The Genesis story is upsetting. Some people think it is terribly unfair. God made a beautiful garden, and in it He placed two trees of significance, the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. We don’t know what the Tree of Life looked like, but we know the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil looked good somehow. Its fruit looked desirable. There was only one rule in this wonderful place. Don’t eat of that good-looking tree, or you will lose everything. What a terrible price to pay for breaking what might seem like an arbitrary rule!
Enter the serpent. We assume he is Satan. Eve didn’t stand a chance. He made that terrible tree appear even better and she ate. Adam soon followed. We call this “The Fall.” It is the moment when everything went wrong, and it is all because one transgression. Such a small crime; such a great punishment! How can this make sense?
If we believe this is only a story about crime and punishment, we will miss what it tells us about relationship with God. The serpent was not just selling disobedience. He offered a whole new consciousness, a way of seeing that would destroy relationship with God. After Adam and Eve partook of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the world looked like a different place. They realized they were naked (Genesis 3:7). The guilty pair became self-conscious and experienced shame for the first time. God looked different, too. Suddenly, He was someone to be feared (Genesis 3:10). They not only beat up themselves, but they also turned on each other (Genesis 3:12). The serpent tempted them with a lens through which to see God, themselves, and each other… Satan’s glasses.
In this article, we will identify the lens of the serpent. We can’t take off Satan’s glasses until we grasp what they are and realize we are wearing them. Like the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they look good to us! God has a point of view, too, and He desires to give us His perspective. We might call it the view from above, and it is astonishingly different from the view from below. When we wear God’s lens, fear, shame, and hatred vanish. We view the world as a place filled with the glory of God.
The serpent’s point of view is still around today. Why do some people see God in everything and others don’t see the Lord at all? At Thorncrown Chapel we have pondered this question for years. We have received over seven million visitors. Some of our guests meet God at the chapel. A comment we hear often is “How can people come to a place like this and not believe in God?” Yet, they do all the time. Some only experience a tourist attraction or a good place for a selfie. Recently we had a visitor give us a bad review on social media because, “There is nothing to do at Thorncrown Chapel.”
We might think the difference between our two types of visitors is a matter of belief and unbelief. Yet, belief has a focus as does unbelief. Each comes from a paradigm we embrace or reject. This is far more than believing God exists or not. Faith is a lens though which we perceive everything. A person of faith can look at the same thing as a person of unbelief and perceive something totally different.
For example, in Jesus’s day, the Pharisees considered the tax collectors unclean and unworthy of God’s presence. They believed when the Messiah came, He would judge these traitors and other sinners like them. In the meantime, the tax collectors were objects of contempt, to be avoided at all cost. Yet, Jesus saw something else. From His perspective, God did not avoid these sinners but wanted their company and even sought them out. When Jesus looked at a tax collector, He saw someone God loved. How could there be such an astonishing difference in worldview? With what lens did each see?
To help us understand the essence of God’s lens and Satan’s we will ask two questions. These two questions have caused enormous pain and suffering for humanity. The first is “Who am I?” The serpent offered Eve an identity. “You shall be like God!”
If we read the story from the beginning, his offer should set off warning bells in our minds. Weren’t they already like God? In Genesis chapter one we learn that God created humanity in His own image. In other words, Adam and Eve’s identity was tied to who God is. To know their Creator was also to know themselves.
What defined the creation was its relationship with the Creator, but the serpent sought to break that tie. His temptation was the birth of self-definition, the belief that what defines us is not the infinite God but the finite self. Adam and Eve’s own good and evil would define them apart from God’s good. Another word that describes self-definition is self-righteousness. The Genesis three story is not just the account of original sin. It is the birth of the human ego, what Paul called “the flesh.”
From this day forward self-definition would blind humanity. We cannot be God-conscious and self-conscious at the same time. To choose self is to reject Christ. As God said, their choice brought death, but it was relational not biological. This was the terrible price of the fall. Yes, their disobedience cost them the garden, but the greatest cost was God, Himself.
The Bible begins with the loss of the Tree of Life and the last book ends with its return. We might view the pages in-between as a huge struggle between good and evil. Humans wanted to be evil, but God wanted them to behave, so He gave the Law along with rewards and punishments to guide them.
Yet, the story is not about the human journey from evil to good, but from separateness to union. God’s dealings have always been to lead us to Christ (Galatians 3:24). A common teaching is that God wanted us to be good, but we weren’t, so God sent Christ to pay the price for our wrongs. There is nothing wrong with this viewpoint, but from this perspective humanity’s main problem is evil. If it weren’t for our disobedience, we would have perfect lives free from pain and suffering. Yet, God’s purpose for us was not merely a good life, but Christ as life. God made us for the greatest gift ever given, the gift of God. The fall was humanity choosing self over God. Therefore, Christ is not just God’s solution to sin but to self-definition and separateness. In Him the tie between God and humanity is restored.
We have all felt far from God. In the New Covenant age, we agree that God is always present. Yet, we can lose consciousness of His presence. It may seem like the Lord is a million miles away. How can we lose sight of what is always so?
We might go to church to “find God, again.” Maybe He will be there if He is not with us. After all, church is a place of good people and good deeds, so the Lord wants to be there! Of course, we must try to get right with God. We ask forgiveness and renew our efforts to walk well with the Lord. This change of heart makes us feel better about ourselves, maybe even closer to God, but as soon as our “holy behavior” ceases, we lose consciousness of God again. Thus, the Christian life becomes a cycle of failure and repentance as if we are kicked out of the Garden again and again.
When we are self-defined, contempt for our neighbor soon follows. When I wear the lens of self and look at you, what I want to see is myself. Therefore, we judge people who are different from our self-image. The more ego-centric we are, the more we loathe people not like us and love people who are the same. The ego must protect its definition of self and that means destroying those who do not fit that definition even if it is just with words. Have you ever seen a disagreement on social media that looked like a life or death struggle? Each side attempts to devalue the other. This is self-preservation, the ego in action.
Self-righteousness looks good just as the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil looked good. It may lead us to believe destroying those who are bad or are wrong is doing God’s work. We have all heard the expression “God loves you, and so do I.” Yet there is an unspoken expression that comes straight from the ego: “God hates you and so do I.” The ego disguises hate as love for God!
The ego reads the Law with an eye on self. God’s Law is about other people’s sins not mine! It is a hammer I use to crush that which is not like me. When we read the Law wearing the lens of self, we are blind to what the Law is trying to tell us. It is about our sins, and our sins should be our focus far more than our neighbor’s. As Jesus said, we need to get the log out of our own eye before we try to get a speck out of our brother’s (Matthew 7:3-5). The Law was meant to clobber the ego, but the self-defined use it to clobber others, to preserve self, and to inflate the ego.
Self-depreciation is just as much a part of self-definition. We can confuse ego inflation with the work of God, but we can also believe looking down on self is godliness. Godly humility is to look away from self, both its good and evil. This is repentance.
We might go to church with our head down, our eyes on ourselves. We feel distinct from God and our neighbor. All we can see is who we are and what we have done. Our focus is the finite and the finite can never grasp the infinite. As David said in the Psalms, God is “the lifter of my head (Psalm 3:3).” He lifts our eyes from ourselves and calls us to face Him. We realize afresh that the tie between us and Christ is what defines us. We come to church with a mistaken identity. Repentance is correcting the error. It not turning from evil to good as much as from self to Christ. The light dispels the darkness and we behold and take part in the One Who Is. Everything looks different, God, ourselves, and our neighbor.
A second question helps us identify the lens the serpent offered Eve. “What’s in it for me?” Satan was drawing Eve’s eyes to herself. First, he enticed her with self-definition. Next came self-gratification. The tree looked good to her, and there was a payoff to partaking.
“What’s in it for me?” has caused many conflicts and brought out the worst in humanity. Not only that, it is the source of much human unhappiness. We are unhappy because we want something, or we are afraid of losing something. The bigger this question is in our hearts, the more we are prone to unhappiness. The more irrelevant this question becomes, the more we realize something that transcends happiness and that is joy.
An eye on self-gratification blinds us to God. William Van Dusen Wishard in his book Between Two Ages: The 21st Century and the Crisis of Meaning, bemoans a loss of consciousness in the United States. He proposes that changes in the 20th century have led to an increasing loss of meaning in the American culture. He does not speak of God-consciousness, but he well could have.
In the 20th century the question “What’s in it for me?” grew in the heart of Americans, and the bigger it got, the less room we had for God. In 100 years, the United States evolved faster than any civilization in history, transitioning from a long-time agricultural society to an industrial society and then a computer-based society. And with each change came an enormous creation of wealth—an amount so large it is difficult to grasp. To give perspective, the people of the United States created more wealth in the twentieth century than the combined wealth of every civilization that existed before. That means adding up all the things that all of humanity made in 10,000 years. And we beat that number in 100 years!
This unprecedented prosperity changed the soul of our country. An agriculture-based society is a need-based society. People hope for enough to meet their basic needs, and if they have a roof over their heads and food on the table, they consider themselves prosperous.
As the United States gained more things in the last century, its culture went from a needs-based society to a want-based society. Now, having enough is less important than having more, and in the case of food, quantity, variety, and speed trump quality and sustenance. Likewise, a roof over our heads is about bigger and better, with everything from air conditioning to a fast Internet connection. In Jesus’s day, common folks had one or two sets of clothing—can you imagine? We have closets full, not to mention cars, boats, computers, cell phones, and big-screen TVs.
Madison Avenue helped usher in these changes, using advertising to manufacture “need”—an appeal to the lust of the eyes—with “fresh and new!” and all the bells and whistles. For example, I drive an older model car, and it is a good car, rarely needing repairs and operating very reliably. I should be happy to have a car that has served me so well… but then I turn on my TV and watch a commercial presenting a new luxury car. It looks so amazing that I can almost smell the new car smell. It can talk to me and help me when I am lost. It is smart enough to do some of the driving for me. And look at all those cup holders! The fellow who owns that car looks happier than I, and everyone seems to think he is somebody. I attract no attention when I drive my car, and it certainly does not make me smile every time I get in it.
Suddenly, I don’t feel so blessed to have the vehicle I own. I glance again at the car on TV, and I seem incomplete without it. Five minutes ago, I did not know it existed. Now, even if it means getting a huge loan, I must have it. Advertising has created unhappiness by creating want!
Every time we turn on our TVs, we are likely to encounter a philosophy counter to the kingdom of God. It broadcasts getting what you want as the way to find fulfillment and points to stardom as the way to be somebody. In fact, we live in a star-struck culture. Celebrities attract attention with beauty and glamour that turn people’s heads. And with this fame comes fortune, perpetuating the lavish life. Finances do not restrain celebrities like they do the rest of us. The images we view project the idea that to be complete we need to be good-looking, rich, and famous.
We often hear the problem in our country is that we have forsaken our values and in doing so we have turned our back on God. There is truth in this, but there is a deeper issue. It is the same temptation Eve faced in the garden. Its essence is not right and wrong, but self. The more ego-centric we become, the less conscious we are of God. Those who are in the flesh cannot know God. So, the root of blindness to God is self (Romans 8:5-8).
Let’s go back to church again. Why are we there? Some go with their mind on what’s in it for them. We mistakenly believe God’s purpose is to take us from the evil side of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil to the good side. We also suppose God’s desire is to take us from the life we don’t want to the life we want. This is another aspect of the good and evil paradigm, and just like self-definition, it has self at heart.
True worship is laying down “What’s in it for me?” We go to church to lose our life rather than to gain it. We forfeit our desires rather than claim them. “What’s in it for me?” dies and is replaced by “Thy will be done!”
Worship is the experience of Paul’s words… “no longer I but Christ.” This is love in action. Love puts the other before the self. As Paul said, “Love seeks not its own (I Cor. 13 verse).” God comes to church to give Himself to us. We meet Him at the cross and lay down self, and there the two become one.
Church is a place for redefinition. God redefines us as we gaze away from self to Christ. Likewise, God redefines life from finite desires to the infinite Christ.
Have you figured out what the Devil’s glasses are? It is the lens of self. It is the paradigm of good and evil where my own finite deeds define me rather than the infinite Christ. It thrills Satan when we engage God and our neighbor from this perspective. The result is separateness. We are separate from a Holy God and we are divided from our neighbor, seeing only us and them.
Likewise, Satan wants us to define life according to the good and the bad. It is the same paradigm of self. Self sees life in terms of good and bad because it has its eye on “What’s in it for me?” Self views God as the one who wants us to have good things (Unless we do bad!). Satan is the one who wants bad things to happen to us. When bad things happen in your life, have you ever rebuked the Devil, thinking that would turn the bad to good? Just as we can gaze at the Law with an eye on self, we can do the same with faith. When we do so, our faith becomes a tool for saving our lives rather than laying them down. The ego uses faith to avoid the cross. The Spirit embraces the cross as the way to eternal life.
True faith works hand in hand with love (Galatians 5:6). It takes no account of what’s in it for me? How can faith forsake all that the world calls life? It does so in love for the Beloved. He is the life, and union with Him is completion. Faith is for knowing the unseen God far more than it is for making the seen world to our liking. Just as Abraham, the father of our faith, left his home by faith, so do we. We leave the world behind with all its finite definitions for a heavenly country which is the realm of God (Hebrews 11:15-16).
God’s lens is Christ. When God reveals Christ, the old paradigm collapses. This revelation changes us into His image as the reality of who Jesus is breaks forth in our lives. Paul said we are transformed by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2). Thus, change begins with seeing.
When we examine the world through the reality of who Christ is, we behold a place filled with God’s glory. When I wore the old lens of self and looked at my neighbor, I saw the Devil, especially if my neighbor was not like me. Now, I see Christ. To love my neighbor is to love the Lord.
Through Christ we take on a new identity, one tied to who He is. When I look at myself through the lens of Christ, I see the new creation. (If you look through the lens of self, all you will see is the old!) My fears and uncertainties about God fade. He is no longer the God behind the veil. I know nothing can separate me from His love.
Through Christ all of life looks different. It is not merely the sum of all the good and bad things that have happened to us. We no longer see God as one whose purpose is to change things from bad to good, but as the one who gives Himself to us in all things. Just as God has given us an infinite measure of who we are, He has given us an infinite measure of what life is. The scriptures call it eternal life. It is divine life which surpasses all finite measures. Such a view makes our existence extraordinary, for there is no time or place which is not infused with His glory. It is this divine union which defines all of life, making even the mundane and the unhappy a sight to behold.
We are evangelists of what is so, those called out of darkness into His marvelous light (I Peter 2:9). We perceive the world as complete not incomplete, a place of infinite possibility because it is the home of the infinite Creator. Such thinking challenges our idea of reality. Adam and Eve chose to define reality through self and darkness fell. The second Adam came, and He is light to the world.