About this series: I believe “getting the gospel right” means telling the story well. This idea inspired me as I wrote my book for kids, The Story of King Jesus. In this series, I’m sharing a few aspects of the story that I believe are key to telling it well.
God made the very first people
so he could share his home with them.
He gave them a job to do:
take care of his good world.
– from The Story of King Jesus
Last year, we bought a kids’ worship album for the car. My daughter wants to listen to it ALL the time. She knows every song by heart—including the popular Hillsong Anthem, “Forever Reign,” which opens with the line, “You are good, you are good / when there’s nothing good in me…”
Let me tell you, there’s something jarring about hearing your 4-year-old daughter sing, “There is nothing good in me.”
Yet when it comes to the gospel, that’s how we typically start, with the idea that our sin defines our whole identity. It’s the first letter of the Reformed mnemonic, TULIP. Total depravity. It’s the first way station on the “Romans Road” plan of salvation. For all have sinned and fall short.
But that’s not where our story begins.
Our story begins in Genesis 1, not Genesis 3. And, yes, it matters where we begin.
In Genesis 1, with each successive act of creation, God delights in the inherent goodness of what he’s made. On the sixth day, God surveys everything and sees that it’s not just good, it’s very good. Seven times God sees that it’s good—which, for the discerning Jewish reader, signaled something. The number seven signaled completion. In Genesis, it signaled the complete, utter goodness of God’s creation.
That includes us, by the way. Whatever else may be true about us, God made us good.
Obviously, a lot happened after Genesis 1. But why do we skip this part of the story when sharing the gospel? Why do we bypass Genesis 1 and go straight to Genesis 3?
Is it because we’re afraid of thinking too highly of ourselves by saying that God made us “good”? Is it because we think our salvation depends on our willingness to grovel, to confess utter worthlessness before a reluctantly forgiving God?
Some Christians seem to almost revel in their portrait of human depravity, as if trying to outdo one another in capturing the wretchedness of our natural state—as if thinking the more we beat ourselves down, the more God will somehow be lifted up.
Except it’s not our natural state, and acting as if it is actually leads to a diminished view of God. In Genesis 1, we see that we are good—not because of anything we did, but because God made us that way. Our goodness is not something we came to on our own; it’s a gift. It’s the very first gift, the very first act of grace.
In God’s story, grace precedes sin.
Starting with the world as God made it also helps us to see where the story is going.
If God made the world good, then he can make it good again.
If God made the world good, then salvation—whatever else it may entail—is going to involve this world, its rescue, its remaking.
If God made the world good, then it changes how we understand our role as citizens of his kingdom. To return to God—to renounce sin and exile—is to return to our original mission: to take care of God’s good world.
If God made the world good, then our salvation is not from this world; it’s for this world.
Of course, the story doesn’t stop at Genesis 1, and neither should we. We cannot skip right over Genesis 3. We should not underestimate its impact on the rest of the story. To paraphrase N.T. Wright, we cannot whistle in the face of darkness when confronted with Hiroshima or Auschwitz… or (we might add) Ferguson. Guantanamo. Bhopal. ISIS.
The darkness is real. Our sin is real. It’s why the world needs saving.
But telling the story well means starting in Genesis 1, not Genesis 3. God made the world good, and he is making it good again.
This is where we should begin when sharing the story with our kids.
Next up: Making the world right and good again…