Friday, October 3, 2008

The Garden Party

If I have concealed my sin as Adam did, by hiding guilt in my heart because I so feared the crowd... then let briers come up instead of wheat and weeds instead of barley.

                        Job 31.33-34, 40


The story of Adam and Eve is so readily familiar it’s become emblematic. We scan its headlines without pausing to dig into its meanings. But it contains a number of hugely important lessons that not only explain why things went so horribly wrong in Eden; they explain a lot about us and our mistakes.

God gave Adam and Eve full rein of Eden with one interdiction: fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was off the menu. Then the Tempter cajoled into them into disobedience: “After you eat it, you’ll know how to tell good from evil, just like God!” Genesis says after they ate, their eyes were opened, and they saw they were naked. Lacking clothes was the least of it. God-like knowledge left them accountable for discerning right from wrong. Yet it failed to provide them godly wisdom in doing it. Their hapless taste test caused bellyaches for generations to follow—to this day we’re plagued by our ability to think like God with no capability to fully comprehend Him.

Hiding Out

So what did Adam and Eve do? What could they have done? They could have owned up to their mistake. Up to this point, nothing in Scripture suggests God exhibited any vengeful characteristics at all. In fact, He had made a daily habit of visiting with Adam and Eve. They could have come to Him repentantly, trusting His mercy and concern for them. Instead, they hid out. We’re traditionally taught they hid for shame of their nakedness—that’s Adam’s excuse. But it makes no sense. He and Eve already clothed themselves in fig leaves and their nudity never offended God before. The first thing their knowledge spawned was fear, quickly followed by its partner, taboo. It was they, not God, who found their nudity offensive. And here we see the birth of a pattern that continuously compromises our integrity with our Creator. When we rely on what we know, rather than God’s understanding, we become afraid. We try to conceal our guilt by looking correct instead of seeking His help in being correct. Then, after we decide what “correct” looks like, we preach and teach fashion before faith.

Back to the Garden

This tactic was precisely what Job, the Old Testament’s ultimate outsider, is describing. “If I hide out like Adam,” he says, “trying to conceal my sin because other people would condemn me, I'll reap nothing but problems.” Like Job, we should always associate guilt with sin, remembering it has nothing to do with God and gets us nowhere. It urges us to hide from Him, which is impossible to do. Furthermore, it encourages us to camouflage our misbehavior. This may fool everyone around us, but God’s no fool and we’re foolish to think He can’t see—and doesn’t already know—what’s beneath our fig leaves. Finally, guilt relies on our knowledge and distrusts His wisdom and understanding. It leads to trouble.

Solomon wrote, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3.5-6) The garden party crashed to a halt when Adam and Eve decided they could know God’s mind. Their audacity so incensed Him He barred them from Eden for life to let them find their own way through the world. Setting aside what we think we know to trust God completely leads to forgiveness and acceptance. We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden, and this is the path to take us there.

Detail from Masaccio's The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden (1426-27), truly one of the most heartbreaking Biblical depictions ever painted.

(Tomorrow: Kept)

Postscript: Run for the Border

All followers of Christ should be passionate about justice, none more so than gay believers, who've personally experienced injustice in nearly every social arena, including religion. Unfortunately, however, many Christians, gay and straight, have resigned themselves to thinking injustice, discrimination, and oppression are a part of life. They're too deeply entrenched in human behavior to adequately address.

Thank God for Border Explorer, an extraordinary blog committed to "outing" injustices around the world. BE is much more than your usual agitated, left-of-center wailing wall. It's clear, factually sound, and extremely provocative in the best sense of the word. It's powered by an extraordinary feeling of inertia--a sense of confronting oppression on all fronts. And, as gay Christians, it prompts us to look beyond our own challenges to view them as part of a bigger problem troubling our world. Christ called us to love our neighbors as ourselves; BE illuminates how badly our love (and intervention) is needed. If you're looking for a place where you can keep up with what's happening and why standing against intolerance and violence are essential, make a run for the Border.

Update: The Trial of Janet Edwards

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Janet Edwards, the Presbyterian minister facing trial for officiating at the marriage of two women. The hearing convened on October 1 and the presbytery ruled unanimously in Rev. Edwards' favor. For more information:

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