“WHERE IT ALL WENT WRONG”
JUNE 1, 2008
A couple of weeks ago, on Interstate 80 on my way to the Presbytery meeting in Council Bluffs, I found myself in a massive traffic jam. Cars were moving at a snail’s pace, with people changing lanes right and left. Finally, after about a twenty minute delay, I arrived at the problem, a three car accident. The three cars along the side of the interstate were crunched and crumbled. Drivers and passengers were on their cell phones. Patrol officers were writing up their reports. Having recently been in an auto accident, I can imagine the conversation. I can imagine the patrolmen coming up to one of the drivers and saying, “What happened?” and the driver saying something like, “Well, it all went wrong when the red pick up truck tried to merge into traffic from the 72nd Street on ramp.”
This morning we turn our attention to where it all went wrong. Last week, in our study of the Book of Genesis we watched as God created all things good - the seas, mountains, hills, plains, eagles, doves, goats, giraffes, men and women. It was all good. It was paradise, heaven on earth. Now things are not so good. Paradise has been infiltrated by death, taxes, alienation, fear, violence, suspicion, distrust, and selfishness. Where did it all go wrong?
According to Jewish-Christian tradition it all went wrong when Eve and Adam bit into the forbidden fruit. With those two bites Paradise was lost. Of course, Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of the book How Good Do We Have to Be? claims with those two bites humankind didn’t lose Paradise, they just outgrew it. But his argument is weak. We did not outgrow Paradise, we lost it and much of what frustrates us today has its origin in the cosmic accident that took place in the Garden of Eden. Look with me at some of the immediate consequences of those two bites of forbidden fruit.
Consequence #1: fear reared its ugly head. Shortly after Adam bit into the forbidden fruit, God came looking for him, asking, “Where are you?”
Adam replied, “I heard the sound of you walking in the garden, and I was afraid ...” and fear has been our constant companion ever since. And ever since that day, God has attempted to relieve our fears. Ever since that fateful day, God has tried to put us at ease. In fact, 365 times in the Bible we are told to, “Fear not.”
God told Abraham, “Fear not for I am your shield,” and God told Joshua, “Fear not, but be strong and of good courage.” David declared, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear.” The angels declared to the shepherds, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy,” and all through his life Jesus bid fear to flee. On the waters of Galilee, on the road to Jericho - wherever he went - he said, “Fear not, fear not.” And then the Apostle Paul reminded his young disciple and friend, Timothy, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love, and of a sound mind.”
Everywhere in the Bible, God attempts to calm us down and take away our fears, but fear is not the only thing to originate after that first bite. So did consequence #2. So did shame.
But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked.” (Genesis 3:9-10)
Before Adam ate from the tree he was naked and did not think a thing about it. After he bit into the forbidden fruit, he became ashamed and covered up.
Have you ever had a dream where you were in public and not fully dressed, or dressed inappropriately? Freud theorized that this nearly universal dream of finding oneself in public only partially dressed is a symbolic expression of our fear that if people examined us closely, they would judge us inadequate. You see, there is a difference between guilt and shame. They are two different emotions. Guilt is feeling bad for what you have done and shame is feeling bad for who you are, and this distinction is crucial because we can atone for things we have done much more easily than we can change how we feel about ourselves.
Take dieting. Anyone here ever been on a diet? If you have ever been on a diet there has come a time when you had a lapse. You ate something you were not supposed to eat. A guilty person having cheated on a diet would say, “Well, I blew that. Oh well, a few days of being careful will make up for it.” A person filled with shame, however, will do something else. A dieter filled with shame will say, “What’s wrong with me?” Why did I have that dessert? Why can’t I ever stick to a diet?” See the difference? When we define ourselves by our worst moments instead of our best ones, we begin to think of ourselves as people who never get it right, rather than capable people who make an occasional mistake. That’s what happened to Adam. He defined himself from this one mistake, albeit, a huge mistake. He felt ashamed, so he hid from God.
I wonder what would have happened if Adam had not hidden and had not covered up? I wonder what would have happened if he had not defined himself by this one mistake? I wonder if the story would have had a different ending?
And before we move on, let me say something about our culture and shame. Next time you are at the supermarket, check out the magazines at the checkout counter. Most will be for women and almost every women’s magazine will have something about dieting on the cover. Why? It’s because our society has taught women that they are evaluated by their physical appearance. Entire industries - fashion, cosmetics, perfume, plastic surgery, weight loss books - have been built on the foundation of women feeling ashamed of their appearance, to the point that one could speculate that if all the women in America were to wake up one morning feeling good about themselves, the American economy would collapse.
But men, we are not off the hook when it comes to shame. Women may struggle with shame over their body image, but we struggle with it when it comes to being a good provider. So women, drowning in shame, starve themselves, wear uncomfortable shoes, and submit to surgery because they have been taught to hate their bodies, while men drowning in shame work themselves to the point of collapse because society has evaluated their earning power and branded them failures.
Of course, if fear and shame were not enough, something else originated in the Garden. Consequence #3 of biting into the forbidden fruit: alienation.
He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from 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 from 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 tricked me, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:11-13)
What we have here is a classic example of passing the buck. The man blames God and the woman for his behavior, and the woman blames the serpent which results in humans feeling alienated from God and one another. The vertical and horizontal relationships in our lives have taken a direct hit. What God bound together has now come apart.
Maybe you heard the story of the minister who returned to visit a church he had once pastored. He ran into Bill, who had been an elder and leader in the church, but who wasn’t around anymore. The pastor asked, “Bill, what happened?” You used to be there every time the doors of the church opened?”
“Well, Pastor,” said Bill, “a difference of opinion arose in the church. Some of us couldn’t accept the final decision and we established a church of our own.”
“Is that where you worship now?” asked the pastor.
“No,” answered Bill, “we found that there, too, the people were not faithful and a small group of us began meeting in a rented hall at night.”
“Has that proven satisfactory?” asked the minister.
“No, I can’t say that it has,” Bill responded. “Satan was active even in that fellowship, so my wife and I withdrew and began to worship on Sunday at home by ourselves.”
“Then, at last you have found inner peace?” asked the pastor.
“No, I’m afraid we haven’t,” said Bill. “Even my wife began to develop ideas I was not comfortable with, so now she worships in the northeast corner of the living room, and I am in the southwest corner.”
Connecting with others has become a great challenge, even with those we love the most.
The Los Angeles Times has a slogan on it’s masthead. It reads, “We’re there for you every day.” We want to hear that from someone. In the sea of alienation surrounding us, we want to know that someone will be there for us. We long to hear someone say, “I will never leave you or forsake you. I will be with you always to the end of the age.”
Of course the worst consequence that originated in the Garden was not fear, or shame, or alienation. The worst consequence was humankind becoming suspicious and distrustful of God.
Imagine for a moment if I got very sick and tried to medicate myself, until my illness grew so bad that I finally called my trusted family doctor. Suppose, however, that when he came out to examine me, I showed him the medicine I was taking, and he said, “That is the worst possible stuff for your problem. Put it away and start taking the prescription I will give you. In a matter of hours, I promise, you will start feeling better.”
Then, when the doctor left, suppose a plumber who was unstopping my sink came out and said, “I overheard that conversation. Don’t do what the doctor told you. The only reason he is giving you this new prescription is he is getting kickbacks from drug reps to push these new drugs. You can’t trust doctors today. If you know what is good for you, you will stick with the medicine you already have and forget about that new prescription.”
Now I ask you, what would you think of me if I bought into that kind of mistrust and suspicion? Would you not think I was crazy to take the word of a plumber over that of a trusted physician when it comes to medicine? Yet, according to the Book of Genesis, this is exactly what our forbearers did back in the beginning. They took the word of a crafty snake over the word of their Creator when it came to interpreting life. They uncritically accepted a negative image of God that had no basis in fact, and look at what resulted from that one erroneous assumption. Thinking God a foe rather than a father, the humans proceeded to take life apart and put it back together in ways that did not work. They bit into the fruit and got sick, just as they had been warned, and they lost what they once had.
That’s where God’s poor reputation began - with a flimsy accusation by a snake - and it has been a problem ever since. You’ve heard it. A child dies and someone cries out against the cruelty of an uncaring God. Or we hear someone say, “How could God allow so much evil in the world?” Or we hesitate to pray, “Thy will be done,” because to obey God is to say goodbye to joy and pleasure.
Note, however, how God ultimately responded to the slanderous things said about him through the ages. According to the Bible, God’s response was the single most creative thing anyone could have ever done, “He ... spared not his own son, but delivered him up for us all” (Romans 8:32).
In other words, Jesus is God’s way of getting rid of a bad reputation. Over against all the suspicion of God that has been generated through the ages, God sent his only son so that people could see what he looked like in history, walking the streets of earth in broad daylight. And the question for us is this: Can we trust a God like that? Is Jesus of Nazareth a God we can trust? By that I mean, if you were to faint away, just pass out at Jesus feet, and become totally vulnerable and defenseless, what would he do to you? Would he steal your money, exploit your body, take advantage of your helplessness? Of course not. Of all the people in the world, who could we trust more to help and not hurt than Jesus of Nazareth?
And Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God. What Jesus did during his days in the flesh, God has always been and will always be.
So let me remind you of this. When you are sick, go to a doctor and not a plumber. And when it comes to understanding God, listen to his son, and not a snake. Jesus is God’s way of getting rid of a bad reputation.
 Harold S. Kushner, How Good Do We Have to Be? (Boston, Little, Brown & Company, 1996.
 John Claypool, The Light Within You, (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1983), p. 20.