It's all about heeding God's word.


For the week of October 18, 2014 / 24 Tishri 5775
Torah: Bereshit/Genesis 1:1 - 6:8
Haftarah: Isaiah 42:5 - 43:11

Overcoming Evil

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God actually say, 'You shall not eat of any tree in the garden'?" (Bereshit/Genesis 3:1)

Overcoming evil

The first several chapters of the Torah are essential in our understanding of the world. It's in the first three chapters of the very first book that we learn that we are all born into a good world gone bad. We are not born into a neutral world where random meaningless things just happen (let's make the best of it). We are not born into an absolutely good world, where negativity is nothing but a state of mind (don't worry; be happy). Nor do we live in an absolutely corrupt world where no vestiges of its original goodness remain. The world God created was created good, but then evil came into the human experience and has affected all of life. Yet it has not completely eradicated the essential goodness of creation. Therefore we are living in a world of tension. Every aspect of the creation shouts its divine origin, while at the same time it is tainted by evil.

It is instructive to see how evil first came into the world. Not only will that help us have a better understanding of life in general, it equips us to effectively resist evil, confront it, and overcome it.

First, evil simply appears on the scene. While scholars and teachers like to delve into the Scriptures and other sources to determine a more thorough explanation of evil's origins, the Bible introduces it without much commentary or background. The tempting serpent is just there. It's not as if we'll be more immune to evil's power by understanding its origin. Why we are tempted is not as important as the fact of being tempted.

Second, evil was only able to get a foothold because our first parents didn't listen to God. God had clearly given Adam and Eve all they needed to live life within the sphere of the good creation. They were told what to do and what not to do. They were tasked with being the overseers of the planet, being placed over all the other aspects of creation. They were to work the ground and have lots of children. God gifted them with abundant food through the fruit of the trees in the Garden of Eden. He also gave them one prohibition. They were not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And yet, the one thing they were not to do, they did.

We could discuss what was so bad about eating the forbidden fruit. The effect of doing so may help us determine that: self-awareness, shame, fear, alienation from God, and alienation from each other as evident through their blame shifting. But it seems to me that this story is given to us to help us not so much to understand the nature of evil, but rather how to avoid making the same mistake.

When God created human beings he designed us to live according to his word. While authorized as stewards over Planet Earth, we were not to figure things out on our own. Instead we were to remain attentive to God's voice, getting our orders solely from heaven. The world in which we lived, while created good, was not to be the source of our direction and goals. God alone was to be our Guide and Master, so that through us, his will would be done on earth.

By doubting God's word and heeding the voice of another, the plans of God were undermined and human beings were no longer in line with his purposes. And ever since then, this scene has been replayed billions of times, as people have been given the opportunity to obey God's voice, but just like Adam and Even most of the time we have allowed ourselves to be lured away by evil's deception.

It is not surprising then that a key aspect of Israel's preparation for entering the Promised Land was learning to depend on God's word:

And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Devarim/Deuteronomy 8:3)

No one knew this better than the Messiah, who, in contrast to Adam and Eve's failure, didn't succumb to the Evil One's devices, but stayed true to God's word by quoting this and other Torah passages.

As this week we again begin reading through the Torah another year, let us be reminded to pay careful attention to all that God says to us. For herein is our defense against every onslaught of evil and our guidance in all that is good.

Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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