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The Heart of the StoryGod's masterful design to restore his people
By Randy Frazee
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2011 Randy Frazee
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhat's the Big Idea?
in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. GENESIS 1:1
Imagine the Creator of the universe "out there" somewhere. Compared to the earth that he created, "out there" is so vast as to be immeasurable. For example, the earth is one of the smallest of the eight planets that make up a huge galaxy. But "out there" is bigger than a galaxy. In 1996, astronomers focused the powerful Hubble Space Telescope on a small and utterly black patch of space right next to the Big Dipper constellation. They left the shutter open for ten days.
What did it reveal? Three thousand more galaxies, each containing hundreds of billions of stars, planets, moons, comets, and asteroids. In 2004, scientists did it again. This time they focused the scope on a patch of darkness next to the constellation Orion. They left the lens open for eleven days and discovered ten thousand more galaxies in addition to the previous three thousand that had appeared the first time. Scientists call this the Ultra Deep Field, and it represents the farthest humankind has ever seen into the universe. But even more is "out there," beyond our ability to see.
It turns out there are over one hundred billion galaxies in the universe.
It wasn't always this way. In the beginning God came to a place that was formless, empty, and dark. The Bible tells us "the Spirit of God was hovering" over this place before he went to work creating a space where he could enjoy fellowship with you and me.
Think about this for a moment. If our solar system was reduced in size by a factor of a billion, the earth would be the size of a grape. The moon would be slightly larger than a basketball. The sun would be the height of a man. Jupiter would be the size of a grapefruit; Saturn, an orange. Uranus and Neptune would be the size of a lemon. Can you guess how big humans would be? The size of a single atom! We would be completely invisible to the human eye.
Yet to God, we are the crowning masterpiece of his creativity.
The story of the Bible opens with a big bang, but this big bang is not an accident. God is behind or, better, above it all. The Godhead —Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—challenged each other to the mother of all science fair projects. Creation is the result.
Genesis, the first book in the story of God's interactions with and plan for mankind, provides us with an amazing starting point. The first two chapters of this book—familiar to most of us—describe how God created the heavens and the earth, and all that is contained within them. But creation is only the subplot of this book.
The real point of Genesis is so amazing it's almost unbelievable: God wants to be with us. The God of the universe has created a place to come down and be with a community of people. He no longer wanted only to enjoy the perfect community he had as the Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit). He wanted to share it with us. The Ultimate Author of this grand story was not content to be all by himself anymore.
"In the beginning" God came up with a plan to perfectly connect his Upper Story with our Lower Story. He literally desired to bring heaven down to earth—first to create a paradise and then men and women in his own image, and then to come down and do life with us. Perfectly. Just as he had experienced perfect oneness as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The first chapter of Genesis is like a page out of the Trinity Construction work log, except it reads more like poetry. The sequence and pattern are simple, but almost too overwhelming to take in. On days one, two, and three, God paints the places of the earth on the canvas. Then on days four, five, and six, he puts objects in each place to fill this space. Here is how the week breaks down:
Days 1 through 3 Days 4 through 6
1—Light/darkness 4—Sun, moon, stars (verses 3–5) (verses 14–18) 2—Water and sky 5—Fish and birds (verses 6–8) (verses 20–23) 3—Land (verses 9–13) 6—Animals (verses 24–25)
With the end of each day of creation, God steps back, takes a look, and records in his journal, "This is good." But while the creation of the heavens and the earth and the other one hundred billion galaxies is impressive, it is not the point of the story. Mount Everest. The Grand Canyon. The stark beauty of the Sahara, the cascading elegance of Victoria Falls. Combine these and thousands of other jewels of his creative powers, and you're not even close to identifying the core passion of God. Those are just the display cases to highlight his real work of art.
The pride and joy of God's handiwork, the point of it all, is revealed in Genesis 1.
Then God said, "Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
The perfect and beautiful world God created was incomplete without his crowning achievement—people he could enjoy and love and with whom he could communicate. Adam and Eve, you and me, and everyone in between. He had a passion to expand the wonderful community experienced by the triune God. He longed to create the perfect environment where he could hang out with real people, and we know he was proud of this final creative act, because this time he stepped back and declared, "This is very good."
With this final creative act, God's plan was in place. In his Upper Story, he experienced a perfect community. He could have continued to enjoy this total oneness forever, but he wanted to share it. He desired to bring this community to a place where it could be enjoyed by others. So the Lower Story begins with God's grand idea to set the stage and create men and women in his image and then come down and do life with us.
This is the prologue to the entire history of God and mankind. Everything begins with God. The universe, the galaxies, our little planet, men and women—all were God's idea. His vision was to spend eternity in a perfect community enjoying the fellowship of people he created in his own image. He chose to bring you and me into the world for his pleasure, and to this day he yearns to be with you. To walk beside you and experience all of life with you, in both the deepest valleys and the highest mountains.
Of course, the big question is: Why? Why would God step outside of his perfect Upper Story and come down into our Lower Story?
If you are a parent, you get it.
At some point in your relationship with your spouse, you wanted to share your life with another human being—one whom you would create together. In preparation for that new little human to arrive on earth, you did your best to create a perfect environment — perhaps a special room, a sturdy crib, comfy blankets, a fuzzy teddy bear, and bright pictures on the wall. With each passing month, you grew more excited, knowing that in just a short time, you would be joined by someone so special that you would do anything to protect and nurture this new arrival. Mostly, you just wanted to be with that person. Finally it was time. A tiny bundle wrapped in a soft blanket entered your life, and the joy you felt when you first looked into her face was indescribable.
So it is with God, looking into the eyes of Adam and Eve and saying, "This is very good." And it was good—not just the creation of human life, but his plan for it. Just as parents dream of a bright future for their children, God envisioned not just a good life for us, but a perfect one. It was almost as if God were saying, "This is going to be great. A beautiful garden. An abundance of food. No disease. No sadness. Even the lions and the lambs get along. And best of all, people to hang out with as they enjoy the pleasures of this world that I have made for them."
Like Adam and Eve's first chapter, your story begins with God looking into your face and saying, "This is good—this is really good." Like any proud parent, he wants the absolute best for you. You desire the same thing for yourself, but life doesn't always work the way you want it to. God intended for you to never suffer, but if you haven't yet, you will. He wants you to experience perfect harmony with your neighbors, but you hardly know them. He wants you to live forever in the garden he made for you, but you will one day die—and besides, you don't always feel as if you're living in a garden. God dreamed a perfect life for you, but some days you feel as if you're living in a nightmare.
So what happened?
In the midst of this perfect environment that God had created, something shifted. Keep in mind just how amazingly beautiful this place, Eden (Hebrew, meaning "delight"), actually was. Many scholars believe that the location of this garden was a fertile area where the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers meet in modern-day Iraq. The Garden of Eden was a stunning acreage. Picture a lush, verdant botanical garden. Truly a perfect environment, created as a place where God could be with Adam and Eve, a perfect home where every need was met, a paradise to be shared with God forever.
When God gave Adam and Eve a perfect home in the garden, he also gave them something else: freedom. Rather than force them into a relationship with him, he gave them the freedom to choose whether they wanted to be with him or go it alone. To provide a way for them to accept or reject his divine vision, God set two trees in the middle of the garden. One was the tree of life, which bore fruit that when eaten would sustain life forever. The other was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Even before God created Eve, he told Adam, "You can eat of any tree in the garden for food, but not this tree." God told him that if he ate the fruit of that tree, he would die. What Adam didn't understand was that with his death, the plan God had envisioned for life together with him in the garden would die too because their choice would determine mankind's fate from that point on.
We are not told how much time passed between this conversation and Adam and Eve's eventual choice, but we do know that they chose to disobey God's specific command. According to Scripture, a serpent—a creature we later learn represented Satan, the very force of evil—appeared before Eve and told her that if she and Adam ate from the forbidden tree, they would be like God. This made good sense to them, so they ignored God and ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
The tree lived up to its name. Evil was deposited alongside truth in the DNA of Adam and Eve—and in the DNA of every human being who came after them. At the core of this evil, which is called sin throughout the Bible, is selfishness. Good looks out for others; evil looks out for self. Selfishness is the root of hatred, jealousy, violence, anger, lust, and greed. Adam and Eve are covered in it.
From that time on, the grand vision of God to dwell with us sat in ruins. Because of Adam and Eve's role as the first humans, their disobedience became an inheritance for the rest of us. Authentic love and community require both parties to choose each other, but from the beginning, mankind chose to reject God. Self-preservation became more important than anything else, and we see this played out immediately after this infamous incident.
Knowing they had done something wrong, Adam and Eve went into hiding, but God sought them out and asked if they had eaten the forbidden fruit. Instead of taking responsibility for his actions, Adam blames Eve. Eve, instead of taking responsibility for her actions, blames the snake. This brief scene depicts the nowbroken community of God and mankind. Instead of walking with God in the garden, they are hiding. They do not want to be with him because they know the difference between good and bad and recognize themselves as bad. They are filled with shame, guilt, and insecurity. The relationship that God had envisioned is now broken, and God is forced to complete this chapter by banning them from the garden.
And the Lord God said, "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever." So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.
Now why would God do this? Why would a loving God curse all of mankind to a life where we have to work hard as we live for seventy years or so, experience disease and disappointment, and then die? How could he let a simple act of disobedience ruin the perfect relationship he desired to have with us? From our Lower Story perspective, this appears to be cruel and unusual punishment. Everybody makes mistakes, right? So these first two humans ate from the wrong tree. Aren't you overreacting, God?
Not at all. The garden—this perfect environment for doing life together with their God—had been corrupted by their rebelliousness. Prior to their disobedience, the garden was a place of joy and innocence. For a brief time it became a place of fear and hiding. To restore the garden to perfection, Adam and Eve had to leave. Selfishness has no place in a perfect community.
Their expulsion from the garden was more than fair punishment for their disobedience; it was a continuation of God's perfect plan to continue to be able to live in communion with the people he created. The garden would remain pure, and God would adjust his plan slightly to give you and me the possibility of living there with him forever. God is as passionate as ever in wanting to live with us and is willing to meet us outside of the garden and walk with us through every experience of life.
After they left the garden, Adam and Eve began their family, only to witness the pain of brother killing brother. The sin nature birthed in Adam and Eve had been transmitted to their offspring. In fact, as the population on earth grew, it became clear that when given a choice, men and women choose evil over good. According to the Bible, God saw that mankind had become so wicked that "every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time." Theologians call this the doctrine of depravity—a doctrine suggesting that human beings inherently will choose evil over good —that we are unable to "be good" all the time on our own, leaving us unfit for God's community.
Here is the most mind-boggling thought contained in the pages of the Bible: even in our state of blatant selfishness, God wants us back! Plan A is obvious. Start over with the best guy the human race to offer. His name? Noah. It is one of the few times in the Bible that the most likely candidate is chosen. A tsunami from the sky falls for forty days and forty nights. Noah and his family, along with two of every kind of animal, board the massive ark on dry land in faith and are saved. Not many days after the waters recede, Noah's son disgraces him by looking at his dad in the tent after Noah passed out from drinking too much. Maybe you do, or don't, consider this a federal offense. One thing we know for sure is that the problem has not been resolved. Plan A fails. Even though Noah is a "good" man, he and his children are carriers of the sin virus. The solution to restoring mankind to the kind of relationship it had with God in the garden will not be found in us.
You would think that this would be the end of the story— that God would finally give up on us—but he didn't. He couldn't. Remember, we are his crowning achievement, created in his own image and crowned with honor and glory. Regardless of what Adam and Eve and Noah did—regardless of anything we have done—God still wants to be with us. God's Upper Story has not changed. He still wants to do life with us in a perfect, loving community of unified fellowship. From this point in the story until the final chapter of the Bible, we see God's single passion unfolding, one story at a time. He wants to give you and me an opportunity to return to the garden, where we will live with him forever, and he will do whatever it takes to get us back. If the flood was not the way to begin again, then there must be another way.
A whole new chapter.
Excerpted from The Heart of the Story by Randy Frazee Copyright © 2011 by Randy Frazee. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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