The crux of the riddle of humanity is the blending of two conflicting truths. On one hand, we are all created in the image of God. On the other, we are all corrupted by the sin of Adam and our own sinful choices. From this basic conflict flows a confusing mix of attitudes and mechanisms to resolve or manage those discordant themes.
One way we manage our conflicting nature is by trying to hide it. It’s something we learn early on. If Mom and Dad can’t see what I’ve done then I won’t get in trouble. In a way, Adam and Eve did the same thing in Genesis three. They attempted to hide their shame from each other and themselves from God. Both attempts were futile. Jesus said, “But there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.” (Luke 12:2, NASB95) So, hiding our sin may give us momentary relief but it is not a long term fix.
Another way we manage our conflict is by reframing sin as something good or at least okay. There are several avenues to take. We may try and shift the blame to someone or something else. We see Adam and Eve trying this tactic when God confronted them. Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent. Another avenue is by creating reasons why our actions are good or not bad. Call this rationalization. We rationalize our sin by saying things like: “no one got hurt” or “I deserved it.” In the end, God is not fooled by our attempted misdirections.
A third way we manage our conflicting nature is through comparison. This attempt contains a nugget of truth in that we acknowledge our sin. But to minimize our guilt we look for someone guiltier than us. Hoping that God grades on a curve and we’re good enough to make the cut. “After all, I am a good person,” we say to ourselves. This does make us feel better about ourselves. But God doesn’t grade on a curve, one sin is all it took for Adam and Eve to be subject to sin’s curse.
A fourth way to manage this conflict is through appeasement. If I sacrifice enough, if I do enough good, if I avoid certain sins then God will have to accept me. Practically every religion is either built on appeasement or falls into it. Even Christians sometimes assume the mistaken math that doing good things will open God’s ears to our prayers. But, as we’ll see further on in our review of The Basics, the foundation of Christianity is God making a way for us and not our futile attempts to reach Him.
The fifth and final way of managing this conflict is through escapism. Some escape into being busy. Others by abusing alcohol and drugs to dull the heartache. Sex is an escape for some. TV and other entertainment is a popular escape. Family or a group of friends may be the escape for others. Now, to be clear, most of these have their right and proper uses. The stark reality is that whatever we use to escape often becomes another god for us with its own set of rules and demands.
That is humanity’s basic conflict. We feel both good and bad at the same time. Few who sin think they are doing evil for evil’s sake. Even if their actions are truly evil, in their hearts and minds they are justifiable and desirable at that moment. The guilt and shame come later. We all think we’re good, right, and justified even though we’re not. As Paul asked, “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” (Romans 7:24, NLT)
We’ve all done this. We have all attempted to minimize our guilt and shame. Our solutions may have provided momentary relief to our inner conflict but none provided a final and complete resolution. The truth is that we are incapable of escaping from this pit and our attempts to deal with it often make things worse. Yet there is something far worse than our guilt to confront. In a way, our feelings of guilt, shame, and fear are like the warning lights on a dashboard. Our larger problem is sin’s ultimate result of futility, separation, and death. Something we’ll explore deeper in our next article in this series of The Basics.
PS – While the article ends above I didn’t want to leave you in a pit of hopelessness. What we can’t do God will do for us. The poetry of the Psalms says this, “I waited patiently for the Lord; And He inclined to me and heard my cry. He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, And He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; Many will see and fear And will trust in the Lord.” (Psalm 40:1–3, NASB95) Only God can remove us from the slippery pit of destruction and set our feet on the solid rock of Jesus Christ.