself, about God, or about people in your life — if you come to God for miraculous help in feeling better, it WILL happen!
You are loved.
You are worthy
You are valued in the eyes of God.
This will never change.
If you build your life on this faith you will be free from ever present doubt and worry. You will learn that, Yes, you are enough. Let’s let go of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and instead choose the tree of life, the Cross, daily.
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