We Start with What’s Wrong, but God Starts with Goodness

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You’ve been told that human life is rooted in the story of Genesis 3; God says that your true identity is found in Genesis 1.

Understandably, we often relate more to the Genesis 3 (“the fall”) part of the story.

Look at your newsfeed.
Look at your hurts.
Look at your life.

Each one of us can name at least one thing wrong with the world.
Likely, you’ve got more than one thing wrong in your life.

A friend is sick and may not make it.
A loved one is gone and will never come back this side of the resurrection.
You haven’t seen family in over a year due to the pandemic.
There are secrets in your heart and they are burning a hole deep within your spirit.
You struggle with physical limitations that most people don’t know about.
You have different sorts of limitations that some designate with a “label.”
A large portion of the population may see you as less than you are as God’s beloved image bearer.

So many other things may describe the wrongs you experience. This list isn’t even close to exhaustive.
Life is full of pain. It is full of hurts.

How Some of Us Hold What’s Wrong

Life is hard in a broken world like ours.

So, what do we do? We start with our experience of brokenness, something the Bible often calls “sin” (or the result of sin in the world).
Well, we …sort of… start with our brokenness. Let me explain.

The truth is, many of us are holding lots of pain but try not to be too “public facing” with it. We are the classic optimists or “re-framers.”
We lead with the rose-colored glasses sort of life.
It’s not only that we want to portray a “good life” to those who see us, but we want to believe that all of the mess isn’t for nothing.

Others might lead with all that is wrong in their lives. Perhaps for some, to re-frame what they’ve been dealt is unbearably optimistic.
Instead of a re-frame, these folks might prefer looking at life mostly through a broken frame.
There is an admirable realism to this pessimistic posture, but it can at times lack the intentionality to see something even more real than this sort “realism:” hope.

There are several other responses to pain and brokenness we could name.
These two examples, however, illustrate a point:

Optimists and pessimists are both using strategies to manage the same thing: the world we inhabit and the lives we experience are far from perfect.

We start with what’s wrong.

However, God doesn’t do that.
God doesn’t re-frame; God renews.
God doesn’t settle for a broken frame; God steps into the frame to make all things new.

God doesn’t start with what’s wrong; God starts with goodness.

What’s Wrong and How We Tell the Story

Pain and suffering is real. We need to acknowledge this in our lives and world.
However, the story we tell about God and the world often, wrongly, mirrors our own starting point.

We start with pain. We start with what is real to us: brokenness. But that is not how the Bible begins.

Many of us were brought up to believe that the story of God’s saving grace to our broken world begins something like this:

  • You are a human and therefore you are sinful. (Genesis 3)

Now, if you remember Genesis 3, it’s the story about how Eve and Adam chose to disobey God and thus, sin enters the story of our lives and world. (At least, this is how it is often described)
With Genesis 3 as a starting place, the conversation about the story of God then often moves to:

  • But there’s good news! Jesus can save you from your sins so that you can go to heaven when you die.

This version of “what’s wrong” and the story of how it is fixed makes sense (even if I think it is partially flawed).

  • My life is a mess. To be human is to be broken. (Genesis 3)
  • Jesus can save me from a mess I will never be able to fix on my own! He will take me to heaven when I die so I can leave behind earth and my physical body!

Can you see why this version of the Story of God—with Genesis 3 as a starting place—has had so much traction over the years?

We start with what’s wrong. So then, we tell the story through this lens.

But imagine if it is So. Much. Better.

Where God Starts Your Story

What if the story really begins in Genesis 1? What if, as Genesis 1 teaches us, you and I—before anything else—are bearers of God’s divine image?

Simply put, we might say:

  • My life is a mess. True. But the story of God starts with a declaration that this world is “good” and human image-bearers are “very good.” To be human is to bear God’s image. (Genesis 1)
  • The mess started as a result of human and demonic rebellion from God. But this is a distortion—not the essence—of what it means to be a human being. (Genesis 3-11)
  • Jesus saves me for a life where I learn how to bear God’s image more fully. Jesus is fully human and shows me how to become more and more human like him—just as God intended for us from the very beginning!

In my book, Echoing Hope: How the Humanity of Jesus Redeems our Pain, I reflected on the connection of Jesus’ humanity to our own:

“Jesus shows us how to be human while also giving us a front-row seat to the heart and character of God. We see a God who becomes like us—in all humility and without sin. Jesus took on our nature so that we might take on his” (Echoing Hope, 34).

Jesus shows us how to return to the start of God’s story! God starts with the goodness of the world and the very goodness of human beings.
Yes, clearly sin has entered the picture.
But it—pain, sorrow, suffering, sin, evil, etc.—is not what defines us as human beings.
Sure, some suffering is redemptive—even holy at times. (For instance, suffering for Jesus.)

However, that is not how the story begins. We may start with our brokenness. But God doesn’t. God starts with goodness.
You are first and foremost a human being made in God’s image.

For the optimist: you don’t need a re-frame, you’re invited to step into reality—you are human and this is good news.
For the pessimist: you don’t need raw realism if it means that you miss out on a deeper and truer reality—you are human and this is good news.

May we start our story with God’s declaration that being human is very good news.
May we step into brokenness in a new way, rooted in the story of Jesus’ redeeming grace to guide us into our full humanity, as God intended for us from the beginning.

You’ve been told that human life is rooted in the story of Genesis 3; God says that your true identity is found in Genesis 1.

Author: Kurt Willems

Kurt Willems is a pastor, author, and spiritual director. His first book, Echoing Hope: How the Humanity of Jesus Redeems our Pain, releases in March 2021. Kurt is also the host of the Theology Curator podcast. He has a master of divinity degree from Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary and a master of arts in comparative religion from the University of Washington.
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