Genesis

I Did It

Genesis 3:8-15 (ESV)

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, 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?” And 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 of 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 of 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 deceived me, and I ate.”

The Lord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this,
   cursed are you above all livestock
   and above all beasts of the field;
on 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 her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
   and you shall bruise his heel.”


When we explore the larger story of “the fall,” that first act of disobedience to God, we often focus on the attractiveness of sin. It’s not hard to construct reasonable-sounding arguments for why we should disobey God; sinful acts themselves can be quite alluring, at least initially.

Today’s verses call us to examine the after-effects of sin. The false beauty projected by sin fades rapidly once we recognize sin as rejection of the source of all beauty, God.

The loss in this story is incalculable; our text today opens with God arriving to walk with the man and woman, eventually known to us as Adam and Eve. That simple fact is poignant to the point of being distressing, for we see the couple had what most of us crave, a simple, close relationship with God.

Oh, to be able to walk among the trees of Paradise with our maker, asking him anything that comes to mind and receiving a clear answer! Before sinning, Adam and Eve thought such walks were perfectly normal, the way things would always be. Shortly after sinning, they were hiding among those trees, fearing the One they had previously trusted as a perfect Father.

What they feared and what we fear is that moment of confrontation after sin. Even in our fallen state, we have enough of a sense of God’s righteousness to hate that impending moment. We can spend our lives hiding from it, even running from it.

There is nowhere to run, however. If we don’t have that moment of confrontation in this life, we certainly will have it in the next life.

We wriggle to find ways to justify ourselves, too, as if we can sort out the blame and defer the punishment on our own. As we see in today’s story, the first sin is also the first example of passing the buck.

Adam, who was first to hear God’s commandment about the tree, blames Eve. Eve, who clearly knew the simple “don’t eat” commandment, blames the serpent.

The serpent—well, he was the agitator, the twister of words who started the problem. The author of Revelation later would associate “that old serpent” with Satan, the ultimate bringer of confusion. To me, the talkative serpent is interesting in that he accepts his curse in silence, knowing he is facing his Creator, just like everyone else.

What the man and woman needed, and what we need, is a better way to move through that moment of confrontation.

Instead of buck passing, we need repentance. Whatever the sin, don’t try to rationalize it, don’t try to justify it. Don’t try to argue it’s really not that serious compared to what others have done. Just say:

I did it.

You can do terrible things and still never get around to saying, “I did it.” King David committed adultery and murder to have Bathsheba as his wife, but until the Prophet Nathan used a parable about a rich man who stole a poor man’s lamb, David wasn’t able to say, “I did it.”

Psalm 51 artfully records David’s “I did it”: “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.”

Saying “I did it” doesn’t fix everything. We’re still a long way from the fix, but at least we’re on the right road, the road that passes through repentance to salvation.

When Adam and Eve were cast from the Garden of Eden as part of their punishment, they found themselves on that road. God worked through them to begin a change that would make possible our restoration to Paradise.

I’m talking, of course, about events revealed in the great narrative of the Bible, the grand story running from Genesis to Revelation. Yes, we are trapped in sin from the moment we are born, and we are put in a position that makes us want to hide from God.

For thousands of years, a small group of people we call the Israelites tried to get back into relationship with God by following his law. We cannot get back to God on our own, however. As those Israelites fell in and out of the relationship, humanity remained lost.

A new solution was needed. As he did in the garden so long ago, God walked among us for a time as one of those Israelites, raised in a rural place called Galilee.

He actually took on flesh for his three-decade walk on Earth, and we call that God-Man Jesus. I hope you know the story and let that story shape your lives. Jesus went so far as to suffer and die for our sins, in the process explaining more deeply the importance of intertwined love and obedience.

We repent by saying “I did it, and I regret it. I want to put it behind me.” We believe in what Jesus has done, and we are saved from sin.

It is that simple. And in time, we are invited back into the Garden of Eden, the Paradise where we exist in the presence of God.

We have different ways of talking about the life to come. “Going to heaven” is one way to describe the experience. We also have elaborate imagery from the Book of Revelation, symbolic scenes of creation restored to holiness and heaven and earth re-joined.

What I look forward to is a walk in the garden in the cool of the day with my Savior, asking him whatever comes to mind.


The featured image on this blog page is “Expulsion from the Garden of Eden,” Thomas Cole, 1828.

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Simple Act of Faith

In this Lenten season, we’ll call this “Back to Basics Day.” Let’s begin by considering exactly what Abram (later to be called Abraham) gave up when he listened to God and moved toward an unspecified land.

This initial call in Genesis 12:1-4 is written in a rather matter-of-fact tone, but the risk must have seemed huge for an aging man. He had property and people around him, including slaves, the mark of a comfortable, wealthy man. We don’t know how long Abram had been in Haran—we only know his father Terah had moved the family from far-away Ur some time earlier—but as the family had been able to grow their wealth while there, we can assume life in Haran had been good to them.

Now Abram was to pack his family and possessions and make a journey that ultimately would prove to be more than 500 miles, about the same distance as the drive from Kingsport, Tenn., to Jacksonville, Fla. Except they had no cars. For them, it was a dangerous month-long one-way trip, assuming the animals in their caravan were in good shape. A return visit to Haran or the true family homeplace, Ur, might be a once-in-a-lifetime event, perhaps when someone needed a bride of proper bloodlines.

And yet, Abram went, without question, without comment. He would have questions later, but not in this initial act of faith, this huge, trusting leap toward God.

It’s easy to get caught up in what Abram did rather than focusing on the importance of what was simply in his heart. The Apostle Paul uses Abram in the fourth chapter of Romans to illustrate that it’s the trust that saves us, not any work we do. When God sees we trust him, he goes ahead and calls us righteous, even though we don’t deserve it. Paul made clear he was talking about the God we know best through Jesus Christ, the one who made all things and then restored all things to holiness despite sin.

All we have to do is believe the God who promised all the families of the earth would be blessed through Abram ultimately walked among us as Jesus Christ, working great mysteries on the cross so we do not have to die forever. I know, I just leaped across hundreds of pages of Scripture to make that connection, but it’s the connection the Bible, Old and New Testaments, strives to make. Jesus Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of that initial, broad promise offered to Abram, a promise grand enough to set a very comfortable man and his people to packing.

So, we’re invited to a simple act of faith. But at the same time, we’re also called to remember that it’s so simple it can be confusing, particularly for the uninitiated. When we’ve turned away from God and are caught up in sin, we feel like we’re trapped in that Harry Potter hedge maze, the one where the turns and dead-ends seem endless and the roots and branches grab at us. We have to figure the maze out, right? To survive, we have to beat back what entangles us, right?

Wrong. All we really have to do is look up and say, “Lord Jesus, I believe you can pluck me out of this.”

In the third chapter of John’s gospel, we see the Pharisee Nicodemus desperately wanting to follow Jesus, but at the same time struggling in his rigid, legalistic mind with how to do so. Accept what is from above, Jesus told him. Trust God. Trust God’s love for his creation.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life,” Jesus said. And then came the real kicker, particularly for a legalist striving to make himself righteous: “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

What, God doesn’t seek to punish us first? I don’t have to clean up my act to accept God’s gift of salvation?

We have Nicodemus types around us, perhaps even among us. They want to make that first step toward God much more difficult than it is, trying to resolve personal angst and the global problem of evil in one fell swoop. Often, they expect a requirement to crawl at least halfway back toward the one they’ve offended before being accepted.

As Christians, our job is to keep simple what can be misunderstood as complicated. The God of Abraham, the God who walked among us and died for our sins, loves us. He’s been reaching down to humanity for thousands of years and continues to do so today.

Sure, once we accept God’s offer, there’s more to do. It’s only natural that we want a developing, continuing relationship with the one who gives us eternal life in place of death. We pray, we study, we joyfully respond to his simple requests, the first being, “Go and tell others.”

That initial act of accepting God’s outstretched hand remains simple, however.

Story’s End

Revelation 7:9-17

Every great story has a masterful ending. The magnificent story told in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation has the greatest ending of all.

Our main problem is teasing that ending out of Revelation, the most complicated book of the Bible to read. Before we get to that wonderful conclusion, a primer on how Revelation works is in order.

I should begin with what Revelation is not, as improper readings of this last book of the Bible have led to a lot of bad theology in recent years. It is not a type of literature otherwise familiar to us in Western culture—in fact, this type of literature existed among Jews and early Christians for just four centuries, from about 200 B.C. to about A.D. 200.

We now call this type of literature “apocalyptic,” and we know it does not follow what the Western world considers the normal structure of a story. For example, our stories tend to follow chronological order, with the exception of an occasional flashback to reveal details from the past, or some foreshadowing to hint at what is to come.

Time is not an important feature of apocalyptic literature. An event may be described once and then described from a different perspective later in the text.

Also, apocalyptic literature is highly figurative, where Western literature is by default quite literal, with forays into figurative language usually easy to detect. All of the resulting symbolism in apocalyptic literature functions in part like a code; for example, numbers and creatures usually point to something else, like the concept of completeness or a particular empire.

The people who wrote apocalyptic literature were heavily oppressed, and didn’t want others to understand immediately what they were saying. So, if you try to read Revelation chronologically and literally, you’re going to make a lot of mistakes, errant conclusions the letter’s original audience would never have made.

But enough of the primer. With all of that in mind, let’s look at that glorious story’s end.

Scattered through Revelation are images of humanity and God in full reunion, thanks to Christ’s infinitely powerful work on the cross. They are like snapshots of what is to come.

These images resolve the problem that arises early in Genesis. There, we see God’s desire for a relationship with his creation, and we see that relationship broken by willful disobedience, the kind of sin we all have committed at one time or another.

The rest of the Old Testament can be seen broadly as God’s efforts to woo humans back to holiness and a full relationship with their maker. The Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) in the New Testament reveal to us how God ultimately succeeded: He took on human form among us as Jesus Christ, becoming a sinless sacrifice to atone for our sins.

Christ’s resurrection is proof the plan worked. All we have to do is believe.

Those reunion images in Revelation are designed to give us great hope, reminding us that what is to come is so much better than what we experience now. One of those snapshots, found in the seventh chapter, beginning at verse 9, gives us a picture of eternal, ongoing worship, a glorious celebration of what has been accomplished by Christ, depicted as the Lamb.

The author of Revelation, known only as John, said that in one of his visions “there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.” He went on to describe the praise and singing by both the redeemed humans and the creatures of heaven.

He also gave us a hint of what we should be doing now, as we exist in the part of the story where we now live, a time of tribulation and ordeals brought about by evil’s death throes. In a conversation with one of these heavenly beings, John is told that those clothed in white “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

In more literal language, they symbolize the people from around the world who follow Christ as Lord and Savior. Yes, salvation is freely available, but this washing of robes symbolizes our need to pursue this relationship, to grow in our faith and live as people who believe.

As the Apostle Paul writes in the second chapter of Philippians, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

Every individual Christian story intersects with God’s great story, leading to the same glorious ending.