Sunday, January 26, 2014

We Become Fools

We Become Fools
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
January 26, 2014
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
Genesis 3: 1-13
Romans 1: 18-25

So we continue our walk through the Old Testament, now heading to the watershed moment most commonly known as "the fall," that moment when our world fell from perfection. It has been interpreted many ways throughout its long history. It is very familiar to us and often we take for granted the details of the stories we are the most familiar with. So let's delve into this story with fresh eyes, but first I want to pose some questions. On the insert are four basic ideas that I want us to have in our heads before we delve into this text, so we can read as actively as possible. To me these questions are central to how this story relates to the rest of the Bible and our understanding of what the Gospel of Jesus Christ is all about. Think about before we go forward what your answers to these questions are. . .
1.      Original Sin? What is it and when does it take place?
a.       Listening to the serpent's words? Believing them? Making the decision to eat the fruit?
b.      When Eve takes the bite, or when Adam takes the bite? the guilt afterwards?
2.      What is different after the "Sin?"
3.      What is God's reaction? 
4.      What does it all mean to us?

So now, Let us pray, for the open hearts and minds that only God can give,
Almighty God, 
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives      
For your eyes show the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’ ” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; 5 for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
8 They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”[1]

This one story is maybe the most foundational story for all of what we believe about the Biblical narrative and what we believe to be true in our world. It is central. It gets into one of the major issues of the Western Worldview. The world was created to be something, created to be good, but just is not good. Something went wrong. One of the keys of the Western Worldview is the idea of a Fall, and it gives us hope. It causes us frustration, of course, but there is always a hope that if it was once great, it can be restored again to greatness. If you think about it there is hope there. I want to look today at exactly what happened, what changed, and then how "the good" can be restored.
So first, what happened. . . we all are familiar with the basics of the story. Snake comes to Eve, convinces her to partake of the fruit they weren't supposed to eat, she eats, shares with Adam, they hide, then God shows up, and Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden, never to return. That's the basic story, but let's delve a little deeper into the details.
First the serpent. . . tradition often teaches that the serpent is a manifestation of Satan or the Devil, the adversary to God, but nowhere in the story is the devil mentioned, rather the snake is just a snake. Obviously, it isn't that much of a stretch to connect the actions of the snake with the destructive actions of the devil, but we don't find a devil character all that much in the Old Testament. There is a Satan in a few places, but he does not really appear to be the eternal adversary of goodness, the destroyer, so rather than applying a name to him, let's just look objectively in exactly what he the serpent does. He asks Eve if God had told them they could eat of all the fruit in the garden, and Eve of course replies that "we are not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil" a direct quote of God from Genesis 2: 17, but she adds to that "nor touch it," then continues as God said "lest ye die." Pretty clear don't eat the fruit or you will die. The Hebrew for the lest you die part is, written there on your insert. pen te muten - lest you die, and the serpent says back to her, you will not surely die. The Hebrew for that is interesting, it is simply lo - te muten mut.  In other words, no die die. Repeated roots like this are typically used for emphasis, which is why we add the surely. But check that out. Lo which is the negative, then die die. In other words, exactly what God said, quoted back to her, but added for emphasis and then a direct negation, what God said is a lie, you won't die, die. To me there is no other way to read this.
The serpent is saying, God lies, now if God lies, what does that mean for the rest of what God says? Especially when you take into account the idea, that each word spoken by God comes to be. . . Let there be light, light. . . Let there be a firmament, a firmament. . . let us make humans in our image, humans in our image, and most importantly, God calling these things "good." By the very nature of God and creation what God says must be true, he makes true true. What happens when you consider God then to be a liar. . . right all hell breaks loose. The goodness of creation falls into question, and if you think about it the very existence of creation falls into question, certainly the purpose of life becomes completely in doubt.  So all of that is going on. So remember our questions - is this when the fall occurs. . . the moment where Eve begins to doubt, everything that is true? Replacing that "truth" with the lie, that God is insecure, that God just doesn't want us to have knowledge of "good and evil," that God doesn't want us to become like God.
Let's look at her next steps. . . So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. Do you see it? It gives us three details. She saw it to be good for food, she saw it to be a delight to the eyes, she understood it to be desired to make her wise. That certainly seems like an act of the will, right. She reasons it out, and then dives in, and then shares it with the man. They are perfectly culpable. There is the lie there, but there is no force used, just a seed is planted and then she logically decides to go for it. So is her logic flawed already?
Because what happens next? "Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves." Interesting language here, their eyes were opened, but before she could see, she was basing her choice on sight, that the fruit looked delightful and good for food, but now their eyes were opened, and they realize they are naked, and they hide. They hide from eachother, and they hide from God who then shows up, it says it is in the cool of the day, there is a suggestion in the language that God has done this before, that this is a pattern for God to walk in the Garden with the people in the cool of the day,  but now there is a change in that pattern because the man and woman are hiding themselves. Then the final part is the blame game. Adam blames Eve, and Eve blames the serpent. So eyes opened means. . . hiding from God and trying to pass the blame to others. Certainly seems like the beginnings of something very very bad. And it is. . .
So now we've looked at the story in more detail. . . let's look at our questions. . . maybe pose some thoughts if not definitive answers.
So first: Is there Original Sin? What is it? So obviously we are dealing with disobedience here right? God said don't do something and it gets done? But why the cosmic change though? Why are we all connected to this one story? This is explained so many different ways. . . like that something changes in us genetically, and then is passed down from generation to generation, that within our human bloodline, we are now forever tainted by this one error. That our nature now is flawed, and there is nothing we can do about it. Is that a magical thing then? Is it a punishment? Is there something world changing within the fruit itself? It appears that some answers just lead to more questions, don't they.
What if we look at it another way? What if the change isn't in the fruit at all, not in our blood at all, but in the way we see the world and ourselves? And the fruit is a symbol. I alluded to it before, what if the issue is believing the lie? Believing that God lies, which in a sense is not believing in God? There is no creator, there is no order to the universe, there is no purpose, there is no such thing as "good", just a fraud, an insecure fraud, making a lot of claims and proclamations, laws and rules, just to keep us from enjoying ourselves, the whole thing is a sham. Is believing that enough to destroy the world on its own? Surprisingly it seems like it is. Then the sin would be believing the lie, the act of eating the fruit then is simply the symptom of the disease. It would certainly make sense when we talk about salvation by faith, wouldn't it?
So let's look at the other side of it, the rest of the story in this light. So they eat the fruit, and begin to notice things. Remember they are now looking at the world and not trusting anything. They realize they are vulnerable in this world, and thus nakedness is an issue. Then all of a sudden, they are faced again with reality, but they can't see it because the lie has already done its job. God, the God they were doubting, shows up, like he always has, and God hasn't changed, God is still God, God is still the God who spoke the world into existence, God is still the only one who can Bara, create, God is still very much in control of what is going on, still creating, still God. But due to the doubts Adam and Eve are all messed up, thinking they can hide. Isn't that interesting. . . thinking that you can hide from God. . . at the same time thinking that you need to hide from God. Do you see issue there? If God matters you can't hide from him, and if God doesn't matter, why bother hiding? Hiding just doesn't make sense. . . it is quite foolish, actually, but yet it is what they do. And it's what we do isn't it? Have you ever thought that this story isn't just about Adam and Eve, but a type story of how humans interact with God? More than history, a parable of history, explaining how humans are. We are faced with the truth, come to doubt an aspect of the truth, act on that doubt, have no way of being able to process the truth then anymore, and so hide, pretending it didn't happen, or blaming others so that we do not have to stand in judgment, fearing the judgment that we told ourselves didn't exist in the first place. Then the tree of knowledge of good and evil is about being blind to the fact that all is good, made good by God, not a dualism of opposites but a unified creation of strict truth. Now doubts enter then, if every human being lives this exact story, as I think they do, multiply the damage of each by the people that have lived. Imagine how far away from God, from the reality of God you can get. Imagine how deep the hiding can go. Imagine how many symptoms of the disease there would be. Just off the top of my head I can think of 17 trillion lies we hide behind. Imagine how much an illusion the false reality would become. Still with me on those 17 trillion lies. It would mess us up completely, we couldn't trust anything anymore, we couldn't trust anything within and about us because our basis in truth is flawed in a dichotomy of good and evil that doesn't exist.
Auden put it so wonderfully poetically in his Christmas poem, he talks about the effect of sin, being a divided will. A divided will between four faculties.
As a dwarf in the dark of
His belly I rest;

So in other words your gut. . .

A nymph, I inhabit
The heart in his breast;

Emotions. . .

A giant, at the gates of
His body I stand;

Senses. . . what we see

His dreaming brain is
My fairyland.

Our minds.

Now all four of these things should tell us what is right and what is wrong, what is true and what isn't, but instead they all point towards different things. Isn't that a cool way of saying it? Divided will, that is the result of seeing the world not as a unified thing made good, but instead the opposite, whatever that could be. It's not just one thing, but every lesser thing. Remember there is no Good and Evil, there is only truth and God called that truth Good, the rest is simply else, and if God created everything that exists there is no else. It's presence is an mere illusion, a lie, a fabrication, a mirage. Isn't that what lies create.
Paul stated it much more simply in what Paula read this morning from Romans, he wrote,
Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; 21 for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images[2]

So that gets to a little bit about the effect of all this on us. But what about God? Where does he fit into all of this? God is all knowing? We believe this about God. So he must already know what had happened, but he shows up anyway. God shows up. God creates. God loves. God tells the truth. Things do change for Adam and Eve and us. God has allowed it to happen. God has allowed us to believe the lie. I believe to my heart, and the belief is based on what I know from the Gospel, that God allows it because love is what is important, and one of the biggest truths about love, is that it cannot be forced. We want to talk about God having no limits, he doesn't have limits, God then only chooses to limit himself because it is necessary for the infinity of love. How's that for a paradox. . . when you see it from God's perspective it makes complete sense, it is no longer a paradox, but alas again Sin is powerful. We get glimpses of this truth all the time, when we find that in giving ourselves we find life. Again and again. . . Light from darkness, it's what God does.
So how do I know this? What makes me think this is true and not just another manifestation of the misguidedness of our sin? Because what is true about God in the Garden is shown to be true about God throughout the Bible, and throughout our lives. . . God shows up, no matter what. That is the other side of love. It sticks, it's unconditional, and it doesn't go away. It doesn't run away. It stays, it shows up when we hide, it shows up even when we strike our brothers and doesn't forsake us, it shows up in a famine, it shows up in a flood, it shows up in a promise, it shows up when a sacrifice is needed, it shows up in a wrestling match, it shows up in dreams understood, it shows up to a basket floating in the Nile, it shows up at the Red Sea, it shows up in the land flowing with milk and honey,  it shows up when the Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks and Romans come, it shows up in the Lion's Den, and in the Belly of the Fish, it shows up knowing our inward places, before we even had shape it shows up, it shows up in a stable in Bethlehem, and it shows up on the cross, and three days later it's running free in our world again. God shows up, doing what God does. Nothing has changed, the story goes on and on, each day again and again. Stop hiding, turn around, fall to your knees and begin the relationship of perfection. Friends believe in the good news of the gospel. God shows up, in Jesus Christ we are forgiven. Amen.

[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Ge 3:1-13). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
[2]The Revised Standard Version. 1971 (Ro 1:20). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.