The Origin of Skepticism
Preached by Pastor Jason Abbott
In historic Christianity, what do we mean when we talk about having belief? Well first, we do not mean belief without evidence or in spite of the evidence. Christian belief has never been without a rational basis—there is something here rather than nothing; there is order to the something that is here rather than chaos; the Bible is proven accurate time after time about what it reports about history; what the Bible says about humanity is evidenced over and over again in our lives and in the lives of those whom we know.
These and other evidences have always been a vital part of Christian belief. God made us rational beings, and we should use reason when forming our beliefs. Thus, note that Jesus tells the lawyer in Matthew that the great commandment is to:
…love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and [also] with all your mind (Matthew 22:37).
God gave us brains; we should use them in forming our beliefs.
However, on the other side of the spectrum, we don’t mean by belief merely those things which at every point are totally verifiable. No one can live that way! For example, I have a close and longtime friend who is very rational and an atheist, and he likes to analyze human behavior in light of evolutionary biological research. He’s also a beautifully devoted and loving husband.
One time, while discussing his love for his wife with me, I asked if by love he meant the evolutionarily beneficial high he received through chemical releases in his brain in order that he might perpetuate his specific genetic code or gene pool. Of course, that’s not what he meant by love at all even though that is what it meant according to his evidence-only, materialistic worldview. No one can live this way!
In opposition to such a view, Christian belief steps out from the evidence into the realm of trust or faith. There is much we can know and verify in this life; however, there is also much that we can only experience through faithful living. This is an important part of what Christianity means by belief.
This morning, as we begin our study of the Apostles’ Creed, we want to ask why the clause I believe (as defined above) is such a prominent part of this creed. In other words, why is God so concerned about our beliefs?
In order to do this, we’re going to look at the beginning of skepticism itself as reported in the very first book of the Bible, Genesis.
1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.
He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.
8 And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 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.”
This passage is composed of two distinctly tragic yet related movements. First, we see the fall of Adam and Eve’s belief in God’s truthfulness and goodness. Second, we see the fall of the relational intimacy between Adam and Eve and God. It’s a movement from trust to distrust, from friendliness to hostility, from paradise to paradise lost.
Let’s look at each of these movements in turn.
1. The fall of belief (vv. 1-6)
Dietrich Bonhoeffer called this scene, between the woman and the serpent, “the first conversation about God”1 and, indeed, it does appear to be precisely that. In fact, it seems a rather casual, water-cooler type conversation.
When the serpent begins this conversation, his opening remark is a question: “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (v. 1). However, what he is actually doing is making a statement through this question—it’s something like: “Indeed! To think that God said you are not to eat of any tree of the garden!”2
We know people who do this all the time because we are those very people. We might ask a question in order to accuse or condemn someone.
- Did Benjamin really eat the last piece of chocolate cake?
- Did Susan actually say that your kids are a bunch of little monsters?
- Did Carolyn really ignore you while you were asking her a question?
- Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?
At the end of all these questions, you could justifiably insert “What a jerk!” without, in the least, violating the intended sentiment of the original question. Though it’s unspoken, the accusation comes through loud and clear.
In this way, the serpent puts God on trial as he puts words in God’s mouth. He “grossly exaggerates God’s prohibition, [by] claiming that God did not allow them access to any of the orchard trees.”3 So the serpent is saying to them:
- God is such a harsh master!
- God is such an oppressive ruler!
- God doesn’t have your best interests in mind!
How will Eve respond? Well, to her credit, she quickly tries to defend God. However (as we also often do) she doesn’t represent God very precisely in the end. She, in all her zeal to defend God, puts words in God’s mouth just like the serpent since, to God’s command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, she adds that God said we “must not touch it” either.
Do you see? She has unintentionally begun to fashion God as the very kind of despot the serpent has claimed that he is. Her views of God are being distorted. Her beliefs about God have begun to fall. So the serpent quickly pursues the attack. Look at what he says next:
You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil (vv. 4-5).
Notice that the serpent claims to have insight into God’s secret thought life: “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened” he tells them both. Can you see? The serpent is attempting to fashion God as insecure and tyrannical by revealing God’s supposed reasoning for the command against eating that fruit. And it works!
Adam and Eve believe the serpent rather than God. Their faith has fallen. Look at verse 6 with me:
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate (v. 6).
As with the extremes of belief mentioned in our introduction to this passage, could it be that:
- Eve has required far too much evidence in order for her to follow God while Adam has required far too little evidence?
Could it be that:
- Eve disobeyed because she desired the evidence she wasn’t given by God while Adam disobeyed for lack of attention to the evidence he was given by God?
Could it be that:
- She took the fruit because she was too hungry for proof so her belief fell while he took the fruit because he wasn’t hungry enough for proof therefore his belief fell?
I wonder if there isn’t a very important lesson for us at this point in the story. I wonder if most of us have a tendency to move too far to one end of the spectrum of belief or to the other?
You may not be wired to learn Greek or Hebrew or get a PhD in theology, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t dig as deeply into the Bible as your shovel will allow. More than one local congregation has been saved from doctrinal error through the faithful and deep biblical study of its general membership.
On the other hand, you may be as precocious as they come in such matters. You might literally have a PhD in New or Old Testament or Systematic Theology. If so, learn God’s word well. Learn it inside and out! But, go where the Bible goes then go no further. Don’t add to or subtract from the truth which God has revealed. Don’t fall into the temptation to judge God!
Well, we need to look briefly at our story’s second tragic movement.
2. The fall of intimacy (vv. 7-13)
Look at the last half of this passage again with me:
Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.
And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He 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?” (vv. 7-13).
Let me make a couple of observations then we’ll conclude.
First, notice that the woman and the man’s sin of unbelief and disobedience has serious implications for their relationship—their intimacy—with the Lord God. They hear God coming and they hide from him (v. 8), and Adam basically blames God for his sin when he says: This woman you gave me (v. 12) made me do it!
Second, notice also that the woman and the man’s unbelief and disobedience have severe implications for their relationship—their intimacy—with one another. They doubt and disobey God then are instantly ashamed of their nakedness (v. 7). Moreover, they begin to blame one another for their disobedience (v. 12, cf. v. 13). And so, the relationally destructive blame game has begun.
Lack of belief always leads to lack of intimacy!
If I begin to suspect that my wife isn’t being completely honest with me, then I will not naturally want to share my personal thoughts and feelings with her. If I cannot believe or trust or have faith in her—then why should I believe or trust or have faith in her with my most intimate thoughts and feelings?
Friends, this is precisely what has happened to our relationship with God, and because it’s happened to our relationship with God it’s happened by extension to our relationships with one another. This is why God is so concerned with belief. Unless we trust God we’ll never obey him—at least not in an intimate relationship. Not in a loving family relationship!
This is why God sent his Son. Jesus came to believe where we failed to. Jesus came to obey where we failed to. And God’s pleased, when we trust in Jesus, to assign us Christ’s faithfulness and to assign us Christ’s obedience in order that we might once again have intimate relationship with God. This is the good news. This is the gospel, and it must change us.
Let me simply say this. When we believe and trust in Jesus as our Savior, then the relationship divide—between us and God—is bridged once and for all. Our intimacy with God, broken by our unbelief, has been restored!
Yet, that restoration must extend into the area of our human relationships. Sadly, Christians have been quite bad at working at restoring intimacy in this way. We divide and fight and betray like the world around us, and our witness is hurt!
My hero, Francis Schaeffer, wrote this about our witness to the world:
The world has a right to look upon us and make a judgment. We are told by Jesus that as we love one another the world will judge, not only whether we are his disciples, but whether the Father sent the Son. The final apologetic…is what the world sees in the individual Christian and in our corporate relationships together.4
Brothers and Sisters, if we cannot forgive one another in the family of God, if we divide from our church family when we don’t get the things that we want, then we don’t merely inconvenience ourselves and those from whom we separate. We diminish our witness to an unbelieving world!
May it not be that way here! May our belief in God be articulated and lived! And may our gospel witness to the world be powerful!