I wonder what it is that drives us to sin. What is inside of us that causes us to do what we know we ought not to do?
My first thought is selfishness. We have to admit we’re all prone to selfishness. We see things that we want, and we go after them – simply because we want them. Those things make us feel good, no matter how they may make others feel. And selfishness causes us to decide that what we want takes priority over what other people want.
There is biblical merit to this idea that selfishness causes us to sin. The Book of James says people are tempted when they are lured away and enticed by their own desires (James 1:14). I follow my desires into sin. You follow your desires into sin. We want what we want.
But I wonder if there is something even more fundamental to our sins. If we go back to the very first sin recorded in Scripture – by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden – we see Eve took a long look at the forbidden fruit. It was good for food. It was a delight to the eyes. And it could make one wise (Genesis 3:6). There’s plenty to desire there. It was good for the belly, eyes, and brain.
But it is what the serpent says before Eve took that long look at the fruit that should make us pause. The serpent said the fruit would make Adam and Eve “like God” (Genesis 3:5). And I wonder whether here we find the key to all sin. Is our fundamental desire to be like God? And in our effort to be like God, we sin?
It’s an appealing thought to be like God. If you are God, you never have to worry again about what you will eat or what you will wear or where you will live. You never have to worry again about dying, or even about getting sick. If you are like God, you can create solutions to any problem that may arise. I have to admit that I would like to be like God.
So when we lie or when we take something that isn’t ours, are we trying to be like God? Does that desire reside beneath those actions? I suppose that it does if we understand our dishonesty and our theft to be things that we do to get what we want. After all, God can get what he wants. We lie and and steal in an effort to be like God (although it is unlikely we understand it like that at the time).
That brings us to Esther 3 and to Haman – a man who wanted to be like God. He was elevated by King Ahasuerus to the highest position in the land. And all the kings servants bowed down and paid homage to Haman. The king commanded people to do this – to treat Haman like a god. We bow in worship to acknowledge the greatness of another. And we pay homage to someone – we show them special public honor – as a way to demonstrate that person’s greatness.
The king said Haman was to receive these things – worship and homage. And Haman seemed to relish the opportunity to be like God. He certainly didn’t turn people away.
But Mordecai, who was a Jew, seemed to understand clearly what was going on. This was worship of something other than the One True God. And to do this was forbidden for Jews (Exodus 20:3). And it goes without saying that for a true Israelite, no one deserved worship other than the One True God. So Mordecai refused to bow down or pay homage to Haman.
Haman, of course, was not God. This is obvious in the text. Haman was so un-godlike he didn’t even feel he could compel Mordecai to worship him. So, when thwarted in his attempt to be like God, Haman began his sinful work. In fact, it was the worst sinful plan known to humanity – to wipe out a whole race of people in selfishness. This plan to exterminate the Jews reads like Hitler’s Holocaust – only Haman didn’t have to hide his efforts. He could carry them out in plain sight.
All in an effort to be like God.
So what is the antidote to this desire to be like God? How can we escape it in ourselves? Maybe we ought just to let go of the God-complex and realize we aren’t gods. We’re humans who are weak and frail. What we need is a Savior.
For some reason today I am thinking about the New Testament story about Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42). This isn’t a story that is naturally paired with the story of Haman and Mordecai. You know the story – Martha was busy getting ready for a big meal or gathering at her house while her sister Mary just sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to him teach. Martha complained to Jesus, and Jesus responded, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
This is not much of a story about sin, at least at first glance. I wouldn’t even go so far as to say that Martha sinned – at least not by much. She just wanted to put on a nice event for Jesus. That’s a good thing. But those things didn’t really matter much because God himself was sitting in Martha’s living room! Martha had put her mind on other things – things other than the One True God.
To be like God means that we can set the agenda. And it means that we get all the glory. To be a healthy worshipper of God means I set everything related to “me” aside as I give God glory. I stop trying to be God, and I let him be God.
“Haman, Haman, you are anxious and troubled about many things … You are trying to be like God, but there’s something better for you to do. Let the ‘many things’ loose. You aren’t God. You never will be. It is time to find the God who IS.”
We can say that pretty easily today. But Haman took his frustration and turned it into genocidal action. We sin in trying to become like God. We are saved when we sit down at God’s feet and let him be in control.