Genesis 4:7 – If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.
As I was growing up, we spent a lot of time playing in the great outdoors. Adventure was as close as our metal swing set which tilted precariously if you flew too high. We caught thousands of lightning bugs, picked buckets of blackberries, ran hundreds of miles… and never lost sight of the house. We dug clay from the creek banks to shape vases for the wild violets we picked, and we climbed the tree in the front yard to find caterpillars for fishing. Our neighborhood gang played kickball between the tool shed and the drainage ditch, and we draped lawn chairs with blankets for incredible carport forts. We made up our own games and chose teams from whomever was done with home chores. Sometimes those teams were stacked a little unevenly because the older kids would choose each other and leave us younger ones to fend for ourselves.
When we named our teams, we young ones would pick something mild, something happy, something that made us feel like good people. Maybe we would be the Lambs or the Butterflies. The older kids had different ideas. Their team names gravitated toward Pirates or Wolves, and then they would make up rules that benefited their side. “Pirates don’t play by the same rules you do,” they would say. “Pirates are bad guys.”
We didn’t win games back then. We just enjoyed being outside and accepted the fact that we were going to lose to the bad guys. That’s ok, I’d tell myself. I’d really rather be a good guy. Besides, I like butterflies.
Narratives about good guys and bad guys have been in place since the beginning of storytelling. Long before house-building pigs and a ruthless wolf, tales of good choices vs. bad behavior flavored our history. As oral traditions gave way to the written word, conflicts persisted. One of the first biblical stories is about the bad brother who murdered the good brother. Cain was told by God that he must overcome the desire for sinfulness, but sin knocked at the door and a very grumpy Cain answered.
Generations later, stories continued to flow about folks whose conduct fluctuated among the good, the bad and the ugly.
The people craved evil things, worshiped false gods, practiced sexual immorality, tested God, grumbled… we’ve read the stories, but these were not necessarily the folks we might consider bad guys. They weren’t corrupt government officials or immoral drug dealers; they weren’t even pirates. These people were Hebrews – the chosen people of God. These were the ones who had the teaching of Abraham and were being led by Moses. These were supposed to be the good guys!
Throughout scripture we find details on how all the enticements we face today are neither new nor unique. Rather, temptations to enter into bad behavior and make poor choices are commonplace among people of all times. Just as the generations before us, we crave things that are unhealthy. We adore things in ways that take our focus away from God. We exercise little restraint when faced with morality.
However, also throughout scripture, we have a promise of constancy from the Creator of our Universe. God is faithful and has provided a path to reconciliation. Knowing we will struggle and surely make poor decisions, God promises new beginnings. A repentant heart is met with pardon, forgiveness, and new life. The psalmist gives voice to this promise: Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin. (Psalm 32:5)
What a comforting thought that is. When I face dangerous decisions, risky escapades, or unhealthy activities, I have options. When I play by God’s rules, God provides me with enough hope, enough strength, enough wisdom, and enough courage to master sin’s desire. I will make mistakes, but I never have to fend for myself because I’m on God’s team surrounded by good. I simply spread my butterfly wings in prayer and allow the Spirit’s breath to gently float me toward forgiveness. When I seek out God’s perfect love and ask to be pardoned, three things happen: I do well, I am accepted, and my future is again bright and eternal. In the end, I’ll always be on the winning team!
Playing for the good guys,
PRAYER FROM PSALM 32
Holy God, thank you for removing the guilt of my sin. You are my secret hideout, protecting me from trouble, and encircling me with songs of rescue. I am truly grateful that faithful love surrounds all who trust you. Amen.