Paradise Lost – August 25, 2013
Genesis 3, John 1:35-42
August 25, 2013
So, “Paradise Lost” is a title I borrowed from the famous English poet, John Milton. I was also thinking of using “The Paradise Syndrome,” which is the title from an episode in the old Star Trek series. But I figured I was less likely to get sued by Milton than I was by the estate of Gene Roddenberry!
Milton’s work, which was originally published in the year (anybody?) 1667, is poetic work about what we call “The Fall.” That refers to the fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden. And that’s a difficult subject. It’s one that has been controversial throughout the many years. Was there a really a Garden? Were Adam and Eve real people? Other cultures have similar stories about the introduction of evil into the world. So what’s different about this story? Maybe you remember the Greeks story of “Pandoras Box.”
In the Judeo-Christian world this is the story. And over the years this story has been associated with has been called “Original Sin.” Which is also something that’s been debated for many centuries. We could probably debate this whole thing ourselves for quite some time! But for now, let me just say a few things about it.
First, let me say that I personally believe Adam and Eve were real people. To me, this is more than just a legend or an allegory. Now, were they the only two people God created in the beginning, or were they just two that God chose to deal with and to have companionship with in this way? That’s up for debate, especially when you take this story further and think about who the children of Adam and Eve would marry. There seems to have been some other people around somehow. But for now, without getting into all that, let me just say that I’m talking about the story of Adam and Eve with the understanding that they were real people.
Next, as I said last week, God created these two people as the pinnacle of creation. By the way, there were several reactions to that, including one, who shall remain nameless, who tried to make the case that it was the woman who was the pinnacle of creation. We could debate that on several levels! But lets just say for now, that God created these two people for companionship – for theirs and his!
We also have to say that this was paradise. It is well named as such by Mr. Milton. It was paradise because everything was beautiful, there was no evil, and God and his people were in close, personal rapport. Many artists have tried to do justice to this picture, but I have no doubt that they have all fallen far short!
I had a theology professor once, David Willis, one of my favorites, who said he didn’t like the idea of “Original Sin.” He said the focus should be on the paradise, on the creation, on the companionship with God. He said it would be better if we thought in terms of “Original Righteousness!” That’s what we had at first! We were created to have righteousness with God. And God created a wonderful place in which to have that righteous relationship. But he did give some guidelines. And that’s an important part of this story. Even before Eve was made from his rib, Adam was told about the tree in the midst of the garden. It was called “The tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” That, they were not to touch.
Well, of course that’s what did happen. And that’s what I want you to think about for a moment. Because a good case could be made that Adam and Eve didn’t know that what they were doing was wrong. You see, at that point, they hadn’t yet been given the knowledge of good and evil. The only thing they did know was that they were told not to eat of that tree. So what they did was not exactly evil. But it was disobedience.
That’s what sin is. The most important component of sin is not so much the wrongness of something, but the disobedience involved. For years, I’ve used “jumping on the couch” as an example of sin. It’s not so much a sin to jump on the couch. It’s a sin to jump on the couch after dad told you not to jump on the couch! Disobedience is the heart of sin. So what we call “Original Sin” might more accurately be called “Original Disobedience.” And since “Original Sin” is often believed to be contained within all of us, even at birth, we might better say that the tendency toward disobedience is within us somehow. Anyone whose ever had a two year old would certainly back me up on that!
So that disobedience, that rebellion within us, is part of this story that comes from the very beginning. Our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters would say that needs to be “cleansed” in baptism. But we” protest”ants tend to disagree. We say that babies aren’t born with sin, but rather that Adam’s nature, his rebellious spirit, his tendency to want to be in charge, is in our nature, too.
With that thought in mind, let me take this one step further. Because there’s something in this that Ive been thinking about for years. I’ve never said this before in a sermon, but I’ve been I wondering about it. Does this description of “The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil” have in it the understanding of “The Tree of who has the Knowledge of Good and Evil?” And what I mean by that is “The Tree of who decides what is Good and Evil.”
Do you see how it could mean that? Because that’s what Adam and Eve were doing here. They saw that the fruit of that tree “was good to eat.” (They didn’t have the knowledge yet that it was bad!) And the tempter said, “You will be like God. You will know what is good and evil.” In other words, “You will get to say what is good and evil.” Do you see that? That’s the power humans have been trying to usurp from God ever since! We want to be in charge! This is more than disobedience. This is rebellion! We want to say what’s right or wrong. More specifically, we don’t want to be told what to do – or what we “shalt not do.” That, I believe, is the heart of the human rebellion which the church has called “Original sin” ever since! It’s a question of “Who says so!”
Years ago I was at a youth conference at Purdue University, and while I was walking around the campus, and I ran into a student “news reporter.” And she interviewing one of the participants at the conference. The reporter was asking the person about a particularly tough issue, which I wont say, because I don’t want to open up another long discussion right now. But the reporter asked the guy, “Do you think this is a sin.” And as many times as she asked that question, the young man kept giving the same answer. “I dont see anything wrong with it.”
My friends, that’s the rebellion! Whether we like it or not, sin is not a question of what we see as wrong, but what God sees as wrong. I know that’s a tough thing to say in our world. And what makes it even tougher is that I believe God speaks to people in different times in different ways. We want to turn God into a set of formulas. But it’s not that simple. Sure, there are some things that are pretty universal, like “Thou shalt not steal,” and some of those. But in other cases, I believe God speaks to one group of people differently than others, and at different times. The prophets often said,” Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I am doing a new thing in Israel.” And the problem was the people of Israel didnt like God doing a new thing! And we aren’t comfortable with God doing a new thing, either!
In Paul’s day, for example, some people believed God was telling them that eating the meat from the market place – meat which had been part of a pagan sacrifice – was wrong. Well, Paul very clearly said that he didn’t think so. But he did say that we shouldn’t do anything that would “cause our brother to stumble.” So, he said, he wouldn’t eat that meat in the presence of one who believed differently.
In our day, alcohol might be a similar example. Some believe drinking alcohol is a sin. There have been some very strong feelings on that subject over the years. It’s still amazing to me that we actually passed a constitutional amendment in this country prohibiting it! Then we passed another repealing the first! So people have believed both ways about it. But the important thing, Paul would tell us, is that we need to be sensitive to those who might think differently than us. Because the important thing is the relationship we have with others.
I think that’s the best perspective on sin. All the commandments, all the injunctions against evil and sin, are given by God because he loves us. He wants us to be happy! He wants the very best for us. And therefore, in his great love for us, he gives us things to avoid! Do you see what I mean?
Well, we’ve gotten pretty far away from the garden now, haven’t we? But not really. Because remember, the one thing that Adam and Even had in the garden that we don’t have now is paradise! And I don’t mean just the beauty and abundance of the flora and fauna in that place. I mean the total peace and lack of discord. What the fruit of that tree introduced to the human race was toil, hardship, and strife. That’s how God described the life Adam would now have.
And that’s our world, too. And the whole rest of the Bible is about God calling his people back into relationship with him. It’s about him showing them how to deal with the toil, hardship, and strife. Because he still wants whats best for his creation, despite their tendency to rebel and push him away.
So, the story comes down to us. We are Gods creation. We have in our nature the same rebellion of Adam. We want to be in charge. We sometimes don’t want – or we dont think we want – that relationship with our creator. And we tend to choose the toil, hardship, and strife. But God calls us back again and again. He shows us his love. He wants for us to have his joy, and his abundance, now and in the life to come. Which, by the way, will be “Paradise gained!”
Eternal creator God, help us to know the relationship with you for which you created us. Help us to seek your presence, to know your peace, to rejoice in your kingdom. Help us to have the strength we need to seek and to know and to follow your will. May be truly be the people you want us to be. For this we pray in Jesus name, Amen.