When I was six years old I was playing t-ball and got hit in the face with an aluminum bat. Here’s what happened. We were pretty far into the season and I was growing tired of my established position in right field. If you’re not aware, right field is where the children with a week throwing arm and questionable hand-eye coordination are sent to do the least amount of damage to the team. Now generally as a six-year-old you don’t realize that, but around this same time I was participating in a baseball themed children’s musical at church which included a song with these lyrics:
“Here in right field, its easy you know.
You can be awkward, you can be slow.
That’s why I’m here in right field just watching the dandelions grow.”
Those lyrics caused six-year-old Andrew to have an epiphany. “You can be awkward, you can be slow, is that why they put me here?” Well that lit a fire under me, I was going to prove that I was neither awkward nor slow (full disclosure: I was both). So at the next game I went to the coach and requested a new position, a position where I could show off my untapped talent and potential. I demanded that I be moved to catcher.
Now some of you are probably saying to yourself, “why would they need a catcher in t-ball?” That’s a good question, and the answer to that is they wouldn’t and probably still don’t. But I was persistent (annoying), so the coach finally relented and allowed me to take my place down in a squat behind the tee on the condition that I stayed a very good distance away from the tee itself considering I didn’t have a mask or anything. Well that wasn’t any fun, so after each batter I waddled a little closer, the coach yelled at me to back up, I took one step back and then two steps forward the next time. This repeated itself until I was close enough to the tee for this scenario to play itself out the only way it was going to. The young man at the plate, who to this day I maintain was at least ten years old, took his swing, let go of the bat, and it collided with my face.
The coach was really nice when he came and visited us in the ER after the game was over. He gave me the game ball and said all kinds of things like “we need to have the right equipment here” and that sort of thing, things to pretend like it wasn’t 100% my fault that I got hit in the face with the bat. The reality was really simple. I demanded to be somewhere I didn’t need to be, and I got hurt. Cause, effect.
When we boil it down to its simplest point life is a series of causes and effects, of actions and results. Turn a switch and light comes on. Forget to set an alarm and you’ll be late for work. You may have heard of the Butterfly Effect, which was a terrible movie starring Ashton Kutcher when I was in high school, but is also a real scientific theory based around the idea that something as simple as a butterfly flapping its wings can trigger changes in the atmosphere that cause a hurricane to form weeks later hundreds of miles away. That seems hard to believe but you see the principle in place right? Actions, even incredibly small, seemingly insignificant actions, can have huge results that we could never have predicted or planned for. Cause and effect isn’t always as simple as if you stand to close to the kids with no control of where their bat goes when they sling it you might get hit, sometimes our actions have consequences that are more unpredictable and have a much farther reach.
Paul saw human history as a result of such an unpredictable, far-reaching consequence of a seemingly insignificant action. Adam, and its interesting that Paul puts the blame squarely on Adam and leaves Eve out of it but that’s a tangent for another time, Adam eats a piece of fruit and all of creation falls apart. In Paul’s words “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, so death spread to all because all have sinned.” What he’s describing is a kind of circular cause and effect relationship. Sin causes death, the results of which cause sin which causes death which causes sin which causes death on and on and on. Sin is more to Paul than just an act I commit, it is an orientation to life. To Paul people are sinful even before they commit specific sin. Charles Talbert is Pauline scholar at Truett Seminary at Baylor University, he describes it this way:
“There is an accumulated web of sin involving all human life that has grown, like a snowball through the centuries. This accumulation affects the corporate life of humans and the history of humans. Historical and corporate fallenness then affect individuals born into this web.”
The world has been sinful for so long, sin has been so ingrained into the human condition that we cannot avoid it. Greed is such a part of who we are as people that we don’t see it anymore, we see ambition and good business. Fear of the other is such a part of who we are that we don’t see it, we divide society into us and them and call it security. Lust is such a part of who we are that we don’t recognize it, we ignore and dismiss work place harassment and sexual assault on college campuses as “boys being boys.” Sin becomes such a part of our conditions that calls to turn away from it seem radical and we find ourselves trapped in the cycle of sin and death. Why is this Adam’s fault? Because as a representative of humanity he committed the rest of us to a certain type of action, he opened the way for us to follow in his footsteps. Drawing from Talbert again, its like if the leader of country A declares war on country B. All of country A’s citizens, whether we support the decision or not, are at war with country B. Our children, if they are born during that war, are at war with country B even though the whole thing started before they were even alive. We are officially at war whether we would have chosen it or not. Usually that participation becomes personal as well. Our lives are impacted by the war, we see our friends and family put in harm’s way perhaps, and we find ourselves invested and want to see “our” victory. At that point we’re at war both by our leader’s action and our own decision. And so it is with sin, because of Adam the human race is officially sinful. We have the capacity for sin, the desire for sin is ingrained in us. That reality leads us to act on that sin, and so we become sinful by nature and action. And the effect of that nature and action is death.
Death for Paul is more than just the end of life. It is an absence of wholeness from life, a disruption of the relationships that defined life in Eden before the fall. In Genesis two Adam and Eve are defined by right relationships. They have a right relationship with God – God comes to the garden and walks among them. They have a right relationship with each other – there is no fear or danger or competition over resources between them. They have a right relationship with nature – they tend to the earth without great effort and the earth produces. And they have a right relationship within themselves – they are naked and they feel no shame. Sin causes the destruction, the death, of all those relationships. When God comes looking for them after they’ve eaten the fruit they run away, afraid to be in God’s presence. When God asks what happened they throw each other under the bus, passing off responsibility and each blaming the other. As a result of their actions, the relationship with the earth changes – getting something to grow becomes a battle with the earth. And they no longer feel know shame, they are embarrassed, in Adam’s own words, “because they are naked.”
Right relationship with God, right relationship with each other, right relationship with the earth, and right relationship with ourselves. How many of us can claim to have those four things in check, completely the way they should be? At this moment in history people are the least religious they’ve ever been. Across the board. In the last 3,400 years there have been 268 where nations weren’t at war with each other. That’s 7%. And that only counts declared wars. And that only speaks on a national, geo-political level, it doesn’t speak to the inter-personal conflicts we deal with every with that family member or co-worker or classmate or person commenting on our Facebook post or whoever it is that we just can’t get along with. In the average year the amount of renewable natural resources, things the earth produces naturally, humans consume would take one and a half earths to produce. By 2030 we’ll consume the equivalent of two earths each year. People are more medicated, more depressed, more anxious, more addicted, than ever before. The effects are right in front us, the results of these actions are taking their toll, they’re taking their toll on our relationships, on our planet, and on ourselves. The results of sin and death make their way in and consume our lives.
Paul doesn’t leave with that though, Paul doesn’t describe the brokenness of the world and then give up because there is another cause and effect taking shape. Sin and death may have had the final word before Easter but after, after there are new results shining through.
“17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”
Adam was the first of creation, Christ is the first of a new creation. Adam brought death into the world, Christ brought life. Adam sinned and therefore died, Christ died sinless and broke sin’s power. All the relationships that define our lives: with each other, with the earth, with ourselves; none of them work without a right relationship with God. And so God took the first step. God took an action and brought about results. God saw an issue, a cause, and brought about an effect. God sends God’s son, God becomes human, enters in to those relationships and in the life of Jesus shows us how they can be lived out the right way. God declares us righteous so that we might be able to be faithful to God. God fixes the first relationship to enable the others. If we are truly connected with God we cannot hate those created in God’s image, no matter where they are from or what threat we see in them or how they might have wronged us. If we are truly connected to God and seeking more of God we cannot abuse the earth that God gave us. And if we’re truly seeking God, if we’re truly coming to a better understanding of who God is and what God has done for us, then we’ll come to a better understanding of ourselves, of our unmatchable worth to God. If we are unhappy with the way things are, with the series of causes and effects that just seem to lead to more brokenness and conflict and failure and death, we are shown another way. There’s not just one cause and effect at play here, that’s not just one trajectory for our lives. Wholeness is possible. Brokenness is repairable. Death is defeatable. Life is attainable.