Summary: What went wrong at the beginning of time? What does death mean?
"Let`s start at the very beginning. That`s a very good place to start", sang Julie Andrews in the "Sound of Music". And that`s what we`re going to do today. We`re going to start at the very beginning when God looks at the world that He has made, and says joyfully, "That`s very good".
"VERY GOOD" - in those simple words we see the power, the awesomeness, but above all the BEAUTY AND THE BALANCE of God`s Creation. Travel along the top road from Shaftesbury to Blandford and look down Fontmell Valley and you`ll catch a glimpse of it. From time to time I stop there to look and think and wonder. It wasn`t possible to do that in my mining village Parish near Wigan, with its slag heaps and the air filled with metallic smoke from factory chimneys. In Dorset you could say that we see the land as God created it - in Wigan the mess that man had made of it.
Yes, God did create everything "Very Good", but something happened to make a mess of it. The picture the Bible paints is devastating. "Fornication, theft, adultery, greed, malice, fraud, indecency, envy, slander, arrogance, murder, war" - a disease has touched out human nature.
I once met a man who was afraid. In his 40`s, a thinking man at the height of his powers, his world was shattered when the doctors diagnosed cancer. "For a long time I would not entertain the possibility. I`d been so fit" he said. "Oh, I`d had my share of accidents and illnesses, but my body always recovered quickly......... I dismissed the pain when it first started. It`ll go away.......... but it didn`t. This thing is inside me, eating away at me, and they tell me its too late to do anything about it". His body had been invaded by a destructive disease - his natural healing process overwhelmed.
We were made to be "Very Good", to be in balance, healing at the centre of our systems - but we have been invaded by a destructive disease which eats at the heart of our human nature to destroy it. The natural question to ask is: "How could God allow it?" How could He create a world like this, with such potential for goodness, but with such potential for evil built in?
Well, Jill and I love our children deeply. When they were tiny we gave them rules to protect them. If we had a fire in the sitting room we would put a fire guard round it and say, "Don`t go near the fire. It can hurt". But if they had ignored us, and touched the fire, who would have been at fault when they were burnt? Jill and I? Maybe it was the fire`s fault - fire is good when it warms us - but when it is abused it destroys. That`s the nature of fire.
So, at the beginning of time, God, loving His children passionately, said to them, "You may eat the fruit of any tree in the garden, except the tree that gives knowledge of what is good and what is evil. You must NOT eat that fruit - if you do you will DIE". But they had no idea what He was talking about.
I can understand that - for instance, if I said to you, "Don`t touch the fire, because if you do you`ll `SCHPLINK`", your natural reaction would be to say, "What`s he talking about - `SCHPLINK`? Never heard the word before. What does it mean?". So you put your hand in the fire, and that very good warm fire begins to eat your hand away, and you look at what`s happened to your hand, and you say: "So THAT`S what SCHPLINK means!"
Well, that`s what happened to God`s first children. God said, "Don`t eat or you`ll SCHPLINK"........... but they ate, and SCHPLINK began to touch them - first a dreadful sense of shame. Then the terrible feeling of being separated from God. Finally came the day when Cain killed Abel, and Adam and Eve looked at their dead son and said, "So THAT`S what SCHPLINK MEANS" - and they were devastated.
And that "SCHPLINK", which God calls "DEATH", is a terrible DIS-ease which has infected the whole human race. Death is not just the dying of the Body, because Adam`s body didn`t die immediately. Death is a process - we are cut off from the very good, we are cut off from God, we are cut off from each other. And St. Paul gives a list of the things which cut us off - fornication, theft, adultery, greed, malice, fraud, indecency, envy, slander, arrogance, murder, and war. As Jesus says: "These evil things all come from inside, and they defile a man", and their effects touch us all. They are the symptoms of death.