June 25, 2010

Grace in the Garden

By John S. Nixon

“The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Gen. 2:7).*?
2010 1519 page28capIt is the sixth day of the world’s first week, and God is nearly finished with His work. He has one or two things more to do, and He has saved the best for last. The stage is now set for Creation’s crowning act. Holy angels have watched with wonder from the very first day when the great God of heaven stepped out into the middle of nothing and said to nothing: “‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Gen. 1: 3). The psalmist says: “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.” “For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast” (Ps. 33:6, 9, KJV).
But now the Lord God employs a different method. God does not speak this time. Instead, God bends down and scoops a handful of earth, and with it begins to fashion the man. He patterns and casts; He sculpts and outlines; He shapes and molds. His arms hug a huge torso. His fingertips tend a tiny capillary. And creative genius forms a glorious organism with interlocking systems—endocrine, muscular, skeletal, lymphatic, pulmonary, respiratory, digestive, neurological, cardiovascular. “Fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14)!
At the crown of it all, God creates an organ of reason, covered in a convoluted layer of gray matter. Here will reside the seat of intelligence, the center of the powers of reason and understanding, of creativity and language. Then with the construction completed and everything in its place, the Great Creator, Himself uncreated, pauses and inhales deeply. He bends even lower now, His own face to the ground, and breathes into the nostrils of the earthy shell. And the chest expands as the lungs inflate, the nerves generate, the heart palpitates, the blood ?circulates, the cells activate, the dust becomes flesh, the brain becomes a mind, and the man becomes a living soul.
And the cosmological question is answered even before we begin our own investigation. It is not by rationality that the truth of Creation is known. It is not a scientific conclusion. Science cannot replace God, since science did not create itself. It is a falsehood and a confusion of order to make the derivative original and the Original derivative.1 Science is our guide among things as they are, but it cannot account for things being as they are. No one has the right to be dogmatic about things that cannot be known except by divine revelation.2
And it is by revelation, not reason, that we come to know what the Bible never attempts to prove: that the world was created in six literal days of evenings and mornings, in which God was not dependent on preexisting matter. It is a truth that does not lend itself to intellectual investigation. It is not a discovery; it is a belief. It is not a deduction; it is a confession. “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” (Heb. 11:3).
This is our Father’s world and in Creation, as in redemption, it is His finished work. God no more left Creation to be completed by natural processes than He left redemption to be completed by religious ones. When the atonement was completed at the cross, Jesus cried, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). And when Creation was concluded on the sixth day, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). From earth to sky, from animals to humans, from sea to shining sea, God made them all. This is our Father’s world!
This, then, is the glorious beginning of the human family from the hand of God—full of promise and full of potential. Saving grace is in reserve, not yet needed. Forgiveness has not yet appeared, for there is nothing to forgive. But faith must be tested.
Fatal Curiosity           
“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” (Gen. 3:6).

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The downfall of Eve began when she decided to conduct her own investigation. This was the first departure from complete trust in God’s word. God never said that the fruit of the tree was not good for food. He only said they were not to eat of it. He even said it with a threat of consequences: “In the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17, NKJV).3 But what God left unsaid was a reason for His command. He gave a “what,” but He did not give a “why.” It was a test of faith.
The omitted information becomes the pivot on which either obedience or rebellion will spring forth. Eve must decide, in the face of the serpent’s challenge and the unexplained command of God, whom she believes. She can take God at His word and obey, or she can doubt the divine veracity and disobey. But she must do one or the other.
The nature of sin runs deeper than we first think. It does not begin with the deed; it begins with the thought. Sin first appears at the subconscious level where we make decisions, even before we act. The moment we determine to take matters into our own hands, to employ our will at our own discretion—in that hidden moment we depart from faith in God.
Appearance of the Supernatural
Jesus Christ is the only way out of the deathtrap of sin; and He, too, makes His appearance in the beginning. Before the angel drives them away from the tree of life, Adam and Eve receive a promise that catches Satan off guard. Turning to the serpent, the Lord God says: “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” (Gen. 3:15).
Satan does not completely understand, but he knows it is a threat to his kingdom. To bruise a serpent’s head is to kill it. God is prophesying the end of the devil’s reign, and the Agent of his demise will be the Seed of the woman. Here is the strategy Satan never dreamed of; God was prepared to go further than it was possible for the enemy to conceive. At the very place where humans were at their worst, God was at His best, revealing the depth of a love that is beyond comprehension.
Genesis 3 closes with a ceremony of eternal significance, in which God provides a covering for the man and woman. “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them” (Gen. 3:21). Note: garments of skin, not garments of fur. This was no shearing of a live animal; for this to happen a creature had to die. And it is significant that the act of redemption takes place before the man and woman are barred from Eden, so they will know that exclusion from the garden does not mean the absence of God.4 It is from the tree they are cut off, not from their Creator.
And then it appears. Seemingly from nowhere. Something for which human vocabulary must create a new word. It operates on different laws than the laws of nature. Everything else in the created order runs on the laws of cause and effect—the sun makes you hot; water makes you wet; the wind blows and trees bend, etc.
But suddenly comes a new life principle. Above the laws of natural existence, something supernatural comes into view.
This is not kindness—God’s kindness appears throughout the universe. This is not goodness—God’s goodness and favor is in every solar system. This is something else. This is kindness that is undeserved; this is favor that is unwarranted; blessing where condemnation would belong; forgiveness where judgment should be. As the man and woman turn their backs on the tree of life, never to taste of its fruit again, they are wearing the clothing God provided for them with blood, as a pledge that they will eat from the tree again some day.
When they came before God after sin, the man and woman were already clothed in garments they had made, but this would not do.
We cannot save ourselves or make any contribution to our own justification. So God makes new garments of His own choosing, and He does so by the shedding of blood. For “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” of sin (Heb. 9:22).
Because of divine intervention the effect of sin is no longer death to the sinner. Instead, through the operation of this new thing, which requires a new word, the sinner escapes the effect that should naturally follow cause, and inherits a new result. This thing is called grace. It was not an afterthought, it was already in reserve. As soon as there was sin, there was a Savior.
This time, however, the Lord God does not speak. Instead, He bends down, scoops a handful of earth, and prepares a body through which to enter humanity by the miracle of Incarnation.5 It is a divine act of infinite condescension born of enduring love. What would we do without ?God’s grace?
There were two trees planted in the middle of the garden—the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But at the moment of humanity’s fall, God planted a third tree. This is the tree that rescues from eternal destruction all who believe. Jesus died on that third tree, and the victory He won becomes our own. Through His sacrifice we escape the condemnation of sin.
1 Charles Malik, A Christian Critique of the University (Waterloo, Ontario: North Waterloo Academic Press, 1987), p. 34.
2 Oswald Chambers, “Baffled to Fight Better” in The Complete Works of Oswald Chambers (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Discovery House, 2000), p. 80.
3 Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright ” 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
4 Sigve K. Tonstad, The Lost Meaning of the Seventh Day (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Andrews University Press, 2009), p. 58.
5 Heb. 10:5.

John S. Nixon, senior pastor, Collegedale Seventh-Day Adventist Church, Collegedale, Tennessee