Why Things Are Bad and Why They Stay That Way
Having heard much of creation and the early moments of the life of mankind the catechism is now going to transition from the big picture to the ordinary providence of God in the history of humanity. As we noted in our stroll through the shorter catechism last year the divines are interested in moving us through the story of Christianity by taking the building block approach to education. They are very much of the school that says you need to learn to crawl before you can walk, and walk before you can run. We have a lot of questions about the why’s of life and the how’s and the when’s, but the beauty of the way the Westminster men designed each of the standards of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church is that they are not interested in learning us at the end of a firehose. You eat a whole cow with small bites. If then this is an appropriate and helpful way to understand the simplicity of the Reformed faith founded on what the Bible has to say about reality. We know the existence of sin because it is all around us, and in us. The inquiry we have now is how did that come to be the norm since God did not make the world a fallen place? Well, let’s let the Q/A’s for today explain what happened:
Q. 21. Did man continue in that estate wherein God at first created him?
A. Our first parents being left to the freedom of their own will, through the temptation of Satan, transgressed the commandment of God in eating the forbidden fruit; and thereby fell from the estate of innocency wherein they were created.
Q. 22. Did all mankind fall in that first transgression?
A. The covenant being made with Adam as a public person, not for himself only, but for his posterity, all mankind descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell with him in that first transgression.
Q. 23. Into what estate did the fall bring mankind?
A. The fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery
A criticism of Presbyterian theology that is often lodged by Arminians (the intellectual descendants of Jacob Arminius, not the good folks from the southern Caucasus mountains) is that our idea of how the Lord works and how man operates basically says that human beings are robots and have no ability to make their own decisions. In other words if man has no free will to choose Jesus as their savior is it really a loving act? Like most things that kind of perception of what we believe is not an accurate portrayal of the situation. Look at the opening question above. It says that Adam and Eve were left to the freedom of their own will. What did they freely choose to do? They, through the temptation of Satan, made the conscience decision to ignore the word of the Lord and heed the advice of the serpent by eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Having lost their “innocency” before God what happened to their ability to make choices? Nothing has changed regarding a person’s volition to pick one item over another. What has fundamentally taken place is the content of what they desire, what is the source of that decision making. When presented a choice between listening to the prophet Jeremiah and ignoring the Babylonians outside the gate what does Zedekiah do? He ignores the man God sent to proclaim the truth and heads out to Egypt for help. It’s not that the king of Judah was a dummy (well, I mean he was) it was the fact his heart of stone knew nothing else but to listen to his broken, dead mush brain and do the opposite of what he should have done. Besides it’s not like he had no agency in the matter. He freely decided that Pharaoh was a better bet than Jehovah despite all the evidence to the contrary. The next question is why was he so foolhardy?
Whereas before the Fall Adam had the craving to do that which is good and the same capacity to want that which is bad now because he has done what he has done all Adam, and his children, care to do is sin. They love to transgress the law of God. It is their purpose in life. That’s all they want to do. When you understand that men can’t but love what they are programmed to love it makes more sense why they do the wicked things that they do. The only reason things aren’t worse is by the mercy of God. He’s placed in His benevolent kindness a governor on the heart of man that does not allow him to be as bad as he wants to be. However, there are times when the Lord releases, or retools the switch and opens up the throttle a bit, to man’s own destruction. See Romans 1 for more information on the why’s and the how’s of that.
I’ve said before in these lessons that I do not wish to leave a person reading this in despair. The history and identity of our denomination is built on the free offer of the gospel. Even in the deep darkness of sin there is the light of God shining through. As we discuss the misery of mankind brought about by Adam (not Eve) we need to remember the plan of God in salvation. In a sense we do not need too much reminded about the effects of the breaking of the Covenant of Works. It’s one of those Christian doctrines whose proof needs no proof. Open a window, turn on a TV, and there it be. Yet, we’ve already heard in Larger Catechism Question #7 that our God is gracious, that He is abounding in goodness. He did not make us to suffer unrighteously nor to remain in that fallen estate. Even if we didn’t have the rest of the WLC we’d have hope even while reading these sad and humbling Q/A’s, for even when Jehovah was castigating Adam and pronouncing curses on both Eve and her husband He gave them a promise of redemption, of a Son to be born of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent and bring peace to the world where the First Man had brought death.
Here’s a word to close on:
Blessings in Christ,
Rev. Benjamin Glaser
Pastor, Bethany ARP Church