The Beginning of It All
[Editor's note: the following is an excerpt from Ch. 1 of The Greatest Lie by Dr. Michael Youssef, available through Intermedia Publishing Group, Inc.]
What is the sum of two plus two?
Four, you say?
What if I told you that two plus two equals five? Would you still insist that the answer is four?
If I choose to believe two plus two equals five, who are you to tell me I‘m wrong? Some people might say that two plus two equals three. Others might say that two plus two equals a hundred or a thousand or a gazillion.
You may be thinking, Two plus two always equals four. It's not a matter of opinion. It's a matter of fact.
Well, you have your truth, but someone else may have a different truth. It‘s fine to say that two plus two equals four. That answer may be the right answer for you, but who‘s to say it‘s the right answer for everyone?
Don‘t all paths ultimately lead to the correct answer?
You aren‘t suggesting that some people‘s answers are actually wrong, are you? Don‘t you realize how intolerant and narrow-minded you sound?
The True Meaning of Tolerance
No one likes to be called intolerant. We prize our reputation for tolerance, just as we prize our reputation for being intelligent, honest, and so forth. We hate to have other people think that we are narrow-minded or bigoted in any way.
Some people may think it‘s intolerant and narrow-minded to say that two plus two never equals three, never equals five, but only equals four. But if you are not willing to accept the fact that two plus two always equals four, then you are going to be at a serious disadvantage in this world. You won‘t be able to correctly count your change at the grocery store, balance your checkbook, or fill out your tax return—and that‘s when you‘ll find out how intolerant the Internal Revenue Service can be.
We must always be tolerant of other people in terms of differing opinions, ethnicity, language, and so forth. We must always treat other people with respect and learn to get along with them. That kind of tolerance is an admirable quality, and we all need to practice it.
But sometimes people misuse the word "tolerance." For example, there have been times when I have said, "Jesus is the only way to God the Father," and people have said to me, "That‘s an intolerant statement. That‘s religious bigotry. You need to be tolerant of other people‘s beliefs."
Well, I am tolerant of other people‘s beliefs. I have never forced any Muslim or Buddhist or atheist, or person of no religion at all, to accept my beliefs. I am willing to listen to their views, and I don‘t hesitate to share mine in a polite and respectful way. But I will not say that Islam or Buddhism or atheism is as valid as faith in Jesus Christ, because He says otherwise. The belief that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life is central to God‘s truth. The greatest lie says, "No, Jesus is one of many ways that will take you to heaven."
You and I can disagree over our respective beliefs, and I promise I will still treat you cordially. I will not pretend to agree with you. While I have the evidence on my side, I will be respectful. As long as you are cordial and respectful, we will get along just fine in spite of our disagreements. That‘s what it means to be genuinely tolerant of one another.
In the Beginning
The real world is not very tolerant of mistaken beliefs. It is easier to believe the greatest lie than to examine the facts.
For example, you may choose to believe that one liquid is pretty much the same as another liquid. But if you fill your car‘s fuel tank with prune juice instead of gasoline, you‘ll soon discover that the engine is intolerant of prune juice. And if you fill your juice glass with gasoline and drink it down, you‘ll quickly discover that your body is intolerant of gasoline.
The world has always been this way, ever since the creation of the human race. In the beginning, God created the human race with a man and a woman named Adam and Eve. God placed the man and the woman in a garden which He prepared for them—the Garden of Eden (Gen. 1 & 2).
If you are a skeptic, you might say, "I don‘t believe the Bible. I don‘t believe the story of Adam and Eve." Well, I won‘t tell you what to believe. I will simply tell you what the historical evidence says, and you are free to draw your own conclusions.
As we go along, I think you will see how the opening chapters of Genesis explain the sufferings and sorrows that have tormented the human race through history, right up to the present day. In the Bible‘s first few pages, we find the source of our fear of death. We learn why we are plagued by a nagging sense of shame, guilt, and separation from God.
The Genesis story begins with the Creator bringing the universe into existence out of nothing. He placed a formless earth in an empty void and reshaped the planet, dividing the land from the water and the soil from the sky. Our heavenly Father brought forth a myriad of life-forms upon the earth. In the midst of it all, He created a beautiful garden called Eden. There He placed the first man and the first woman—Adam and Eve.
The Bible tells us that God created Adam and Eve to enjoy an intimate relationship with Him. The first humans experienced daily friendship and fellowship with their Creator. They had complete freedom to enjoy all the delights of the garden—except one. God placed a single prohibition on their freedom: "You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die" (Gen. 2:17).
But while God prohibited them from eating of that tree, He also gave them the gift of free will. Adam and Eve were free to obey God—and free to disobey.
At the end of Genesis 2, we find Adam and Eve living an idyllic existence in their garden paradise. But at the beginning of chapter three, Eve encounters the serpent—Satan disguised as one of the creatures in the garden. The serpent asks the woman, "Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?"
Eve replies, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'"
"You will not surely die," the serpent said. "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. 3:1-5).
In other words, Satan told Eve, "Surely, God could not have meant literally that you would die. He would never be so intolerant as to deny you the experience of tasting of that tree. God just told you that because He didn‘t want you to become as wise as He is."
What does that statement remind you of? To me, it sounds very much like the voices we hear today: "Surely, Jesus could not have meant He is the only way to God. He would never be so intolerant. Jesus only said that because He wanted many people to follow Him. He‘s a path to God, but surely there are many other paths which ultimately lead to God."
The serpent offered his false ‘wisdom," which is now the world‘s "wisdom." Seduced by the serpent‘s "wisdom," Eve took of the fruit, ate of it, and then gave it to Adam. After Adam and Eve tasted the fruit, they discovered that, just as God had warned, there were consequences for the sin of disobeying His commandment. They fell for the greatest lie—hook, line, and sinker.
Genesis 3:7-10 tells us, "Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?' He answered, ‘I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.'"
Adam and Eve enjoyed a trusting friendship with their Creator until they disobeyed His commandment. At that moment, their relationship with Him was broken. For the first time in their lives, they were afraid of God and ashamed in His presence. They covered themselves and hid from His sight.
Falling for the greatest lie leads to disobedience, and disobedience placed a barrier between humanity and God which exists to this day. You and I still live in the tragic aftermath of that wrongful choice.
The Key to Our Humanity
The Genesis story is the story of your origin and mine. It discloses not only what God has done in the past, but what He is doing in our lives today—and what He will do in the future. We can‘t understand where we are going unless we know where we have been.
That‘s why God gave us the first book of the Bible: Genesis. There, you and I learn we are the children of Adam and Eve. The shame, fear, depression, anxiety, and feeling of separation from God that they felt after their disobedience mirrors our feelings when we sin. So you and I can identify with Adam and Eve.
The shadow of sin placed an impassable chasm between our forbearers and their Creator. God exiled Adam and Eve from the garden—sending them out into the wide and hostile world beyond. They were forced to begin a new life in the harsh wilderness outside of paradise. They could see their lost garden home but could no longer live there.
Adam toiled in constant, back-breaking labor against weeds, thorns, and thistles in order to produce just enough food to keep himself and his family alive. His skin grew bronzed and weathered, and his flesh was scarred and seamed due to the thorns of the ground and the attacks of predatory animals.
Eve became pregnant and suffered pain in childbirth—another consequence of sin. The children born to Adam and Eve grew into sinful, rebellious adults. One of their children murdered the other, bringing incredible sorrow into their lives. The years passed—years of sorrow and regret. Adam and Eve grew old and eventually died.
The human race multiplied, and so did the human sin of believing the greatest lie. The gap between humanity and God grew wider and wider. Human beings increasingly rebelled against His laws and commandments. The descendents of Adam and Eve created a civilization opposed to God‘s rule.
Many people treat the story of Adam and Eve as a quaint fable—yet this story actually contains the key to our humanity. It explains why we are the way we are, both as individuals and as a human community. It reveals both our brilliance and our folly, the splendor of our achievements and the horrors of our crimes. Genesis was written thousands of years ago, and the story of the Garden of Eden has been told and retold countless times. Yet it is still relevant in this and every age.
The Promise of a Savior
The story of Adam and Eve tells us that we were created in the image of God, created for fellowship with Him, and created for greatness. But by falling for the greatest lie, Adam and Eve broke that fellowship and toppled our race from its unfallen position. That sin produced generation after generation of rebellion, selfishness, and suffering.
You and I were created for the Garden; but the sin of Adam exiled us to the wilderness. The disobedience of the first human beings produced in us a spiritual "genetic disorder." As a result, the sin nature of Adam and Eve has been inherited, generation after generation, by every child of the human race.
Just as sin separated Adam and Eve from their Creator, our sin separates us from God. That separation is the source of our lack of contentment, our feelings of guilt, our sense of meaninglessness, our anxiety and depression, and our fear of death. That chasm between us and God is the reason for the terrible emptiness so many people feel, even those who seemingly ―have it all‖—wealth, power, possessions, fame, and more.
There is only one way for us to overcome the meaninglessness of our existence: we must discover who God designed us to be. He designed us to live in close, continuous fellowship with Him in the Garden of Eden—but we are separated from Him by our sin, just as Adam and Eve were separated from Him by their sin of believing the greatest lie. That‘s why this ancient story is still so vitally relevant to our lives today. It is repeated a million times a day: "Jesus is not the only Savior."
Yet, God Himself has bridged the gap between us and Him. He has made it possible for us to return (in a spiritual sense) to the Garden. Many people are surprised to discover that God begins restoring that relationship in those same opening chapters of Genesis. Right there, in the Garden of Eden, God reveals to Adam and Eve that He has a plan of salvation for the human race, and that He is going to send a Savior.
We see this in Genesis 3:15, where God says to the serpent, "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel." The "offspring" of Eve, of course, is Jesus. In symbolic language, which Adam and Eve could not fully understand, God predicted the coming of Jesus Christ. Satan would strike at Him, tempting Him in the wilderness without success, opposing His ministry through the attacks of the religious leaders, and ultimately nailing Him to a cross. Thus Satan would strike His heel.
But Jesus would rise again on the third day after the crucifixion. The day Jesus walked forth from the tomb; He crushed the head of Satan and destroyed the power of death. Thus, God‘s prophecy in Genesis 3:15 was fulfilled in the New Testament.
The story of Adam and Eve is told at the beginning of the Bible for an important reason. This account enables us to make sense of who we are as human beings and to understand how we fit into God‘s plan for human history. The entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is a unified and systematic whole. Its books tower like a brilliantly designed, well-constructed skyscraper—and the entire edifice rests upon the foundation of the story of Adam and Eve.
The Scriptures show us what God did in the past so that we can understand what He is doing in our lives today and what He is going to do in the future. The story of the human race has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It‘s a story "written" in time and space in the actual events of history. Through this story, the Author of these events makes Himself personally known to us. The better we know Him, the better we understand ourselves.
Between the Beginning and End
The beginning of humanity‘s story mirrors the end of our story in Revelation. In Genesis, human beings live in an indescribably beautiful garden—experiencing perfect fellowship and communion with their Creator. In Revelation, resurrected human beings live in a beautiful garden city that comes down from heaven, and they experience the perfect fellowship with God that He intended from the beginning. The loss of innocence in the Garden of Eden is mirrored by the restoration of innocence at the end of time.
The opening chapters of Genesis depict the first wedding—the union between Adam and Eve. Genesis chapter two tells us that God made a woman from a rib taken out of the man, and God brought her to Adam. And Adam said, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,' for she was taken out of man." And Genesis adds, "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh" (vv. 23-24).
In a striking parallel, the book of Revelation presents another marriage ceremony. It is the wedding of the Bridegroom (the Lord Jesus Christ) and His bride (believers from every century, every ethnic group, and every nation who refused to believe the greatest lie and accepted God‘s greatest gift). The writer of Revelation describes a voice like rushing waters and the sound of thunder saying, "Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready." Then, he said that an angel told him, "Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!'"(Rev. 19:7, 9).
The parallels between the first and last books of the Bible continue: in Genesis, the Creator gives human beings authority over His creation. In Revelation, God‘s people are given authority to reign over creation with Jesus. Genesis begins with humanity‘s creation in a place of peace and joy. Revelation ends with redeemed humanity entering into a place of even greater peace and eternal joy. Heaven is described throughout the Old and New Testaments. The prophet Isaiah writes, "‘The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent‘s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,' says the Lord" (Isa. 65:25).
Clearly, something happens between Genesis and Revelation, between the beginning and the end of the human story. Something mysterious takes place to make that mirror-perfect ending possible. The problem of sin is solved. All our guilt, restlessness, fear, depression, self-hate, and despair, which are symptoms of our spiritual "genetic disorder," are healed. The human condition is transformed.
What takes place between Genesis and Revelation to bring about such a transformation in our eternal destiny?
The answer lies ahead.
*This Article First Published 12/22/2010