My coworker approached me where I sat at one of the computers at work. “Next month, I get to bring a friend to karate for free, and I’m inviting you,” she said. “You can come two times a week for the whole month, or you can come to one class and if you don’t like it, you don’t have to come back. Whatever you want to do. No pressure.” I told her I would think it over and let her know. I considered it (I rarely make decisions about committing my time lightly. It’s a blessing and a curse.), and a week or so later, I told her that I would give karate a try. After all, she’d been taking classes for a year and had constantly talked about how wonderful the dojo and the people who owned it were.
As the month of March drew closer, she gave me more details about what karate classes would be like.
“What should I wear?” I asked.
She thought for a moment. “Black pants – like looser fitting yoga pants, and a black t-shirt.”
The first Monday in March arrived (or maybe it was a Wednesday – I can’t remember), and I gathered the registration paper my coworker had given me to fill out and donned my karate outfit. Following the map she had drawn me, I followed the winding road to the dojo. They had just moved to a larger building and this would be one of the first classes in the new dojo. Relieved to see my coworker’s car in the parking lot, I pulled in and went inside. My coworker welcomed me in and introduced me to Senpai (which basically means assistant teacher, who in this dojo is also Sensei’s wife). My friend explained to me the tradition of bowing towards the front of the dojo before stepping onto the mat as a sign of respect, and I performed my first awkward bow and stepped onto the mat. Although everyone was quite friendly, I felt shy, awkward, and a bit self-conscious in my clingy black exercise clothes while everyone else wore their loose white gis (uniforms). As the rest of the students gathered onto the mat, it wasn’t hard to tell who the new kid was. I was a girl in black in a sea of white.
By now, it’s pretty clear how the story continues: I stayed the rest of that month, as well as the next twenty-four. But before we go any deeper, I want to pause and share the purpose for this blog series, which has been percolating in my mind and heart for almost two years now. After just a few weeks at karate, I began to see many ways that karate illustrates the kingdom of God – the world of knowing and following Jesus. I remember the excitement I felt one evening while mowing the lawn, just a few months into having my white belt, as my mind made more and more connections between these two worlds.
My purpose in sharing these parallels is twofold: to introduce my karate friends to the kingdom of God, the life of having a personal relationship with the living God through Jesus, in a way that is hopefully made understandable by relating the physical to the spiritual through karate; and to give my friends who are already acquainted with the kingdom of God a new framework for understanding various truths from the Bible. For me, to learn something new is to step across a threshold into a whole other world, so I hope that regardless of which of these categories you may fall into (or a different one entirely), you will read along and enjoy learning about these two worlds that are so very dear to my heart.
Now, back to the beginning of the story – but a different story. The story of all humanity, which includes you and me. This one starts in a garden, several thousand years ago, when the first man and woman were created. I highly recommend you take a minute to read (or reread) it here before continuing. This man and woman were created by God, unique from the rest of His creation in that they bore His image and likeness. He spent time in the garden with them, and they knew Him closely. They had only one rule to follow: do not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. As you may know, Eve was deceived by the serpent, Adam followed her lead, and they both ate the fruit. In that moment, paradise was shattered. Their close relationship with God was broken, and like a poisonous vapor, sin entered the world and affected everything.
The meaning of the original word translated “sin” in the Bible is “missing the mark,” as in an archer shooting an arrow and falling short of the target (from HELPS word studies). God’s target for us is righteousness – obedience to His commands. Because He is the Creator and sovereign Ruler of all the world, He has the right to make the rules (we’ll talk about that more in depth in a future post). The meaning also includes the idea of forfeiting a reward because of missing the mark. When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden of Eden by disobeying God’s command to not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they missed the mark of obedience to God and as a result, they forfeited their perfect relationship with God. Then death entered the world.
When we think about death, we tend to think about it as an ending, finality, closing. However, the real meaning of the word “death” is separation. When God told Adam and Eve that they would surely die if they ate of the tree He had commanded them not to, they didn’t drop dead right away – although physical death was then inevitable for them. But immediately when they ate the fruit, they died spiritually – they were separated from God, unlike before when they lived in close relationship to Him. The first thing they did after eating the fruit was to hide from God. Separation of relationships – this is death. Think of the pain and suffering of the world – aren’t all of the evil things in the world hurtful because they separate people and break relationships?
Death, of course, extends beyond separation in relationships. Death is also the separation of our soul and spirit. When someone physically dies, they are separated from their loved ones here on earth. If a person dies without ever repairing their relationship with God, their state of death – separation from God – is eternal. God is the source of everything good; therefore, hell is the eternal absence of anything good. It is never-ending torment. Sometime when you sit outside around a campfire, staring into the flames, think about hell for a minute. Think about the searing pain you would feel if you fell into that fire, and think about feeling that pain without end for all of eternity. Think of worms eating your hands, your legs, your face. Think of endless sadness, torment, and thirst without relief. It’s not fun to think about, is it? But this is the reality of separation from God. This is the place that God had prepared for Satan and his demons. Humans were never meant to go there, and God warned Adam and Eve. But they didn’t listen. They chose to sin. Because of Adam’s sin, death entered the world and spread to all who would come after them, like a genetic disease. Because we are their descendants, we have inherited their disposition to sin. Our relationship with God is broken.
We are all born wearing black, so to speak. We all enter this world devoid of a relationship with God, just the same as we enter the world without any karate skills. But we also all have the choice of repairing that relationship with God and being restored to a righteous standing in His eyes – regaining paradise.
When God looks at us, He sees whether or not we are truly His – whether we are wearing white or black, so to speak. He knows if we have confessed to Him that we have missed His mark and sinned, and if we have trusted in the death of His Son to save us. He looks out over the sea of humanity and knows as easily as someone viewing a dojo with a new kid in it who is His and who is not.
So, how can our relationship with God be repaired?
We have to accept His terms.
Come back again next week to read Part Two or subscribe to have it delivered straight to your email inbox!