Monday, January 9, 2012

Uh Oh, This Looks Familiar

Do you know that feeling when you’re watching a movie or reading a book and things seem too good and you know something terrible is about to happen? Usually, it’s when the main characters seem to have everything they need and would be able to live out the rest of their lives in complete happiness if it weren’t for twisting plot lines (a.k.a. “real life”). For me, today’s lesson from Genesis (2:4-25) is one of those stories, and I don’t think it’s just because I know how this story ends.

This is the Creation II account—not the seven-days version we get in Genesis 1 but the “Adam-needed-a-partner” account, in which God makes every beast of the earth in search of a fit helper for him. It’s a beautiful story about God providing for humanity (and the rest of creation, too) the complementarity that makes life worth living. God says, “It is not good that the man should be alone. I will make him a helper.” And, after a long series of trial and error, finally God makes the woman from one of Adam’s ribs. “At last,” Adam declares, “This is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!” Finally, he had the helper he needed.

But…

We know how the story ends. Like Steinbeck, the author of Genesis plants a seed of trouble in the verses right before Adam finds Eve. God commanded the man, “You may eat freely of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” And that seed was enough to undo the whole situation. It was too much for the human to bear. Even if we had never heard the Genesis story, that shouldn’t surprise us.

Think about how many times that story gets repeated. In Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, the beast tells Belle that she may go anywhere in the mansion except one particular wing. So where does she end up going? Imagine being asked to take care of a suitcase but being told not to open it. You may have never worried about what was inside of it, but, as soon as that restriction is placed, the temptation is set. Although there are noble exceptions, I don’t think human beings can resist the need to explore the boundaries of what’s allowed and what’s forbidden. That’s part of what it means to be us. If you give me a limit, I’m going to push it—even if the consequences sound dire.

Human nature is sinful. In the 21st century, we have a hard time saying that. But all that really means is that human beings are hardwired to make mistakes—to push boundaries and test limits. The reason the story of the Garden of Eden sounds so familiar is that the Genesis story was written to reflect the very essence of human experience. It IS the human struggle writ large. We always eat the apple. There’s no way we can avoid it. It’s who we are.

But that isn’t the end of the story. The story doesn’t end with humanity’s disobedience. If our wrong was the end, then our createdness would be a mistake. But we were made in God’s image by a God who loves us and who made us good. So the story cannot end there. No matter how hardwired we are for making mistakes, God still loves us. That’s what the whole bible is about. God reaches out to his wayward people over and over. God sends his son to bring us back to himself. God doesn’t give up on us even though we’re perpetual screw-ups. He loves us anyway. A happy ending? Well, yes, eventually. But there are some gut-wrenching plot twists along the way.

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