God on Trial
Series: Stand-Alone Sermons
How do we live with the fact that we aren’t God? We’re prone to resist it, and the Devil wants us to do just that. He tries to get us to resist it by saying God is not good, but because God is good, we should trust and obey God’s Word, not the Devil’s.
Genesis (Kidner Classic Commentaries), Derek Kidner
I don’t watch many movies these days, but a few years back I stumbled upon the movie Gone, Baby, Gone, which begins with these words from the main character: “I always believed it was the things you don’t choose that make you who you are. Your city. Your neighborhood. Your family.” We all get born into a city, a neighborhood, a family that we didn’t choose. What’s with that? Well today before we start our series of sermons on the Psalms for the summer, we’re going back to the first human who came into the world, and he was born into a situation he didn’t choose. He was created, not the creator. He was an image of God, not God. We too are born into a similar predicament, but something in us tends to resist it, and we’ll see in our story that someone, the Devil, wants us to resist it. The way he tries to get us to resist it is by calling into question God’s goodness. He tries to put God on trial, and the passage before us presents us with his charge, along with the evidence. And now the situation we all face is whether the accusation of the devil is true. Is God good? And therefore, will we trust and obey the God’s Word, or will we trust and obey the Devil’s? This text teaches us to trust and obey God’s Word, not the Devil’s, because God is good, the Devil is a liar, and God’s Word will prevail.
God is good
Where we began reading today, the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the East, and there He put the man He had formed. At this point in the story the human population is at 1, and here we see that the one human who existed had been formed by God. God gave this man existence. It doesn’t take much realize that you aren’t the cause of your own existence. It came to you from elsewhere, and this text shows us where. Doesn’t that already suggest that God is a good God?
Ah, but isn’t at least conceivable that God created man to torment him? Sure, but the text soon shows us that’s not why God actually made man. He doesn’t form man and then leave him in harsh conditions to suffer and fend for himself. Instead he plants a garden for man, and verse 9 tells us that out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. Not only did God give man existence, He gave him a home, a home filled with beauty: Trees pleasant to the sight, and nourishment, trees good for food. So God created man with a capacity for pleasure, and then God provided pleasant things. Sounds pretty good again.
Then in verse 15 we read that God also gave man work to do in the garden. With many in America and plenty in Philadelphia unemployed and expressing a desire to work, what a gift it is that God gave man a job, and a noble job at that: Remember that it was God who planted the garden in the first place, and to no other creature did God give the privilege of now working and keeping the garden He planted. In fact, the words “work” and “keep” in verse 15 were later used to describe the work of priests in the temple: They were to work there and “keep” it from impurity. Man was ordained as the first priest in the first temple, the holy dwelling place of God, the garden of Eden.
And the next thing God gives him is a command. So maybe this is where we’ll discover God isn’t as good as He seems, right? Maybe here He’ll command the man to do something miserable and degrading. Let’s look at the first command, verse 16: “You may surely eat of every tree in the garden.” Really? The first command is not a prohibition, but a permission. It’s not even a command to work; it’s a command to enjoy. The Hebrew is emphatic here too, which is why the ESV adds the word “surely.” In other words, God is saying: “Here’s command #1, here’s what you must do: See all those beautiful trees bearing delicious food? Go feast on the fruit they produce. Enjoy it.” If they’d have had Instagram back then, I think we can safely assume God would have told Adam to take a photo of it and post it. So God’s first command to the man is to enjoy the good gifts He’d given him. Is that degrading? Is that exploitative? Of course not. Freely, apart from any merit in the man, God has now given Him existence, a home, pleasure, food, a job, and a command to enjoy it.
But then there is the “but” of verse 17: God tells them to eat of all the trees of the garden, but one: The tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Why are they forbidden to eat from this tree? Because in the day they eat of it, God says, they will surely die. Once again, God’s command is not because He needs something from them or because He wants something ill for them. It’s for their good! I like that harmful chemicals come with warning labels that say, “Do not ingest!” I don’t assume the company that manufactured it is actually manufacturing the tastiest liquid ever, and is simply telling me not to ingest it because they want to keep it for themselves. I assume they’re telling me that for my good, because they don’t want me to die, and we see that was also why God prohibited man from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil here. Might the fact that we often trust a chemical company’s prohibitions more than we trust God’s suggest that the problem might be with us, not with Him?
Here we are, with the same evidences of God’s goodness. This story has been written down for us so we might know what God is really like. And of course, we too exist. We too were placed in a world full of beauty, in which things grow out of the ground that look beautiful, taste good, and supply our needs. We too have been given noble work to do and commanded to enjoy the good things God has made. When you realize all this, can you really avoid the conclusion that there is someone who loves you? True goodness? And yet, in our experience of it, it’s also mixed with a lot of evil and pain, which the Bible doesn’t gloss over. Where does that come from? It comes from the rebellion of one of things God made, in this story simply called the “serpent,” though later in the Bible we learn that he is also called Satan, or the Devil, and he is a liar.
The Devil is a liar
To bridge the gap to chapter 3, I’ll just mention that after the command, God also gives the man a helper suitable for Him in forming the woman. So now add to the list of good things God has given us companionship between humans, and then when we come to chapter 3, there are two humans, and the serpent goes first to the woman, and notice the first words he says to her: “Did God actually say?” The Devil’s first device is to attack God’s Word, to get us to doubt and question it. And notice what he suggests God said: Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’ It’s hard to imagine him distorting God’s Word much further. Remember God actually said, “You may eat of every tree of the garden,” but what is the Devil doing? He’s trying to accentuate God’s harshness, to paint Him as narrow, strict, overbearing, domineering. “God won’t let you enjoy any of this, will He?” In other words, “God’s not good, is He?” No mention of the gift of existence, the home, the beauty, the noble work, the command to enjoy, the companionship. No, in his case against God, the Devil has brought only one piece of evidence: The prohibition, and that he only brings when severely distorting it, twisting it into something it isn’t.
The woman recognizes this and responds that they may eat of any tree of the garden, but then we can even sense a bit of her drift. She adds in verse 3 to the prohibition to eat from the tree, the idea that they are not to even touch the tree. Perhaps she is trending in the serpent’s direction, beginning to think of God as strict and narrow. Nonetheless, she includes what the serpent left out, that the reason for the prohibition was because God was keeping them from certain death. And then the Devil’s lie comes out with all of its boldness: “You will not surely die.” What began as a mere suggestion has now blossomed into outright contradiction. God said, “In the day you eat of it you shall surely die.” The Devil says, “You will not surely die.” Ok, then why did God command them not to eat from the tree? Here’s the Devil’s suggestion, verse 5: “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
You see what He’s saying? God’s prohibition isn’t there to protect you from death; it’s there to protect God’s power and privilege. He doesn’t want your eyes to be opened, to be like Him. He’s trying to keep you down! So the Devil’s accusation is in: God is not good, His Word cannot be trusted, and the reason He’s prohibited you from eating of this one tree is because He’s trying to hold you back. Mind you he presents no real evidence. We have all the evidence of God’s goodness in chapter 2, but the accusation’s case rests on what? Basically just the fact that a prohibition did exist. God did say there was one tree from which they could not eat. And so Satan says, “God won’t let you be God!” And as with all of the Devil’s lies, there is an element of truth in it: God did impose a limit, God did issue a prohibition, and God did attach a penalty of death to it. But the lie of the Devil is that because He did, He must not be good.
And we are faced with the same lie today. Will you believe the Devil’s lie that because God has issued prohibitions, God must not be good? Because it is a fact that there are “You shall not” commands in the Bible, and sometimes they refer to things we want to do, things which would be pleasurable, just as this tree was. And the Devil wants you to believe that if you’ll just do what God forbids, it will be great. You will not surely die, and in fact, you’ll get to be as wise and powerful as God Himself. Don’t let Him tell you who you are and what you can and can’t do. You don’t “have to” live with Him over you.
But here’s the question we ought to stop and ask in response to such insinuations: Why would it be such a bad thing to live with Him over us? If He’s really good, if He uses His position over us to give us existence, a home, food, pleasure, beauty, noble work, companionship, and the command to enjoy it, why fight Him simply because He’s over us? Have you ever had a great boss at work? I’ve had a great boss at Citylight, Matt Cohen, pastor at our Manayunk Congregation, and I’ve realized at times I resist his leadership and disagree with him, for little reason other than he’s the boss and I’m not. But then I have these moments where I realize, “This guy actually cares about me. He actually wants to lead the Citylight congregations to make disciples of Jesus to the glory of God,” and it’s a blessing to follow him. God told the woman why He gave the prohibition: He didn’t want them to die! The fact is, we aren’t God, not because God isn’t “letting us” become God, but because we simply aren’t. There is only one God, He exists necessarily, and we all exist because He made us. He will always be Creator; we will always be creature. Our true joy and fulfillment will be found, then, not by trying to become God, but by living as the creatures He made us to be. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was ultimately a test of whether we’d believe this. Will we resist His Godness, or will we trust His goodness?
And though faced with all the evidence of God’s goodness and this one really thin and baseless accusation against God, Eve trusted and obeyed the voice of the serpent, and then her husband joined her. Ironic, right? They seem so free violating God’s prohibition, when all they’ve really done is exchanged the service of the creator for the service of one of His creatures. This is the world we’ve been born into. Rejecting God’s authority doesn’t mean living under no authority; it means living in service to something God made: a career, a relationship, the applause of people, a political ideology, a major news network, your professors, your family, your favorite podcast, and yes, ultimately, the Devil. In this cosmic battle, there is no neutrality, and we all, with Adam and Eve, have worshipped and served the creation rather than the Creator. The test has already been taken, and we’ve failed.
So let’s look at how the decision went for them. Was the Devil right, or was God? Did the Devil’s word prevail, or God’s?
God’s Word will prevail
The first result we see in verse 7? Their eyes were opened! The Devil was right, right? Again, half right. What they see is that they are naked, and now they make loincloths to cover themselves. Before their sin, chapter 2 tells us they were naked and not ashamed. Now their eyes are opened, they know good and evil by committing evil, and they are ashamed. Not only do they hide from one another, but verse 8 shows us they hid from God. After rejecting a proper fear of God, they are left afraid of God. Spiritually they did die that day; their communion with God was broken. Later in the chapter, God pronounces the sentence of the death, and sure enough, eventually their bodies died too, just as God said. The Devil dangled the bait, but hid the hook. And so now we are not only confronted with the evidence of God’s goodness around us, but we do experience shame, guilt, distance from God, loneliness, distance from one another, bodily suffering, and death, evidence of the curse we are now under for trusting and obeying the word of the Devil rather than God’s. And yet, God adds further evidence of His goodness, further evidence that the Devil was lying all along.
Look at verse 8 again. God appeared to the first humans in human form, and apparently walked regularly with them in the garden. He knows all things; He knows they’ve sinned against Him, and yet what does He do in verse 8? He shows up for the walk again. Only now His companions are hiding. Instead of snuffing them out and scolding them, God simply asks, “Where are you?” As commentator Derek Kidner puts it, “God’s first word to fallen man has all the marks of grace. It is a question, since to help him, He must draw rather than drive him out of hiding.” God still wants to help! Precisely because He is good, He must pronounce the curse He promised, and He does. His Word will prevail. But the curse begins not with the man, nor with the woman, but with the serpent.
In verses 14-15 God curses the serpent to the dust, and then in verse 15 says there will now be an ongoing enmity between the offspring of the serpent and the offspring of the woman. He’s unwilling to give humanity up to the Devil! He will have his offspring; there will be those who trust and obey the voice of the Devil. But there will also be some who war against him. To paraphrase Spurgeon, it’s an awful thought to have the Devil as an enemy, but it’s better than having him as a friend. And though the offspring of the Devil will wound the heel of the offspring of the woman, the offspring of the woman will bruise his head. The image is of a human stepping on the head of the serpent, sustaining injury from the serpent’s poison, but emerging victorious.
And there was only one offspring of the woman who ultimately carried out this curse upon the Devil, God Himself, come as the offspring born of the woman alone, a new man who came to succeed where the first man had failed. Jesus Christ was also tempted by the Devil, only the scene of His temptation was not a garden filled with trees good for food and delightful to the eyes. His was in the wilderness, where He’d been without food for 40 days, in a world already under the curse for our sins. The Devil tried the same basic tactics with Him, even quoting Scripture to Him to question God’s Word, only He did what Adam failed to do: Not only did He not trust and obey the voice of the Devil; He spoke God’s Word back to him, and expelled him from His presence, until on the cross, the offspring of the Devil, all of us, joined together to bruise him, and bruise him we did. Only as we were driving the nails into His hands, He was accomplishing His ultimate victory over the Devil. Even in that moment where His obedience cost Him His life, He trusted and obeyed God’s Word, and suffered death on our behalf, so that we might be forgiven of our sins and raised to new life with Him, the life He entered into when He rose from the dead three days later, victorious over the Devil finally and forever.
God’s Word did prevail. The Devil is now continuing to fight a battle he has already lost, and the Word of God will prevail again. So why continue trusting and obeying the voice of the Devil? You can’t be neutral, but you can turn. Turn and trust the offspring of the woman, Jesus Christ, and He will bring you back to God. Why keep fighting against a good God just because he’s God? With a God this good, we don’t need to be God. He’s given us every good thing, and ultimately, He’s given Himself for us. He who did not spare His own son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? There are plenty of people in the world claiming to have power over you, claiming to be for your good, who are just lying to you. The Devil is the head of them. But there is a God who claims to have power over you and to be for your good because He really is. Do you believe that’s possible? It’s true. Believe it.