How much joy did the curse cost me? By his curse on creation, didn’t God intentionally put a limiter on the joy we can have in him in this life? Wow — a solid question from a podcast listener named Michael. “Hello, Pastor John! Can you explain what the futility/fall/curse costs us today regarding our felt experience of joy? I believe this was the deliberate act of God. So, even for obedient Christians, how does the intention of God to subject all of us, and all of creation, under futility/fall/curse cost us in God-glorifying joy? It seems to me that God intentionally put a limiter on our joy experience in this world, and thus he likewise put a limit on how much we can glorify him too. Am I wrong here?”
No, you are not wrong. When Adam and Eve sinned, when they preferred their own wisdom to God’s wisdom, and preferred their own perception of what was good and pleasant to God’s perception, they died. God had said in Genesis 2:17, “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
Folly and Ruin
When they ate, two things happened. The sentence of physical death and separation from God was — bang — confirmed. The gavel came down in the courtroom of heaven: Guilty — to be hanged by the neck until dead. Sentence delivered, execution assured, time fixed in the mind of God. It’s done. You’re dead.
The second thing that happened was in the spiritual dimension of their souls. Oh my goodness, you can see it: Every relationship was ruined, corrupted. They were ashamed of themselves. They were blaming each other. They were blaming God. They were afraid of God. Everything came apart when sin entered the world.
“Grace shines all the more brightly because of the deadness and blindness from which God saves us.”
In short, their preference for self over God — and there’s the essence of sin; that’s what entered the world — pervaded and ruined every relationship. Self-exaltation would be another name for it. Self-exaltation ruined everything. It ruined the relationship with self even. It made the self insecure because the human self could never be God, and that’s what the self had just chosen to be. It’ll never work. Fallen human beings are built into failures because they can never be the God they want to be.
Self-exaltation ruined the relationship with the spouse because now another person is just an encroachment upon my self-rule. “Please, get out of my life. You’re in the way. I want my self-freedom to do what I want to do.” And now the spouse, she or he can never conform to your godlike demand for your own self. Others now have to be used to buttress the self because it’s so hopelessly out of sync with its godlike expectation. Sin and self-preference and self-exaltation have ruined relationships with other people.
Finally, self-exaltation ruined the relationship with God because God is the only one in reality that deserves to be exalted, and so our self-exaltation means we’re in high treason against God and rebellion against him and alienated from him. Oh, what a misery was brought into the world because of self-exaltation and preference of self over God. All of that is called death. It is God’s judgment, not just a kind of natural development. It was promised in Genesis 2:17; it was executed by God. God warned of death, and now he delivers: he hands them over actively into the folly and ruin that they have chosen.
Dead to Delight in God
Now, Michael is right that when sin entered the world, God subjected the world to a spiritual death, as well as a physical corruption, and God put sinful man in a position where he could not glorify God from the heart, precisely because he could not see and savor the all-satisfying beauty of God with the heart. His heart was blind to the beauty of God, and therefore he was not able to delight in God; therefore, his joy was shriveled, and his capacities to glorify God by enjoying God were dead.
Probably the best description of this fallen condition of the human heart — unable to see and savor the beauty of God, and therefore unable to glorify God from the heart — is Ephesians 2:1–3.
You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
“Preference for self over God pervaded and ruined every relationship.”
Goodnight, that’s awful. That’s just a horrible description of human nature. Now, that’s true of us — until God breaks in at verse 4 and makes us alive. We’re called dead. Mankind is dead, but ironically, it’s a very active deadness: we’re sinning; we’re trespassing; we’re walking according to the spirit of the age; we’re in lockstep with the devil; we’re by nature sons of disobedience; we’re children of wrath. That’s a really active dead man.
We have plenty of desires as dead people — desires of the body, it says. We’re following the desires of the body. We’re following the desires of the mind. But they were all dead desires; that is, they were leading to ruin. And we’re totally insensitive, dull, impervious, dead to the most thrilling desires in the world — namely, desires for God. That’s what deadness means ever since Adam and Eve fell into sin: dead to delight in God. We can’t delight in him because we’re blind to his beauty, and we can’t glorify him because we can’t delight in him.
Yes, Michael, yes, the fall was God’s handing us over to a blindness and a deadness that kept us and keeps us from seeing the all-satisfying reality of God and, therefore, keeps us from glorifying God from the heart. But. There’s a great old sermon by Martyn Lloyd-Jones called “But God . . .,” and it’s based on Ephesians 2:4–7:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places [and here’s the purpose], so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
We see here the ultimate purpose of all these years, centuries of shutting down our joy and shutting down our ability to glorify God from the heart. Why? “So that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace” (Ephesians 2:7). That grace shines all the more brightly because of the deadness and blindness from which God saves us.
If we stand back from the fall of Adam and Eve and the fall of the whole human race into sin and spiritual deadness, and we ask, “What was the purpose of all that? Why did God let that happen?” we can answer with the words of Genesis 50:20, paraphrasing, “You, Satan, meant it for evil, you snake. You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” And the good was this: “to the praise of the glory of his grace” (Ephesians 1:6 NET). Paul says he consigned all things to deadness and disobedience in order that in the coming ages he might make known or show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. And from that showing would flow joy and praise that never could have appeared without the fall.