When I was younger, one of my main goals in life was to avoid punishment. I know that I am not alone in this because, generally speaking, people do not like to be punished. Punishment is painful because it tells us that we have done something wrong, which is guilt, or that there is something wrong with us, which is shame.
A human being cannot live with unresolved guilt or shame so when we are young we develop coping mechanisms to deal with our guilt or shame. The two main types of coping mechanisms are to avoid acknowledging there is something wrong, which can take the form of denial, minimizing, deflection, or self-medicating; or to avoid the possibility of punishment, which can take the form of pleasing, controlling, or over-functioning.
While these coping mechanisms can serve a purpose when we are children, we continue to use them when we get older and that is when they put us in bondage: bondage to lies, bondage to destructive behaviours and bondage to loneliness & isolation. Because we cannot face the truth about ourselves, we never really know who we are. Because we do not really know who we are, we are unable to allow ourselves to be fully known, so we end up isolated and lonely.
But God the Father has a better way for us to live through His Son Jesus in which we freely admit the reality that we are sinners and we freely live in the forgiveness Jesus gives us. And as we live as forgiven sinners, we are able to have life-giving relationships with others because we know and accept who we are. And because of the confidence that we have in Jesus, we are willing to be vulnerable before others and be fully known.
When our first parents sinned and all of creation was broken as a result, God could have abandoned or destroyed His creation. But He didn’t. Instead He pursued Adam and Eve and gently confronts them, not to shame or destroy them, but to save them. And the way that God saves people from sin is to first expose the sin. We don’t want to be exposed (our tendency is to cover up and hide when we sin) so we avoid standing before God and letting Him reveal our sin to us. Because, as a result of our tendency to hide, we have no awareness of our sin, we end up hurting ourselves and others the same way over and over again.
But God invites us to be still and know that He is God (see Psalm 46:10). Part of that being still before God is letting Him reveal to us our sin so that He can set us free from it and the pain and suffering that we cause ourselves and others can diminish or even stop.
After exposing their sin, God applies consequences to Adam, Eve and the serpent. Consequences are the natural results of our actions. They are also barriers around sin that indicate that that sin is serious and they serve to curb that sin from happening again.
Then, and this is the most important thing of all, God gives a promise. Speaking to the serpent, God said, “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). God is telling us that a descendant of Eve is going to destroy evil and overturn its effects.
Jesus is that descendant of Eve who crushed the serpent’s head even as the serpent struck at his heel. For God the Father so loved the world that he sent His Son into the world to become one of us and take upon Himself all the punishment for all the sin in the world past, present and future. And Jesus not only more than paid the full cost of all our forgiveness, He also paid more than the full cost of undoing all the corruption that sin has done on our bodies and on our souls. When God says, “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you” it is actually true. For God took our punishment upon Himself so that there could be peace between us and God. Adam and Eve received that peace. We know that because, after this, Adam named his wife, who was prior to this unnamed, Eve which means the mother of all the living.
The question is, will you be still before God? Will you be totally honest with Him and yourself about the depth to which sin has impacted your life. Apart from Jesus, there is no such thing as a pure human motivation. Everything we say, think and do, even our religious activity, is tainted by sin. We might as well be honest and admit it.
And then, as we stand before God in our pitiful nakedness, will we let Jesus clothe us with His white robe of righteousness so that our Heavenly Father loves and accepts us unconditionally and welcomes us into His Family just like He does His own Son? If we do, then our identity, our confidence, and our understanding of reality will all be based on how God sees us.
For far too long we have been believing the lie that it is not safe for us to stand with our souls naked and exposed to God. The truth is that the safest and best place for us to be is before God with our soul naked and exposed to Him.
You do not need to be afraid. God’s perfect love drives out fear. With Jesus, you can be certain that God will never punish you, for Jesus has already taken all of your punishment for you. It is safe for you to be honest and transparent before God because He loves you. And as you go through trials and tribulations in this life God will prepare you for life in the new heaven and earth to come by beginning to heal you from the inside out. The question is will you trust God enough to be totally transparent before Him?
Years ago, I apologized to my Dad for causing him so many problems when I was a teenager. Here was his answer to me: “I forgave you for that a long time ago.” I am so thankful for that memory of my Dad because it points me to the love and forgiveness of our heavenly Father. And if you stand before God and confess your sin to Him in prayer, here is what His answer to you will be: “I forgave you for that a long time ago.”
(A longer version of this message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley BC on March 11, 2018. This messages is based upon Genesis 3.)