The Doc File

The online journal of Luke Dockery

The Christian Response to a Broken World

Christian Response:Broken WorldThe tragic events of the past week in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Dallas have been nothing short of heartbreaking. From my perspective, the response to these events from a lot of Christians has been pretty disappointing as well. Too often, we are quick to speak and slow to listen instead of the other way around (see James 1.19), and when we react in that way, we can often add fuel to the fires of heartache, division, and confusion that are already waging.

The reality is that we live in a broken world marred by lots of problems. As Christians living in this context, how should we respond when tragedy occurs? I don’t claim to have all the answers, but here are three responses which I believe are helpful in the face of tragedy:

(1) In response to a broken world, Christians should lament. Perhaps our most basic response to suffering is that we should weep with those who weep (Romans 12.15). That seems like the most obvious thing in the world, but recently, instead of this, I have seen Christians telling those who weep that what they weep about doesn’t really exist and isn’t worth weeping about at all! When the world gives us evidence of its brokenness, we should acknowledge that brokenness, allow ourselves feel distress, and bring that distress before God. It has become popular, in some circles, to criticize prayer as a response to horrible tragedy, but as Christians, we should take no note of such dismissals. Christians believe that God is ultimately sovereign over the universe, and thus, He is the one who can do something about the brokenness in our world. It is absolutely appropriate that we bring out laments before our Father, as we yearn for a day when justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5.24).

(2) In response to a broken world, Christians should aid the suffering. I think part of the reason that a lot of people are critical of prayer is that they feel that this is all that Christians do. And perhaps that can be a fair criticism at times, because God certainly expects us to accompany our prayers with righteous actions. Philip Yancey says that the church forms the front line of God’s response to the suffering world, and I think he is right: Christians have a responsible to get into the mess of the world and try to do something to clean it up. That is probably accomplished less by posting political agendas on social media when tragedy happens, and more by being present with those who suffer, developing real relationships with people who are different than we are, and seeking to extend justice to those who don’t have it.

(3) In response to a broken world, Christians should proclaim Jesus. Too often, this part is neglected. In John 16.33, Jesus was speaking to His disciples on the night of His arrest and He said simply, “In this world you will have tribulation.” Though not spoken directly to us, those words certainly apply to us as well; as recent events remind us, we live in the same world, a world which was created good but has been tainted by sin and is now characterized by heartache. As Christians, we weep with those who weep, we do what we can to help those who are suffering, but we also remember the second half of John 16.33: “In this world you will have tribulation…but take courage, I have overcome the world!” As Christians we also proclaim that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ means that sin, suffering, strife, injustice, and death do not get the last word. As Christians, we long for the day when Jesus returns, when death dies, and when every tear is wiped away from our eyes.

This is not an exhaustive list, and I am certain that more could be said. At the same time, I am just as certain that if Christians everywhere would respond to suffering and tragedy in our world in these ways, the Christian witness would be strengthened, the suffering of people would be limited, and the borders of God’s Kingdom would be expanded.

The Honesty and Courage of God

For whatever reason God chose to make man as he is—limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death—He had the honesty and courage to take His own medicine. Whatever game he is playing with His creation, He has kept His own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that He has not exacted from Himself. He has Himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and death. When He was a man, He played the man. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace and thought it well worthwhile.

(Dorothy L. Sayers, Christian Letters to a Post-Christian World, 14)

The Fall of Man and the Devastation of Sin

The Fall of Man

Most Christians are generally familiar with the story of the Fall of Man as related in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve are placed in a garden paradise to live with only one prohibition: they are not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2.16-17). But then, the crafty serpent, who elsewhere in the Bible is equated with Satan,[1] comes along and entices Eve to disobey God and eat the forbidden fruit. Eve shares the fruit with her husband and Adam violates the command of God as well.

Usually when we talk about this event, we focus on it in a couple of predictable ways: the disobedient act of eating of the fruit represents the first human sin, and as a result, the spiritual relationship between humanity and God is ruptured, and physical death comes to mankind as a result.

Both of those things—the disruption of our relationship with God and our mortality—are important, and are certainly presented as results of Adam and Eve’s sin in Genesis 3. But the consequences of sin don’t stop there; they are widespread, and affect all areas of life. To put it in other words, sin messes everything up, and as a result, we live in a messed-up world.[2]

Genesis 3 indicates that sin has theological, personal, sociological, ecological, and physical consequences:[3]

  • Genesis 3.8-10: Adam and Eve hide from God because they are afraid (theological effects).
  • Genesis 3.10-11: Adam and Eve realize they are naked (personal effects).
  • Genesis 3.12-13, 16: Adam and Eve refuse to take responsibility and their relationship is changed (sociological effects).
  • Genesis 3.17-19: Creation itself becomes cursed (ecological effects).
  • Genesis 3.22-23: Adam and Eve are kicked out of the garden and separated from the tree of life (physical effects).

The point of this post is to help us take sin more seriously, and see how all-destroying it is.

A Separation Between You And Your God: The Theological Consequences of Sin

This category probably won’t require as much commentary as some of the others, since this (along with physical effects) tends to be the area we hone in on.

Simply put, what I mean by “theological consequences” is that sin affects our relationship with God. Just as Adam and Eve hide from the presence of God when they hear Him walking in the garden after they have eaten the forbidden fruit, so we too are unfit for God’s presence. Scripture repeatedly affirms that our sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59.2; Romans 3.23), and this is a big deal, because we were specifically created to live in relationship with God. With that intended relationship destroyed, people desperately seek out all sorts of ways of living out their desires in order to find meaning and fulfillment in life.

In the process, we become enslaved to sin (John 8.34; Romans 6), which is a powerful and disturbing image—the very desires that we chase after in hopes of finding fulfillment become our masters, and on our own, we are powerless to escape their bondage! It’s a desperate situation to be in, and in large part accounts for a society where there are so many people who are completely lost without any hope or direction in life.

Sin destroys our relationship with God.

What’s Wrong With Me? The Personal Consequences of Sin

Next, we focus on the personal consequences of sin (which, as we shall see, are closely related to the theological consequences). Returning to our text in Genesis 3, this aspect of sin’s destructiveness is hinted at in Genesis 3.7, 10-11 where Adam and Eve realize they are naked, sew together fig leaves to make loincloths and then, because of their nakedness, hide from God when He enters the garden.

What was so bad about Adam and Eve being naked? After all, it was the way God had created them, so clearly He had no problem with it! The problem came from Adam and Eve themselves: after they sin by eating the forbidden fruit, they become self-conscious and immediately feel that there is something wrong with them, and they are ashamed of themselves.[4] Ever since then, men and women have felt the same way: we exist in a state of inner conflict, lacking the self-confidence and self-acceptance that we should have as God’s creatures.

Basically, the process looks something like this:

  1. Humans were created for the purpose of living in relationship with God.
  2. Sin distorts and destroys that relationship.
  3. Without a relationship with God, we are inherently unfulfilled, because we are not living out the purpose for which we were created.
  4. We feel bad about ourselves and follow all sorts of false avenues looking for fulfillment.

Just consider our world today. People desperately want to feel happy or significant or fulfilled, so they are willing to try anything: fame, fortune, career accomplishment, relationships, children, sex, drugs, sports, etc. Why do you think the self-help industry generates billions of dollars each year? It’s because deep down, we all feel like there’s something wrong with us. We struggle with self-confidence and self-image, and we are convinced that we are deeply flawed.

And, biblically speaking, people are messed up; we are deeply flawed. But flatter abs, a more secure retirement, or a better relationship with your boyfriend won’t provide the answer. Oh sure, these things might make you feel a little better about yourself for a while, but it won’t last. We were created to live in relationship with God, and only in the context of that relationship can we find the solution to our deep flaws.

Sin destroys the way we look at ourselves.

Can’t We All Just Get Along? The Sociological Consequences of Sin

Returning to our text, we can see the sociological dimension of sin clearly played out in verses 11-13:

[God] said, Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, What is this that you have done?” The woman said, The serpent deceived me, and I ate.””

People were created to live in community with one another. Specifically, Eve was created to be the perfect partner for Adam (Genesis 2.18-25). But when God confronts Adam and Eve with their sin, something very significant (and unfortunate) happens: the unity that had previously existed between Adam and Eve is disrupted as Adam immediately blames his wife for the sin that they had committed together.

This brings a conflict and disharmony between them that would be passed down and magnified over time (v.16), and we can see it unfold in the pages of Genesis—Cain’s murder of his brother Abel, the continually evil humanity of Genesis 6, the depraved society of Sodom and Gomorrah, the broken relationships between Sarah and Hagar, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, and more. But the problems don’t stop there—this same conflict and disharmony continues to darken and distort our world today.

Our world is deeply flawed by sin, and this manifests itself everyday sociologically, as we treat one another in a wide array of horrible, messed up ways:

  • On an international level, countries wage war and kill because of conflict over ideology or resources.
  • Systemic evils such as poverty, abortion, racism, sex trafficking, government corruption, lotteries, and more stem from our exploitation of our neighbors in order that we might obtain our own selfish desires.
  • Horrific acts of incomprehensible violence fill our news cycles. Mass shootings at elementary schools, the use of passenger airliners as terrorist missiles, and bombings at marathon finish lines shock and dismay us and cause us to weep.
  • Our interpersonal relationships are a mess. Dishonesty, reckless ambition, and violence abound. The (supposedly) lifelong bonds of marriage are broken on a whim.

And the sum result: our society as a whole stagnates and decays, as people live lives marked by self-interest and fear of one another. The community for which we were created is broken.

Sin destroys our relationships with one another.

Nature, Red In Tooth and Claw: The Ecological Consequences of Sin

As mentioned above, we tend to focus on the theological and personal consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin while ignoring some of the other areas. I think the most ignored of those other areas is the ecological consequences associated with the sin in the Garden of Eden.

Men and women were created to live in relationship with God and with one another, and, in a sense, with creation as well. This is clear in the early chapters of Genesis. Genesis 1.26-30 recounts how Adam and Eve were to have dominion over creation, and Genesis 2.15 mentions that they were to work it and keep it. So in effect, Adam and Eve were to rule over creation, but to do so as stewards who would take care of what God had made.

But following their disobedience to God’s command to not eat of the forbidden fruit in Genesis 3, the ecological consequence is evident, as a curse is placed on creation in Genesis 3.17-19:

And to Adam he said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.

By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’”

This curse makes it clear that the relationship between man and creation has been damaged as well. And that’s pretty easy to see, right? Rather than embrace our role as stewards of God’s earth, we tend to exploit creation to satisfy our own selfish desires. There are countless examples of companies that have carelessly polluted in order to cut corners and maximize profits, and even “little” problems like widespread littering show a basic lack of respect for the home God has created for us.

Furthermore, there is significant indication in Scripture that the problem isn’t all one-sided: creation itself doesn’t operate the way it was intended to. In Romans 8.20-22, Paul makes this point, speaking of creation in personified terms:

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”

A creation that is subjected to futility, bound to corruption and groans in the pains of childbirth seems distinctly different from the creation that God made and called “good.” I suppose this is ultimately unprovable, but my personal opinion is that the natural disasters that plague our lives—tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, etc.—are symptomatic of the problems Paul refers to, as creation lives out a cursed existence different from the one for which it was intended.[5]

As I have written elsewhere, it is worth pointing out that there was a degree of chaos in creation from the beginning (creation was “good,” not “perfect,” the serpent was present and his temptation toward evil, and the Garden of Eden needed to be tended and kept), but it does seem clear that that chaos was intensified following Adam and Eve’s sin by the curse that was placed on creation. Adam and Eve are ultimately expelled from Eden, and outside of the Garden, creation is less than the good and hospitable home for humanity for which it was created to be, and we fail to care for it as we should.[6]

Sin destroys our relationship with creation.

The Wages of Sin is Death: The Physical Consequences of Sin

As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, when we talk about sin in the Garden and the Fall of Man, we tend to focus on the theological and physical consequences. We began by examining the theological fallout from Adam and Eve’s fateful actions, and we will conclude by looking at the physical ramifications.

God had told Adam and Eve that if they ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they “would surely die” (Genesis 2.16-17; 3.3), and although they didn’t drop dead as soon as the fruit passed their lips, physical death did ultimately result as they were expelled from the Garden of Eden and deprived of access to the Tree of Life (Genesis 3.22-23).

This development should provide some clarity to our thinking on death. Often, we talk about death being a “natural part of life,” but although death is a universal experience to humans, theologically, it is not “natural.” God created us as mortals with access to immortality in the Garden. It was through sin that that access was taken away and that the reality of death came to be fundamental to human existence. No wonder that Paul can talk of death as an “enemy” in 1 Corinthians 15.26: death is not a part of the existence that God desired for us! It is a result of sin and it belongs to the realm of Satan.

Outside of the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve (and all of their descendants) are subjected to the futility of mortality. We have mutations in our DNA that lead to horrible diseases, we get sick because our immune systems don’t perfectly protect us, we grow old and weak, and ultimately, we die.

Sin leads to physical death.

Conclusion: Why Does This Matter?

The Bible presents sin as a destructive force with widespread ramifications, and I think having a robust theology of sin is important because it helps us to properly understand at least three crucial aspects of Christianity:

(1) What Jesus accomplished on the cross: Just as sin presents widespread problems, the redemptive work of Jesus on the cross offers a comprehensive solution. His sacrificial death makes possible reconciliation with God (theological). The resulting relationship enables us to live out the purpose for which we have been created and purge ourselves of self-loathing and existential uncertainties (personal). Indwelt by the Holy Spirit and developing His fruit in our lives (Galatians 5), we are empowered to love others and live in genuine, God-glorifying relationship with them (sociological), and to live as genuine stewards of God’s creation (ecological). Those who belong to God, although they die, will live eternally with him (physical).

(2) Christian life and mission: A fundamental part of the mission of God is to oppose and destroy the works of Satan (1 John 3.8), and understanding the widespread ramifications of sin helps us to see that our response to sin and evil in the world should be similarly widespread. Helping people find meaning and purpose in their lives, opposing poverty and racism, and caring for creation are all endeavors that Christians can and should be involved in as they seek to alleviate the consequences of sin.

(3) Christian hope: Regardless of the previous two points, the ultimate reality is that we live outside the Garden, in a world that has been tarnished and broken by sin. Despite the fact that we work to oppose evil and spread the values of God’s kingdom, suffering and heartache are a part of our lives. In these difficult circumstances, we are continually strengthened and emboldened by hope: we look forward to the time when Christ returns, when sin is destroyed, and when we live for eternity in perfect community with our Creator.

Come, Lord Jesus!


[1]See, for example, Revelation 12.9.

[2]One of the biggest problems I have with those who read the early chapters of Genesis—especially the account of Adam and Eve—as non-historical is that such a view strips away the Bible’s explanation for the reason why our world is the way it is. The Bible repeatedly affirms that sin is a huge problem, and our own observations repeatedly affirm that our world in its current state is fundamentally broken. Genesis 3 provides the biblical explanation for the enormity of sin, and a groaning creation (cf. Romans 8.22).

[3]This post is based in considerable part on the lectures of Dr. Mark Powell in his Systematic Theology class which I took at Harding School of Theology.

[4]It is important to note that, according to the biblical account, Adam and Eve are ashamed of their nakedness, not of their sin (it should have been the other way around). Sin had fundamentally changed the way they viewed themselves.

[5]If my thinking on this is correct, then it also stands in judgment against the hurtful things that some religious people say in very public ways following a natural disaster such as “Hurricane Katrina was God’s judgment against the wickedness of New Orleans”. Natural disasters are a condition of our broken world, rather than God’s wrath against a specific people/place. Incidentally, I think the promise made to Noah following the flood (Genesis 9.8-17) that man and creation would not again be judged by a massive flood (and perhaps, by extension, other natural disasters) supports this idea.

[6]I mentioned the general neglect of this topic, and I think that neglect is itself evidence of the distorted relationship we have with creation. In a significant portion of Christendom, discussion of creation care is dismissed as a political idea (specifically a politically liberal idea), despite the fact that environmental stewardship is a clear biblical principle!

Sheol vs. Hades

There is a helpful article on Steven Hunter’s blog about the distinction between the terms “Sheol” and “Hades.” If you have read the Bible much, you will be familiar with the term “Sheol” from the Old Testament as the place where the dead are, and the fact that the New Testament generally uses the term “Hades” to refer to the grave. However, even though “Hades” is the term used for “Sheol” by those who translated the Hebrew scriptures into Greek, the two terms are not equivalent:

Since the Old Testament does not treat the underworld as the Greeks did, Sheol cannot be fully understood as Hades regardless of Hades being its corresponding counterpart in the Septuagint any more than heaven should be literally interpreted as Olympus from similar Greco-Latin terms.

You can read the rest of the article here.

When Your Kids Disappoint You

When Your Kids Disappoint

I have written before about the book Sticky Faith: Everyday Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Your Kids by Kara Powell and Chap Clark. This book has been a game-changer for me as a youth minister, and has greatly impacted many of the things that I do.

One of the (many) good chapters of the book is the last chapter, “The Ups and Downs of the Sticky Faith Journey.” The reality for parents of teenagers (or youth ministers, for that matter) is that as they observe spiritual development in their children, it is often a one-step-forward, two-steps-back experience. One day a teen might exhibit incredible spiritual insight or compassion toward someone in need, and then the very next day, that same teen might get caught cheating on a test, or being hateful toward a friend.

When these frustrating ups and downs occur, how should you as a parent (or a youth minister) respond? Powell and Clark offer some helpful words:

When your kids disappoint you (note I said when, not if), you may be tempted to distance yourself from them to teach them a lesson or maybe even to protect yourself. Everywhere they turn, your kids have grown up in a culture in which when they struggle or fail, people tend to walk away. Especially during their lowest times, your kids need to know that, above all else, you are there for them, regardless of what they are going through.

(Sticky Faith, 180)

This is good advice, and in a real sense, the idea is this: we should treat our kids the way God treats us. He is there for us regardless of what we do, loves us regardless of what we do, and is willing to forgive us and take us back regardless of what we do. As a youth minister, this is how I strive to act toward my students, and it is how I want to be as a parent as well.

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