Heroes of Faith: The Villans (2 of 2)

Let me tell you a story. It is not a funny story, but it is an important one. It might help you to understand why I am so bull headed and independent. When I went to seminary, I did not go to Moravian Theological Seminary, though I would today. I went to Asbury Theological Seminary near Lexington, Kentucky. I went there because I wanted to please my dad. Their hero at Asbury is John Wesley, the founder of Methodism; and Asbury is a Wesleyan-Arminian Seminary. Immediately after I arrived at Asbury, and embraced that ethos, I told my dad about it, thinking it would please him. My dad said to me, “Well, that is all well and good, but I am a Calvinist.” This put me in a difficult position. I wanted to please people. I wanted to please my dad—he was the reason I choose Asbury, and I also wanted to please my teachers and my fellow students at Asbury seminary. I found that I could not do both, as both my father and the teachers and students at Asbury took their theology very seriously.

Then I met Dr. Robert Lyon, a professor of New Testament at Asbury. Though Bob had to whisper it, especially within the confines of the seminary, he asked his students to take a different approach to reading the Bible. He told us not begin with a doctrinal approach. He told us to, “Have a high view of Scripture, trust it, and follow it where it leads.” We all have presuppositions when we approach scripture, and Dr. Lyon talked about them. He told us that people believe in Jesus Christ for the sake of the Bible. This is a scholastic approach. The problem with the scholastic approach is that if we find one error in scripture the whole approach collapses. We spend all our time defending the Bible. He told us that other people believe in the Bible for the sake of Jesus Christ. He said this is a relational approach, and it is the approach he saw in the scripture. People in the New Testament believed in Jesus long before the gospels were written down. Most of us believe in Jesus because of the witness of our parents, or of some friend, and only later do we begin to read Scripture, and work out our doctrine of scripture.

If we simply trust the scripture and follow it where it leads, we discover some marvelous things. Take for instance, the Six Days of Creation that we read about in the first creation story of Genesis. When I went to seminary, my grandmother told me that if I gave up the idea that God created the world in six literal days, logically, I had to give up all of Scripture. I could not trust it. I still hear fundamentalist preachers say this all the time. It is simply not true, for if we approach scripture without the presuppositions of a certain theology, that statement conflicts with the facts. Let me demonstrate.

First, consider the word “day.” The Hebrew word day does not always mean a day of 24 hours. It often simply means “a unit of time.” So, too, in 2nd Peter 3:8, we read that with God, a day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” The truth is, if we believe that God is the Unmoved Prime Mover behind the Big Bang, then we can say that with God, a day is like more than a billion of our years, and several billion of our years is like, well, a minute, or even a second, in the life of God. As Christians we believe that God is eternal. God lives in eternity where time is meaningless. The Bible teaches that time is a part of creation—the sun and moon are created for signs, for seasons, for days, and for years.” (Genesis 1:14) According to the Genesis story, time, like everything else, was created for the sake of humankind. God understood that we human beings would need a sense of progress.

Now consider a few details of the creation story itself. When we read the first story of creation, in Genesis 1:1-2:4, we see that on the first day, God separated the light from the darkness, and morning and evening were the first day. Now this is interesting because the sun and moon—by which we get our light, were not created until day four. Now, if we trust the scripture, and take it seriously, we who live in the 21st century know immediately that the story in Genesis is not meant to be a scientific account of creation. If it were science, there would be a sun and moon before there was light on the earth. So where does that leave us. Some will think, “Oh, if this creation story is not science, it must be poetry. It is a beautiful, poetic account of creation.” That, I think, is an equally big mistake. The text of the first story of creation is more than poetry. It is theology, which is the study of God, and, I believe the queen of the sciences. We know it is theology because it names God 35 times in 34 verses. Now if this creation story is theology, what does it tell us about the sun and the moon? It tells us first and foremost that they are a part of the creation. This was explosive news for some of the first people who heard these stories told or read. Remember, the ancient peoples that surrounded Israel, whether the Egyptians or the Canaanites, worshiped the sun and the moon as gods. Yet, this story said to them, “The sun and moon are not gods. They are certainly important. One rules the day, and the other the night. but the sun and moon, like everything else, is just part of God’s creation.”

The primary emphasis of the first creation story of Genesis is to insist that God is the creator of all things, and that mankind is the apex of God’s creation. In the first creation story God made “adam” with a little “a,” meaning, “mankind” in God’s own image. The text declares, “in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.” Last week we saw that whatever else this means, it must mean that God gave human beings a measure of the Divine freedom. The animals are ruled by their instincts. We are not. We can go north in the winter. We can choose between right and wrong. God even gave us the freedom to disobey God.

The second story of creation is not just about the creation, it is about things as they are. (See Note: Theodicy) It is not science, and it is not poetry, it is theology. It attempts to explain why the world is like it is, and it roots those things in the attitudes and actions of three important players.

First there is Adam, meaning the man, the first man. Then there is the man’s helper made for him by God. Adam said, “I will call her woman, for she was taken out of man.” Many women do not like this story for in this story women are made subject to men. This story did not create that situation. It is just the way that it was. Men were stronger than women. A woman needed a man’s protection. It was a man’s world, and it would be for thousands of years to come. In the New Testament Jesus lifted the station of women, but that did not last. By the time 1st Timothy was written we read: (See Note on 1st Timothy)

12 I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.

Churches, who do not let women teach, or serve of church boards, take this text and other like it at face value. Moravians have women pastors, and teachers, and bishops, and elders, because we set these texts over against Galatians 3:27-28 and find them wanting. There we read:

27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

According to the story, Adam was the first to be created, but in my mind it was the woman who took leadership in this first family. Eve was a smart cookie. Eve was wise enough to let her husband think he was in charge, and Eve was smart enough and sexy enough to get her husband to do what ever she wanted him to do.

Eve was smarter than Adam, and more ambitious, too,  but Eve was not as smart as she thought she was, for the serpent, who is the third major character in this story, deceived her.

The serpent deceived Eve with a lie. The serpent convinced Eve that God did not have our best interest at heart. First, the serpent misdirected her. He asked, “Did God tell you not to eat of any of the trees in the Garden?” Eve answered:

“We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”

Then the Serpent told an out and out lie, the first recorded in Scripture. He said, “You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Eve saw that the tree is a delight to the eyes, and good for food, and desired to make one wise, so she ate, and she gave some of the fruit to her husband and he ate.

And the world changed. Suddenly the first pair knew that they no longer lived in a perfect world of carefree freedom. To this point they had been naked and not ashamed. That is no longer true. Their eyes have suddenly been opened, and for the first time they see their nakedness. In response to this change, they fashioned clothes for themselves from leaves, and they hid themselves from God, in the garden.

We cannot hide from God. God knows when we rise up and when we lie down. He discerns our thoughts from afar. (Psalm 139) We cannot hide, and neither, according to the second story of creation, could Adam and Eve. The first pair was transparent before God. God made a visit to them, and God said to Adam, “Who told you that you are naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”

Like men everywhere—remember, this story is about things as they are, the man tried to pass the buck. He said, “The woman whom you gave me to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:12) (See Note: The Woman Also Passes the Buck)

And you know the rest of the story. You know that God pronounced a judgment on the man and on the woman and on the serpent. These judgments handed down by God do not give us any new information about how things are for us, but they offer an explanation, albeit not a final explanation, of “why” things are the way that they are. Consider the punishments:

The man is punished through work. God cursed the ground and tells the man that he will eat his bread in the sweat of his brow. I do not regard my work as a punishment. I am among the fortunate few whose work and vocation go hand in hand. I am one of those whom Thomas Carlyle had in mind when he said, “Blessed is he who has found his work, let him ask no other blessedness.” But the truth is that for the vast majority of humankind, work is a terrible drudgery. If you don’t believe this, you have never pulled tobacco, dug ditches for Shutt Hartman Construction Company, or worked a double shift in a cotton mill.

The woman is punished through child bearing. A man may work hard, but no labor of man is harder than a woman’s labor. The author of 1st Timothy says that a woman is redeemed through bearing children, if she will continue in faith, love, and holiness, with modesty. When we talk about the sexual revolution brought about by birth control, we highlight the negative consequences, sexual promiscuity and the spread of sexual transmitted diseases. We forget that birth control has been God’s gift for many married women, because thanks to birth control they are no longer forced to bear child after child, simply to satisfy their husband’s sexual appetites. There is a new option. This is a recent development in our world that still benefits just a tiny minority of women. In this regard, I think the Pope should get on with the game!

The serpent is punished by having to crawl in the dust all his days, and God puts enmity between humankind and serpent kind. I know all about this enmity. I know snakes have an important role to play in our world, but as a rule I hate snakes, and I am reasonably sure that snakes feel pretty much the same about me. I once stepped down off a log onto the back of a Timber Rattler that was as big around as my arm. They say white men can’t jump, don’t you believe  them. And don’t believe that snakes are slow, either. By the time I came down, he was in the next county. Of course, the serpent of Genesis stands for more than serpent kind. If you take this talking serpent too literally, you miss the point altogether. The author Revelation identifies “the ancient Serpent” as the devil and Satan. (Revelation 20:12) Likewise, Jesus identifies the snake with the devil. In John 8:44 he calls the devil, “a liar and the father of lies.” It is a clear reference to the snake. It does this story a disservice to take it too literally. We know that Satan is much more than a talking snake that is still forced to crawl on his belly all the days of his life. In 1st Peter 5:8 we read that Satan goes about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Scarier still, in 2nd Corinthians 11:14, St. Paul says that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. That means that the very thing that promises good to us, frequently delivers evil.

Finally, I would mention that the man and the woman are expelled from the garden, and forbidden to re-enter. God put an angel with a flaming sword at the gate of the garden, paradise, to keep out the man, and the woman, and all their children after them, including you and me.

The Bible never uses the word “fall.” Nevertheless, theologians of every stripe and persuasion, Wesleyan and Calvinist, liberal and conservative, say that this second story of creation is really the story of humankind’s fall into sin.

Last week we saw that mankind is like the animals, we are finite, creatures of dust. “From the dust we have come, and to the dust we will return.” Yet mankind is also made in the image of God, and like God we posses a measure of freedom and choice. This dual nature means that we live in a halfway house, halfway between the animals and God. We struggle to live in this halfway house. We can’t stand being part finite, and part free. We are constantly trying to breakout. There are two ways out. Sometimes we deny that we were made in the image of God, and we throw ourselves out the door of our animal nature. We give in to sex and lust and the desires of the eye, like Jack Kerouac who’s goal in life was to sleep with 1,000 women. Sometimes we throw ourselves out the door of freedom. We pretend that our freedom is absolute, and greater than it is. A good example of this is Raskolnikov in Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment.” He is destitute, and he kills the old pawnbroker for her gold because he regards himself as superior to her—he is a great man who will do charitable things with her money. On a larger scale, this is what Hitler did when he convinced the German people that Aryans were a superior people who deserved to prosper and flourish, and that Jews were an inferior people who deserved to be exterminated. This is what some American militia did in 1792 when they smashed the heads of 96 Christian Delaware Indians at Gnadenhutten like pumpkins, and laughed to see their brains spill out. Some will say, “Some of those Indians fought on the side of the British.” This did not justify the killing of 28 men, 29 women and 39 children.

The fall is certainly a fall down into sin, and sin is more than an action. Sin is a power. Sin lures us. Sin snares us. Sin compels us. That is what St. Paul is getting at in Romans 7:15 when he writes, “I am carnal, sold under sin. 15 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” It is impossible to overestimate the power of sin. Likewise, it is impossible to overestimate the spread of the infection. The late Herbert Weber, my first Senior Pastor, once told me that the one Christian doctrine that Christians and non-Christians agreed upon was the doctrine of universal sin! “None is righteous, no not one!”

The fall is a terrible thing—but there is some good in the worst of things. On the plus side, according to Eric Fromm, the fall of Genesis is also a fall upward, into self-awareness, reason, and imagination. Before humankind could make progress we had to know that we were naked. Our shame before God and our weakness before the elements, the wind, the rain, the cold, the heat, compelled us to use the minds God gave us to make progress in the world. Necessity is the mother of invention, especially when it is cold outside.

Now let me quit this section with a caution. Some people say that Adam and Eve possessed eternal life until they disobeyed God. The Genesis story itself does not say that. In this story Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, but they never ate from the Tree of Life. In point of fact God barred Adam and Eve from the garden “lest they eat of the Tree of Life.” Even a very conservative approach to the text, if it is honest, recognizes this. Oswald Chambers, the author of “My Utmost for His Highest,” put this into perspective. He said that Adam and Eve possessed the potential for Eternal Life, for God created them with the potential for holiness without which no one shall see God. “It was their task, “ he wrote “to transform (untested) innocence, into (true, tried and tested) holiness, through a series of moral choices, but they failed.”

Likewise, some people say that we die because of the sin of Adam and Eve. Jesus never mentions this, but in Romans 5 St. Paul assumes it to be at least partially true. Even so, Paul steadfastly refuses to lay all the blame on Adam, the first and archetypical man. He put some of it on each of us and on all of us. In Romans 5:12 Paul says: “Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned.”

People ask me if I believe in the fall. I not only believe in it, I participated in it. I well remember the day I stole a box of Diamond Brand stick-matches from my grandmother’s kitchen on Cotton Street, and lighted a fire in the back alley of her house. I directly disobeyed my mother, and broke the 4th commandment. It is the first sin I remember, though I am sure that there were others before. It does not matter. I am solid in Adam. I am under the sway of sin and death. If I had been in the garden in place of Adam, I would have done as he did. There is only one who, “…though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, and being found in human form, became obedient unto death, even death of the cross. “ (Philippians 2) Jesus Christ was the last Adam (1st Corinthians 15), and the only way to escape our solidarity in Adam is to join ourselves to him in faith become solid in Him.

Finis

Worth Green, Th.M., D.Min.

Note: Theodicy

Theodicy is an attempt to vindicate the goodness of God. Genesis transfers the blame for death and every hurtful thing from God to man. It is an answer, but not the only answer. In my view this answer is not nearly so satisfactory as the idea that in the Cross of Christ, God suffers with his people, and, in the resurrection of Christ, God gives us hope. Brunner has the Genesis story and the Cross in view when he says that the best answser for theodicy is not an intellectual one, but a redemptive one.

Note: The Woman Passes the Buck

The woman also passes the buck. Thus we read, “13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent beguiled me, and I ate.’”

Note: 1st Timothy

It is my conviction that the pastoral epistles were written by a disciple of Paul incorporating genuine remembrances by Paul, but they are obviously set in a later time frame, when the church had become as much an organization as an organism, having bishops (and elders) and deacons.

About the author:

The Rev. Dr. Worth Green is the Senior Pastor of New Philadelphia Moravian Church.. Follow him on Twitter / Facebook.