When my niece was born she was exposed to an illness that quickly became life threatening. She had only been alive three days when she had to fight for her life. The doctors knew exactly what medicine she needed to stop the infection and she was healthy in two weeks. But it was a scary time. She had not done anything wrong, but she was born into a broken world.
In 2014, a tornado hit Vilonia, Arkansas, destroying much of the town. Many were killed during the tornado, homes were destroyed, and lives changed. It’s just one of a number of natural disasters we face—hurricanes, tornados, flooding—where we’re not sure who to blame.
In 2002, Elizabeth Smart was asleep in her room when she was kidnapped by a man who, with his wife, held her as a captive for nine months. She endured horrific abuse before being recognized while out in public and saved from her tormentors.
These stories aren’t intended to dishearten anyone, but show the reality of the fallen world around us. Sickness, natural disasters, and personal evil fill our news cycles and remind us that the world is broken.
We should be careful saying “the world is broken” and leaving it at that. The truth is that it’s broken because we broke it, and are still breaking it in big and small ways. Humans have rebelled against the God in whose image they were created. And the original sin of Adam and Eve has had repercussions for thousands of years, from Genesis 3 to today. No one is exempt from its effects. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
While this is one part in the story, and we will soon turn to God’s solution to the Fall, it’s important not to read over this dark chapter too quickly. We live in a world full of sin, pain, and suffering, and we need a way of understanding why the world is the way it is. We also have to recognize why we are the way we are.
“Most people have their own code of morality that they try to live up to. … We always fall short of the law, and therefore the law reveals the power of sin, our own helplessness, and the need for someone to liberate us from our miserable state. … By realizing this, we can appreciate the good news of Jesus Christ all the more.”
—Doug Moo, Romans: NIV Application Commentary (232)
Pastor Chuck Swindoll reflects on a story from his childhood in his book The Grace Awakening. After long days on his teenage paper route, he began taking a shortcut home through his neighbor’s yard—a well-manicured lawn. He gradually created a noticeable path. He writes:
By the end of the third week, a small but obvious sign appeared next to the sidewalk, blocking the path I made. It read: “Keep Off the Grass – No Bikes.” Everything but my name was on the sign! I confess, I ignored the sign and rode right over the path, glancing at the sign as I rode by…it held a strange fascination. It somehow prodded me further into wrong. …
The Law came and in bold letters etched by the finger of God it read, “This is holiness! Honor my name by keeping my Law!” But the fact is, nobody could keep it, which explains the statement in Romans 5:20 that says, “sin increased.”
Paul is careful in Romans 7 not to blame the law, but says sin “seized the opportunity” (vv. 7-8). Our brokenness creates patterns that undeniably trap us. And in this context, the law can’t ultimately help us. We often get discouraged by the weight of our sinfulness or the sadness of constant bad news. This can certainly be depressing, but it can also help us to see we need a greater mercy. Our identity is not merely who we are on our best behavior. This dark chapter of the story allows us to understand ourselves better, and our need for a savior.
While much of this session will consider the “bad news,” we know that hope is around the corner, as Swindoll continues:
The answer is found in the same verse: “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” Isn’t that great! Grace overshadowed sin; it outranked it and thereby brought hope. (The Grace Awakening, 25-26)
This summer and fall, we are posting sections of our Life Group studies on Identity and Witness (full studies available in links). In the fall of 2019, our Life Groups will focus on the theme of Wisdom.