To this day, I keep hearing an over simplification of Scripture that goes something to the effect, “the Old Testament is the story of a wrathful God and the New Testament is the story of a loving God.” It seems, through the centuries, we have developed a dichotomy in our understanding of God which makes God seem almost bi-polar. The challenge for us today is how to unite both images into a single, cohesive image . . .. And it begins with how we understand the fall of humanity as described in Genesis.
This morning our first reading brings us back to just after Adam and Eve have eaten from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and like the scales falling from the eyes of St. Paul, their eyes are opened to the fullness of creation. Not only are they able to see the beauty of the Garden, they are also aware of a darker reality. The reader is made aware of this fact by how Adam and Eve respond to God’s arrival in the Garden. They hide, aware that they are naked before God.
At this point in the story, we, as the reader have to ask the question, are the events that follow the result of God’s wrath or are they the natural unfolding of a process precipitated by choosing to disobey God. In other words, is the loss of the Garden akin to the child burning his hand on the stove after being told not to touch a punishment by the parent or the natural consequence of not following direction?
Of course we would all agree that the burned hand is a consequence that ultimately feels like a punishment. So it is with the expulsion from the Garden, the loss of paradise is the end result of the loss of innocence. And that is what the story of the fall is about. It is the story of humanity’s loss of innocence to evil. After eating of the fruit, no longer could Adam and Eve enjoy the fruits of paradise because they were now aware of the evil that lurked within. After the fall, no longer could our relationship be the same with God, because we betrayed God’s trust. Now, thrust from the protective confines of innocence, humanity must spend eternity discerning between good and evil and suffer the consequences created by the evil we choose.
The story of the fall, therefore, is not about the wrath of God, but of how we have betrayed God since our earliest days. This story is not about how humanity became the victims of God’s wrath. It is, instead, the beginning of a history of human survival and of a God who continuously tries to give us the tools we need to restore ourselves and all of creation into perfect union with God.
In Eucharistic Prayer C we pray, from the primal elements you brought the human race, and blessed us with memory, reason, and skill. You made us the rulers of creation. But we turned against you and betrayed your trust; and we turned against one another. Again and again, you called us to return. Through prophets and sages you revealed your righteous Law. And in the fullness of time you sent your only Son, born of a woman, to fulfill your Law, to open for us the way of freedom and peace.
In these few lines are a summation of Scripture from the story of creation to where we stand today. In this summation, we are reminded we are not, and never were intended to be mere puppets of the almighty, nor has it ever been intended for us to interpret the history of salvation as the story of human victimization.
It is important that we come to accept we are not the victims of divine wrath, because, if we believe the opposite to be true, then we see ourselves as the passive bystanders of history and powerless to become active participants in the restoration of creation. If we see ourselves as mere victims of the divine, then we relinquish any and all responsibility for the state of the world or for our souls.
As a pastor, I hear the cries of presumed divine victimization all the time when crises occur. How often do we ask “why me” in the midst of a crisis? Or asked the accompanying question “what have I done to deserve this”? Both arise from our own unconscious acceptance of a creator whose sole desire it is, is to punish rather than love and nurture. They are questions that remove us from being part of a greater whole, and allow us to forget that human suffering is random and sadly a by product of the fall.
For example, I recently heard an article on National Public Radio stating scientists working for the United Nation’s are fearful that our planet is hitting a tipping point in regards to climate change. With the continued thinning of the ozone layer, the earth is heating up and this is moving many species towards extinction. Opponents to the climate change theory argue that global warming is part of the ebb and flow of the earth’s history and this is just a part of that pattern. What if both schools of thought are right? What if we truly are in the midst of a natural global warming pattern, but our modern lifestyle is pushing this warming trend to a greater extreme, or accelerating the pattern beyond the earth’s natural capacity to adapt? Then what? Who do we blame when hurricanes become more frequent and more powerful due to warmer ocean waters? Or when greater famine sets in as droughts and heat become more severe and crops fail to meet the world’s demand? Will we consider these issues acts of God? Or, will we accept the consequences of not listening to the voices of many climatologists?
As we look over Old Testament history, one realizes the last thing God wants for any of us is to experience suffering. In the story of Noah, God warns Noah that it is God’s intention to destroy the earth and restart creation. What God does not do, is order Noah not to tell anyone why he is building the ark. But, as the story tells us, those around Noah fail to listen. In the Joseph saga, Joseph foresees the famine that will affect all the known world and Pharaoh listens, averting starvation throughout Egypt and ultimately saving the children of Israel.
What these stories tell us over and over is that God is not the wrathful creator we are so often led to believe, but truly the loving creator and parent, who constantly calls us to work with the almighty and to follow his guidance. In Deuteronomy, after God gives the Law to Israel, God ends the dictation with the words “on this day I have give you blessing and curse, life and death, choose life.”
It is not God’s choice, but our choice to choose life over death, blessing over curse and God over all else. Had Adam and Eve chosen to heed the command of God and not betrayed God, the Garden would still be ours. Had others who saw Noah building the ark listened to his warnings; more of humanity would have been saved. And perhaps we can avoid an environmental melt down if we choose to live more in harmony with the earth as we seek to restore God’s most perfect creation en route towards the Kingdom.
The possibility of a world without suffering becomes possible when we accept that we are not the victims of God, but instead are the survivors of evil.
Sunday, June 10, 2012
Proper 5b, 2 Pentecost