Mark Twain once said, "We're all like the moon—we have a dark side." I think his analysis of human nature was right on target. Deep down inside every human being, there is an inclination to evil. There is a fascination with the darkness of sin.
When I was in the fourth grade, I was the teacher's pet. I was the top in the class, and I had a good relationship with the teacher. But one day, I was in the classroom all by myself. Everybody else was out at recess. And I started wondering what it would be like to get on top of the desks and walk across them. And the thought just consumed me, so I quickly jumped up and walked from the back to the front and got down. Nobody caught me, and I didn't even feel guilty.
But later on that day, Agnes Kaney raised her hand and said, "Mr. Seneff, there's some mud on my desk." And my heart leaped into my throat. Then the student behind her said, "There's mud on my desk, too, Mr. Seneff." And Mr. Seneff looked and said, "Somebody has been walking on these desks."
Now, Mr. Seneff was a strict disciplinarian. He was known to grab guys out of their seats and whip them right there in front of the class, and I was horrified at the idea. Mr. Seneff said: "Whoever has been walking on the desks, if you will confess right now, I will limit it to three whacks. Come up to the front." My dark side included not just walking on the desks, but cowardice and cover-up as well. I could not raise my hand.
Mr. Seneff said, "All right. We have here a clear footprint." And he measured it and said: "It is six-and-a-half inches. Everybody, get out your ruler and measure-your foot." I measured my foot. It was six-and-a-half inches. My heart was pounding. Mr. Seneff said, "Now, I'm not going to deal with this right now to interrupt this lesson, but we'll deal with it at the end of the day."
That was my longest afternoon ever. But for some reason he forgot about it. I went home worried sick that he would bring it up the next day, but he never did. I could never figure out what in the world possessed me to get up and walk on top of the desks. But we're all like the moon. We have a dark side.
Have you ever wondered why your toddler does that one thing you hope he will not do? Have you ever wondered why teenagers instinctively rebel against authority? Have you ever wondered why politicians risk everything they have for a moment of pleasure or additional power? Have you ever been shocked to discover that a co-worker you thought was as straight as an arrow turns out to be a wife abuser? Have you ever wondered why you have an inner attraction to gambling or pornography or swearing? Have you ever wondered why you, a righteous person, lose your temper on the way to church just because traffic is backed up?
The root of the problem is rebellion.
Genesis identifies the root of the problem: man's rebellion against God. I want us to look at this familiar account of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Once we understand the source and the liability of our dark side, we'll be more inclined to rely on the ultimate solution, which is Jesus Christ.
Let's look first at the perfect freedom Adam and Eve knew in the Garden of Eden. The Scripture states that there were two special trees in the Garden of Eden. First, there was the Tree of Life. The nutrients of this tree enabled Adam and Eve to live forever.
Experts today are not sure why people age and die. If every cell of the human body reproduces itself about every seven years, why is it they deteriorate? We hear all the time about the need for good nutrition. Eat right, take your vitamins, exercise, and you will live longer. But Revelation says in heaven we will have access again to the Tree of Life and live forever. Adam and Eve were given access to that tree in the garden, and they were free from death.
But there was a second tree, called the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and God commanded them, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die."
Now there must have been scores of delicious fruit trees and dozens of vegetables that were good to eat, but God said there was one tree they were not to taste. Why did he do that? Because they were given one other special freedom, and that was the freedom of the will. Adam and Eve were not robots. They were created in the image of God, with the freedom to choose. Their purpose was to have fellowship with their Creator. And you can have fellowship at the deepest level only if the person being loved has the freedom to accept or reject that love.
For example, it's wonderful to have a dog that will be loyal to you no matter what. But you can have deeper relationships with people, who have the freedom to choose to love you unconditionally. Man was given the capacity to respond to God's love, and God warned: If you disobey, it will bring death. Death means separation. God was saying to Adam and Eve: If you disobey, you will be separated from me and from the Tree of Life.
So Adam and Eve were free—free to eat of every other tree, free to live without pain and aging, free to have fellowship with their Creator, free to have dominion over the animals and the earth, free to enjoy one another without inhibition. In fact, Genesis 2:25 says, "The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame."
But Genesis 3 records the tragic fall into sin: "Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, 'Did God really say, "You must not eat from any tree in the garden"?'" The world's problems began when Satan entered the garden.
Today we have three sources pulling us away from God: the world, the flesh, and the Devil. But Adam and Eve only had one source of temptation. There was no evil peer pressure from the world; they were the only humans. They did not have an evil nature; they were created in innocence.
But Satan came to them in the visible form of a serpent. He cleverly lured Eve into rebellion by the same process he uses today. "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" He gets her to doubt God's Word. The woman said to the serpent: We can eat from any tree in the garden. But God did say, "You're not to eat of the tree in the middle of the garden." I guess we're not even supposed to touch it, lest we die.
And then Satan flat-out denied God's Word. He said: You will not die. In fact, just the opposite is true. God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, and you'll know good and evil.
Now, this was a half-truth. If they ate of the tree, they would know evil firsthand, and they would have their eyes opened to what sin was.
But Satan didn't tell Eve about the consequences of guilt, alienation, and death. When we get to reasoning with Satan, he can tie us into knots. He uses half-truths. He uses deceptive logic. And we get confused. Second Thessalonians 2:10 says: "[Satan] deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie."
The big lie of Satan has been the same from the beginning: You don't need God in your life. You can determine right and wrong for yourself. There is no such thing as absolute truth.
But the truth is, God has revealed himself; and when we submit to him, there is absolute truth in Jesus Christ. Eve shouldn't have reasoned with Satan. When Satan said to her, "Did God really say … ?" don't you think Eve should have said, "Let me go get God, and he'll tell you want he means"? And then the snake would have slithered away. But Eve yielded to the temptation. Genesis 3:6 says, "When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it."
And then what did she do immediately? She invited her husband to come and participate with her. Sinners aren't usually satisfied to sin alone. Guilt is easier to bear if it's shared. And so both Adam and Eve disobeyed the command. Both sinned. And the world has not been the same since. Paradise was lost.
The result of sin is separation.
Francis Schaeffer, in his book Genesis in Time and Space, points out several areas of alienation that resulted because of Adam's sin.
First, there was psychological separation; man was separated from himself: "Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves." Up to this point, there was no shame, no guilt. Now they sinned, and they don't like themselves. They're ashamed. And the virus of sin introduced all the psychological problems of low self-esteem, poor self-image, and self-consciousness that we battle with today.
Then there was spiritual separation. Man was separated from God. "The man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, 'Where are you?' He answered, 'I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.'"
Before sin, Adam and Eve felt comfortable in the presence of God. But now they felt uncomfortable with God. They felt guilty. They didn't want to be in his presence at all. And all the spiritual estrangement that people feel today—emptiness, dead-end searches down one religion after another, disrespect for the Bible, disinterest in church, dislike for righteous people—all stem from Adam and Eve bringing sin into the world.
Then there was a social separation. Man was separated from his fellow man. "And God said, 'Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?' The man said, 'The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate of it.'" Adam took it like a man. He blamed his wife. He essentially said: I'm the victim here. She made me do it. In fact, God, you made the woman. It's your fault.
And marital strife, divorce, lawsuits, gossip, hatred, and war were all introduced to the world because of sin.
That was followed by environmental separation. In Genesis 3:17, God said to Adam: "Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, 'You must not eat of it,' cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field [by] the sweat of your brow."
The whole world is thrown off kilter because of sin. Weeds and erosion, floods and droughts, volcanoes and earthquakes, hurricanes and tornadoes, bugs and viruses, all were introduced because of sin. The New Testament says all of creation groans, longing to be redeemed by the Creator.
And then there was physical separation. Man was separated from his own body. God said, "By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you shall return." And from that point on, Adam and Eve no longer could eat of the Tree of Life, and they began to age and move toward death. Adam lived 930 years, and then he died. And ever since that time, every person born has gone through the aging process, and we move toward death; it is not fun.
I stand before you today very sore. You know why I'm sore? Shoveling snow. Now, 20 years ago I could shovel snow, and I didn't get sore like this. Twenty years ago I could remember more names. Twenty years ago I could run faster. I've been around death a lot. And what happens after death for the Christian is glorious, but the death experience is awful. It's not pretty. Its Satan's worst weapon, introduced because of sin.
This led to a permanent flaw in human nature. Look at the last section of Genesis 3, beginning with verse 22: The Lord God said: "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the Tree of Life and eat, and live forever." So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the Tree of Life.
Why did God put a policeman at the gate? Why didn't God want Adam and Eve to go back into the garden? Because if they went back, they would eat of the Tree of Life and live forever. What's so bad about that? They would live forever in their sin, and they would get progressively worse, and the world would not be paradise. It would be hell on earth. Man needed to know there were consequences to his sin. He needed to reach out to God for redemption.
Everyone has a dark side.
Ever since that time, every man and woman has been born with a sinful nature. It's not popular to teach this today, because the world says you have to build up your self-esteem and think about how good you are. But the Bible begins with the truth that there is a dark side, what theologians call the depravity of man. We are born with a sin nature.
Romans 5:19 says, "Through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners." Psalm 51:5 says, "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me."
How else would you explain Susan Smith heartlessly drowning her two young children in order to perpetuate a love affair? Or how else can you explain the animalistic cannibalism of Jeffrey Dahmer? Or the cold-hearted murder of their parents by Lyle and Eric Menendez? How else do you explain the brutal beating of a 2-year-old child by a 10-year-old and 12-year-old in Liverpool, England? Or how else do you explain a girl going to her prom, having a baby in the restroom, killing the baby, and going back out and dancing? It is because, as Jeremiah says, "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?"
This is not to say that people aren't capable of doing good things. We're also created in the image of God, and we have a longing to reach out for righteousness. But every man and woman has a dark side, and left to themselves, people will gravitate to evil. It's like an apple that looks whole, but on the other side there's one tiny rotten spot. Left there for a while, the goodness of the apple does not consume the rotten part. The rotten part consumes the whole. That's why Jesus taught us to pray, "Deliver us from evil."
You know who understands that? Fathers whose daughters are old enough to date. Fathers know that inside that smiling, courteous 16-year-old boy who wants to date his daughter is a hormone-driven, selfish fiend who can't be trusted. Fathers know there's a dark side—they remember when they were teenagers.
Mothers know that, too. My mother had a rule in our house: If we're not here, don't bring your date to the house. I said, "Why, Mom? Don't you trust me?" She said, "No. There's too much temptation." She knew human nature.
And parents, you need to recognize the potential for evil in your own children. Your children are not born innocent—as clean slates who, if not influenced negatively, will automatically do what is right. The Bible teaches they are born with a predisposition to sin. Proverbs 22:15 says, "Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him."
You know who else needs to understand that? Counselors. Many counselors tell you: "You have to discover yourself. You have to please yourself. You have to assert yourself. You have to be yourself. You have to love yourself." But Jesus said you have to deny yourself. You have to forget yourself. You have to crucify yourself. You have to put others more highly than yourself, because yourself at the core can be evil.
Political leaders also need to understand this truth that we all have a dark side. One of the byproducts of the philosophy of evolution is the idea that man is getting better and better, and if we just give him the right environment, the criminal will be rehabilitated. And if we just provide the right resources, the lazy person will go to work. And if we're just kind to Saddam Hussein, he won't spread chemical warfare. And if we'll just show our good favor by disarming as a nation, other nations will disarm, because people are basically good.
But listen to Jesus' assessment of human nature. In John 3:19 he says, "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed." Christ helps us in our struggle against our sinful nature
Four statements about my sinful nature.
But this is not about seeing other people in Genesis. This is about seeing ourselves in Genesis. So I want to close by giving four statements about the sinful nature in me. It's probably true about the sin nature in you.
Number one, I have inherited a sinful nature that, if unrestrained, is capable of heinous evil. The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 7:18: "I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out."
I've been to Eddyville Prison on a couple of occasions and visited with people on death row. I almost always come away with the same conviction: There's not much difference between those prisoners and me. There are some things about those prisoners that are really good, but somewhere in their past the evil nature has gradually taken over and consumed them, and I come away thinking, There but for the grace of God go I.
Number two, I need Jesus Christ to transform my sinful nature. The Bible says, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation." One of the glorious things about becoming a Christian is God doesn't just wipe away our sin from the past and forgive everything we've ever done, he also gives us a new nature. Galatians 5:24 says, "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires."
Number three, as a Christian, I must rely daily on the Holy Spirit to empower me in my struggle against the sinful nature. One young Christian asked his spiritual mentor, "If it's true that when I become a Christian my old nature is crucified with Christ, why does the old nature still appeal to me?" And the mentor wisely said, "It's because crucifixion is a slow, painful process." It took Jesus hours to die on the cross, and though the old nature has been crucified, it's still struggling for survival. And even though we're Christians, we have to take up our cross daily and crucify the old self, or else we can slip back into those old habits.
In Romans 8, Paul says: "Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you." That's why Craig Massey wrote: "Two natures beat within my breast. The one is foul; the one is blessed. The one I love; the one I hate. But the one I feed will dominate."
And number four, I look forward to the day in heaven when the struggle will be over and the victory will be won.
If you grew up on a farm, maybe you know what it is to kill a snake. You can kill a snake, but hours later it can still be wiggling around, nerves twitching. There's an old saying, "It will keep twitching till sundown." Now the old nature in you can be crucified with Christ, but it's still twitching. But praise God there's coming a sundown when it will be suppressed forever.
Heaven is going to be a beautiful place. Heaven is going to be, I think, Calumet Farms, Cypress Gardens, Colorado Springs, Kaanapali Beach, and Augusta National Golf Course all rolled into one. And heaven's going to be a perfect place of fellowship with our Creator, fellowship with Jesus Christ, and fellowship with one another.
But one of the greatest things about heaven will be that it's a place free from the sinful nature. We'll be free from the struggle and the disappointment and the grief that make life miserable here. Revelation 21:4 says: "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, 'I am making everything new!'"
Karla Faye Tucker in 1983 helped to kill two people with a pickaxe, and she was so animalistic in her behavior that she laughed while she did it. She was found guilty, and imprisoned. On death row, Karla Faye Tucker became a born again Christian, and all those close to her say, "You can't question the legitimacy of her conversion experience."
Karla Faye Tucker became the first woman executed in Texas since the Civil War era. But as she lay strapped on a gurney, she delivered her final message to those gathered to witness her execution. She said: "I'm going to be face to face with Jesus now. I love all of you very much. I'll see you all when you get there."
No matter how black your sin, the blood of Jesus Christ can cleanse it and make it white as snow. No matter how inhuman your nature, the power of the Holy Spirit can transform it from bitterness to tenderness and faith. Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world.
And whether your sin is a pickaxe murder or whether it's walking on top of some desks with muddy feet, you need Jesus Christ to cleanse your past. You need the Holy Spirit to empower you for every day so you have the hope of living eternally in perfection with him. The Bible says, "As in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive."
Bob Russell is a speaker, chairman of the board of the Londen Institute, and author of When God Builds a Church (Howard).