July 2, 2017
It Wasn’t Supposed To Be This Way
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’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 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.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 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. 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.
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. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” 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 from 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 from 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 tricked me, and I ate.” The Lord God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
cursed are you among all animals
and among all wild creatures;
upon 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 hers;
he will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel.”
To the woman he said,
“I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children,
yet your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you."
And to the man he said,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife,
and have eaten of the tree
about which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread
until you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”
The man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all living. And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them.
Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.
* * * * *
This is the story of how the world began.
Once upon a time, God made a perfect world. The Lord God created the earth and the heavens, and then formed a human being out of the dust of the earth, and breathed in the breath of life – God’s own Spirit, inside this earthy creature. But the person was lonely, and God saw it wasn’t good for this one to be alone. So the Lord God created a partner, a helper, a soul-mate. Man and woman, together, complete, with everything they would ever need. And this garden they lived in was beautiful. There was no evil, and there was no shame.
The story might have ended there, but it didn’t. It might have gone differently, but it doesn’t. The earth-creatures disobeyed their creator, and that beautiful world was broken. Sin came into the world, and perfection crumbled.
What did they do that was so wrong? They ate of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. Until that knowledge was in them, there was no such thing as evil. It simply did not exist.
But they ate. And immediately, their world changed.
The first thing that happens is that they see themselves differently – and try to cover up what they see. Their eyes are opened, and they recognize that they are naked. They make clothing for themselves to cover themselves up, as if their bodies are something to be ashamed of, as if it’s an embarrassment, as if there’s something wrong. What was just a fact of life becomes complicated, emotionally fraught, a source of shame.
And then they try to hide from God – as if that could ever work. They are afraid of him because they know they’ve done something wrong. They cut themselves off from the very one who made them. Before they ever leave the garden, human beings become separated from God; and it’s not God’s doing, it’s their own decision to hide.
Then, when God realizes what happened and confronts them, they start blaming each other. “It wasn’t my fault; she made me do it.” “It wasn’t my fault, it was the serpent.” They lie to God: no one made them do anything. They try to deflect blame. They refuse to take responsibility. Anything wrong is somebody else’s fault. Now they’ve turned on each other, too.
This is not the story of an angry and vengeful God. This is the story of a broken-hearted father who sees the brokenness of his creation - the consequences of his children’s one irrevocable choice.
Why would God even give them that choice to begin with? Why risk the destruction of that beautiful place? Why even take that chance?
It was necessary for God to give human beings freedom. Without freedom we are not human. On this of all weekends we recognize that. Freedom is something we treasure, we fight for, we guard with our lives. Freedom is one of our greatest gifts. How would we be human without it?
But freedom is a double-edged sword. Because we are free to choose, we have the freedom to choose things that are devastating, to ourselves, to the world, to the people we love.
It is part of being human. And the choices we make have consequences.
This is part of the story of creation. Not just the beauty, but the fall.
Because of sin, there is danger for humans in the world.
Because of sin, there is pain in bringing forth life, in women’s labor.
Because of sin, there is unequal power between people, and dominance.
Because of sin, work is hard, and survival is difficult.
Because of sin, there is death; from dust we were made, and to dust we will return.
And we have been driven from the Garden of Life.
The story might have gone differently. But this is how the world is. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” scripture tells us. Sin is part of life, and we know it. We live in a fearful and broken world.
This is the story about how things went wrong, and why the world is the way it is. In so many ways it is tragic, and sad. But it’s also incredibly hopeful. Here’s what I find remarkable: it doesn’t assume that sin was inevitable. It doesn’t assume that this is the only way things can be. It starts with goodness, and beauty, and love. It starts with God creating something wonderful, and creating us to be wonderful, too.
Most cultures have ‘origin’ stories of how the world began. But none of them begins this way. Most have selfish and capricious gods, a pantheon of gods vying with each other for power. Most origin stories begin assuming death and sin and destruction are simply given.
Not the story of our God. Not the story of our creation.
I think the power of this story is that it stirs up something within us; a longing, a hunger, a sorrow for paradise lost. As if it stirs up a memory, a primordial memory of a different time, a different place, a home. It awakens our longing for a place where there is no shame, there is no sorrow, there is no sin, there is no death. It’s as if we remember a past so long ago it’s barely a shadow in our minds – but it’s there.
This is the way scripture begins – and it ends in Revelation with that same longing, with this vision:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”
The entire story of the Bible is God pursuing this dream, God pursuing us. He never gives up. In the fullness of time he sends his own son to this earth, a ‘new Adam’ to redeem creation, a sinless one who takes on our sin to strip its power away, who submits to death so that we can have life. He undoes what happens in Eden.
How this happens, and how this works, we could argue about all day. There are countless volumes written on the theology of redemption. But after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, the world is different.
In the Gospel of John, when Mary comes to the tomb, she discovers that the stone has been rolled away. She doesn’t know where Jesus’ body has been taken. As she stands weeping, she turns and sees someone. “Supposing him to be the gardener,” scripture says, she asks him if he knows where Jesus is. And then he calls her by name, and she recognizes him. There in the garden, he calls her by name.
We are back in the Garden again, with the God who made us, and loves us.
The story of the Garden of Eden is a sad story, a tragic story, of the beginnings of evil and sin, of the origins of death itself. But if that’s all we see or all we feel we are missing the heart of it all. It’s a story of God’s love for God’s children, a story of possibility and our longing, a story of God’s faithfulness to all generations. No matter what happens and what we do, we are still his.
Until, in the fullness of time, we are back in the Garden again. Back with our maker, when God himself will be with us, and will call us by name.
Rev. Karen Chakoian