Escaping Eternity

Eating of the Tree was the only thing in the Garden for which we’d been told there was a consequence of making a choice – “In the day you eat of it, you shall die.” Yet, the man and woman did not know what a “consequence” was, they did not even know what death was. Yahweh was speaking way over their heads: a specific day? Time? Death? What’s that? I’m sure the man and woman thought: “Hmmm, sounds bad, let’s not go there!” Time was infinite, so why rush? Why push the boundaries? Why risk change?

Yet, there was a reason. The serpent knew what it was: they would “become like God, knowing Good and Evil.” Eating that fruit meant we’d learn new things: we’d escape from our existence in a mindless and meaningless eternity. Something new would happen in our never-ending cycle of days. But, to do so, we had to be willing to face what we had never known: change. We would experience limited time, we would experience death.


Genesis3:8 Lego Adam And Eve
Genesis 3:8 Lego Adam And Eve, from “The Brick Testament”

You know, the story of Adam and Eve is a great story, but it’s always bothered me.  I mean, come on: if the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil were so darned important, why didn’t God put a fence around it, or stick it in some remote and impossible to access place?  I mean – seriously: even if the man and woman obeyed, one of their kids or grandkids, or great-grandkids would eventually “forget” and taken a bite.  It was inevitable.  So, why?

Now, this morning’s reading is the passage in which the so-called “Original Sin” takes place, an event that we are taught “cursed” mankind for all time, until we were redeemed by Christ. But, is this event that affects every one of us – whether it is factual or metaphorical – really the great failure and source of all sin that we have been taught it is? Perhaps not.

…Let’s step back for a minute and consider the text as a whole.  This particular story, the second of the two “creation narratives” at the beginning of the Bible, portrays Yahweh as a very hands-on sort of God: unlike the more remote vision of God we find in the first Creation narrative in Genesis 1.  In that narrative, God “spoke” the world into being, hovered over the waters and said “Let there be light.” – All these are commands and things done from a distance, like you’d expect a remote and unapproachable God to do.

But, in Genesis 2 & 3 God doesn’t command anything into being, Instead, Yahweh gets down and dirty: She lovingly forms us with her own hands, then gently breathes the breath of life into our nostrils. She is presented as an up close and in your face sort of God, a very hands on sort of diety.

Yahweh is concerned for us as individuals, saying “it is not good that the man is alone” and so creates the woman.  She talks face to face with us.  The man and woman, we are told, “heard the sound of Yahweh walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze.”  Yahweh works, walks, talks and breathes.  She is a very human God – not some powerful spirit being. She is a very personal God – not some distant and unreachable entity.  Yahweh is a God of Relationship – not a dictator.  She is not a god who demands obedience and taking whatever she wants from us – Yahweh is a God filled with love and concern for us and for all of her Creation.

Keep Off!So, what does the type of God we find in this passage have to do with all this?  Why wasn’t there even something like one of those little gnomes holding a “keep off” sign put there in the garden?  Why was this tree left unguarded, tempting us? …Why no fence?

First: it is clear God is not tricking us.  Nowhere in the Bible is there a case where God “tricks us”.  True, there are many places where God tests us, but such tests are always explicit, never hidden – never a trap.  As James 1:13 states, God never seeks to “ensnare us”.  Yahweh did not “trick” us into eating of the tree.

Still, there had to be a reason for no fence!  And, I believe this reason lies at the heart of the kind of God that Yahweh is – a god of Relationship.

What kind of relationship can you have if you have no choice about it?  Sure, you can have relationships with a doll, or a toy, or your smartphone – but they don’t have any choice in the matter, do they?  Such relationships don’t have much going for them because you control both sides of the interaction.  (Although it doesn’t seem like that with a smartphone!)  There is no synergy, no freshness, no exploration, no intimacy, no real growth. They give nothing back, except for perhaps a brief taste of that which we seek.  They repeat themselves endlessly, but have no possibility of growth. They have no future, because they all begin and end with us.

If Yahweh controlled every aspect of our relationship with her (which she could easily do), we wouldn’t be much different from that doll, or that toy, or that phone.  At best, we’d be a kind of pet: cuddled, fed, watered, but not an equal, not in charge of our own destiny, not able to grow.

To be loved, we need a real choice as to whether we will have a relationship with Yahweh – or not.  The fence can’t be there – if it is, we’ll never have a choice.  To have a meaningful relationship with God, we have to choose to have that relationship: it cannot be forced upon us.

Oldest Living Wisteria Tree; Ashikaga Flower Park, Japan
Oldest Living Wisteria Tree; Ashikaga Flower Park, Japan

But, let’s not forget about the other tree, the Tree of Life: it has a role in this story, too.  The Tree of Life was no big deal to the woman and man.  There were no rules concerning it – Yahweh doesn’t even mention it to them, ever.  It was just another tree – over there, next to the “Knowledge of Good and Evil” one.  There was no reason why they wouldn’t have eaten of it all the time.  I imagine them casually picking and eating a fruit or two each time they came back from their evening swim. They had eternal life in the bag (at least, as long as they hung out in the garden)!

But, we don’t even know how long they were in the Garden.  If you think about it – what would it matter?  With Eternal Life, and no experience with death, time was an unlimited commodity.

I’ve preached on this point before: every day was just that – simply another day – one of an infinite number of days.  There was no need to count days, no need to keep track of time, no need to worry about the future.  With life unending, time means nothing.  It is not a precious commodity.  Phrases like “saving time”, “making time” or even “wasting time” – all of which you and I hear and use every day – would be meaningless.  The man and woman never ran out of time. They never gave time a thought. They were never aware of its’ passing.

Yet, they certainly made choices all the time – whether and what to eat, when to sleep, but their choices were never about the future – they were always about the present, about immediate things: they didn’t even worry about what to wear!   They never considered the consequences of their choices, they couldn’t – they hadn’t yet eaten the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  They existed purely, and eternally, in the present.  In a sense, they had no future, because their future was identical to their present, and identical to their past. They lived in an eternal present.

In that timeless world, Yahweh was just … there: there was no choice as to whether we wanted a relationship with God – or not. How could there be a choice when time was a meaningless concept? Relationships require a future, and a past. Without meaningful choices in their life, there could be no meaningful relationship with God.  Yet, Yahweh is a God of Relationship: I believe She would not have created us without providing a path for us to choose to have a meaningful relationship with Her.  There had to be a way to escape eternity.

Let’s call that path to escaping eternity the “First Choice” – the choice of whether to eat of the fruit – or not.  But, we had no knowledge of Good and Evil.  Or, to put it another way, we never had to choose between Good and Evil.  We never had to deal with the consequences of making choices.  Good and Evil are always the outcome of choices.  Good and Evil cannot exist unless there are choices, choices with consequences.  That tree is all about knowing the possible consequences of our actions, about choosing between what will bring Good and what will bring Bad, and about knowing the difference between the two.

Eating of that Tree was the only thing in the Garden for which we’d been told there was a consequence for making a choice – “In the day you eat of it, you shall die.”  Yet, the man and woman did not know what a “consequence” was, they did not even know what death was. Yahweh was speaking way over their heads: a specific day? Time? Death? What’s that?  I’m sure the man and woman thought: “Hmmm, sounds bad, let’s not go there!”  Time was infinite, so why rush? Why push the boundaries?  Why risk change?

Yet, there was a reason.  The serpent knew what it was: they would “become like God, knowing Good and Evil.”  Eating that fruit meant we’d learn new things: we’d escape from our existence in a mindless and meaningless eternity.  Something new would happen in our never-ending cycle of days.  But, to do so, we had to be willing to face what we had never known: change.  We would experience limited time, we would experience death.

So, I believe Yahweh knew we would eat of that fruit when we had outgrown the Garden, when we were ready for change.  She did not tell us we’d be cursed if we ate of that fruit. She told us change would happen, that things would be different, that everything – including us – would now be able to end … and begin.

Hard Choices - Split RoadWe would escape eternity, stepping into a world where we would have to make choices. We would be able to envision the consequences of our choices, and we would see our choices making a difference in the world: consequences we would have to live with – for Better or Poorer.

Our relationship with Yahweh would change from a one sided, limited relationship to a full one, a two-way relationship: one capable of growth and change, one that would produce fruit.  Eating of the fruit marked the point where we changed from being one creature among many, to a creature capable of having a real relationship with Yahweh.  Eating of that fruit marked our escape from eternity, and we could never go back.

Now, we can’t say this escape was all good!  Having choices means we have to live with the choices we make.  We’ll inevitably make bad choices, and will be faced with situations where even the best choice is not good.  It means pain.  It means loss.  It means death.  (I could go on, but would rather not do two sermons at one time!)

Most importantly, having choices is part of Yahweh’s plan for us.  As we saw: Yahweh is a God of Relationship.  To enter into the fullness of relationship she intends us to have with her requires being allowed to chose to have a relationship with her.  To make that choice required the man and the woman to make the first choice, the choice of whether to eat that fruit: the choice of choosing to have choices.

Deported Mother saying Goodbye to Daughter at Mexican Border
Deported Mother saying Goodbye to Daughter at Mexican Border

We cannot Love Yahweh through a fence: we first had to escape eternity.  We had to be able to make choices that mattered.  We had to have the right – and the choice – to Love, to return the Love freely given to us by God, a Love that has no boundaries; a Love that will always transcend any fence, any gap, created by our own failures. Yahweh has loved us for thousands of years, and will love us forever more: watching with tenderness and concern as we journey ever closer to her, one step at a time.

Amen.

Delivered at ARK Community Church, Dalton MA, June 7, 2015; (Second Sunday after Pentecost).

Readings: 

Genesis 3:8-15 (Adam and Eve Exiled from Eden)
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Mark 3:20-35 (Who are in Jesus’ Family?)

Copyright (c) 2015, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved.  I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as proper credit for my authorship is given. (e.g., via a credit that gives my full name and/or provides a link back to this site – or just email me and ask!)

Author: Allen

A would be historian turned IT Professional who responded to the call to the Ministry, and is now focused on social justice and community service. He is a father of two (ages 28 & 7). He and his wife enjoy life near Boston. You can follow Pastor Allen on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/PastorAllenV/ or on Twitter @allenvm3.

4 thoughts on “Escaping Eternity”

  1. Allen,

    Interesting. Never thought of this story in this light. But makes sense, although I think it must be a very unorthodox interpretation; at least compared to all the folks that I’ve hung around for the past few decades.

    God bless you. Hope you and the family are doing well.

    Paul

    >

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    1. Paul:

      Thanks for your kind and gracious words, it is wonderful to hear from you again. I often miss the insightful guidance and careful mentoring you provided to me in years gone by!

      I agree that this interpretation is easily seen as unorthodox, but it is not unprecedented. And, if one takes God’s love for us and all of Creation as the starting point of their faith, as I do, then it becomes obvious that the events in the story of the Garden of Eden may not be telling us what we often assume to be the case.

      Many of my sermons, such as this one, are intended to encourage others to look more deeply into their faith for themselves, rather than unquestioningly accepting the interpretations of others. I am certain there is no single “right” interpretation for any scripture, but I am equally certain that there are many well informed ones. So, I always welcome constructive criticism and input, since I know they will expand my own knowledge and faith.

      Peace,

      – Allen

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  2. Allen, thanks for sharing this reflection on the Eden story. It is filled with fresh and interesting perspectives!

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