Why is the world so messed up? The world is broken because the first humans—and every human since—rebelled against their Maker. By seizing autonomy from God, we have upset the intended order of things and brought evil into the world and death upon ourselves. But in this broken world, we are given a great and good hope: God’s plan for our redemption.
The 20s/30s ministry at my church is going through Mark Moore’s Core52 for the next year, in an effort to increase biblical literacy. To assist in my weekly preparation, I’ll be writing articles based on the topic. Here are the links to Weeks 1 and 2. This is Week 3 of 52: Rebellion.
The First Woman’s Rebellion
Once upon a time, there was a woman—the first woman, in fact—in possession of two great things: a gift from a divine being as well as an insatiable curiosity.
This gift was accompanied by a single instruction: that she was to steward this gift, but that under no circumstance should she use it. She was told that mortals could not handle it—only divine beings could. Other than that one gift, she had dominion of everything else given to her.
And what was given to her was wonderful. She was married to a strong, creative man who loved her. She had free reign of a beautiful land filled with grass and trees and water.
For some time, she was content under this order of things. But her curiosity began to get the better of her. What was this gift that mortals could not handle? Was the divine being who gifted this to her holding out on her? Would it be so bad if she used this gift, just once?
“Was the divine being who gifted this to her holding out on her?”
That little voice twisted inside her and gnawed at her until it grew so loud that she could handle it no longer. Deciding that the contents of this gift must be good, she broke the one condition of her gift, and she used it.
Immediately, she was struck with grave consequences. Evil forces, once bound, entered the world. No longer restrained, these forces wreaked havoc upon the land which was once good, bringing darkness and destruction.
Such is the story that the ancient Greeks told of Pandora, the first woman, who was given an ornate box. Eventually, her curiosity overcame her; she opened the box, evil entered into the world, and every generation since Pandora has paid the consequences for her decision.
Such is much the same as the story the ancient Hebrews told of Eve, the first woman, who was put within reach of a forbidden tree. Eventually, her curiosity overcame her; she took the fruit of the tree and ate it, evil entered into the world, and every generation since Eve has paid the consequences for her decision.
Why is the world so messed up? “Eventually, her curiosity overcame her; she took the fruit of the tree and ate it, and evil entered into the world.”
The good news for Pandora was that her story did not end there. One thing remained in the box after she opened it: hope. Hope that one day, the world would be redeemed from her mistake. The good news for Eve is that her story—our story—is a story of brokenness redeemed by hope.
This World Is Broken
It doesn’t take much analysis to come to the conclusion that this world is not as it should be. Sickness, slavery, environmental disasters, death—these are all painful reminders that something is here very wrong. We long for justice. We long for everything to be made right.
There is a dissonance in our souls between what is and what ought to be. But how would we know what ought to be, unless we were created for what ought to be? This world does not feel like home because our souls were created for different conditions.
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis writes,
“Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”—C.S. Lewis
In context, Lewis is writing about how, when you experience a great deal of happiness and pleasure but come to realize that it doesn’t satisfy the ultimate desires of your soul, it points to us being created for something greater, something other.
But the same principle applies also in the inverse—that when we experience pain and suffering and come to realize that things ought not be this way, it points to us being created for something better.
We long for goodness because we were created for goodness. We long for beauty because we were created for beauty.
We long for Eden, because we were created for Eden.
So, what happened to mess all of that up?
Union with God
God’s plan for creation has always been to live in union with his image bearers. We see this in the Garden of Eden when God takes walks with Adam and Eve. We see this in the tabernacle and the temple, where the Spirit of God dwells in the Holy of Holies. We see this in John 1, where Jesus takes on flesh and lives among his people. And we see this in Revelation 21, when Heaven and Earth are reunited and God makes his home among his people once more.
Our living in union with God and with each other has always been the plan. The idea was singularness, or unity, in our distinctness. Or, put more simply, harmony. God’s triune* (three-in-one) nature is a picture of this: he is three distinct persons, but each distinct person is God.
“Our living in union with God and with each other has always been the plan.”
God’s design for marriage is a picture of this: two distinct image bearers (one man, one woman) sacrificing their autonomy in order to pursue the highest good of one another as a single entity.
The United States of America is, ideally, another picture of this: 50 distinct States operating differently from one another on a local government level, but unifying and presenting to other nations as a single entity.
In his book Between Two Trees, Shane Wood writes about digestion as yet another picture of union. Let’s say you eat an apple. Before you eat this apple, you and the apple are two distinct entities. But as the apple enters your stomach and enzymes begin to break it down, you and the apple have become united. You might be able to vomit the apple, but neither entity will ever be the same. The apple has been changed by your body, and your body has been changed by the apple. Neither one is able to return to its original state, pre-union.
Putting all the pieces together, we could say that union means the sacrifice of autonomy, in order to be in intimacy and harmony with the other member(s) of the union.
Under this paradigm, God’s plan for union with us is pretty astounding. Although this triune God lived in perfect harmony in eternity-past, he still created image bearers to share in and spread his glory. As the creator and source of life, God himself is the precondition of life—not only of breath and vitality, but of what Jesus in John 10 calls “life abundant.”
“As the creator and source of life, God himself is the precondition of life.”
To quote C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity again,
“God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.”
This is what we mean when we assert that union with God was his plan for us all along. As the maker of all the things and the rules by which this game is played, God understands how we best thrive—how we live life abundantly. And how we live life abundantly is in union with him. There is no other substitute.
This had been the condition of life in the Garden of Eden: image bearers in flourishment because of their living in union with their creator. This is why we long for Eden—because what we long for is the presence of God himself. And this is what makes what happened in the Garden of Eden all the more tragic.
Union with Death
In Genesis 2, God places a man and a woman in the Garden of Eden and gives them one boundary for life there: they must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They’re also told that if they should eat from this tree, on that day they will certainly die.
Genesis 3 opens with a cunning serpent asking the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You can’t eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Gen. 3:1, CSB). The woman repeats God’s command back to the snake and shares that, if they should eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they will die.
The serpent goes on to tell the woman that, if they eat of this tree, not only will they certainly not die, but also their eyes will be opened and they will be like God, knowing good and evil. This rule was not put in place for God to protect the man and woman from death, he assures them, but rather to keep the man and woman from becoming like God.
Why is the world so messed up? “The serpent goes on to tell the woman that, if they eat of this tree, not only will they certainly not die, but also their eyes will be opened and they will be like God.”
The serpent’s lie was that God was holding out on them—that God was not looking out for their best interests, but rather trying to protect his power by keeping his image bearers in the dark.
Eventually, being God’s image bearer was no longer enough for them: they wanted to become like God himself. So because of the fruit’s taste, its beauty, and its promise of wisdom, the woman, Eve, took it and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, Adam, and he ate it as well.
On that day, in the Garden of Eden, under the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Pandora’s box opened and all the evil that had been restrained by the box entered into the world. Adam and Eve ate of the fruit, and on that day, they certainly died.
No, on that day their hearts did not stop beating. But when they ate of the fruit, they rebelled against their maker and went from living in union with life, to living in union with death.
Why is the world so messed up? “When they ate of the fruit, they rebelled against their maker and went from living in union with life, to living in union with death.”
Sin Is A Cancer
Think of sin as a deadly sickness. When Adam and Eve broke their union with life and entered into union with death, they welcomed evil into the world and disease into their genetic code. Because of the first humans’ sin, every human thereafter was born with the inclination to sin. Every human was born with disordered desires. Every human was born with the cancer of sin growing in their bones. Every human, with one notable exception.
Because God is holy—completely good, and set apart, and pure—God cannot tolerate sin. Because God is life, God cannot be in union with someone who has chosen death.
Why is the world so messed up? “Because God is life, God cannot be in union with someone who has chosen death.”
But God is also merciful. The end of Genesis 3 goes like this:
“The LORD God said, “Since the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil, he must not reach out, take from the tree of life, eat, and live forever.” So the LORD God sent him away from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove the man out and stationed the cherubim and the flaming, whirling sword east of the garden of Eden to guard the way to the tree of life.” (Gen. 3:22-24, CSB)
With his image bearers having entered into union with death, a union apart from God, God wanted to protect them from living in this state forever. So in his mercy, God prevented humans from eating of the tree and living forever. In his mercy, God allows humans to die.
Thus is life cast out of the garden, east of Eden, under the curse of sin. We live in a world of war and death, famine and sickness—a world where work is toil, there is pain in childbirth, and there is strife among God’s image bearers. We live in a world filled with darkness.
Why is the world so messed up? “With his image bearers having entered into union with death, a union apart from God, God wanted to protect them from living in this state forever.”
But just as hope remained with Pandora, so too did it come to Eve, and remains with us.
The Light of the World
After Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God’s first act of judgment was upon the serpent. In Genesis 3:15, God tells the serpent of the enmity between the serpent and the woman’s offspring. One day, the serpent would bite his heel. But in return, the woman’s offspring would crush the serpent’s skull.
In John’s account of Jesus, he opens by writing of Jesus as the Word of God.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” (John 1:1-3, CSB)
Here’s where it really gets good.
“In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5, CSB)
The Word of God, which brought light out of darkness at the beginning of time, brings light into the world once more. It is in this very Word of God that we have our hope—the person and work of Jesus, who entered into darkness to cast darkness out with light. Who was bitten on the heel by the serpent, and who crushed its head into the earth. Who himself entered into death, to break our union with it.
See, God is merciful not only in allowing us to die, but also in forging a way for us to live. Through Jesus’ death, we die to death. Through Jesus’ life, we rise again, and enter back into union with God.
“Through Jesus’ life, we rise again, and enter back into union with God.”
In Revelation 21, John sees the reunification of Heaven and Earth, and hears a loud voice saying,
“Look, God’s dwelling is with humanity, and he will live with them. They will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them and will be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:3-4, CSB)
Living in union with God once more, we experience the curse of sin lifted. The broken world is restored, as the pain of the previous world passes away.
In this heavenly garden city, John also says that there is no need for the sun or moon to shine on it, “because the glory of God illuminates it, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Rev. 21:23, CSB). In the new Heaven and Earth, Jesus—the Word of God, the light in the darkness—illuminates everything by his glory.
Waiting For The Reckoning
Until this reckoning—when Jesus returns and sets everything right once and for all—we hold tight to this hope. This hope is concrete, because it has been guaranteed.
Living on this side of the cross and the empty grave, we can look back and see the full arc of God’s plan of redemption for his image bearers.
We can see the restoration of an Edenic state of goodness, of humans living in union with God.
First, we see ourselves rebelling against God, seizing autonomy and wanting to become like God. We can see ourselves entering into union with death and unleashing all the darkness that fills the world. We see that this world is deeply broken, because we are deeply broken.
Why is the world so messed up? “We see that this world is deeply broken, because we are deeply broken.”
But we can also see God stepping into the place of his image bearers. We see his truest reflection himself entering into death, so that he might break our union with it. We can see his conquest of death, so that we might have life.
And we look forward in order to see God reuniting Heaven and Earth, dwelling among his people, and illuminating the world with his glory.
We look forward to living in union with God, where all of the sad things will come untrue.
*And yes, I do sweat a little bit every time I write about the Trinity. Thanks for asking.
 “Hope,” in Book III of C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperOne, 1980).
 “The Shocking Alternative,” in Book II of C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperOne, 1980).