"Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the wild animals that the LORD God had made” (Genesis 3:1).
Everything was good. Very good, in fact. All creation existed in perfect harmony, and at the center of everything was the crown jewel of creation. The man and the woman lived in perfect fellowship with God, walking without guilt, shame, or any other hindrance with Him. And into this harmony slithered the cunning serpent armed with what must have seemed like a very innocent question and just a few short sentences that followed it:
“Did God really say, ‘You can’t eat from any tree in the garden’?”
The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit from the trees in the garden. But about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, God said, ‘You must not eat it or touch it, or you will die.’”
“No! You will not die,” the serpent said to the woman. “In fact, God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:1-4).
Behind the simplicity was a cunning undertone. Behind this simple exchange which set off a cosmos-rocking event, the fork-tongued liar was leveling charges against the character and nature of God. What came off like a question was really an accusation. Behind these few sentences, we can isolate at least three lies about who God is, and they are lies that we are, in fact, still believing today:
Lie #1: God is not generous.
“God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God…” said the serpent. This is an accusation about the generosity of God. The serpent sparked doubt in the heart of the humans that caused them to wonder if maybe, just maybe, God was holding back something from them. And if He was, then maybe He was holding back the very best. Never mind that there were hundreds, or even thousands, of other trees to eat from; nevermind that only one was forbidden; and never mind that the one was forbidden not because God isn’t generous and loving but instead precisely because He is.
We still believe this lie. We believe it when each and every time we believe God is holding out on us – that there is some additional blessing He is keeping to Himself. When we fail to recognize that, in the gospel, we have all the spiritual blessings in the heavenlies. Our constant craving for more and more and more betrays the fact that we, like our ancestors, are in the habit of calling the generosity of God into question.
Lie #2: God is not trustworthy.
“Did God really say…” said the serpent. This is an accusation about the trustworthiness of God. With these few words, the serpent called into question God’s very Word – the same Word by which the universe was flung into existence and the same Word that He has kept from and for all eternity. This question is an imperative for all who seek to follow the Lord, for if God is not trustworthy, then our hope is in vain.
Like the first lie, we have the tendency to be so driven by our circumstances that we are likely to question whether God will actually keep His Word. We read His promises, we hear them taught, and maybe we even hide them in our hearts, but we meet with discouragement and our feelings begin to be in opposition with our faith. When that happens, we still hear that sinister voice in the background: “Did God really say…”
Lie #3: God will not judge.
“No! You will not die…” said the serpent. This is an accusation about the justice of God. The serpent sought to minimize the implications of this single decision because, after all, it was just one tree with one piece of fruit. How can it really be that big of a deal? Surely it was not an offense worthy of death.
But God is the Judge and He is a just Judge. Because He is, the penalty of death fits the severity of the offense. Ultimately, this sin was not about the fruit or the tree as much as it was about the disobedience in and of itself – the fact that God is absolutely holy and humanity has chosen to disregard that holiness in favor of the misguided notion that we are the better rulers of our own lives.
Our day is saturated with this promise. It’s seen with the levity with which we treat sin and our slowness to repent. But it’s also seen in our lack of wonder at grace and our casual and overly intellectual treatment of eternal punishment. Still, somewhere in our hearts, we might just believe that it’s not like we’re going to die or anything. Because, after all, it’s just a piece of fruit.
Oh, but God has not left us wondering about His character. He has not, even for sinners like us, left us without the validation of who He is and what He is like. When we are tempted to question the generosity, the trustworthiness, or the judgment of God, we need only to look again to the cross. That’s where we see a Father so generous He would give His own Son for our sake. And that’s where we see a God so faithful that provided a sacrifice for generations of past, present, and future believers just as He promised. The cross is where we see a God so committed to upholding justice that He was willing to deal punishment befitting the gravity of sin on His own Son.
The cross is the truth that counters the lies.