Just around the corner from our house is a playground with a forest backdrop. Whether I am just driving past or walking along the edge of the wood, the trees are ready to greet me with their summer best. This time of year, though, also reveals the dead trees and branches that weren’t as obvious in the winter months. Bare branches like stretched out arms reach upwards, and overgrown shrubs crowd the edge of the woods. Weeds create a carpet at my feet and countless junk trees vie for the same soil as the aged evergreens. I I walk or drive by a landscape and can’t help but notice the decay and atrophy both hidden and downright apparent in nature. To be sure, my eyes are ready and wanting to soak in the beauty of the flowering trees and colorful flowers, but the stark bareness of a towering tree in the middle of summer not only strikes me but also reminds of the deeper reality nature reflects – things are just not right.
My urge to hop out of the car and weed a flower bed or to trim the countless dead tree branches I encounter on my walk may seem rather trivial, but this uncanny awareness constantly reveals a much bigger picture to me. Since the entrance of sin in the Garden of Eden, this perfect and pure world that God created has been marred with evil. We all notice that things are not what they should be – in creation, in our world, in our lives. We don’t have to look far before we cry out – this is broken, this is unjust, this is wrong!
In Genesis 3, we read how this cosmic decline began. Adam and Eve were commanded by the Lord to not eat the fruit of one tree – the tree of knowledge of good and evil. It is that very tree that the enemy invites Eve to partake of. He convinces her no consequences will come from her choice. But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen. 3:4-5) Both Adam and Eve believe the enemy’s lie and eat the forbidden fruit. As the scene unfolds, we find that their disobedience impacts not just their spiritual condition – that sinful reach plunges creation into decline. God says to Adam, Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. (Gen. 3:17-18)
The disobedience of Adam and Eve, the fall of mankind, carries cosmic weight. The decline and atrophy we behold all around us is not a “quick fix” problem. The death our sin introduced cannot be reversed by us. I have no power in myself to correct the cosmic problems in our world. This reality hits me as I walk through the woods – I don’t have the ability to restore creation to its original splendor. As I face painful circumstances or when I hear devastating news from friends or family, I am reminded, I don’t have the power to eradicate suffering. I want to fix the problem, repair the issue, make sense of the loss. With broken pieces in my hands, I can quickly become overwhelmed and feel out of control.
How am I supposed to hold this all together?
I recently finished reading, None Like Him, a book by Jen Wilkin that unpacks several attributes of God — “10 ways God is different from us (and why that’s a good thing)” her tagline aptly expresses. Throughout the book, Jen writes with a grounded joy and firm confidence that honestly startled me as I began the first chapter. Her words and the truths of Scripture weren’t immediately comforting. My pride flared as I read that God is self-existent, self-sufficient, eternal, immutable, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, sovereign, infinite, and incomprehensible. And I am not. I am none of those things, and dear reader, neither are you. With wounded pride, I moved further into the text. Is there really hope for my limited humanity? That’s when I came to Genesis 3, the account of Adam and Eve’s fall into sin. I began to see myself right there in the Garden with them. How tempting it must have been to pull the fruit off the branch! You will be like God, the serpent had promised. What a tantalizing prospect; what a gift to be divine!
As we read earlier, the delicious fruit did not transform Adam and Eve into divine beings. On the contrary, spiritual death, separation from God, now gripped their souls. Their desire to be like God proved fatal. Jen’s summary of the matter is piercing.
So it has been ever since: human beings created to bear the image of God instead aspire to become like God. Designed to reflect his glory, we choose instead to rival it. We do so by reaching for those attributes that are true only of God, those suited only to a limitless being. Rather than worship and trust in the omniscience of God, we desire to be all-knowing ourselves. Rather than celebrate and revere his omnipotence, we seek ultimate power in our own spheres of influence. Rather than rest in the immutability of God, we point to our own calcified sin patterns and declare ourselves unchanging and unchangeable. Like our father Adam and our mother Eve, we long for that which is intended only for God, rejecting our God-given limits and craving the limitlessness we foolishly believe we are capable of wielding and entitled to possess.
There is no room for pride as the truth begins to settle. My limited humanity was forever designed to glorify and exalt the One who made me. Here is the wild mystery, friends – our deepest contentment, our greatest joy comes when we rest in the truth that God is God and we are not. How counterintuitive that is! What a blow that is to our pride, but it is the stunning truth. It is the truth that frees us to rest in Jesus Christ – the One who holds all power and authority, who created and sustains all things, and who is making all things new — for His glory. He is the One who is holding all things together. May we join Paul in proclaiming:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. (Col. 1:15-19)
None Like Him by Jen Wilkin is this month’s book recommendation! As I expressed in the post, Jen leads her reader through 10 attributes that belong to God alone. More than “whittling us down to size,” Jen draws from the authority and truth of Scripture so that we may revere and worship our Triune God and find true joy in who He is and experience the freedom of depending wholly upon Him.
Each chapter closes with verses and questions to reflect upon and answer. I found this element of personal application to be helpful in slowing me down and pushing me to be honest with myself and the Lord.
(From the back cover)
Our limitations are by design. We were never meant to be God. But at the root of every sin is our rebellious desire to possess attributes that belong to God alone. Calling us to embrace our limits as a means of glorifying God’s limitless power, Jen Wilkin invites us to celebrate the freedom that comes when we rest in letting God be God.
Note: None Like Him is a personal book recommendation. I will resume my blogger book reviews with Moody Publishers next month!