Summary: Humanity has failed to live up to God’s standards but Jesus provides the way by which we can be saved
If you were to read the first few chapters of Genesis and then stop, you could very easily get depressed couldn’t you? The picture is a very bleak one. Adam and Eve have totally blown it. They had everything. Their home was literally a paradise. They were in direct communication with God. Yet, despite God’s warning they chose to disobey him, to risk the finality of death that he’d warned them of. And dying, they truly did die. We saw last time that that death involved the breakdown of their relationship with God, of their relationship with one another and of their relationship with the world of nature. They were banished from the garden, perhaps for their own protection as much as for the sake of punishment, so they wouldn’t eat of the tree of life and live with their guilt and loss forever and were left to fend for themselves.
But then as you read on it gets worse. Adam and Eve have two sons, Cain and Abel, but like so many siblings there’s strong rivalry between them. And it isn’t long before it gets out of hand. The trigger event is, in fact, an act of religious devotion. They go to present their offerings to the Lord and Abel’s offering is accepted, but Cain’s is not. Cain then directs his anger, not at God, but at his brother Abel. In a case of premeditated revenge, Cain takes his brother out to a field and murders him in cold-blood. Well, the story continues with Cain’s descendant Lamech taking up where Cain left off, avenging himself out of all proportion to the injury he’s received. And so the saga of human history begins!
So we’re left with this fairly depressing picture of the future of humanity aren’t we? Adam and Eve have rejected God’s rightful rule over them, their son is a murderer and their descendant, Lamech is a vengeful tyrant, the first of many to come.
Then if we skip over to the letter to the Romans, as we did today, we discover why things went bad so fast. Here the picture looks just as bad as it does in Gen 4. The reality of human existence is that none of us is capable of obeying God’s law for more than a few moments at a time. Even the Jews who’ve been given God’s law in fine detail to help them obey it, are incapable of doing so.
So if anyone thinks they’re OK they need to think again. Look at vs 10&11: "As it is written: ’10There is no one who is righteous, not even one; 11there is no one who has understanding, there is no one who seeks God.’" Well there are many who claim to be seeking God, but the god they’re seeking is too often a god of their own imagining, a god who suits them. Too often he’s a god who fits the picture they’ve built up of what God should be like. Too often he’s a god who’ll look the other way when they decide to do their own thing rather than follow him. Certainly there seems to be little understanding in our world of what God is really like, apart from among those whose hearts God has changed through the work of his Holy Spirit.
And as we read through the description of human behaviour in vs 11-18, we might think, "well, not everyone is like that. Only the worst people in our world exhibit all those faults." But if we think of this as a broad brush picture of the world as we know it, it fits, doesn’t it? This is the kind of world we find portrayed on the news every night. A world where peace is hard to find, on a broad scale at least; where people kill and hate; where they curse one another, where they speak deadly words, deceitful words; where ruin and misery are just around the corner for so many. And the reason that our world is like this is there in v11: "there is no one who has understanding, there is no one who seeks God." In fact most people are seeking anything but God, the true and living God that is. Even those who are seeking him are probably looking anywhere but where he says he can be found.
It’s interesting isn’t it, that there’s actually a great desire on the part of a number of people today to know God. Reg Piper last week mentioned that he has the largest Buddhist Temple in the southern hemisphere, just down the road from his pro-cathedral. And of course that’s not the only one around. There are several in Melbourne of various sizes. But the interesting thing is that the reason these centres are thriving isn’t just because of the influx of Asian migrants to Australia. European background Australians are taking up Buddhism at a great rate. Why? Because it has the appearance of godliness. The apparent peace-loving nature of the religion is very attractive to people. They like the idea that you can shut out the distractions of the world around you through meditation and thus get in touch with the transcendent God. The idea that we might affect whether evil triumphs in the world is an empowering thought for many. If you’re familiar with the Star Wars series you’ll probably know that the main idea there comes out of a Buddhist concept of the battle between good and evil, first within ourselves and then within the world. And people respond to that possibility.