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Thursday, June 14, 2012

It's All Good.


Genesis 3:8-15

I.
            This is a story we all think we know so well.  Let’s recap what took place just before they two humans hear the Lord God walking in the garden.
            First of all, remember that at the end of chapter one we are told; “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.”  So the whole creation is good.  God did not make anything that wasn’t good.  It’s all good, as they say.
            We proceed through the story of how human beings are created, and we get to a point where there are two individuals in the garden of creation, a man and a woman.  The serpent, which is one of those beings that God made and declared very good, was also made “crafty.”  That was one of the virtues with which this particular life-form was endowed. 
            Later interpreters felt that some alien evil power must have taken over the serpent’s body, because it was incomprehensible to them that part of God’s good creation would suddenly start challenging and contradicting the Lord’s warning about what will happen if the people eat the fruit of this tree.
            The serpent promises them that if they eat this fruit, their eyes will be opened, and they will be like gods, knowing good and evil.  This is the first suggestion that there is anything evil in the creation to know.  Which we already know there isn’t.  The serpent latches on to the idea of evil, then says that the people don’t know about it because it is something only gods know.  So in one crafty sentence, the serpent has given the humans two fatal and false ideas.  One is that there is such a thing as evil, and the other is that the people are somehow imperfect, inadequate, and incomplete as God created them.  They need an upgrade, they need to become like gods.
            The serpent says their eyes will be opened; but what actually happens is that their eyes are closed when they disobey God.  This is the bitter irony of this whole passage.  The people don’t become wise; they become delusional because they think there is this thing out there called evil.  Instead of seeing the good creation as it is, they start imagining around everything these dark shadows.  Instead of seeing the whole place and themselves as good, complete, and perfect, they start to imagine that there is some better thing they have to strive to be: gods.  They have started to interpret themselves as inadequate failures living in a dangerous and fearsome world.
            And they start to act this way.  Imagining that they are somehow bad and imperfect, they decide to hide or cover themselves by making rudimentary clothing out of fig leaves.  Back at the end of chapter 2 there was no shame in their lives because they knew themselves and the whole world to be good, holy, blessed, and perfect.  Nothing needed to be covered up and hidden, least of all the people themselves.  Now, 7 verses later, after this conversation with the serpent and their decision to eat the fruit, they think there is something wrong with them that needs to be kept hidden.

II.
            Instead of becoming wise, they become stupid and delusional.  Instead of their eyes being opened, they become blind to the deliriously beautiful spectacle of divine goodness all around them.  Instead of becoming like gods, they imagine they are defective, incomplete, failures.  Instead of knowing good and evil, they lose their knowledge of goodness by choosing to believe the lie that there is evil in the world at all. 
            The only thing the serpent was right about is that they did not immediately drop dead when they ate the fruit, which God had warned them would happen.  But they do now eventually die. Having invented evil out of their own imaginations, they now basically bring death into the world, too.
            This is where we pick up the story for today.  The people hear God walking in the garden (and in iconography, by the way, the Lord is Jesus), and they hide, because now they think they are imperfect.  And they are also guilty for their disobedience.
            So the Lord says, “Hey, where are you guys?  What’s going on?”  And the man answers, presumably from behind a bush or something: “I heard you walking in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 
            In addition to the accomplishment of inventing shame, he has also just invented fear, by the way.  Two more things he completely made up as a response to this new deluded, false understanding of the world they live in.  I mean they still live in the Garden of Eden, for crying out loud, and they’re acting like they’re stuck in a dangerous jungle where there is a threat behind every tree.  They have chosen to live a monstrous lie.
            Then the Lord asks this wonderful question of them.  “Who told you that you were naked?”  Where did you get this idea that there is something wrong, incomplete, defective, shameful about you?  I made you perfect!  When did that change?  Who told you that what you are isn’t good enough?  Who said you have to be something better?  Why are you believing these lies?  Look around you!  Look at yourselves!  You’re still the people I made you! 

III.
            You can just hear the Lord’s disappointment.  It would be like having a daughter who becomes obsessed with the idea that she isn’t beautiful, and begins to hate and punish herself for it.  It would be like having a son who gets it into his head that he is bad and stupid, and decides he has to act that way.  We are the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, folks, and if we for whatever reason tell ourselves lies then we will live in those lies rather than in the truth of God’s love and goodness.
            The Lord God is crestfallen and brokenhearted here.  These children have chosen to embrace and live in a colossal lie.  They have chosen to turn this wonderful, fantastic garden into a desolate wasteland.
            And no amount of objective data is going to convince them otherwise.  They have willfully blinded themselves to the truth, convincing themselves that only now do they finally see clearly.
            So God kind of deflates and says: “You ate the fruit of that tree, didn’t you?  The one in the middle of the garden.  The one about the knowledge of good and evil.  The one I warned you about.
            To which the man replies: “It’s not my fault!  It’s your fault, since you put her here!  She gave it to me.  How was I supposed to know?”  (Of course, back in verse 6 we see that he was standing right there when she had that whole conversation with the serpent.)
            The Lord does not challenge the man’s evasion of the blame.  It’s like the Lord doesn’t even care about the blame.  God is just trying to get to the bottom of how much damage has been done here.  So God looks to the woman, and she says: “It’s not my fault!  It’s that serpent that you made and put here.  He tricked me.  How was I supposed to know?”
            So this whole little community commences to fall apart into mutual recrimination, as each person seeks to avoid blame by blaming another.  Having lost their perception of the truth that we are all one in creation, they accept the lie that they are all enemies, separate and unequal. 
            Instead of life being a perpetual “win-win” where each member of the system shares in the growth, prosperity, goodness, blessing, and joy of the whole, where there therefore are no deficits, no inequalities, no scarcity, and everyone is fully provided for, now we have people throwing each other under the bus to save their own skin.  All because they have chosen to believe these lies.

IV.
            Finally, God looks at the serpent.  If the serpent followed the pattern established by the two people, we might expect it to in turn blame the devil!  But it doesn’t.  The serpent is apparently done talking.  God pronounces that the serpent will be cursed by having to slither in the dust of the ground, and that there will be permanent enmity between humans and snakes.
            Indeed, there will be hostility now between the humans and all creatures, and each other, because the humans decided this was a more perceptive and wise way to live.  Now they imagine they know evil, and proceed to inflict evil on other creatures, even though evil isn’t real.
            To imagine that there is good and evil is itself evil because you are dividing up what God created as a unity.  God made the whole place good, but we have decided that this part or that part isn’t.  We’re going to decide that this part is evil.  We have to hate it, control it, kill it, or hide it.
            To imagine that we are not good and perfect as we are, that we have to attain to some imaginary god status, that we have to push ourselves to some additional perfection, that we have to earn or deserve grace by our actions or our opinions… all this is delusion.
            But now this has become all but real because we have built civilization upon these very premises, these lies.  They have a semi-quasi-apparent reality because we are so thoroughly indoctrinated into living like this.  We figure that if everyone else sees things this way and acts accordingly, it must be true.
            And whenever someone comes along and suggests otherwise, we decide they are either possessed or insane.  This is what happens to Jesus.  He comes into the world, positively glowing with the goodness and blessing of God.  He starts liberating people from these corrupt and false ideas and ways of acting, gathering people together in equality, and what do the powers say?  “He has gone out of his mind!”  “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons!” 
            Be afraid, be very afraid! 
            Our original ancestors dreamed up a divided and hostile world.  Jesus comes to heal by showing that this division, this dividedness, is false and therefore suicidal.  It cannot stand.  It will always and perpetually fall.  We have always and perpetually been falling ever since.  That’s why it’s called The Fall.
            The only way to solve this mess is to address, immobilize, bind up the “strong man.”  That is the only way to plunder his property, which is to say, get the resources hoarded by a corrupt system out of the house of the strong man and spread out among the people as God intended.  Inequality means some have more and others less; the remedy for this is to take from one and give to the others.  In order to do this you have to tie up the strong man.

V.
            The strong man represents, well, literally the strong men who use violence to take what they want and enforce their will on others.  They take advantage of our belief in evil and in our own imperfections, and use these ideas against us to put them at the top.
            The strong man therefore also represents the mentality we have been talking about from Genesis 3: the imagination of evil and the delusion that we are imperfect creatures, the notion that we really see things as they are.  The strong man represents the grip this way of thinking has on our lives. 
            When Jesus calls for “repentance” the word he uses is “metanoia,” which means gaining a different way of thinking.  It means changing our minds and altering the way our minds process information.  This bears fruit in new kinds of actions, of course.
            In other words, we have to stop thinking that we are imperfect, incomplete, defective, flawed, and inadequate creatures, and recover the memory of Genesis 1 and 2, which says that the whole creation is good and so are we.  We don’t have to be gods.  We don’t have to be super-human.  Not only is there no shame in being human, there is great blessing!  In Jesus, God the Creator becomes human!  What greater affirmation do we require than that?
            Secondly, we have to stop thinking as if evil had any actual reality.  God didn’t create it.  You can blame it on Satan, or on our own foolish choices.  But evil isn’t real and need not exercise any power over us at all.  Whatever power it has is what we, by our fear, shame, and anger, have given it.
            And finally, we have to realize that we are blinded by our delusions about who we are, what the world is, and who God is.  Somehow we have to open our eyes and see what is really here.  The most effective way to do this is to look at Jesus Christ, the Word of God, and through him study the Scriptures and the whole creation.
            We have to follow – not our own prejudices, habits, desires, fears, standards, and feelings – but Jesus Christ, God’s Word, and his commandments.  Then we shift our membership from the fallen gang of isolated individuals, perpetually at war with each other, to the gathering of God’s people, Jesus’ family, in the Kingdom of God.  We shift our allegiance from lies to the truth, from darkness to light, from death to life.  
            “Who are my mother and my brothers?” calls Jesus.  He looks at those gathered around him, and says: “Here are my mother and my brothers!  Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
            God calls us, in Jesus, back into that blessed and holy relationship we had before we decided that we needed to be better.  God calls us into the new, restored family, where there are no strong men, where there is no finger-pointing, no hiding and no shame, and no fear.  Only a holy community of equality, blessing, goodness, and joy.
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