If sin is such a terrible thing—if it causes pain, if God places it off limits for our own good and if it cuts us off from our Creator—then why is there so much of it in the world? If it’s truly bad for us, why do human beings consistently choose sin over God’s way of life?
We could probably brainstorm a thousand different reasons someone might break God’s law, but in reality, all those reasons boil down to a single root cause:
That’s it. That’s the problem.
On the third day of this Journey, we talked about God’s ability to see the bigger picture. From His perspective, He can survey the whole of creation and see all things exactly as they are.
There’s a wonderful old Indian story about six blind men who are tasked with describing an elephant. Together, they surround the elephant, each of them reaching out and touching the animal. The man touching the elephant’s leg is certain that the elephant is like a pillar, the man touching the tail is sure that the elephant is like a rope, the man touching the trunk is convinced that the elephant must be like a tree branch, and so on, each man believing himself to be in possession of all the facts.
They weren’t, of course. Anyone with eyes can see that an elephant is a combination of all those features—but the point of the story is to remind us of our limited perceptions. We’re the blind men—and we’re wrong about the elephant.
We often sin by default, sometimes without thinking. But underlying all our habits and split-second decisions are choices. We choose sin because on some level it makes sense to us. We can come at it with a thousand different motivations—maybe we’re acting out of generosity, or self-preservation, or pragmatism, or selfishness, or selflessness, or who knows what else—but in the end, we’re going to pick the course of action that makes the most sense to us.
That’s a problem, of course. We’re blind men, trying our best to comprehend the elephant in front of us—and failing spectacularly. Relying on our limited perspective and attempting to do what makes the most sense to us can be (and often is) disastrous.
It’s why the Bible warns, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12). Just because something seems right has no real bearing on whether it really is right—and it’s certainly no indication of where we’re likely to end up.
Paul expands on that thought, explaining that “the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be” (Romans 8:7), adding, “the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).
That complicates things. Not only are we unable to see the bigger picture from our vantage point, the bigger picture looks absolutely foolish to us. From our flawed perspective, parts of God’s way of life make little to no sense. In many instances, God prescribes a course of action that flies in the face of human reasoning: things like turning the other cheek, even when our instinct is to get even (Matthew 5:39). Or keeping the Sabbath, even when we don’t feel we have the time for it (Leviticus 23:3). Or spending a day without food and water, even when it’s hard to see what we could possibly gain from it (Matthew 6:17-18).
Sin, on the other hand, often looks completely logical. It makes sense. Knowing what we know about the elephant, sin can easily appear to be the only reasonable course of action. If I need more money and can’t find a job, who’s going to blame me for stealing? If my neighbor has more than me, what right does he have to hold on to his wealth? If the truth would only make people uncomfortable, what’s the harm in a little white lie? There’s always a rationale, always an explanation, always a justification.
But it’s always wrong. God, who can see the elephant in a way we never can, has set the boundaries of sin for a reason. We can ignore them, we can explain them away, but we can’t change the fact that they exist any more than a blind man’s opinion can change the fact that an elephant’s tusks exist.
But there’s another problem too. While the human race is perfectly capable of making bad decisions without any help, the unsettling truth is that we do have help. Ever since the Garden of Eden, a malevolent force has been heavily involved in guiding and influencing the human race.
His name is Satan, and he wants you dead.
Satan is a deceiver, and he’s good at it. He’s had thousands of years to practice on human beings, and he excels at dressing up sin and making it look good and appealing. Paul warns, “Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 11:14-15).
In the Garden of Eden, it was “that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan” (Revelation 12:9) who convinced Eve to take another look at the tree placed off-limits by God. It was Satan who muddied the waters and told her, “You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4). It was Satan who promised the tree would make her “like God, knowing good and evil” (verse 5).
Would the forbidden tree still have been a temptation without Satan’s influence? Quite probably. But would it have been as tempting? Not likely. Satan took a sin, dressed it up in a collection of lies and half-truths, and presented it as something reasonable—something good.
That’s his game—and he hasn’t stopped playing it, not for eons. It worked in the Garden and it works today, because we keep falling for the same tricks.
We’re shortsighted. We can’t see the whole elephant, and Satan uses that to his advantage. When God tries to warn us, we don’t listen because obviously—obviously—an elephant is like a pillar. Or a rope. Or a tree branch. How could it be anything else?
There’s a lot more to say about Satan, and we’ll talk about him more in our third Journey, “The Plan of God,” but today we’re talking about sin and why we choose it. Hopefully by now it’s clear that the human race chooses sin because from where we stand, sin makes sense. Pick your injustice—social inequality, slavery, abortion, murder, theft, genocide—whatever the issue, it happens because someone, on some level, sees it as reasonable. As logical. As justifiable. And Satan is doing his level best to ensure we keep seeing it that way.
And that, right there, is the painful truth. The human race will continue to choose sin—continue to choose suffering—until we’re willing to admit that we can’t see the whole elephant.
The next step requires accepting that God can.