You’ve heard the tale. In the beginning there was nothing. At some point, for some unknown reason—in fact, for no reason whatsoever—that nothing exploded with unimaginable force. Over the course of billions of years, the debris from that cataclysmic event formed the first subatomic particles, which combined to form the first atoms, which combined to form the stars and galaxies and everything else we see in the physical universe.
Some 4.6 billion years ago, gas collapsed to form our sun. Objects trapped in the newly formed sun’s gravity stretched out for billions of miles, and on one lucky rock, rock number three to be exact, something truly spectacular happened. After the molten surface cooled and allowed for liquid water to form on the surface, after just the right combination of inanimate building blocks just happened to be found floating in the same region of the first primordial ocean, and after said building blocks just happened to assemble themselves with no help or intervention and for no reason whatsoever—behold, the first known lifeform in the universe brought itself into being. An amazing, purposeless accident.
Life sprinted forward on the feet of death.
That first organism found itself in an uphill battle to say the least, but it was fit. It was so fit that during its lifetime it devised a way to reproduce. All by itself. Armed with a companion, the two didn’t see fit to stop. Untold generations later, individual descendants of that first lifeform began forming co-ops called multicellular organisms. Such organisms were an instant success, and soon all the cool cells were banding together to form such lifeforms. And they got bigger. The baddest among them began sporting teeth and poison, and as such, they were able to kill off the weaker co-ops, which of course was their right since it was eat or get eaten. There was no hope for those not fit. The universe’s dependence on random chance had neatly precluded such a fanciful idea at the very get go. Life sprinted forward on the feet of death.
Then the oceans began to feel a little crowded. A call from just beyond the great liquid horizon began to reach the newly formed ears of the fittest of the fittest. Dry land. Uncharted territory. The next frontier. Some brave organisms responded to the call and crawled out of the primordial soup.
Of course, such talk of a “call” and of “bravery” are completely out of place here. The reality is that some of them that had already just happened to develop the ability to breath oxygen out of water just happened to wash up on shore and just happened not to get washed back out to sea. They weren’t called. They weren’t brave. Better to just call it what it really was: another completely meaningless event.
As well as these lifeforms had done in the water, they went crazy on dry land—well, some of them—but there wasn’t room for all of them, of course. With every new jump forward, competition soon followed. New, better survival methods were needed. Freakish though randomly advantageous mutations like tougher skin, keener eyesight, better hearing, and bigger brains allowed for new ways to make sure those early lifeforms were the ones doing the eating instead of being the ones getting eaten. Life flourished. But it flourished while trampling the weak and unworthy underfoot. Good thing no one was watching. Good thing no one was keeping score.
Millions more years passed. Life continued to feed on a steady diet of death. Things like hope, meaning, and justice remained a fantasy of the weak.
Then, as happenstance would have it, a certain group of tree swingers accidentally developed brains big enough to form more complex social structures and even use primitive tools. Once a group of them with especially large frontal lobes found out they could walk on two legs instead of all fours, an entirely new species was born, a species truly unique, truly marvelous, a species destined to dominate because of its ability to take fitness to a whole new level.
Good thing no one was watching. Good thing no one was keeping score.
Soon subsequent upgrades of these hairless bipeds were banding together to form tribes and kingdoms and far flung empires. Naturally they followed the multi-billion-year example set for them by their ancestors. They got good—really, really good—at killing any and all threats. Foot soldiers replaced their bows with muskets. They upgraded their horses to tanks. Muskets gave rise to assault riffles and missile launchers. They devised ways to drop nuclear bombs out of winged contraptions called bombers. They had to. It was eat or be eaten. It was kill or be killed. Such instincts had been ingrained into the very fabric of their DNA over billions of years and as a result of trillions of minute, meaningless mutations. They were simply being consistent with the modus operandi of life since day one. Any desire for justice, any longing for hope, and any belief in meaning continued to be mere pipedreams on the part of the weak and whiny. Good thing no one was watching. Good thing no one was keeping score.
And it was into this world that you were born, a dark, sinister world ruled by random chance and death, two cruel, impersonal slave masters that together determine our collective and individual fates.
At some point—perhaps precisely because of the darkness, the gore, the demand for blood, the absoluteness of death—lies began to creep into the ever-evolving human psyche. Some people may argue that such lies were and are necessary for the preservation of our species. Lies they remain nonetheless.
What lies? Lies like hope and justice and love and meaning and purpose, to name a few. Hope may be helpful in a person’s day-to-day survival—just ask someone struggling with depression—but if we’re honest with ourselves, such a thing is a ridiculous fantasy. We should know better. It’s 2018 after all. We’ve seen so much at these altitudes. We’ve traced our ancestry all the way back to the very beginning, and we can now see that the belief in any type of transcendent hope is delusional at best and dangerous at worst.
Oh, sure, justice may be helpful today at maintaining some sense of societal status quo, but it’s an absolutely arbitrary construct of highly refined animals. Justice certainly wasn’t there for the first of our common ancestors to be mercilessly eaten. In fact, it was precisely that death that ensured your life. You should be thankful. And you probably shouldn’t get your nighty in quite so tight a knot when your absolutely baseless sense of justice is violated. The fact is, justice in any meaningful sense doesn’t exist.
Love is just a chemical reaction in humans’ brains that’s proven helpful at getting people to reproduce. Don’t think for a second it’s something that exists beyond your hormones. Meaning and purpose? They’re illusions that may keep a fighter fighting, but they’re not real. Your random assortment of atoms are no more special than those found in a rock, a pile of horse manure, or shards of a broken Coke bottle. To believe otherwise is to live in a self-made delusion, recklessly naive of your family tree—roots, trunk, branches, and all.
Everything within you bears witness to a very different story.
You don’t want this story to be true. If it’s true, Hitler was keeping perfect pitch as he sang the universe’s song: Eat or be eaten. And who’s to judge him? You? How can your sense of right and wrong be superior to his? Would you dare claim some higher moral standard? There’s no such thing. He was stronger and fitter and merely did what stronger and fitter organisms have always done. Survival depends on such acts. It always has. You spit on the graves of your ancestors to think anything differently. If this story is true. If.
I’m willing to bet that if you’re honest with yourself, everything within you bears witness to a very different story. You believe in hope and justice and love and meaning and purpose. You think hope is more than some illusion best left to children and the mentally infirm. You think compassion on the weak is a sign of greatness and that justice can and should rightly be handed out equally for all and that there has to be something more to life than not getting eaten. You think love is something greater and bigger than the firing of neurotransmitters and a faster beating heart, something big enough and important enough to lay down one’s very life for. And you know something, something that has been engraved on the heart of every last man, woman, and child. Your life does have purpose. You’re one of billions, yes, but that doesn’t make your life less significant; it only points to the greatness of a Creator who can hand fashion so many unique originals and plot the courses of their lives down to the last freckle and hair follicle.
Deep down, you want a story that can explain the darkness without extinguishing the light. You want a story that tells you why you know what’s right and why you still fail to live up to your own standards. You want an ending in which the bad guy gets what’s coming to him and the good guys ride off into a beautiful sunset, theme song playing in the background. You want a story that champions justice and that’s built on an unshakable foundation of purpose and meaning. You want a story that can offer hope to a person like you, the hope that there really are good reasons to believe in a better tomorrow and a brighter future.
Do you know such a story? I do. It goes like this.
In the beginning there was God, and he was very happy, for though God was one, he was not alone. The single divine essence consisted of three persons, Father, Son, and Spirit, in infinite, perfect, joyful relationship. He was the definition of goodness. Realities like hope and justice and love and meaning and purpose abounded as they flowed through the relational bonds of this single, three-in-one God.
Then, in an incredible act of love, will, intention, and purpose, God decided to create a universe. So, without so much as standing up or reaching for a hammer, God spoke. And when he did, his infinite Son, also called the Word of God, brought into being every last atom in all of existence. Not one to rush, God spread out the ordering of the universe over six days. At his word light burst forth from the darkness, and from it he fashioned day and night. He spoke and formed earth’s atmosphere, the oceans, and dry land. At his next omnipotent decree all plant life burst forth across the damp earth, and he specifically formed each one not only to live for a day but to reproduce generation after generation. Next he lit the sun ablaze a short 93 million miles away from earth and set a moon in earth’s orbit. He knew humans would need markers for times and seasons. And as if an afterthought, he created some billion trillion stars, all coalescing into being across the expanse of the universe, and he named each one because he’s that observant to detail. He spoke again, and in an instant the oceans beneath were found teaming with life, and the skies above were filled with flocks of birds. Again, his Word brought into existence every last land animal from flea to elephant. And he commanded all his works of creation to fill the earth, each one with the ability to produce more of its unique kind.
And God saw that everything he had made was good. Of course it was. That’s the kind of work a good artist does.
Then, God reached his omnipotent hand down and plunged it straight into earth’s damp dirt. He decided to form one last living being differently than all the other living things he’d made before. This one would be fashioned in his own image. This one was to be to God what a painting of Martin Luther King, Jr., is to Martin Luther King, Jr.: very much not the person but a testament and image bearer of him. After breathing into this being the breath of life, the first human being opened his eyes, and mankind was born.
Just as God himself is one yet not alone, so, too, God desired such a close relationship for the first man. With careful purpose, then, God caused the man to fall asleep and took a rib from his side. From the rib he fashioned the first woman. Finally, there was someone crafted in purpose and love specifically for the man. God brought them together, and they became a new single unit called husband and wife.
Fear of rejection was as unthinkable as death.
God designed humanity to live in perfect harmony with God, with the environment around them, and with each other. As such, the first man and woman were naked before one another, but they felt no shame since neither of them had anything to feel ashamed about. They were exactly how their good Creator had fashioned them. There was nothing to hide. Fear of rejection was as unthinkable as death.
God gave the first man and woman specific instructions as to what their role was to be in relation to the newly crafted universe in which they found themselves. They were to rule over it with justice and goodness, just as he ruled over them. He made them stewards and caretakers over his household, so to speak. They were to fill the earth with descendants and in so doing scatter new image bearers of the living God to all corners of existence. He also gave them a stern command. They could eat of any tree except one, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. On the day they ate from that tree, God told them they would die.
As it happened, the devil entered a snake and came to the woman. As the devil does so well, he twisted God’s words and promised her special knowledge previously only known to God if she went ahead and reached out her hand and took a bite of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In short, she’d be like God, and that sounded pretty good to her. The fruit was so good looking. What harm could there be? So she ate. And in full knowledge of what they were doing, her husband joined her.
Like a tree branch suddenly lopped off from its trunk, mankind found itself cut off and separated from their source of life.
There are some moments that divide entire epochs of time, moments after which everything is different, never again to be the same. This was one of those moments. Like a tree branch suddenly lopped off from its trunk, mankind found itself cut off and separated from their source of life, from their only hope. They were dead and drying up.
Suddenly, a completely new feeling flooded through the hearts of the first man and woman. For the first time, they felt ashamed, and we all know what shame makes us want to do: hide. And that’s exactly what the they did. They sewed leaves together to cover their shame and went and hid from their Maker. The perfect harmony that had existed between the first man and woman, between the two of them and all the rest of creation, and between them and God was broken.
But the Maker sought his creations out, like a father seeking out his children. And surprisingly, he didn’t destroy them. Nevertheless, the consequences were devastating. Man would now struggle and strain with an uncooperative earth to feed his family, and in the end he’d return to the very dust from which God had formed him. Woman would now experience pain and suffering in childbirth, and the perfect relationship she was meant to have with her husband would forever be out of whack from what God had intended. And there, amid it all, came an amazing promise: The offspring of the woman and the children of the devil would forever experience hostility, yet one day a descendant of the woman would deliver the decisive blow to the devil and all his lies.
Then God did something truly amazing. He slaughtered an animal and in so doing shed the blood of an innocent creature on account of the wrongdoing of another. It was no happenstance that made him do this. This was no fluke. There would one day come another innocent one who would, in like measure, shed his blood for the wrongdoing of another—in fact, for the wrongdoing of many others.
The fallout from this story is still raining down on us today. Just like cats have kittens and dogs have puppies, sinners have baby sinners. We’re born with the same stain that marred our first parents. We start our first moment of existence distant and alienated from our good Creator. From day one, the perfect relationships that we’re supposed to enjoy with God, with one another, and with the world around us are little more than shards of glass on a cracked and crumbling slab of concrete. Why don’t you do all those good things you know you should do, and why do you keep right on doing all those bad things you’d give your right arm to stop doing? Why do some races think it their place to walk over what they consider to be lesser races? Why do you wilt in loneliness and isolation despite all the people around you? Why do the stray bullets of drive by shooters kill innocent children? Why are you consumed with such guilt and shame, just like our first parents, and why do those feelings make you want to hide from everyone, including from God and from yourself? Why do those who have much think it right for them to take from those who don’t? Why is the all of creation groaning under so much pain? Why do kings and rulers and presidents and legislatures codify evil and oppress the very ones they’ve been entrusted to defend?
Yet, at the same time, you feel something else, don’t you? There’s a whole whirlwind of emotions spinning just beneath the surface. You feel such desperation yet know hope is not irrational. You have hurt so many people yet still believe in justice and long for it. You haven’t experienced the kind of true, unconditional love that your heart wants more than your lungs want oxygen, yet you still search for it. You feel like life is meaningless and purposeless as you watch it spin wildly out of control, yet you still think—and hope against all hope—that just maybe, even this is not merely some fluke or random hiccup of the universe, that just maybe this, too, will serve some greater good and that you will one day taste that good.
You see, someone has been watching. Someone has been keeping score.
I’d like to suggest a reason for why you feel all those things. You feel all those things because they’re real. Hope, justice, love, meaning, purpose, and a thousand other intangible good things in this universe have been knit into the very fabric of your being. They’re not illusions or wishful thinking. And behind them all is a good, joyful God who, just like he sought out the first man and woman after their blunder of a go at it, is seeking you out, too. He’s seeking to make things right. All things. Forever. And he’ll get the job done. He’s promised. You see, someone has been watching. Someone has been keeping score.
This is the story you want to be true. And if you would give me the honor of being the one to tell you, this is the story that is true. And there’s proof.
The proof came to this earth 2,000 years ago when the Word of God—the same Word through whom God created the universe and all that’s in it—was born into humanity, the Son of God become the Son of Man. One of the men who followed him said it this way: “[W]e have come to know and believe the love that God has for us” (1 John 4:6). How? How can you be so sure that God exists and that the look that forms on his face when he looks at you is tenderness and not fierce wrath? “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9). And another first century writer said this: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
If you could grasp the very simple truths summed up in those ancient lines, your life just might be changed forever. We can know that God exists and that he’s good and loving because just like he took an animal and shed its blood to cover the shame of the first man and woman, so, too, he sent his Son, the man Jesus Christ, to shed his blood and in so doing cover the evil of those whose deeds isolated them from their Maker in the first place. Once for all time, the innocent Son of God died in the place of his fellow brothers and sisters that he might carry them back to God and restore all that was broken the day our first parents ate that fruit.
This is the story you want to be true.
And while the final, decisive act has been done, we still await the day on which we’ll finally experience all that sacrifice has accomplished for us. On that day, the broken relationship between God and mankind, the broken relationships among people, and the broken relationship between mankind and all creation will be made right, and in such a state, you’ll finally experience the very reasons for which you were created. Every ounce of shame will dry up. God will wipe away your every last tear. Justice will finally reign. The slaughterers will be slaughtered. Evil will be cut off forever. You will never be alone again. You’ll be justified once and for all for your incessant hoping against all hope that a better tomorrow was possible. And you will know the love that you were created to know. If you’re willing to accept it. If.
This is the story you want to be true. Your every last longing, hope, and desire for meaning confirm it’s true. And here’s the best part: The same Jesus who died to buy the story’s ending stands with arms wide open ready to welcome in anyone who comes. He’ll cover anyone who asks him. All you’ve got to do is ask. He hasn’t turned a single person away yet. Not even you. Believe me. He let me in. So come. Find yourself right in the middle of the greatest story ever told. I’ll be waiting for you on that final day.