Garden of Eden

I Did It

Genesis 3:8-15 (ESV)

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

The Lord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this,
   cursed are you above all livestock
   and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
   and dust you shall eat
   all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
   and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
   and you shall bruise his heel.”

When we explore the larger story of “the fall,” that first act of disobedience to God, we often focus on the attractiveness of sin. It’s not hard to construct reasonable-sounding arguments for why we should disobey God; sinful acts themselves can be quite alluring, at least initially.

Today’s verses call us to examine the after-effects of sin. The false beauty projected by sin fades rapidly once we recognize sin as rejection of the source of all beauty, God.

The loss in this story is incalculable; our text today opens with God arriving to walk with the man and woman, eventually known to us as Adam and Eve. That simple fact is poignant to the point of being distressing, for we see the couple had what most of us crave, a simple, close relationship with God.

Oh, to be able to walk among the trees of Paradise with our maker, asking him anything that comes to mind and receiving a clear answer! Before sinning, Adam and Eve thought such walks were perfectly normal, the way things would always be. Shortly after sinning, they were hiding among those trees, fearing the One they had previously trusted as a perfect Father.

What they feared and what we fear is that moment of confrontation after sin. Even in our fallen state, we have enough of a sense of God’s righteousness to hate that impending moment. We can spend our lives hiding from it, even running from it.

There is nowhere to run, however. If we don’t have that moment of confrontation in this life, we certainly will have it in the next life.

We wriggle to find ways to justify ourselves, too, as if we can sort out the blame and defer the punishment on our own. As we see in today’s story, the first sin is also the first example of passing the buck.

Adam, who was first to hear God’s commandment about the tree, blames Eve. Eve, who clearly knew the simple “don’t eat” commandment, blames the serpent.

The serpent—well, he was the agitator, the twister of words who started the problem. The author of Revelation later would associate “that old serpent” with Satan, the ultimate bringer of confusion. To me, the talkative serpent is interesting in that he accepts his curse in silence, knowing he is facing his Creator, just like everyone else.

What the man and woman needed, and what we need, is a better way to move through that moment of confrontation.

Instead of buck passing, we need repentance. Whatever the sin, don’t try to rationalize it, don’t try to justify it. Don’t try to argue it’s really not that serious compared to what others have done. Just say:

I did it.

You can do terrible things and still never get around to saying, “I did it.” King David committed adultery and murder to have Bathsheba as his wife, but until the Prophet Nathan used a parable about a rich man who stole a poor man’s lamb, David wasn’t able to say, “I did it.”

Psalm 51 artfully records David’s “I did it”: “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.”

Saying “I did it” doesn’t fix everything. We’re still a long way from the fix, but at least we’re on the right road, the road that passes through repentance to salvation.

When Adam and Eve were cast from the Garden of Eden as part of their punishment, they found themselves on that road. God worked through them to begin a change that would make possible our restoration to Paradise.

I’m talking, of course, about events revealed in the great narrative of the Bible, the grand story running from Genesis to Revelation. Yes, we are trapped in sin from the moment we are born, and we are put in a position that makes us want to hide from God.

For thousands of years, a small group of people we call the Israelites tried to get back into relationship with God by following his law. We cannot get back to God on our own, however. As those Israelites fell in and out of the relationship, humanity remained lost.

A new solution was needed. As he did in the garden so long ago, God walked among us for a time as one of those Israelites, raised in a rural place called Galilee.

He actually took on flesh for his three-decade walk on Earth, and we call that God-Man Jesus. I hope you know the story and let that story shape your lives. Jesus went so far as to suffer and die for our sins, in the process explaining more deeply the importance of intertwined love and obedience.

We repent by saying “I did it, and I regret it. I want to put it behind me.” We believe in what Jesus has done, and we are saved from sin.

It is that simple. And in time, we are invited back into the Garden of Eden, the Paradise where we exist in the presence of God.

We have different ways of talking about the life to come. “Going to heaven” is one way to describe the experience. We also have elaborate imagery from the Book of Revelation, symbolic scenes of creation restored to holiness and heaven and earth re-joined.

What I look forward to is a walk in the garden in the cool of the day with my Savior, asking him whatever comes to mind.

The featured image on this blog page is “Expulsion from the Garden of Eden,” Thomas Cole, 1828.

What Child Is This?

John 1:1-14

By now, we’ve heard quite a bit about the birth of baby Jesus, particularly if we’ve managed to attend a Christmas Eve service somewhere. And it is a glorious story, a warm place in Scripture where our souls can bask for awhile.

It also is a meaningless story unless we understand who Jesus is—why his arrival means so much. I do sometimes wonder if Christmas has become so secularized that it’s possible to slip through the season without considering Christ’s eternal nature and impact on the world.

Like the shepherds in Luke’s birth story must have done, we have to ask, why this baby? And then we have to take advantage of something the shepherds did not have, the full story of the Bible, Old Testament and New Testament together.

Hold your Bible in your hand for a minute. Find that slim section known as the gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—and pinch them between your fingers. These few pages in four different ways tell the story of a man who, in less than 40 years of living, made sense of all that comes in the pages before and all that comes after, all the way up to our present day.

To understand the baby in the manger, we even can go back to the first people in the garden, seeing or perhaps even re-seeing what we might call the fall, the break from God, or the big mistake.

A couple of weeks ago, I had one of those exciting moments where you see something very familiar from Scripture in a new way. Oddly enough, I was watching a cooking segment on an early morning news show.

The guest food expert was showing the proper way to prepare a pomegranate, a popular fruit during the Christmas season. He showed how to slice it down the sides, submerge it in a big bowl of water, and then pull the fruit apart, separating the edible seeds from the skin and pulp.

Forbidden Fruit? (Fir0002/Flagstaffotos)

This technique, he said, was to avoid the huge mess usually made when opening up a pomegranate. The juice is known for staining both clothing and skin.

What came to mind as I watched this segment is that in Jewish tradition, the forbidden fruit Eve took from the tree and gave to her husband was most likely a pomegranate. (There are some other candidates; a fruit called a “quince” comes up now and then, but the pomegranate appears repeatedly in Jewish religious tradition.) Our notion that she plucked an apple from the tree of knowledge of good and evil is a western idea—the fruit is not actually identified in the story.

Imagine for a moment how seeing a pomegranate in the story changes it. Eve had no knife or bowl of water. Rather than delicately nibbling an apple, she would have ripped the pomegranate open with her bare hands to get at the deep red seeds, which are a true delight to the eyes. The purple juice would have sprayed, running down her arms and generally making a mess. Perhaps she and Adam would have even buried their mouths in the segments, staining their faces in the process.

We are reminded of just how beautiful sin initially can seem. But it just gets messier and stickier the deeper we find ourselves in it. The stains left by sin can even seem permanent.

“Though you wash yourself with lye and use much soap, the stain of your guilt is still before me, says the Lord God,” the prophet Jeremiah told the sinful people of Judah.

Enter the Christ child, who was so much more than just a baby. John’s gospel opens by telling us his identity. He is the Word, the essence of God, and the Word “became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”

Only God in human form could overcome the mess we have made through sinning. Jesus grew into adulthood to teach us how people not stained by sin would love God and one another. He then made it possible for those stains to disappear by going to the cross, allowing humans to make a bloody mess of the flesh God had taken on, suffering to the core of his divine soul in the process.

In Christ’s suffering and death we are mysteriously restored to God. We simply have to believe that what Jesus did was effective. As proof, we trust in the accounts of the resurrection, and our own experiences of the Holy Spirit, God working within us.

If you struggle with believing your particular, horrible stains can disappear, look to Revelation, the final book of the Bible, a vision of creation set right through Christ’s work.

In Revelation 7:13-14, the man having the vision, known as John of Patmos, sees worshipers standing before God in heaven.

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

We also have Revelation 22:14 to consider: “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates.” There we are, back at the trees of paradise, this time entitled to the fruit giving eternal life.

That’s why we remember the baby; he carries us into eternity. Merry Christmas, indeed.