When God made the universe, he judged that it was good. Everything that God makes and does and thinks is good, it is the outworking, the fruit, of his character and nature. As a holy, just and righteous God, his works are holy, just and righteous.
God made a garden, Eden, and furnished it with all kinds of fruits and edible things and then put man in the middle of it. He told him that he could eat from every tree in the garden except the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Up until the point that Eve and Adam ate of the fruit, everything in the universe was still good. When they ate in rebellion against God, the universe and the lives of Adam and Eve, changed. Everything was now not good, but bad, from God’s point of view, and I would suggest from ours also. Yet God had a plan in place which would turn everything around. All things work together for good to those who love the Lord (Romans 8:28). The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for us secured a way for us to once again be joined to God and for everything to again be good. But there is a catch. We have to die. The old nature, the old creation, the old ways of fallen man have to go into death. We can then, with a renewed mind, know the thoughts and intents of God and understand his will (Romans 12:2).
But what is God’s point of view. It’s not something we can know of our own volition. Here is the thing that caught us up in the garden of Eden. Satan tempted Eve by telling her that the fruit of the tree would make her wise. He was right and he was also wrong. He lied by omission. He also told her that the fruit of the tree would make her like God. He was also wrong. He himself had a warped mind. He was affected by the sin of rebellion and pride, and he believed himself to be like God anyway. Satan, the ultimate narcissist, wanted the whole of creation to revolve around him. The fact that he told Eve that she would be like God was not a lie in the sense that he believed himself to be God. She would, in effect, be like him, a fallen rebellious and wicked being. Whether he knew this or not, he deceived her into thinking that by taking the fruit she would be like the one true and living God, her heavenly Father who loved and nurtured her. Satan was wrong. How could sinning against God make you like God. Although God himself said that the man had become like one of Us to know good and evil (Genesis 3:22), that knowledge was now tainted and had changed the thoughts and motivations and very nature of His most beloved creation.
The fruit of the tree was good. It was a good tree because God made it. But it was never intended for man’s consumption. God knew that the moment man ate of the tree he would die spiritually. He would die not because the fruit itself was poisonous but because God did not intend the fruit for human consumption. It was the taking of the fruit against God’s express will that killed Adam and Eve. They sinned when they disobeyed.
It is an interesting thought actually that it was not the fruit itself which caused the fall of human nature. It was the choice to disobey and to steal from God that which belonged to God and was forbidden to man which corrupted the very nature of the human race. It was the decision that human beings were wiser, better at giving themselves what was good for them that caused the problem. It was the judgement that this fruit was good for them not bad for them which was the sin. The eating of the fruit was simply the result of having previously made the decision that they knew better than God.
In fact, it was a test. If they decided that God knew best, they would have left the fruit alone. The fact that they chose to take something which they believed was good actually indicated that they had already judged between good and evil. God said the fruit was not good for them, they said, yes, in fact, it was good for them, and they took what they believed was rightfully theirs. They judged between good and evil. It was quite literally the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The temptation was not actually to steal, but to judge of their own wisdom and reason.
This fruit, the knowledge of good and evil, belonged to God in more ways than one. He owned it because He made it, He made everything, but He also owned the ability to judge between right and wrong. God alone can make judgements about what is truly good and bad. Human beings cannot. When we took of the fruit, we not only rebelled against God, we stole from Him. We stole something which was not ours, and the first thing we did was consume it. Because we took something which was forbidden, and because the sin of stealing and the sin of rebellion changed us forever, the fruit then became death to us. The ability to judge between good and evil became warped. We do not judge as God judges, we judge by our own fallen minds. Our judgements about what is good and bad are judgements which are not balanced, they are warped according to our own particular predilections. And because human beings are all fallen and sinners, everything we think and do is fallen. Therefore our judgements, even as Christians, can be warped and fallen.
The best example of this that I can think of is the prosperity doctrine. Essentially it tells Christians that God wants them to be prosperous and healthy. This is true in part. God does want to bless us, but that blessing depends upon our obedience to His word. He does not bless fallen men in the same way that he blesses the righteous man. God’s original chapter of blessings and cursings, Deuteronomy 28, was based upon this understanding. However, what the prosperity preachers have not recognised is that they are basing their idea of what is the definition of prosperity upon their own fallen judgement. They claim that if you outwardly obey the word about tithing, which in fact does not even exist in the New Testament, then you will be blessed. What they are doing is expecting the congregation to continue to bring their ‘tithe’ into the church so that the pastors and full-time members of the church can be blessed by the income. What they are doing is self-serving.
We as human beings judge that certain things are good and other things are bad for us. Some of this is fairly easy to understand. For example, having money is a good thing. Not having enough money is not good. If you don’t have enough money you can’t buy food for yourself, or clothing or shelter etc. You can’t pay rent, you can’t get what you need for yourself in life. But let’s look at this from God’s point of view. God doesn’t need money in order to provide for his own. He clothes and feeds the birds of the air without money, and tells us not to worry about our lives because He knows our needs. Yet, the prosperity teachers tell us that if we tithe, give part of our money to God, he will bless us. They have it completely wrong. Their preaching is based on their own judgement of what is right and good.
Human beings naturally want the things that are good for themselves and their children. Food, clothing and shelter are seen as good things of course. But it doesn’t end there. Prosperity preachers tell us that having good things is not enough, we should expect the best. They read about how God clothes the flowers in finer array than Solomon and assume that we should all expect God to give us the very best from a human point of view. Solomon was the richest man in the world. But Solomon was only rich because when God told him to ask for what he wanted, Solomon asked for wisdom not riches. God gave him riches anyway as a reward. Solomon was a humble man who recognised that he could not rule a nation in his own strength. His judgement was impaired. Therefore, he wanted God to give him His wisdom, His knowledge, His ability to judge. This is why when the two mothers came to Solomon about the baby he was able to make a sound and wise decision. He had the mind of God on the matter, not his own mind. I doubt very much if a human being with a fallen mind would be able to make a sound judgement in this matter. And even if Solomon had by accident stumbled upon this decision himself, he would have made the decision in his own thinking, rather than trusting God to decide the best way for himself and the two women.
God’s judgements are sound and right. They do not appear that way from a human point of view because our thinking is fallen. This is why Paul urges us in Romans not to be conformed to the world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.
I have always had a problem with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. It is a method in Psychology which is based in human reasoning. It suggests that if you change the way you think, you change the way you behave. They are right in the fundamental assumption of course. They are just wrong in the way they execute it. No human being can change the way they think by thinking. All they will do is exchange one fallen pattern of behaviour for another fallen pattern of behaviour. And because all of our thinking has been affected by consuming that stolen fruit, we stand back, admire our ability to change other people’s behaviour and declare it good. Initially it may seem good, only because it is different. But we won’t be able to judge soundly that something is ‘good’ because although we think we know the difference between good and evil, it is a human perspective. God’s perspective, the only good we will ever truly know, is completely ignored. We cannot know his perspective until our minds are renewed. The only way our minds can be renewed is if God renews them. No fallen human being can change their own nature, it is impossible. The old cannot make anything except more of the same.
So we go to God, ask Him to renew our minds and wait upon Him.
Many times I have heard Christians say that God doesn’t tell us what to do in minute detail. Our thinking needs to be renewed in all areas. Humanly speaking, the ability to make independent decisions is seen as a good thing, and God himself does not want us to be dependant upon other human beings for our lives. He wants us to depend upon, focus upon and learn from Him. As we grow to become more like Christ, we understand that in fact He truly does tell us what to do in minute detail. Not as a laundry list of legalistic demands, but in a moment by moment interaction where we seek the Lord as we need His wisdom and help in every situation. Every child who loves his father will ask his father a million and one questions and expect his father to answer those questions and give him guidance. We don’t do this as adults because in many ways we now know more than our parents. As Christians, however, we will never know more than God and it was in fact this very assumption which led Adam and Eve to sin. They were tempted to believe the lie that God hadn’t given them everything they needed for life and godliness, so they made their own decision.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, 26 that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word,27 that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5NKJV)
If we have our thinking changed by the word of God, by reading, meditating upon it and praying about what we read, we will begin to make godly, righteous decisions based upon the wisdom which comes from above.
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. 16 For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. 17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. 18 Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3 NKJV)
2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:2)
But what of those things which seem outwardly, and to all human reasoning to be unutterably bad? When somebody we love dies unnaturally, or we become ill and we are not healed immediately, or when we suffer from some misfortune such as being fired from our jobs through no fault of our own or even being imprisoned or attacked unjustly what do we do? Are these things not bad from both our point of view and Gods?
God allows difficulties and trials to come upon us in order to test our faith. That much is certain. A mature faith is good in God’s eyes. Jesus intercedes on our behalf to God that we would become perfect without spot or wrinkle so that he can present us without blemish to God at the end of our time on earth. In order to do this, he uses our present circumstances, the fallen conditions of this universe, to our good. Since all things work together for good, we cannot presume that all means only the good things. All means all. It means both good and bad, and those things judged by God as good and bad, not just those things judged by us. Therefore, when we read about Job’s troubles, surely the very worst a human being can go through, we know that they are allowed by God so that he can test us, call us to greater holiness and then bless us even more than he did before. Joseph, David, Daniel and Paul and many others were taken through unjust trials and sufferings. They were unjust in that they did not do anything to deserve them. You might say that bad things happen in this universe as a result of the actions of our forebears Adam and Eve. In a way, we are wearing the consequences of their sin. But we are also wearing the consequences of everyone else’s sin, even if we are not directly suffering from the consequences of our own.
When we suffer, even when it is unjust suffering, the response God looks for is a heart filled with humility and patient endurance. It is easy to write such things. Yet my husband and I have suffered greatly over our lifetimes through various trials. We have encountered health, financial, family, spiritual, and relationship troubles yet we learned the hard way that complaining to God over and over does nothing for your faith or His response. When you finally get to the place of recognising your own sinfulness, and his utter righteousness, then you find yourself actually rejoicing in trials and thanking Him in the midst of them. I never thought I would get to the place where I could recommend this course of action. On the other hand, you can’t simply order somebody to rejoice in the midst of trials. You can’t fake it, and God isn’t stupid. He sees everything, including the thoughts and intents of our hearts. In our very deepest being, there needs to be a change wherein we actually transform, both in our thinking and our emotional state. We change from being ungrateful murmurers to being thankful rejoicers. Even writing that for me sounds a bit super-spiritual, and I used to hate people who threw out lines like that to me when I was younger.
I will say however, there are people who use times of suffering to preach and lecture others, usually younger Christians, about the ‘proper’ attitude. I say again, you can’t change somebody’s thinking by expecting outward conformity to rules. Only God can change us, and he does that when we come ourselves to His throne in humility and actually see the truth for ourselves. Not a very pleasant thing I must say. Yet, this death of pride gives birth to the renewal of faith, and such a renewal it is. Joy surely does come in the morning.