Chapter 4 – Steps Away from Our Original Design
When the homeowner had found the garden hose under the bushes, he realized the hose was not in the same condition as when it was originally manufactured. Instead of being flexible, it was stiff. Instead of being whole, it had gashes that would leak. Without an explanation from the prior homeowners, the new homeowner may have wondered how the hose wound up being under the bushes in the first place.
When we looked at this metaphor in the last chapter, we explored how we are like the garden hose and how we were originally designed to function. But we deferred to this chapter the question of how the hose got under the bushes in the first place. So, in this chapter we will explore this question. We will also look at common ways people try to resolve the conflict of feeling like there should be more to life than they experience in their “normal” existence.
How the hose got under the bushes
To find the answer to the question of how the hose got under the bushes in the first place, we need to go way back in history to the beginning of mankind and look at the Biblical story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. A person may not believe this story was an actual historical event like I do, and yet if they look at it, they will find it gives an excellent description of the root problems of humanity and explains how the hose got under the bushes.
At a most basic level, Adam and Eve enjoyed a wonderful, deep friendship with God and each other. This was their normal existence.
When they were tempted to eat the fruit that God had told them not to eat, they began to distrust that God was perfect in motives, perfectly loved them, and only wanted their very best. Instead, they pulled back their hearts from God and in turn caused a tremendous and terrible break in their friendship with Him. In this, they moved away from a beautiful partnership of friendship with God – where they did meaningful things together in this friendship, such as tending the Garden of Eden – to instead moving toward being independent from God. In terms of the hose metaphor, they went from being hooked up to the faucet with the water of God flowing through them, to being removed and placed out into the yard under the bushes.
When Adam and Eve broke their friendship with God, they became spiritually diseased. And this spiritual disease not only affected them, but became a spiritual hereditary disease that has infected all humans down through the ages to our present time. (The only exception to this was Jesus, since He is the only human to also be fully God.) Because people are so used to this spiritual disease and the effects that it has, many think it is normal – even though it is abnormal to their original design.
There are a number of symptoms that people experience in this separated condition. First of all, they no longer have God’s love flowing through them back to God, themselves, and others. And without that love, the basis for valuing God, others, and themselves is greatly decreased. This in turn works toward a downhill slide that can even result in their hating and being mean toward God, others, and even themselves.
Another symptom is that deep down, many people want better friendships, and yet find they cannot quite get there. They feel lonely not only when they are by themselves, but even if they are with many other people, since even among many others, they can still feel relationally isolated. Their loneliness is often more acute when they are not with anyone else, and this in turn can drive them toward being with others. And yet, when they are with others, the relational strains tend to drive them away from relationships back toward being alone. These two forces tend to balance out at a point, and yet in any given season a person may try “just one more time” to make relationships work. Others just decide that being a loner is the less hurtful way to go.
Overall, many people feel lonely, but do not know how to solve that loneliness by growing in deeper friendships with Jesus and others. And yet the blueprint of who they were originally designed to be is still in the fabric of their being. So, deep down they know there is something more to get to – yet they cannot quite seem to get there. It is like they have an itch on their body somewhere that they cannot quite locate. I have noticed four stages that people often go through in trying to find the itch.
The first stage is the totally selfish stage where a person is only concerned with themselves and their own needs. They try to buy things, experience things such as tastier food or thrills such as skydiving, try to be number one at something, try another romantic relationship, and much more. And yet, no matter what they purchase, accomplish, or experience, they only find temporary satisfaction. They often think the very next thing will bring the satisfaction they so strongly desire. And yet after they finally get the next thing and experience it for a while, it disappoints them since it did not provide the satisfaction they thought it would bring. A person in this stage can go from thing to thing to thing, and stay permanently stuck in this stage without ever being able to locate the itch.
Some people make it into the second stage when they discover a certain satisfaction in helping others. They might help to tutor a school student, help a person to move to a new residence, or just provide a listening ear to a troubled person. As the person helps others, they find that somehow they begin to feel a little better about themselves. As they focus on the needs of others, it helps them to get a little further away from the self-centeredness of the first stage. And yet, as much as they do things for others, they still deep down do not feel totally appreciated or valued. They can even get discouraged that their efforts are not appreciated more. And once again, as much as they try to help others, they still cannot find the itch.
Some people make it to the third stage when they realize there is a spiritual dimension of who they are, and begin to seek spiritual understanding and apply spiritual principles to their life. As the focus of their life moves toward spiritual things, they find that it resonates to a certain degree with something deep within them that their second stage efforts of helping others did not get to. And if they begin to look to a higher power, it can help them move further away from the self-centeredness of the first stage, since they begin to see the higher power at the center of the universe instead of themselves. And yet, this stage also has limits. As much as they try to grow in spiritual ways, they still find they are unable to reach what is deep in their hearts to get to. The itch is still not found.
The person makes it to the fourth stage when they, like the garden hose, get repaired and hooked up to the faucet. As the faucet opens, they begin to have the water of God’s love flow through them, and over time God’s love becomes a wonderful basis for them to love and value God, others, and even themselves. They begin to grow in their partnership of friendship with Jesus and find purposefulness in their deepening friendships with Him and others – as the garden begins to produce good fruits and vegetables. This all finally begins to resonate with the core of their being, since they begin to function according to their true normal design.
In the next chapter we will look at the details of how a person can get hooked up to the faucet and in turn make it into the fourth stage. But before moving on to that chapter, let us first take a look at one more issue, mainly the topic of, “What really is sin anyway?” For if we have a narrow view of what sin is, then it can hinder us from being freed up by Jesus into His very best for our lives. If instead, we can get a wider view of what sin is, it can greatly help us to want to avoid it, since we will see more clearly how it can really hinder us from growing toward those deeper waters of friendship with Jesus and each other.
What really is sin anyway?
When Jesus was once teaching about prayer, He said that it is good for us to ask God to forgive us of our sins in light of our forgiving others who have sinned against us. He then added:
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:14-15, emphasis mine)
It is interesting that these verses show sin in the context of relationships. When Jesus says, “they sin against you”, He is talking about sin in terms of what I call “relational violation”. In other words, seeing sin in light of the negative impact it has upon friendships.
To see this further, if we look over the entire Bible at the topic of sin, it shows that the essence of sin is all the relational violations that humans do that work against them being able to love God, others, and themselves. This makes sense since the greatest two commandments are to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves, and anything that would work against this would classify as sin. This even includes things that are not easily seen as working against someone being able to love God, others, and themselves, but in reality are things that actually do so and in turn can contribute to the forming of relational barriers that can greatly hinder deeper friendships.
A person might say that Adam and Eve sinned against God, and therefore God removed them from the Garden of Eden. At a very basic level, this is a true statement. But if we only look at this basic level, we can miss the bigger picture of what is going on.
If we instead focus upon sin in terms of relational violation, we can see that Adam and Eve did a great relational violation against loving God and each other. As their hearts pulled back from God, it greatly hindered their ability to have God’s love flow through them as much as it had before, and over time it had a terrible impact upon their friendships with God and each other. Not only this, as they began to doubt the perfect character of God, they no longer fully accepted God as God and instead made a great substitution where they themselves began to move toward that central position best occupied by God. In this they became “too big for their britches” and gave birth to pride and arrogance, which have had terrible impact upon friendships ever since. In just one generation after Adam and Eve, we can already see a striking example of this decline in friendships when their one son intentionally killed their other son!
If we look at sin from this perspective, we can see why God would not like it, since in His perfect love for us, He wants our very best. And in light of this, it saddens him that sin hinders us from growing toward our original design for deep friendships. This is similar to the story in the last chapter about the parent whose child went to jail. The parent was very saddened by seeing the child’s life detoured from all the good things that they desired for the child.
Instead of seeing sin in terms of relational violation, some people view it more from what I call a checklist mentality. They think that God has a list of things that He does not like, such as playing cards, dancing, or drinking caffeinated beverages. So they diligently live by the checklist, and yet often do things that harm their friendships without realizing it – such as looking down on, and even rejecting those who do not follow the same checklist. They can even hinder others from moving toward friendship with Jesus, since those being hindered might conclude that if God just wants them to follow a bunch of rules and is really not interested in their very best, then they do not want anything to do with God at all.
But if instead of a checklist mentality, we begin to see sin from its true relational context, then it can be of great help to us. So, if we realize that Jesus only wants our very best, we get hooked up to the faucet, and God’s love begins to flow through us, then over time, Jesus will help to open our eyes so that we see with greater clarity the correlation between what we do and the positive or negative long-term effects that it has upon our friendships with Him and others. The following verses show this correlation.
Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him. (1 John 2:9-11)
It is a great benefit for us to see this correlation more clearly, since as we better understand what sin truly is, we will grow in a desire to avoid it and the negative effects that it has upon our friendships with Jesus and each other. It is a great kindness of Jesus to help us to see this correlation better, since without such sight, we could do damage to our relationships without even knowing how we damaged them – just as the 1 John 2:9-11 verses show how it is hard to see clearly in the dark. The more we see this correlation, the more we will want to avoid sin – not because it is on a checklist – but because we do not want to be unloving toward Jesus and others. As we grow this way, it will resonate deep inside of us as being very right and good, since it will be in harmony with our true design.
In this chapter we looked at how the garden hose went from its normal existence to its abnormal existence under the bushes due to a terrible break in the relationship between humans and God. In this we saw that the true essence of “sin” is relational violation, instead of the commonly held view of a checklist mentality that causes further relational violations. We also looked at the symptoms people experience in the condition of being under the bushes, such as loneliness and relational strains, and how they often go through four common stages to try to remedy these symptoms. In the next chapter we will look at the details of the fourth stage that shows how the hose can be restored, hooked up to the faucet, and begin to function according to its original design.