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What is wrong with the world?

Back to all sermons Justice

Date: September 26, 2021

Speaker: Eric Stillman

Series: Justice

Scripture: Genesis 3:1–3:24

This fall, I am preaching a sermon series I have entitled “Justice,” looking at what the Bible has to say about justice and how to evaluate the cultural messages on justice that are all around us. I’m going slowly through this series, trying not to take on too much at once. Each week, I begin with three preliminary comments that I want to repeat this week. First of all, this is not a political sermon series or a social science lecture series. I will be trying to stay in my lane as a pastor, helping our church to know Jesus and to better love Him and love your neighbor. Secondly, as I said last week, I recognize that this is a dangerous subject to tackle these days, and I do not expect everyone to agree with every word I speak. I do expect, however, that we will model speaking the truth in love. If you disagree with me on something I say, or have other insights or experience that you feel would enhance my understanding or my teaching, please speak up. Consider this an invitation to a conversation. And thirdly, my goal in this series is not to help us wag our finger at the world for acting like the world, but to challenge the church to do better in this area.

 

Having said that, let me begin with prayer.

 

In the first week, we looked at how we are created, designed beings, not self-designed people. Despite the reality that our world is increasingly trying to convince us that the path to happiness is to look within, discover who we are, and then give expression to that and expect the world to affirm and applaud us, true joy and purpose is found in living according to God’s design for us. In the second week, we looked at how we have all been created in the image of God, and the reason that any life matters is because of that truth. This morning, I want to address the question of what is wrong with the world. Do you understand how critical that question is, how important it is to get the answer right? After all, you can’t talk about justice and injustice unless you have an idea of what the world should look like, what is wrong with the world, and how to fix it.

 

10 years ago I was having leg pain and a hard time straightening my leg. The first doctor diagnosed it as muscle tightness and prescribed stretching. But it was a nerve that was being impinged upon in my back, and the stretching just made it worse. I needed back surgery. Get the diagnosis wrong, and the prescription will usually make things worse. And all over our world and for generations, people have been getting the diagnosis wrong.

 

If you listen closely, you will hear various ideas out there about why this world is in such bad shape. Remember last week and how the Nazis said that what was wrong was that humanity had been transgressing the laws of evolution by allowing inferior life-forms to live instead of following the rule of survival of the fittest and killing off the mentally ill. Today, some say that the problem is racism, or systemic racism. Others are convinced the problem is the Republicans, or the Democrats, or the far right or far left. Others point to bad leaders, or bad Presidents. Still others point to a lack of education on important issues, and others to bad people groups. But while all of these may have some truth, the answer is at a much deeper level. Those are just symptoms of a deeper disease, and if you only treat the symptoms, you won’t stop the decay but will only make things worse, just like my doctor did. But the Bible gives us insight:

 

The story of the fall from Genesis 3. Admittedly a story that causes many to scoff. But this is a masterful treatment on what is wrong with the world and how to fix it.

 

Genesis 3:1-24 - Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?"  2 The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,  3 but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'"  4 "You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman.  5 "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."  6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.  7 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.  8 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.  9 But the LORD God called to the man, "Where are you?"  10 He answered, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid."  11 And he said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?"  12 The man said, "The woman you put here with me-- she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it."  13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate."  14 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.  15 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."  16 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."  17 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.  18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.  19 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."  20 Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.  21 The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.  22 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."  23 So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.  24 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.

 

What is wrong with the world?

 

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?"  2 The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,  3 but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'"  4 "You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman.  5 "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." 

 

The serpent, whether representing Satan or possessed by Satan, we don’t know. Angel in rebellion against God, bent on destroying His creation. What is his tactic? Get them to doubt God. Doubt His goodness. Doubt His love. Doubt his character. God doesn’t want what is best for you. By doing this, he gets them to take God off the throne and to put themselves in the seat of judgment, deciding for themselves what is good and bad, whether God can be trusted or not. And in the end, Adam and Eve distrust God’s character and goodness and rebel against what God has said.

 

The Biblical word for what is wrong with the world is sin. For some this is an archaic word. For others, they don’t like it because they have experienced it used as a weapon against people. But I encourage you to keep an open mind this morning as a potentially accurate diagnosis of what is wrong with the world. So what is sin?  

 

  • Transgression, rebellion against God

 

God said not to eat the fruit of the tree and they did. I know stealing is wrong but I choose to steal anyways. I know I shouldn’t lie, but I’m going to lie anyways.

 

Biblical Hebrew and Greek words that convey this perspective include Pasha (revolt or refusal to submit to a rightful authority), Ma’al (breach of trust), Parabasis (transgression of a boundary), Parakoe (disobedience to a voice).

 

  • Missing the mark/falling short of the standard

 

Sometimes sin isn’t outright rebellion but just falling short of the standard. God said to love Him with our whole heart and to love our neighbor as ourselves, but despite our best efforts, we fall short. Most if not all of us know the feeling of not living up to what we expect of ourselves.

 

Biblical Hebrew and Greek words that convey this perspective include Chatha (to miss the mark or deviate from the norm, inaccuracy), Agnoema (ignorance of what one ought to have known), Hettema (the diminishing of what should have been fully rendered), Hamartia (to miss the mark; an offense in relation to God with the emphasis on guilt).

 

  • Iniquity/crookedness

 

More than doing wrong or not doing what we should, there is something wrong with us, something twisted within us that prevents us from achieving our ideal. Ever since that first rebellion in the garden, every human has become curved in towards themselves, self-centered and full of pride, fear, and a tendency to think of themselves as the center of the universe.

 

Biblical Hebrew and Greek words that convey this perspective include Avah, Aval (bent or crooked, lack of integrity, iniquity), Hamartia (the defective internal dimension of a person).

 

Jeremiah 17:9 - The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

 

Mark 7:20-23 - He went on: "What comes out of a man is what makes him 'unclean.'  21 For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery,  22 greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.  23 All these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean.'"

 

Romans 7:18 - I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.

 

Again, what is wrong with the world? Yes, there are bad systems. Yes, there is racism. Yes, there are corrupt politics or bad leaders. But these are just symptoms of the deeper problem, manifestations of the true cancer of this world. The real problem is sin, which has corrupted every human heart and every facet of our world. The problem is not just out there with those people; it is here as well.

 

As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said, “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either – but right through every human heart.”

 

What is the result of sin?


Things go horribly wrong very quickly. The world is out of joint and we experience alienation in four dimensions:

 

  • Alienation from God

 

8 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.  9 But the LORD God called to the man, "Where are you?"  10 He answered, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid." 

 

They experience a rift in their fellowship with God that leads to fear of judgment and hiding. And now we all have that break between ourselves and God:

 

Romans 5:12 - Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned—

 

Romans 8:7-8 - the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so.  8 Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.

 

2 Corinthians 4:4 - The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

 

This is our reality spiritually because of sin. We are headed to an eternity of separation from God because of our alienation from God.

 

  • Alienation from ourselves

 

7 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. 

 

Shame and guilt

 

Jeremiah 17:9 - The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

 

Romans 7:18 - I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.

 

Our desires are not pure. We do not desire God or what will give us life. Born this way is no excuse. And even though we might want to do what is good, we repeatedly fail to live up to even our own standards, let alone God’s standards.

 

  • Alienation from each other

 

11 And he said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?"  12 The man said, "The woman you put here with me-- she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it."  13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate." 

 

Already they are blaming each other. As a counselor, this is one of the biggest challenges – people so readily blame others for their own sins. If you weren’t like this, I wouldn’t do this. And we blame the government, or leaders, or churches, for our bad behavior and poor choices.

 

16 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." 

 

The beautiful marriage becomes a power struggle.

 

Sin produces alienation from each other, division. Hiding, blaming, fear, pride, tribalism.

 

  • Alienation from nature

 

17 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.  18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.  19 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."

 

Instead of harmony with nature, there is brokenness in creation and in our relationship to it. The world is off kilter. Tornadoes and hurricanes and drought. The world is groaning.

 

Romans 8:22-23 - We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

 

We are alienated in all directions. And we can’t get back to Eden.

 

21 The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.  22 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."  23 So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.  24 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.

 

What will solve this alienation?

 

Education? Politics? Racial equity? The church? What will heal the sin problem?

 

14 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.  15 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."

 

Protoevangelium – the serpent will wound the seed of the man, but He will crush his head. Jesus came to live, die, and to make a way. Forgiveness and a new heart

 

20 Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living. 

 

After the fall, he names her Eve, the mother of all the living. Adam knew that even though there would be death, that God would show grace and bring life. And many years later, God would indeed make a way.

 

The solution is found in Christ, in His life, death and resurrection. He forgives our inability to measure up, and He gives us a new heart that gives us the ability to do what is right and to live justly.

 

2 Corinthians 5:17-21 - Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!  18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:  19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  20 We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God.  21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

 

As new creations, right with God, we have the spiritual power to love and not blame one another for the problems of the world and divide out of fear and pride.

 

Romans 3:22-24 - This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference,  23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

 

We all share a common heritage as children of Adam and Eve. And we all share a common predicament as sinners in need of grace. Any prescription to the problems of this world that divides people and blames other groups of people is no solution at all, but will only bring further division and evil into this world. We are united in our sin, which humbles us into realizing that we are no better than anyone else, that we all need a Savior. As Jesus deals with our alienation with God, He makes a way for us to bridge the alienation we have within ourselves, with nature, and with each other. But it starts with you and God.

 

As British author and Christian G. K. Chesterton reportedly said when a newspaper in London sent out an inquiry to famous authors, asking the question, “What’s wrong with the world today?”, “Dear Sir, I am. Yours, G.K. Chesterton.”

 

In upcoming weeks I will be getting more into what it looks like to do justice, and we will have to address some specific issues that the Bible highlights as close to God’s heart. But it has to start with a proper diagnosis first and foremost. The problem is sin, and the prescription is Jesus, the Savior of the world.

 

Jesus, I believe that you are the Lord and Savior of this world, the only remedy for the sin and injustice of this world. I believe that in you is found eternal life, life to the full. I believe that apart from faith in you, I will die in my sins, separated from God for all eternity. But I believe that you love me so much that you died on the cross in my place, taking the penalty for my sin, and that you rose from the grave, conquering death. I turn from my sinful, self-centered way of life and I believe in you as my Savior and Lord. Amen.