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Adam & Eve: A Story of loss and hope

posted Sep 25, 2018, 12:05 PM by Cameron Hubanks   [ updated Nov 7, 2018, 6:28 AM ]


Here is a prayer that perhaps you’ve heard before:


“Merciful God, support us all the day long of this life full of trouble, until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed and the fever of life is over and our work is done.”


This is one of several standard prayers used at the committal service of one who has died.  It is both sad and hopeful.  After all, nearly no one needs convincing that life can be full of trouble and that life can be feverish in its demands and in its unrelenting challenge.


For thousands of years life has been this way.  The challenges of life that you and I and others we love struggle under have burdened humankind since the beginning of human consciousness.  But why?  


If life is nothing but a biological accident, then the question of struggle is meaningless and pointless – but for people of faith – for you and me – the reality of evil challenge our faith.  The fact that life is hard laughs at our belief in a good God – it mocks the assertion of Genesis 1 that God created a universe that was – and is – good.


Theologians have a big fancy word for this challenge – Theodicy.  Theodicy is the theological study of the problems that naturally arise in believing in the existence of a good God in the face of the evident reality of evil.  The word itself is of fairly recent origin (1710), but the problem of reconciling the existence of a good God with the reality of evil is ancient.  Perhaps the oldest book of the Bible is the story of Job – which in a nutshell is the story of a good man who suffers almost unspeakable evil.  


It is easy to imagine that in ancient days – long before even Job came on the scene that our human ancestors sat around the evening fire after a long day of hunting – a day in which one of the most beloved members of the community had died in the inherent danger of the hunt – and together they wondered why life was this way.  


So…. it’s almost always useful to know where a journey is headed before setting out, right?  If a sermon is a journey – and that’s one way to look it – then you need to know that I do not have the answer to the problem of evil.  The ancients who sat around that campfire on the day of that disastrous hunt didn’t have the answer, the philosopher who coined the word theodicy didn’t have the answer, and neither do I.  


But here’s what we do have – we have a story that offers not a solution, but an origin.  And in that story there may even be found a glimmer of hope.  Let’s take a look at it.


The text we heard this morning from Genesis chapters 2 and 3 are not a continuation of Genesis 1 – they are a different account of the creation.  The first chapter tells the story from a grand and overarching perspective.  Genesis 1 teaches us that the whole of the universe is of intentional origin and is good – very good.  The first story teaches us that there is a God who is the origin of all that is and that you and I are both privileged to be a part of that creation and are called to responsible living within God’s good creation.


But Genesis 2 and 3 tell the story from a very different perspective.  If the first story lays out the order and grandeur of the creation, the second forces us to deal with the messiness and the grief of actual life.  


Today’s story starts with a garden – we know it as the Garden of Eden – and it is an idyllic place.  It was in this garden that God places the man and the woman and charges them with its upkeep and maintenance.  In return, the garden will supply their needs.  


A brief aside:  We live in the day of “#MeToo” – a time of growing awareness of the pervasive realities of everything from gender inequality to sexual abuse/violence.  This coming week in the context of the on-going Supreme Court confirmation hearings we are going to be inundated with competing narratives about relationships between men and women.  We will be exposed to deeply divergent perspectives about privilege and voice and being heard and seen and believed versus not being heard and seen and believed.  These questions matter to people of faith.  There are some who imagine that Genesis 2 actually establishes a hierarchy of gender.  After all, the woman is made from the man – from his rib, we are told; doesn’t that imply some sort of priority?  We’re not going there today, but because this question is so current, I need at least to say that so far as I understand this text, it does NOT establish the kind of hierarchy that some imagine it does.  Or to put it differently, this text might legitimately be read to offer some insight into the origins of the age old “battle of the sexes” but I am far from convinced that it tells us anything about what God intends for relationships between women and men.  More on this on another day.


Today we are addressing brokenness, pain and trouble – or to put it theologically, we are talking about sin.  The story in a nutshell goes this like:


God created a garden of perfection and gave Adam and Eve the run of the place.  God asked several things of them – to name all the creatures for starters.  But more to the point, God asked the man and the women for loving obedience.  God asked our ancestors to give up any illusion of deity and to trust instead in God’s provision and God’s goodness.  And as the ancient storyteller crafted the story, the choice was made real in the form of a tree which bore appealing fruit, but which was off-limits – the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  We’ve no idea how long this state of affairs lasted.  The story might be read to suggest that the crisis occurred on Monday or Tuesday of the first post-creation week, but I think it’s equally possible that Adam and Eve lived for ages in this state of innocence and bliss.  What we are told is that one day the serpent planted doubt in Eve’s mind.  Don’t fall prey to the temptation to imagine that this was because Eve was more suggestible.  In any case, Eve (after exaggerating the nature of the prohibition God had placed on them – God didn’t say they couldn’t touch it) ate of the forbidden tree and invited Adam to do the same, which he did.  And in this moment of disobedience the two DID become like God.  For the first time they were self-aware – self-aware of their own nakedness, for starters.  Aware for the first time that they had something to hide.  And hide they did.


And so, in the evening when God habitually came to garden for fellowship with the two, they were not to be found.  Can you imagine trying to hide from God?  It’s almost comical, no?  But before you laugh too heartily, remember, this isn’t just a story about Adam and Eve – this is our story – yours and mine.  Perhaps we do well to insert ourselves into the garden and wince a bit as we bring to mind the times and the ways when each of us is given to hiding from God.  


The mop-up of the story is a recitation of transition from Eden to now.  In the garden, the work of humankind was a pleasure – today it is drudgery.  In the garden the man and the women co-existed in blissful partnership – today we struggle to respect and honor each other in our respective identities.  In the garden it seems childbirth was a breeze – outside the garden we’ve needed to invent Lamaze and anesthesia.  


There’s so much more that could be said about this story, but I want to end with two observations:


First of all, it is natural and permissible to wonder why God gave the woman and the man the freedom to disobey.  Because I am not God, I do not know the answer with certainty, but I have the same guess that many thoughtful people have offered from time immemorial – that God created us in God’s own image not to be robots, but to choose to love and obey God in the dangerous arena of true freedom.  The suggestion here is that love is really only love when one can say no.  Is it heartbreaking to know that in giving us freedom, God opened the door to alienation and war, to famine and violence, to disease and abuse?  Of course it’s heartbreaking.  But we cannot know the alternative.  Perhaps the only alternative was not to create at all.  I choose to trust the goodness of God and to place myself in the hands of God.  I choose to recommit myself to the arduous task of resisting the temptation to make myself God and instead to let God be God.  


And secondly, the story contains an odd and tiny little note of hope.  When God speaks to the serpent there is a strange little prophecy.  God tells the serpent (who we are not to imagine as snakes generically, but as anything and anyone who tempts us to make ourselves into God) – God tells the tempter that he and the offspring of the woman will one day have it out.  That there will be a knock-down, drag-out battle.  And in the end, the offspring of the woman will again be hurt by the tempter (the serpent will bruise the child’s heel), but ultimately the child – Eve’s progeny – will crush the head of the tempter.  This odd little prophecy is not explained here, nor anywhere else.  But many have found a word of hope here.  In the New Testament we are offered the intriguing suggestion that Jesus Christ is the 2nd Adam.  So, perhaps the promise here is that generations later the 2nd Adam – Jesus Christ, Eve’s ultimate son – would indeed have his heel bruised by the tempter (the crucifixion), but in return the tempter would suffer a fatal blow to its head.  In some metaphorical sense, might this not be the resurrection of Christ…and eventually of all of humankind?  That the promise here is that the broken state of affairs that began in the Garden, will finally one day be set to rights through the gracious and loving choice of Jesus to die for us.  


Because this story is myth and metaphor, it is full of potential meaning.  Why for example, did God banish the man and woman from the Garden?  Is this punishment?  Or is it for their own good – that they not eat of the tree of life and live forever in this broken and hope-challenged state?  Again, we aren’t told, but I find the idea fascinating – and hopeful.   


I’ve said only a beginning of what might be said about this story.  I hope you will keep at it.  Perhaps this is the place to wrap it up for now:  This is a sad story of loss and broken promise – but in it are the seeds of restoration and hope.  By God’s grace let us find and live in that hope.


Amen.


Zwingli United Church of Christ

Paoli, Wisconsin

23 September 2018

Genesis 2:4-25 & 3:1-24  (PTB #2)