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Catholic Apologetics

Chapter 3 -- Man's Never Ending Sin


You think we would learn after all these millenia, but man keeps making the same mistakes generation after generation.

God gives us commandments, rules to live by. We begin in good faith, but struggle nonetheless. It is our nature to do what WE want, not what anyone else wants (including God). We find ourselves singing the song Frank Sinatra made famous, with the punch line--"I did it my way". We don't understand why God does things the way He does, and rather than trust Him and accept His will, we rationalize until we convince ourselves that to do it our way is "right".

God then lets us suffer the consequences of our choices. Sometimes we learn, sometimes we don't. When we don't learn, we sink deeper and deeper into our misunderstanding of what is "right" until there is no hope of finding our way back. Then God intervenes, punishes us as a learning experience, and the cycle starts all over again.

The pattern is thus:

  1. God makes His will known to us.
  2. We do not want to do it His way.
  3. We proceed based on our will.
  4. We are disciplined until we obey God's will.

It began with Adam and Eve.

Gen 2:16-17 - And the Lord God commanded the man, "You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die."

Seems easy enough. Eat all you want of everything else, just not the fruit of this one tree. This was a no-brainer.

This was step 1 of the pattern. It is not always this obvious. Most times, God uses a prophet to convey the message, but since Adam and Eve were the only people, sending an intervening prophet was not going to happen.

Gen 3:6 - So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.

This was steps 2 and 3 wrapped up into one verse.

God gave them a simple command. Adam and Eve had only to trust Him and do as he commanded, and they would continue their heavenly relationship with Him. Note what Scripture shows was their response. They saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable. Ignoring God's command and relying solely on their own reasoning, they convinced themselves there was no harm in eating the fruit.

This is the essence of the nature of sin. We know what is right. We nonetheless challenge what is right. We use our limited human understanding to rationalize until we convince ourselves God didn't mean what we thought after all. Surely there is nothing wrong with eating the fruit of that one tree? It looked good. It probably smelled good. It no doubt tasted good. Maybe we misunderstood God; maybe He meant we couldn't eat it on that one day, but today it is OK; maybe He meant a different tree--after all this fruit is good. Why would God deny us something that is good? Isn't God good? Wouldn't He want us to have what is good? Unless God is hiding something from us.

Do you see how the human intellect works? We go from one position to the next using human logic. Just like our first parents. They wanted to do it their way. God knew better. He had His reasons for the command not to eat of it. In their limited understanding, our first parents did not know God's reason, so they reasoned for themselves.

Therein lies the problem. They needed to trust God and not reason for themselves.

They saw the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eyes and desirable for gaining wisdom. They thought about it and concluded it was best for them to follow their own feelings. In their heart of hearts, they knew they were right, and all arguments to the contrary were baseless (except the argument that God said so). It made perfect sense. They simply misunderstood Him from the start, because their feelings said to do it. So they did.

We call this pride. Pride is at the heart of all sin. We decide for ourselves what is right and wrong, and rationalize away whatever God made plain.

It's easy for us to look back on the situation with disdain for our first parents actions, knowing we would not have made that same mistake. Every generation since then said the same thing, and yet mankind kept making the same choice over and over again--not to trust God's simple commands and instead do what feels right. Each time they rationalized their positions; they saw no earthly reason to restrict their actions in the way God prescribed. And every time they had to learn the hard way that God has a reason for everything He does; we just need to trust Him.

Adam's progeny turned wicked, trusting themselves and their feelings, until God corrected them in Noah's day.

Gen 6:5-8 - The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, "I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created-people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them." But Noah found favor in the sight of the Lord.

The flood came and wiped out the wicked. These wicked men didn't trust God; perhaps they, too, failed to understand God's reasons for what He commanded. They followed their own feelings instead. They made the same mistake Adam and Eve did, until they reached a certain point and God took action.

But at least mankind now has intimate knowledge of man's sin and God's corrective action, and would emphasize this fact forever more. Man would never again make that same mistake. What could be more obvious than a flood that destroyed all but a few of mankind? The time of man's disobeying God has come to an end, right? Of course not. How is it they so easily strayed from God's commandments? As you all know, it didn't take long for men to become wicked yet again.

Gen 11:1, 4-9 - Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. ... Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth." The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. And the Lord said, "Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another's speech." So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.

Men again ignored God's commands, and trusted their feelings. They put their faith in things of the earth. Men built the Tower of Babel in an effort to make a name for themselves. They were headed in the wrong direction again. God saw where it would lead them and put a stop to it.

Abraham Mistrusted God

God called Abram from Haran to go to a land He would lead him, and in a showing of great faith, Abram obeyed God. But Abram's faith was young, and it was tested many times until it matured. Each time, he learned to trust God more and himself less.

So, when God told Abram He would make him a great nation, Abram had doubts. In Genesis Chapter 15, God had to show him in many ways that he would have a son, still Abram didn't fully trust God because his feelings told him otherwise, and he trusted his feelings. Abram took things into his own hands by taking Hagar, the Egyptian servant, and she bore him a son. God had to explain Ishmael was not the son God had in mind, and Ishmael would not be Abram's heir.

God changed his name to Abraham and Isaac finally came thirteen years after Ishmael was born. Abraham had to learn the hard way, but he finally trusted God. God's final test of that trust was to command Abraham to sacrifice Isaac on the altar. Abraham knew Isaac was to father the great nation God promised Abraham, and trusting God, Abraham intended to carry out God's wishes to the point of striking a fatal blow with the knife on the altar. God sent an angel to stop him.

Gen 22:9-12 - When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." He said, "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me."

Abraham's faith had fully matured. His feelings did not get in the way of obeying God's commands.

Knowing what we know now, we might have approached Abram's plights in a different way. If God told you today you would not die until you reached your 100th birthday, you could go about life with the quiet confidence you would not die for many years. If a robber pulled a gun on you, bad things could happen to you, but you would not be killed--God said so. Abram had to learn to trust God little by little, but we don't have to. We have only to trust God now, not our feelings, and obey Him.

Israelites Wandering in the Desert

Let's fast-forward to the wandering in the desert. Abraham's son Isaac had a son Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel) and Israel's decendants were slaves in Egypt. God sent Moses to bring them out of Egypt and into the promised land of Canaan. The Israelites saw with their own eyes the ten plagues God brought upon the Egyptians because of the obstinacy of Pharoh. One miracle after another happened until Pharoh relented, which was itself a miracle. After over 400 years of servitude, Pharoh was now just going to let them go.

Wow! What I would give to go back in time and witness that for myself--actually seeing God's miracles performed. It would certainly extinguish any lingering doubt in my mind, and my faith would improve by leaps and bounds. And the parting of the Red Sea--God really let it all out on that one. Those lucky Israelites, they got to see for themselves that God would care for them. They didn't have to have their faith matured little by little like their forefather Abraham; they got the full dose in one fell swoop.

So, why is it when Pharoh was bearing down on them at the Red Sea, they didn't trust God? Even after they crossed the Red Sea, they thought Pharoh would cross just as they did and come after them; they didn't trust that God would take care of the situation. Why is it, three days later at Marah, they grumbled because God didn't give them water? God's response was:

Exodus 15:26 - He said, "If you will listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God, and do what is right in his sight, and give heed to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will not bring upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians; for I am the Lord who heals you."

God was merely repeating what he said to Adam and Noah and Abraham and Isaac and Israel. Do what is right in God's eyes, heed His commandments. Yet, the Israelites continually relied on their feelings.

They grumbled in the Desert of Sin where God gave them quail and manna.

They grumbled at Rephidim where God gave them water from a rock.

At the base of Mount Sinai, God repeated what we all know:

Exodus 19:2-5, 10-11 - They had journeyed from Rephidim, entered the wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness; Israel camped there in front of the mountain. Then Moses went up to God; the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, "Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine ... the Lord said to Moses: "Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes and prepare for the third day, because on the third day the Lord will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people."

God put on quite a show--peals of thunder, lightning, heavy cloud over the mountain, just as God said He would do. The people could see for themselves what God was doing. So why is it when God then called Moses up the mountain, the people lost faith? They let their feelings govern again. They built the golden calf and began to worship it only days after seeing all that God did. And when the idolators were cut by the sword of the Levites, the remnants still didn't get the message.

They grumbled in the desert of Paran until God started a fire around the outskirts of the camp and Moses had to pray to stop it.

They moaned and groaned until Moses could take it no more and God set up 70 elders to help Moses lead.

Miriam and Aaron, Moses sister and brother, were jealous of Moses' position and challenged Moses. They reasoned they could be God's prophets, even better than Moses. They doubted Moses as God's choice. They let their feelings get in the way. God dealt sternly with their mistrust of His choice of prophet. The point here is that even if Miriam and Aaron were right in that they could serve better than Moses, that was not relevant. God had His reasons for picking Moses; that is all that is relevant.

Moses sent scouts to reconnoiter the promised land. All twelve returned with reports of giants living in the land. Caleb and Joshua were the only two who recommended obeying God and taking the land. The other ten scouts convinced the people not to trust God and to go with their feelings of fear and dread. Because of this, God made them wander in the desert another 40 years.

Korah, Dathan and Abiram challenged Moses just as Miriam and Aaron did. Apparently they didn't get the message either, and let their feelings got in the way. They and their households were swallowed up in an earthquake and by fire.

The Israelites grumbled again at Kadesh until Moses struck the rock to produce water.

They grumbled again after leaving Mount Hor until God sent poisonous snakes on them.

It seems odd, doesn't it, that God's people never seem to learn. They keep letting their rationalized feelings get in the way of trusting God. He made it clear--do what He wants, even if you feel it is right doing something else. Your narrow vision of earthly goods blinds you of God's vision of the heavenly goods.

In Jesus' Time

This pattern continues for thousands of years until the time of Jesus. Reference Nehemiah 9:6-37 for a similar summary in the Bible itself. Prophets came and went, people mistrusted them, God dealt with each successive generation of stiff-necked peoples, and the people never learned to set aside their feelings and trust God. No matter how many prophets God sent, the people would always doubt the prophet. They never felt the prophet was truly from God, just like Miriam and Aaron doubted Moses. People like to choose their own prophets--ones who will tell them what they want to hear, not prophets God sends to tell them what God wants them to hear.

Jesus was the antithesis of Adam. Wherein Adam (and all of mankind after him) chose to do it his own way, Jesus chose to do it God's way.

Matt 26:39 - And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want."

Jesus did not want to endure the Passion, but He was determined to follow the will of His Father regardless. He is the perfect example of how we should be. Even if we don't want to do it God's way, we should remember Jesus' words "not as I will, but as you will". This is especially true if we don't understand why God is doing it the way He is.

We are told to pick up our crosses daily and follow Him. Thus, even if we don't understand God's will, even if we don't want to do it God's way, we should still trust Him and obey. That's what it means to pick up your cross.

Parting Comment

Do you follow God's will now? What God makes plain, do you follow, or do you rationalize that surely He didn't mean what it appears to mean; surely what He says not to do is really OK to do? Here is a simple test, a simple and plain commandment given by Jesus in Scripture, all we have to do is trust Him and obey:

Matt 19:9 - "And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery."

This seems pretty plain. There is no doubt what Jesus is saying. Are you ready to trust Him and obey? Or are you already rationalizing it doesn't mean what it says? That's what Adam did. Are you like Adam?

Here is another test. Jesus came to put an end to the old covenant and usher in a new and everlasting covenant. He picked those who became known as the apostles and endowed them with power and authority. He said to Peter:

Matt 16:18-19 - "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

He later said the rest of the apostles:

Matt 18:18 - "Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

Even if you are not familiar with the customs and idioms of the day, even if you don't understand the full significance of giving the keys, what Jesus says here is pretty clear. Are you ready to trust Him and obey? Or are you already rationalizing He did't mean what He said? That's what Adam did. Are you like Adam?

Jesus gave Peter the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. He told all the apostles whatever they bind on earth will be bound in heaven. This is real power and authority, moreso than any previous prophet received. We saw what happened to those who opposed the authority of the prophets of old. God warns any who would challenge the authority of His chosen apostles:

Luke 10:16 - "Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me."

Peter, and the apostles with him, were God's prophets of the day. And just like all the prophets before them, they were not believed. It was hard to convince the people of God's will.

Don't ignore God in this. God is telling you plainly whom He is sending to represent Him on Earth. He sent the apostles. He said you must listen to them. They sent others to represent them, and the apostles said you must listen to these others also. Those others sent more whom you must listen to, and so on to this day. If you refuse to listen to God in this, then you are just like the Israelites throughout history; you doubt God's representatives at your own peril.

God is giving us a command, just like He gave a command to Adam and Eve, just like He gave commands to mankind in Noah's day, just like He gave commands to Abraham, just like He gave commands to the Israelites, just like He gave to His people throughout all history--trust God, obey His commands, do not rely on your own feelings. Don't pick your own prophets--listen to whom God sends.

God set up Peter and the other apostles as the head of the Church. You may not understand God's reasons in granting Peter the authority Jesus gave him, and you may not like it, just as Miriam and Aaron didn't like Moses being chosen, but that is what God did, and that is the way He wants it. All we have to do is obey.

Don't trust your own feelings. We have seen how time and time again that got God's people in trouble over the years, and continues to do so. We just don't seem to learn from past mistakes. We keep committing the same sins over and over again. Don't be one of those. Obey God now and accept what He has established for you. Think of God in a heavenly sense, not in an eartly sense that encourages rationalization. You might not fully understand it all, but trust that God does understand, and He has your best interest at heart.

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