John 3: 19
by Robert G. Brooks
The American author, Thomas Wolfe, has a short story by the title of this sermon. I am simply using his title as a symbol for what Holy Scripture calls “the mystery of iniquity,” which this sermon will examine in many facets. I am a Christian and a preacher because of the influence of the brilliant black poet, James Weldon Johnson. I was unconverted when I began to recite his rendition of creation, as it might be delivered by a black country preacher. The more I was called upon to deliver this oration, the more guilt I felt, for many times I delivered it after having been inebriated the night before. Finally I was asked to deliver this reading in a church as if I were the preacher.
Finally my conscience was convicted until I became a Christian and a minister. I set before you now Johnson’s sermon, “The Creation.”
And God stepped out on space,
And He looked around and said,
“I’m lonely, I’ll make me a world.”
And as far as the eye of God could see
Darkness covered everything,
Blacker than a hundred midnights
Down in a cypress swamp.
Then God smiled,
And the light broke,
And the darkness rolled up on one side,
And the light stood shining on the other,
And God said, “That’s good!”
Then God reached out and took the light in His hands,
And God rolled the light around in His hands
Until He made the sun;
And He set that sun a-blazing in the heavens.
And the light that was left from making the sun
God gathered it up in a shining ball
And flung it against the darkness,
Spangling the night with the moon and stars.
Then down between the darkness and the light
He hurled the world;
And God said, “That’s good.”
Then God Himself stepped down—
And the sun was on His right hand
And the moon was on His left;
The stars were clustered about His head,
And the earth was under His feet.
And God walked, and where He trod
His footsteps hollowed the valleys out
And bulged the mountains up.
Then He stopped and looked, and saw
That the earth was hot and barren.
So God stepped over to the edge of the world
And He spat out the seven seas;
He batted His eyes, and the lightnings flashed;
He clapped His hands, and the thunders rolled;
And the waters above the earth came down,
The cooling waters came down.
Then the green grass sprouted,
And the little red flowers blossomed,
The pine tree pointed his finger to the sky,
And the oak spread out his arms,
And the lakes cuddled down in the hollows of the ground,
And the rivers ran to the sea;
And God smiled again,
And the rainbow appeared,
And curled itself around His shoulder.
Then God raised His arm and He waved His hand,
Over the sea and over the land,
And He said, “Bring forth, Bring forth.”
And quicker than God could drop His hand,
Fishes and fowls and beasts and birds
Swam the rivers and the seas,
Roamed the forests and the woods,
And split the air with their wings.
And God said, “That’s good.”
Then God walked around, and God looked around
On all that He had made.
He looked at His sun, and He looked at His moon,
And He looked at His little stars;
He looked on His world,
With all its living things,
And God said, “I’m lonely still.”
Then God sat down
On the side of a hill where He could think;
By a deep, wide river He sat down;
With His head in His hands,
God thought and thought,
Till He thought, “I’ll make me a man.”
Up from the bed of a river
God scooped the clay;
And by the bank of the river He kneeled Him down;
And there the great God Almighty
Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,
Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,
Who rounded the earth in the middle of His hand;
This Great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till He shaped it in His own image;
Then into it He blew the breath of life,
And man became a living soul.
I. The Dark one enters the primal forest.
A. Dark in the forest, strange as time, he stealthily stole in, the Prince of
It is not intellectually respectable today to believe in him whom the saviour called “the god of this world.” The personalist philosopher, Edgar Sheffield Brightman, in his book on metaphysics, Person and Reality, seeks to posit entities in the universe to explain evil, which he calls “surds,” or “the Given,” the processes of nonrational consciousness.” His position has been called theistic finitism, although he asserts God is “finite-infinite,” meaning God does not have complete control of the surds, but that he has ultimate control. The surds may be viewed as finite wills. Elsewhere Brightman calls these non-rational processes “dysteleological surds” in the universe. Such sophistry will not do! The Prince of Darkness is shown to have a will (albeit against the Most High God) and man’s will (or surd) emulates that of the Dark One.
B. Dark death shadows fell across the couple in Eden.
The forbidden tree and fruit are symbols of the law, the first “thou shalt not” of the Bible. The first couple rebelled and sought to be “wise gods” themselves.
They were what Paul described as being “in the sars (the flesh) not the spirit. “The flesh” is often used in the New Testament, not of the body as such (for it was created “good”), but for man’s living apart from God, his sinful self. This is not in every case, eg., “The Word became flesh.” However, Paul can write: “So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Rom. 8:8)
C. All the unconverted are dominated by the flesh.
As strange as time, the unconverted are dominated by the flesh. Every new child repeats Eden in their life. Thus early the child produces in his life what Paul calls “the works of the flesh.” (Gal. 5:19-21) As strange as time, every new generation produces these sins.
II. Let us examine the most serious thinkers on sin – a philosopher, a philisophico-theologian, and a modern theologian.
A. The philosopher, Immanuel Kant.
In his little work, Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone, he sets forth his view of the radicalness of sin. Nothing external causes evil in man: “He is the author” he argues that man has within him innately a moral law, so that one’s action could be set forth as a universal norm, or maxim. Such a law he calls the categorical imperative.
Man constantly chooses evil, and if, he argues, this is “not to be termed wickedness,” it is certainly “worthlessness.” It arises from free will, which has a propensity to evil.
Kant’s solution is that man must be able to overcome, since he has freedom of the will. Christ is the Ideal, but man must “mold his own character” with the help of a supportive, enduring society against evil; namely, a people of God, i.e, a Church.
Kant started out in the right direction, but took a wrong turn on the street of self-salvation. Considered the most erudite contemporary systematic theologian today, Wolfhart Pannenberg takes Kant to task, contending that the moral law in Kant took the place of God (Systematic Theology, vol II, p. 246). In his Critique of Practical Reason, Kant concludes: “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe. . . the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.”
B. Soren Kierkegaard, a philosophico-theologian, will next be considered.
He sets forth his view of sin in his book entitled The Sickness Unto Death. His biographer, Walter Lowrie, says: “There has been no other man in modern times who took so seriously the problem of original – or inherited sin,” due mainly to his belief in a continuity of guilt with his father’s guilt, who in his youth cursed God. He describes original sin as “dread.” “Dread is an alien power which lays hold of an individual,” rendering the individual impotent from his first sin, impotent in the sense that “he cannot tear himself loose from it.”
Kiekegaard defines sin as a choice “before God in despair not to be one’s self, or before God in despair to will to be one’s self,” thus being weakness or defiance. What a person he argues, is in essence is a will to “tear himself away” from God. “No despair,” he says, “is without defiance.” “For despair is precisely to have lost the eternal and oneself.” “Sin is a position before God.” The sinner is so thoroughly in the power of sin that he does not recognize it’s “totalitarian” character. “When God lets Himself be born and become man. . . this is the seriousness of existence.” Abandoning Christianity Kierkegaard says, “is the sin against the Holy Ghost.”
C. The Modern Theologian, who in my opinion, views sin the most
seriously is Emil Brunner.
So-called original sin, says Brunner, “is completely foreign to the thought of the Bible.” He refutes the usual ideas connected with Ps. 51:5 and Romans 5:12ff, denying the biological inheritance of sin through sexual transmission. Rather, Brunner rightly says sin is always “the person before God,” willingly choosing sin. Sin is in the will, he concludes in his book, The Scandal of Christianity.
In his Dogmatics, Vol II, Brunner says sin is rebellion. The title of his book, Man In Revolt well sums up his view. But he goes further and calls sin “apostacy” – “emancipation from God.” Sin is a total act: “The whole man rebels against God.” As strange as time, it is universal, ever repeatable by each generation.
Moreover, almost alone among modern theologians, he believes in a purely spiritual, sinful being, to which we can ascribe what we may call “Satanic sin, in contrast to human sin.” Further, Brunner states that the unbeliever’s state is “existence under the wrath of God.” The kind of death, Brunner argues, that is the “wages of sin” is more than merely physical death: “It is the fear and agony. . . about that which lies on the other side of death. . . and the fear of possible punishment.”
These thinkers we have reviewed all saw the seriousness of sin. But western, secular man, in fact, considers the very word “sin” itself as a joke! Even an abstractionist theologian as Paul Tillich argues that “the word ‘sin’ must be saved,” because it points sharply to “personal responsibility.” However, his usual word for separation from God is “estrangement.” Modern, western man refuses to be called “a sinner” or to be referred to as “lost.” Paul says of the unconverted that “Their foolish heart was darkened.” (Rms 1:21)
III. Human kind is in the dark forest of sin, strange as time.
John concludes that the “whole world lieth in the evil one.” The world is in darkness, almost hopelessly in darkness, alienated from the Most High God. Nietzsche, however much he hated Christianity, got it right when he wrote in Thus Spake Zarathustra: “The earth. . . hath diseases. One of these diseases, for example, is ‘man’.” Man has a diseased will. I once wrote an anguished poem on man’s diseased will:
O will of man, O will of man,
If I could stay thee with my hand,
God knows I’d stay thee!
O will of man, O will of man,
If I could turn thee with my hand,
God knows I’d turn thee!
If I could turn thee to the right—
Away, O will, from darkest night,
My God! I’d turn thee!
Then turn thee would I to the tree
Which towers there at Calvary—
I’d make you bend and bow the knee!
But ‘tis not mine to make you turn—
To force you flee from sin’s dread ruin—
For you, wild will, are free!
Free art thou, O will of man,
To choose the blessings of God’s hand.
Then, will – be free!
Or choose canst thou the way to Hell;
And there, not free,
In bondage dwell.
O will of man, so free
There’ll be no freedom in the grave.
And whom you’ve chosen
On this earth
Will determine your weight of eternal worth.
Choose God then, will – and live!
Only Christ can give!
A. The family is diseased, pornography and sodomy striking at its very foundation!
B. The church is diseased by opinionated and egotistical church members.
C. The state, as strange as time, is ruled by political corruption.
D. Economics is tempted to Laiser-fair, cut-throat capitalism. Competition is good, it makes for better products. Brunner writes in Justice and the Social Order: “When ever employer and employed both understand their work as a community of service or labour” will strive for ideal relations.
E. National pride committed to subjugation is sin to the hundreth degree!
The Roman poet, Lucretius, anguished if not over man’s sin, then at least over man’s stupidity: “O wretched minds of men! O blinded hearts! In how great perils, in what darks of life are spent the human years, however brief.”
In contrast, the Christian may testify: “Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear son.” (Col. 1:16)
Of him who is not a Christian, it may be said symbolically, he is dark in the forest of sin, as strange as time! If you are not a Christian, Christ is the Light!