Voices of Life and Death

10 02 2008

Texts: Genesis 2 and 3; Romans 5

Many look back to the time of the 1960’s and 70’s as ushering in an era of freedom and liberation, particularly when they remember the civil rights movement. Major shifts in thought began to creep into the consciousness of the world, particularly in the West … namely the beginnings of true equality for women and non-whites. Everyone seemed to be able to find their voice, and liberal Western values seemed poised to create a truly just society. Patriarchy became suspect. Figures such as Gloria Steinem, Martin Luther King, Jr., and even artists such as Andy Warhol used their talents and gifts to criticize that institution known as “the Establishment.” Today, we also look towards a hopeful future as the tide begins to shift once more and promises to usher in a new wave of inclusive ideals, particularly along the lines of equality for GLBT people.

But, are we really in a better place? The grim reality is that we still live in a world of dirty bombs, genocide, pandemics, natural disasters and even new waves of fascism as we give up our prized freedoms all in the name of “homeland security” and “safety.” As connected as the Internet has made us to each other, it has also created niches where people can live their entire lives being exposed to people only like themselves with similar thoughts and values.

Our readings in Lent this year invite us to take a long hard look at ourselves, and what it means to be human. We are challenged to take off our rose-colored glasses. We are told not to continue our efforts to build an inclusive society without pondering why we as a race cannot break a cycle of cruelty, destruction, even death.

The first invitation takes us back to the Creation accounts in the book of Genesis. Our challenge is to hear this familiar text with fresh ears. We must suspend our preconceived notions about whether or not these events actually took place or whether they are based on near-Eastern Creation myths, but to hear the message that Genesis 2 and 3 are telling us more than 2500 years after it was written down. We find that mankind is intrinsically bound with the rest of Creation. Adam tends the garden which has been provided for him by God, and the garden in turns sustains them. Neither can exist by themselves. There is great freedom in this connection and in the bounds set by God. What the story of the garden tells us is that at one point, we did have true freedom of choice. Genesis tells us that one point we did trust God, listened to him. We could either live in harmony with Creation and with God, or we could step outside of those bounds. Humanity may eat of every tree in the garden, even the tree of life. There is another tree, known as the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and it is upon this tree that centers a prohibition: not to eat of it. As long as mankind does not break this prohibition, there will be harmony between the earth, humanity and God.

Now, a serpent enters the picture. Notice the difference between it and God. God does things and is a being of action as indicated by the strong verbs used (God formed, God planted, God breathed, God spoke, etc). The serpent, on the other hand is described from the outset as “crafty.” He says nothing new, but only manipulate what has been said before. Because of this, it is able to convince and beguile humanity into stepping out of the created order. What Adam and Eve found out is that once they stepped outside of the bounds that were set by God, they did not gain a greater sense of freedom, but as the rest of Genesis and indeed, all of human history will tell us, is that we are now in bondage and are trapped by our own desires. Notice again the language used in the scriptures … before partaking of the tree of knowledge, the woman spoke in terms of “we” and “us,” highlighting our interconnectedness, but afterwards, everyone speaks in terms of “I” or “me.”

The question that is begged is this: why would God make eating of the tree of knowledge an act of rebellion? Wouldn’t he want his stewards over the garden to know the difference between good and evil? The answer lies in the consequences. Yes, humanity knows the difference between good and evil as a result of their eating the fruit, but their innocence is taken away. They now know fear and shame because they partook and consumed what was not theirs to take, only to be given. It is through this action that what we call “sin” enters the world and later death will also come, both at our invitation and they became the reigning monarchs over the world.

St. Paul explores more of the relationship between sin and death in his letter to the Romans. What they have in common is that they are universal conditions. You see, sin is not something we do, but instead it is something that has become part and parcel of who we are as humans. It is a state of existence. It was something we were never meant to experience, and therefore we may call it an occupying power here on earth. It causes separation and rejection of life. It creates a state of mind where our actions and decisions can be based on fear and takes away a part of who we are, beings created in the image of God. If you’ve been to the airport lately and passed through security lines, you will know exactly what I mean. Many of these so-called safety measures but diminish who we are as human beings and reduces us to an assembly line… all for the sake of safety. Sin is not something that is inherited or transmitted from person to person, but it is pervasive. Instead of knowing freedom, we have become trapped in a world of darkness and fear.

Humanity still has a great capacity for good and selflessness. We have created music, art, written books, epics, and poems. We have built wondrous things. But just as great is our capacity for evil, selfishness and destruction. Because of sin, that is unfortunately now our default option.

But there is hope.

Just as we have stepped outside of the bounds of perfect freedom into darkness and death, God has provided a way that life may be restored and given. Just as through Adam death entered the world and affects all, God sent his Son, Jesus Christ to give life to all. We cannot step back into the garden in that place of true safety and freedom on our own. God comes to us in our fallenness and brings us back. All of our creations, our innovations, our accomplishments cannot hope to escape the cycle of sin and death. Jesus, in fact, was never known to have created or invented anything. He did however come with a gift and a promise for a new humanity and a restored Creation. The first Adam brought death; the second Adam, Jesus Christ, brings life.

Lent is a time for us to discern the different voices of life and death. The voice of the serpent is only empty air and false promises. Listening to the voice of death, the gift of life is forfeited and we embrace a false reality. In the affluent West, we have a lot of pressure to assume and conform to all sorts of different lifestyles, particularly if we live in urban areas. We need to have the right job, the right money, the right sex life, the right body, the right stocks … if you have and gain all of these, the world tells us, then we will have had it made. We will know success and have a wonderful and fulfilling life.

It is all a lie … a bald-faced lie. All of striving and and success may bring us a measure of security and a bit of an ego-boost, but they do not give us real life. They do not offer us a means of escape from the cycle of death and self-consumption. The good news we proclaim this first Sunday in Lent is that there is a promise of release from this vicious cycle of death and consumption. There is a way that conquers the true axis of evil, an axis which lies across every human heart. Human nature is strong. The Divine nature which is given to us through Christ, is stronger.




2 responses

11 02 2008

Very reflective and well put. If I could just imagine your accent, I’d be there in my head.

13 02 2008

I would like to think that it is thoughts just as yours that will push on beyond the gloom …

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