Monday, February 8, 2010

Jesus and Genesis: Gardens of Intimacy

Preached February 7, 2010

Scripture Readings: Genesis 2:18-3:24 and John 19:41-20:23

There was a sound. There was a voice. It was the Lord God in the garden, in the cool of the day. (Genesis 3:8) It made our first parents run and hide. It made them afraid that they were about to get caught. They had lost the gift of intimacy in the garden.

I remember the sounds and voices in the garden, in the cool of the day. I remember when I was a kid; on long summer evenings, first doing that last bit of work in the vegetables or on the lawn, and then me and my sisters playing some game with our parents in our yard. All the while the shadows gathered in the orchards around us, and then we would sit under the walnut tree, at the back of the house, drinking something cold until it was too dark to see.

Those were good hours. Those were times of intimacy; times of work and play, when we were happy, relaxed, and close.

That is one of the best things that gardens are for, after working and playing together; the place to be happy, relaxed, and close; the place of belonging. That is what the first garden was for: the Garden of Eden.

God designed us and created us for a garden life, with him and with each other. Eden was the garden of God. (Isaiah 51:3; Ezekiel 28:13) God was the parent in the garden, who laid it all out as a place to work and play with us; to be happy, relaxed, and close. God, even as he is in himself (as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), is a god of intimacy, and he wants us to know him well in this intimacy.

But our first parents shifted the course of human nature away from intimacy when they ate the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil without God’s permission. The first time they ran away from God was not when they heard the sound of God in the garden, in the cool of the day. The first time they ran away from God was when they ate the fruit that God had told them not to eat.

The tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the tree of life are very mysterious. There has been a lot of speculation about them. But I think we can learn a lot about the meaning of these trees and what they stand for by noticing what God, and Adam, and Eve said and did.

Some people think that the knowledge of good and evil simply means the knowledge of everything. “Good and evil” simply mean ‘everything from “A” to “Z”’.

I think that’s a part of it. The serpent made Adam and Eve suspect that God was not telling them everything. He made them suspect that God was concealing things from them; out of a desire to hold them back and keep them in their place. But this was a lie, and they should have seen through it.

From what we read, God showed no inclination to hide things from them. On the contrary, in the beginning, we see God carrying out a program of education. We see God bringing all the creatures to Adam so that he could see them and give them their proper names.

We have to understand that, in the Bible, the ability to name a thing comes from the ability to understand what it truly is. An example of this is something we all learned in school, but most of us have forgotten. That is the scientific names of things. We learned about the Latin names of the phylum, and genus, and specie of living things. These are names that describe the nature of the form of life they stand for; like vertebrate or invertebrate (having a backbone or not).

When Adam named the creatures, he gave them names that revealed their true nature, just as the names of the seven dwarves reveal their true nature: like Sneezy, and Grumpy, and Bashful, and Dopey. The first people called things according to their real nature, because they could see what God intended them to be.

The first time Adam met Eve he knew exactly who and what she was, where she came from, and what she was there for. God showed himself to be truly interested in giving human beings this kind of knowledge.

The interesting thing about all of this knowledge is that our first parents knew everything they knew in partnership with God, in communion with God. They knew everything with God, and they knew nothing without God.

The serpent suggested that they start knowing things a different way. He suggested that they learn to know things separate from God and without God.

There was nothing in God’s previous behavior to show that he would not teach them about the knowledge of good and evil, in his own way, when the time was right. But there was a way, Satan suggested, for them to be in charge, and in control of their own lives.

Now think: what happens to us and the way we live with others, when we treat knowledge as something we can use in order to be in charge, and in control? And what happens when everyone is doing the exact same thing? What happens is that intimacy is lost. Peace is lost. Love is lost.

There is another very practical thing about the knowledge of good and evil: and God is very practical. The Bible is God’s word to us, not to give us pure information, and not even understanding in the sense of something that happens mostly inside our brains.

The Bible is designed to give us the kind of knowledge that we call experience. The Bible is a gift from God to help us to experience God, and to experience our true selves (as God sees us), and to experience God’s desires and goals for us humans, and for the world he has made.

In the Bible, to know something is to experience it in a personal way. And this is true of the knowledge of good and evil.

Now, our first parents had the knowledge of good already. They knew nothing but goodness. They were good, and all their experience was good.

When they gained the knowledge of good and evil, this changed. They now experienced evil within themselves, as they once had experienced only goodness. Evil became as much a part of them as goodness was. And they passed their experience down to us, as their children.

We can see what this means in this part of the story of Genesis. Adam and Eve hid themselves from God. They had known nothing but trust. Now they felt a reason to fear. They had never felt this way before. They wished with all their heart that they could be somewhere else; and so they willed separation and division from God.

They were also divided from each other. Adam had known Eve as God’s greatest gift to him. Now Adam knew Eve as someone to blame. He was afraid of God; afraid of the possibility that he was in danger. Adam was wrong about his immediate danger, but he deliberately put Eve into the danger that he imagined, and he put her in the place of what he feared. Adam never raised a hand against Eve, but his betrayal was the first act of violence in the world as we know it.

Adam stopped answering God’s questions about the truth. “Have you eaten from the tree I told you not to eat from?” (Genesis 3:11) And Adam did not say, “Yes, and I am so sorry. God forgive me.” That would have been the truthful answer. That was the answer God was looking for.

Instead, Adam’s answer was a half truth that amounted to a lie. Adam blamed Eve, even though he knew that this was not the answer God was looking for. Adam ceased to be interested in the truth, unless it served himself.

Adam did not want to be found or known. What happened to him was more important than what might happen to Eve if his blame stuck to her.

All true knowledge is experience, and this is what the knowledge of evil makes us. This is the life that human beings have come to know. It is a kind of death in life.
What about God’s knowledge of good and evil? How is evil a part of God’s experience? God personally experiences evil in the same way that loving parents experience evil through their children. How does a parent experience evil when they find their child telling a lie? Or how does a parent experience evil when their child is in danger?

There is a story from the earthquake in Haiti, about a Dutch couple who had adopted a Haitian child, and came to claim this child in the days before the earthquake. They had the joy of meeting this child and earning the trust of this child. And, at last, they prepared to go home as a family. The parents were in the hotel room, with their new child, packing for home in the Netherlands, when the earthquake struck. When their bodies were found, the child’s body was enfolded in the bodies of his new mother and father who, in their final moments, had tried to shield that child as the building collapsed around them. This way of experiencing evil is unique to parenthood.

God clothed Adam and Eve in the skins of animals. These skins were not created out of thin air. They came from animals who died to cover the nakedness of the people who had brought evil into the world.

This is a shocking thing, when you think about it. But it means something very important.

Adam and Eve expected to die, but they found that (in this case) something had died for their sake. In the first place it was an animal of some kind; but that animal was only a small part of larger pattern that God has put into his design of the whole universe.

The pattern of the universe is this: that, when evil came into the world, God was ready to provide a sacrifice to cover and heal the sins of the world. God himself was that sacrifice. That is how God would experience evil. God would not only be the creator, but also the re-creator of a new creation through the cross.

A lot of blood has been shed for the evils of this world, and it has only showed the world for what it is. God has come into this world in Jesus to shed his own blood by the force of a love that would change human beings from within.

That brings us to another garden. John tells us that, “At the place where Jesus was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid…They laid Jesus there.” (John 19:41-42) The people of the New Testament were familiar with crosses because crosses were a common form of execution in the Roman Empire.

By and large they hated crosses because they had seen people die on them. They hated the very word “cross”. It was a hard word for them to say. And so, sometimes, they used a euphemism for “cross” by calling it a “tree”. (Acts 5:30; Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 2:24 and others) So there was a tree that brought sin into the world, and there was a tree that has the power to put an end to the rule of sin. Eden has gone, but the cross is now the tree of life.

There was a garden where death came to the human race, and there was a garden where life was given to us; where God, in Christ, rose from the dead. In the first garden we lost our faith in the faithfulness of God. In the second garden faith in the faithfulness of God was reborn.

The God who came in Jesus made us for peace, in the beginning, and breathed into us, at our creation, to make us living souls. (Genesis 2:7) In our recreation, in Jesus, God says, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19-21) And Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit upon his disciples, and upon us, and makes us alive in a new way, and sends us out on a mission of life to bring the good news of the forgiveness of sins, and the healing of evil, in the world. (John 20:21-22)

In the first garden our intimacy with God, and with others, and with the world, and with ourselves was lost. In the garden of the resurrection we find our lost peace and intimacy again; with God, and with others, and with the world, and with our own souls. The God who created us for a garden of intimacy helps us find it again in Jesus.

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