This story from Genesis almost reads like an excerpt from People Magazine about the latest celebrity couple who were caught in a scandal. Instead of rumors of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie having relationship troubles and wondering what this means for all of the kids, it’s about Adam and Eve falling from grace. There’s no custody battle looming but they did unleash original sin on the world!
Oh Adam and Eve, the first celebrity couple.
This short story has been used to describe original sin- the idea that through these actions, sin came into the world and became part of the human story. It’s also been used to describe the origin of evil, the reason that the creation is the way that it is, and as justification for a patriarchal society.
It’s funny how one little story can inspire so many big theories.
One author remarks that our interpretations of this text are misguided and that so is the relative importance that we give to this short story.
The prophets never mention this story, and neither does Jesus. Paul makes reference to Adam, but he uses him in a point/counterpoint kind of way to describe Jesus.
What we actually heard is very truncated- it picks up after the creation, after the temptation and the forbidden fruit is eaten, but before Adam and Eve are sentenced, so to speak.
Here’s the end of the story: the snake is cursed; the ground is cursed; creation is disturbed and life gets a little more difficult; Adam and Eve end up downgrading to a cheaper apartment “just outside” of the Garden District; but God doesn’t curse them and he doesn’t disown them.
But there’s no mention of the word sin, and there’s no mention even of the word evil.
Did Adam and Eve do wrong? Of course they did! They disobeyed God, they hid in shame, and when they were found they passed the blame along between God and one another all the way down to a talking snake.
Most of us can look at the world and acknowledge that there is evil in it. There is both personal sin and there is societal or communal sin.
I’m not convinced that this story is intended to tell us about original sin though. Because this text is not primarily about people. This text is primarily about God and how God relates to people, to creatures and to creation. This text is about what God is up to in the world.
Consider how God acts: Yes God makes them leave the Garden. We don’t get that in this part of the story, but in one place it says that God drives the man out, while in another place it says that he sends them forth- as if God is commissioning them for service. God allows them the dignity to deal with the consequences of their actions, but God does not abandon them. In fact, God comes looking for them when they are hidden- or lost- and God allows them to be part of his purpose for creation.
Adam and Eve made the Garden about themselves. They made it about what they could get out of it. And, well, we know how that worked out.
We make things about us that aren’t really about us. Just as a silly example: When I’m running late and every light is red- my first thought isn’t ‘bummer, I’m late and every light is red.’ My first thought is ‘why is this happening to me when I’m already late?!’ Can anyone relate to this? That’s what we have in common with Adam and Eve.
I wonder if a lot of our individual and societal problems are precisely because we make life about us, and not about God, and what God intends for creation.
The environment is in trouble because we use resources to meet and perpetuate our standards of living, and not according to what’s good for the planet or good for generations that come after us.
Greed is prevalent- and not just amongst wall street executives, because we make the economy about us, about our growing desire for material goods and comfort- and not about what’s good for all of us and for the wider world.
And I would argue that we even make religion about us. You can find the word salvation in the bible. You can find the words joy and peace, and hope and love. But you can’t find the term self-fulfillment.
Now I’m not saying that self-fulfillment is a bad thing.
I am saying that if we make that a primary aim, it’s easy to justify a lot of actions that have nothing to do with God, or with God’s kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven.
If we switch our perspectives though- if life is really about what God is doing and not primarily about us- then things look differently.
Richard Rohr wrote that:
“Our first and final loyalty is to one kingdom: God’s or our own. We can’t really fake it. The Big Picture is apparent when God’s work and will are central, and we are happy to take our place in the corner of the frame.
Because I am a part of the Big Picture, I do matter, and substantially so. Because I am only a part, however, I am rightly situated off to stage right—and happily so. What freedom there is in such truth! We are inherently important and included, yet not burdened with manufacturing or sustaining that private importance. Our dignity is given by God, and we are freed from ourselves!”
We have a role in God’s purposes for creation.
If we put God first, we will find those wonderful things which our hearts desire. I’m pretty sure Jesus said something about that.
If we put ourselves first, we risk losing an awful lot- and taking others down with us.
Beginning to move from one perspective to another is quite simple, really.
Everyday- practice doing something that gets you outside of yourself. That’s it.
Astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson said: “For me, I am driven by two main philosophies: know more today about the world than I knew yesterday and lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.”
You can do that by prayer, worship and Bible Study. You can do that by serving on a mission trip or volunteering. Or something less organized but no less powerful:
Some of you are familiar with Patience Salgado, who is known on her blog as ‘The Kindness Girl.’ She has a practice which she calls Guerrilla Goodness: intentional, anonymous acts of kindness performed in playful, creative ways for strangers, friends, and family.
Know this: God’s love isn’t dependent on what we do or don’t do. God comes looking for us when we’re hidden or lost. God wants us to be a part of the Big Picture.
Begin each day with that in mind. Let God surprise you with His enduring love.