Essay / Theology

All the Wrong Questions (Lesson 1: Genesis 3)

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In the beginning, there were two trees in the midst of the garden of Eden. There was the tree of life, and there was the tree of knowledge. They stood right there beside each other, and they obviously belonged together somehow; the LORD God put them there as a blessing in a world of blessings. But nobody remembers how they were supposed to go together, because Adam and Eve took them apart and then lost the instructions.

Whatever else the LORD God had said about the two trees, he had clearly and definitely commanded his creatures not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. That prohibition was holy and righteous and good, but our first parents entertained the serpent’s cunning questions about the LORD God’s command, and added their own: Did God mean it? Was it true? Can we trust him? Was the command for our good, or for his? Why can’t we have that fruit? If God didn’t want us to eat that, why did he make it so desirable? What is God hiding? Who made him boss? Won’t eating that fruit make us more like God? Won’t it open our eyes? How could it possibly kill us? What could go wrong? Lots of questions: all the wrong questions, in the wrong order, for the wrong reasons.

So sin seized its opportunity through the commandment, and Eve seized the fruit of the tree and ate it, and Adam authorized all the proceedings. That’s when everything fell apart; literally everything. Have you ever taken a magnet and broken it in half? You’d think you could just put it back together by re-aligning it along the fracture lines, but you can’t. If it breaks the wrong way, the magnetic polarities are all wrong. Try all you want, but invisible forces shove against each other and won’t let you re-assemble it once it’s been broken.

That is the state of our union under the administration of Adam and Eve. The world is fractured into fragments and it has all stopped making sense. The tree of knowledge had belonged together with the tree of life, but now it was one versus the other, knowledge versus life. Adam and Eve stayed with each other, but it was no longer just man and woman, it had the element of man versus woman. Now it was not humanity with the other animals, but humanity versus the animals. And on and on it went: With the unity shattered and the internal polarities all opposed, every “with” became a “versus:” parents versus sons and daughters versus brothers versus sisters versus city versus country versus black versus white versus rich versus poor versus old versus young.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, but after Adam and Eve it became the unthinkable: the heavens versus the earth, because the word of God came to them and they rejected it.

Their only comfort in life and in death was that even after they rejected God’s word, God hadn’t stopped talking. Looking back on it, Adam and Eve could never quite agree on exactly what he had said to them on that terrible day in the garden. Adam remembered a lot of shouting and lightning and some cursing; or at least one tremendous curse, the kind of curse that hangs in the air so that you can’t imagine ever getting out from under it.

Eve remembered that too, but also a promise: Something about how one man’s disobedience had made sinners out of many, but another man’s obedience would make many righteous. Something about her son –no, her seed– fighting the seed of that snake somewhere, somehow. Something about how this first family may have fractured fatherhood, made a monster of man and a mockery of all mothers, but that right here at the origin and starting point of every genealogy, God had spoken anew. And what he had spoken was a promise, the first gospel announcement: that his word would not always go unheard and unheeded by the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, but would surely make its way to them, to be at home among them again, no matter what it cost him.

For my church‘s 2014 Christmas concert service, I wrote a set of 9 readings to accompany the night of songs: a Lessons and Carols service. I’m posting the lessons here at Scriptorium Daily from now until Christmas day. Banner design by Josh Kenfield


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