In the previous blog, I spent some time working on a definition of Flesh. I Quoted Dr Lawrence, who wrote that flesh is “that anti-God, self-reliant aspect of all human beings (saved and unsaved alike) that is the seat of sin, engaged in unremitting resistance to the Holy Spirit.” From there, I turned to the biblical picture that God is the Creator and we are the creation. This has ramifications concerning the nature of our relationship with God. The aspect I keyed on was dependence. The blog ended in Genesis 2 with that relationship created and intact.
Now the serpent was more crafty1 than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1) Notice that the source of the threat is a “beast of the field that the LORD God had made”. While other Scriptures indicate that the serpent was Satan (Revelation 12:9), the account in Genesis seems crafted to make clear that this event is not about evil invading the creation, but about the creation rebelling against the Creator.
It seems the threat is not that big. Both the responsibility of dominion and the prohibition provide remedies for it. Man had been given dominion over the beasts of the field (1:26) so there was no compulsion for man2 to listen to, much less to obey the serpent, his subordinate. Also, of course, the prohibition should have made this a very short conversation. “No. The Creator says not to eat and I trust Him.” The contrast with the second Adam’s (who concerning himself said, I always do the things that are pleasing to him. (John 8:29)) responses to temptations (Matthew 4:1-10 and also “get behind me Satan” to Peter in Matthew 16:23) seem clear.
Absurdities abound in the temptation. The man is led, not leading, to achieve godhood. The way to achieve god-likeness is by outwitting God. That part of creation eating part of creation will somehow elevate him to creator. The man assumes that the Creator who gave him so much to enjoy – and of whom it is later said that it is his “good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32) – is holding some good thing back. The absurdities show the shallowness of the justification for the act. The false appeal of material, aesthetic and mental enrichment seems to add up to life, but life comes by the word which proceeds from the Creator. To break that is death.
The Fall is man asserting himself. I believe CS Lewis was right when he wrote that the eating of the fruit is tearing off a corner of the universe and saying to the creator “this is my business and none of yours”. In the parable of the talents, Jesus puts these words in the mouths of those who had received responsibility from the king, We do not want this man to reign over us. (Luke 19:14). This was Adam’s choice and to this day, this is our flesh’s daily confession.
This idea that Flesh is man asserting his independence from God is an important principle. Many who talk about sin and evil have as their starting point some list of rules the breaking of which is sin. To them, Sin is largely a series of hash marks rather than the commitment of one’s life. In Romans 6, Paul talks of presenting your members either as weapons of unrighteousness (those in rebellion) or as weapons of righteousness (those depending on God). There is no hash marks, no weighing of good vs bad deeds. To those in rebellion, even the good they do is handed over to sin. Paul says in another spot, To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. (Titus 1:15) The relationship with the Creator is the first issue.
Another way that sin is dealt with is that evil becomes very restricted. That is, Hitler3 is evil. “The boulevard is not that bad”4 as the song goes. “Yeah, there have been some evil people but the rank and file, we’re okay.” So, evil becomes the anomaly, people are either hugely evil or not that bad. Evil consists of outbreaks from who knows where, but it’s not us. And yet, our commitment in life is to live without God, whose word is life.
The Bible uses some word pictures to show the insidiousness of our rebellious choices. One I mentioned in the first blog. Isaiah 50:10,11 has God telling people to walk in the dark he has ordained trusting him, but the people choose “common sense” and light torches against the dark. This is rebellion. The choice to trust God is made against the chorus “don’t be a fool” in our own voices.
Another picture is found in Jeremiah and shows that the choices we make to be far more deliberately against God than we wish to acknowledge, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. (Jeremiah 2:13). Here, there is not some confusion involved. The people are shown as looking at a flowing spring of clean water and choosing to walk away and dig pits where there isn’t even standing water. We would rather suck moisture out of our mud than to get refreshing water with God.
A third picture is found in Ezekiel, they have misled my people … because, when the people build a wall, these prophets smear it with whitewash, (Ezekiel 13:10) “They” here refers to the priests in Israel, but the picture is broader in application than its historical context. The flesh is building a life apart from God. It is nothing compared to the life God gives, so the flesh “whitewashes” it so it looks good. Cracks and faults are covered over. We convince ourselves that what we are building is a good life. But in the end, whether it is a wall or a life, it cannot stand. God is opposed to it.
I’m sure there are other pictures of the flesh to be found in the Scriptures. I picked these as they show that our flesh is insidious, far deeper than our counting of acts. The flesh is in active rejection of God and committed to living life apart from dependence on its Creator who is unwelcome – both in acknowledging his creation of us but also in having anything to say about our life now. This comes out of rebellion against the created order. As Ecclesiastes puts it, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes. (Ecclesiastes 7:29)
1 There is a word play in the Hebrew. The word translated “crafty” is the same as “naked” in 2:25. One writer transfers at least part of the play by translating them “nude” and “shrewd”.
2 I use the word generically, for both man and woman. I agree with the teaching on this passage that both Adam and Eve were together and Adam stood in silence while Eve took the hit. Key is the phrase “who was with her” in 3:6. The argument that this means “who was with her in the garden (but not next to her)” makes the phrase trivially true and irrelevant. Where else could Adam have been?
3 Or any other name you wish to submit. Side note: I was watching a conversation on a message board where someone mentioned Hitler as evil and somebody said “How dare you judge Hitler? You don’t know what he was thinking.” So even when we make one man in history the sole definition of evil, some would like to think that the evil was not in him, as he just was doing what he thought best.
4 Tiny Dancer by Elton John and Bernie Taupin