How it all went wrong

Good morning, Friends!

This summer we spent a couple of months looking at the Psalms — some of the oldest songs and prayers we know, going back 3,000 years.

But there’s other things in the Bible that go back a long time. Stories of creation. Stories about how things came to be.

The oldest creation story talks about how God made the world in six days – light and dark, space and land and sea, plants and creatures of all kinds, sun, moon and stars, and finally, human beings. Six days it took, and then God rested.

That’s a good plan. We should follow it, too. The Bible says not to work too hard. Don’t be a slave to work. If God Almighty took a full day off once a week to rest and recover, shouldn’t we do the same?

There’s also another story of creation in the Bible. One that talks about how things went wrong. It’s an important story, and it’s often misunderstood.

One day, out in the Garden of Eden, Eve calls out to God. Says, “Lord, I have a problem!”
“What’s the matter, Eve?”

“Lord, I know you’ve created me and have provided this beautiful garden and all of these wonderful animals, but I’m just not happy.”

“Why is that, Eve?” says God.

“Lord,” she says, “I’m lonely. And I’m sick to death of apples.”

“Well, Eve, in that case, I have a solution. I’ll create a man for you.”

“What’s a ‘man’, Lord?”

“This man will be a flawed creature. He’ll have an enormous ego and he won’t be able to empathize or listen to you properly. He’ll be bigger and faster than you are, and more muscular than you. He’ll be good at fighting and kicking a ball and hunting. I’m afraid he’ll give you a hard time, but on cold nights you’ll have someone to snuggle up to.”

Eve raised one eyebrow. “Not bad!” she says. “What’s the hitch?”

“You can have him on one condition,” says God.

“What’s that, Lord?”

“You’ll have to let the man believe that I made him first.”

OK, now we can go ahead and listen to the real version! In the real version, the man’s name is Adam, which is kind of a joke in Hebrew. God made Adam out of earth, which is called adamah. Adam – adamah. Get it?

The woman’s name was Eve, which is similar to the word for life or existence in Hebrew. God called Eve “the mother of all living”. Now you’ve got the main characters, let’s read the story.

Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.

But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. The serpent said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”
The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

– Genesis 2:19-3:13 

The big question the story in Adam and Eve asks is, “Why is the world less than perfect? How did we get from a world where everything was good, to the way things are now? Why do human beings mess things up so terribly and so often?”

The way the story works, we move from a vision of original goodness, to some kind of original mistake. Human beings have been making big mistakes for a long time now, so there must be some kind of a huge mistake, way back, right at the beginning, to account for all the mistakes since then.

That’s the logic of the story. But what was the big mistake? What did Adam and Eve do, which made the dominoes fall all the way down to us today?

One very popular explanation for what went wrong is called “original sin.” And by the way, this isn’t something Jesus taught. It isn’t anything which the Jews believed, for thousands of years before Jesus came along. Original sin was an idea that got cooked up a few hundred years after Jesus, and it’s been refined and restated by people of a certain mind set ever since.

The idea of original sin is pretty simple. Adam and Eve blew it. They disobeyed God. God kicked them out of the garden, and ever since, every human being is born with the sin of Adam and Eve. We just inherit it. It’s inevitable.

There are various theories about how you get rid of original sin – you have to believe, you have to be baptized, you have to be born again. But the basic idea is that everyone inherits the sin of Adam and Eve. And unless you get rid of it, you’re not going to Heaven. Unless you’re saved, you’re automatically damned.

That seems like an awfully big punishment, for taking just one piece of fruit. I find it very difficult to take that explanation of original sin as completely true. For one thing, it goes against our understanding that God is a God of mercy and forgiveness.

Punish Adam and Eve, OK. But punish all generations, ever since, going on out forever? That seems like too much. That sounds like an angry God. That isn’t the God I know, from prayer and from worship. The God I know is about redeeming and renewing, starting things new and letting go of the past.

Original sin is still very popular theology. I guarantee that you will find plenty of places right here in High Point where it is preached with conviction and vigor. But as I said, the story of Adam and Eve was around for a couple of thousand years before anybody started talking about original sin. Jesus was silent on the subject. So, I’d like us to look at some alternative ways to understand the story.

Another interpretation of the story of Adam and Eve, is that they were punished for discovering they were naked. Here they were, running around like a couple of jay birds, innocent as can be, and then they ate the fruit and wow! Their eyes flew open. And that was a different kind of sin, according to some people.

As one of my teachers, Tom Mullen, used to say, “It’s not the apple on the tree that caused the trouble, it’s the pair on the ground!’

There’s no doubt that physical attraction is a very powerful force. And it can be misused, so there are all kinds of things which can go along with it – things like shame, and fear, and lying, and violence.

Almost anything can be misused. But I don’t think we can say that human bodies are bad. This is how we’re made. And remember, we were made good. Being attracted to each other is part of our original goodness. God made us, male and female.

It says in the Bible, right here in this story, that we were made to be helpers for each other. God made us to be partners. To be companions. To be friends. God made us to be an extra set of hands, another set of eyes to see and ears to listen to each other. God made us to have an extra heart, when one heart feels hurt or tired.

God said, “It’s not good to be alone,” and God was right. Most of us need and cherish that other person in our life. And the attraction between two people who love each other is good.

We can all make mistakes, with love just the same as with anything else. But God made us the way we are. Being women and men is not a mistake. And it’s a deep misunderstanding of the story of Adam and Eve, to say that they and all their descendants are condemned, because God made us to be attracted to each other.

I think there’s a really straightforward explanation of the story of Adam and Eve, which we need to look at. Do you remember how the story goes?

It says that there were all kinds of trees in the garden, and God said it was perfectly OK to eat most of them. And it’s not just apples and pears and oranges and bananas we’re talking about, of course. The trees are an allegory.

I wonder what some of those other trees might have been? I wondered if some of the trees God planted in the garden might have fruit that was healing for example. Other kinds of trees might bear fruit for other things like strength, and inner peace, and tranquility. I think the story makes it plain that everything we could possibly need was right there in the garden,

But there was one tree God told them not to eat. And it wasn’t an apple.

No, the fruit they weren’t supposed to eat was the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

I wonder why that was so bad? Why would eating that fruit make God so upset? Why would eating that fruit force Adam and Eve out of the garden, and all their descendants, too?

I think it’s not just the knowledge that there’s good and evil. I think it means deciding for ourselves what’s right and wrong, what’s good and what’s bad.

Before Adam and Eve ate the fruit, they accepted what God said was right and healthy for them. They stayed away from whatever was wrong and from whatever led to death. Instead of listening to God, instead of accepting that God knows what’s good and what leads to life, we decide for ourselves what’s right and wrong.

For example, God says it’s wrong to kill. But we make up all kinds of exceptions and excuses to that commandment. We go ahead and take another person’s life, and we tell ourselves that it’s OK to kill, because we decided that it’s OK. We have created a whole human society that’s based on violence and threats of violence, and we prop it up with laws and customs and ideas. But murder is not OK. God said so.

Take another example. God says that it’s wrong to steal. It’s wrong to take what belongs to other people. We understand that. We don’t want anyone taking our stuff.

But we decide that it’s OK to steal from other people. We decide that it’s OK to have a world where a hundred rich people own more than the poorest half of the world put together. We decide that it’s OK for some people to have to work two and three jobs, to work themselves to death, and still not have enough money to live.

We decide that it’s OK for people not to have access to medicines which would save lives, because the rights of the rich and the rights of the drug companies matter more than the lives of people who don’t have enough money to pay for them.

Do you want to know what I think the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is? It’s all the decisions we make, every day, which say that some people should live, and some people should die, because we decided whose lives matter more.

Instead of listening to God, we decide for ourselves. That’s the point of this story. It’s nothing as vague as original sin. It’s nothing as healthy as our God-given physical attraction for each other.

What caused the world to be less than perfect? What makes the mess we live in? When we decide that we are smarter than God. When we decide to call evil good, and good evil. We take that fruit and chomp down hard on it, and spit the evil seeds out wherever we go. That fruit multiplies and multiplies, until it chokes us. And then we say, “Hey, that’s normal!”

I don’t know if we can get back to the garden, to that place of total innocence again. I don’t know if we can turn back the clock, or stuff all the evil back into the barrel.

But there’s some good news: God forgives us. I do know that God gives us another chance.

You know that place in the gospel where Jesus says to forgive the other person seventy times seven? Seems kind of hard. But then we need to remember that God has forgiven us so many more times. God has forgiven us seventy times seven times a whole lot more times than that.

That’s good news. God started us off with a beautiful world, and wonderful bodies. God started us off to be helpers for each other. God made us an inseparable part of each other.

And God tells us what’s right and wrong. Take care of this good world. Worship God. Stay away from false gods. Take a day of rest. Look after the old people. Those rules for living haven’t changed.

Do not kill. Be faithful to the promise you made to your partner. Don’t steal. Don’t lie. Don’t set your heart on things that belong to your neighbor. Those are all things anyone can do.

Later on, Jesus gave us some more good news. He told us  again, that God forgives. He said that all the laws are really wrapped up in just two – love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind; and love your neighbor as yourself. Do those, said Jesus, and you’ll be just fine.

Maybe we can’t go back to Eden. But we can try to go forward. And the way forward comes by listening to God, and letting God tell us about good and evil. So much of what has seemed good in our own eyes, turns out to be pure poison.

Maybe the only way forward, the only way to live, is to try again to walk with God, and to hand those difficult decisions back to God where they belong.

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