Saturday, January 29, 2022

The Curse That Wasn’t

  There were two trees in the garden; the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life. The presence of the tree of life indicates that, while humanity may have been created for immortality, humanity was not created immortal. As a result of the garden incident, what was once meant to be achieved by pleasant means now only becomes available by not so pleasant means. In another great Biblical irony, immortality is achieved through death. As the line in Jesus Christ Superstar says: “To conquer death you only have to die”. Jesus Himself is our pattern, the one who goes before us to show us the way.

“…looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

(Hebrews 12:2; RSV).

        So Paul was correct in saying death entered through one man’s disobedience, but death enters indirectly, sneaking in unseen through the back door. Or out the front gate, depending on your point of view. (Paul, of course, was also correct in saying life was restored by Christ Jesus). Access to the tree of life was denied. The garden couple were allowed to live out their natural life, then they died. So what exactly was the curse?

First the serpent-destined to go on his belly. And then there’s the prophetic curse-enmity. The bruising of heels. The crushing of heads. The final victory of the woman’s offspring. Is this what Paul meant when he wrote to Timothy “she will be saved through childbearing”? 

Which brings us to the woman. Pain in child bearing (witnessed this). A sometimes less then harmonious relationship with her husband (experienced this). Pain in child bearing. Do you see? Adam did, naming his wife Eve, the mother of the living. Life continues. Ultimately, the woman-and the rest of humanity as well-is saved through Christ Jesus; the person and place where justice meets mercy, where grace meets consequence (in a final demonstration of grace and consequence, God covers His rebellious couple with skins before asking them to leave His garden). As the Psalmist wrote:

“Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;

righteousness and peace will kiss each other.

Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,

and righteousness will look down from the sky…

Righteousness will go before him,

and make his footsteps a way…”

(Ps.85:10-11,13; RSV)

Finally the ground. Thorns and thistles, leading to another adversarial relationship-the man will eat by the sweat of his brow, finally returning to the dust he once was. (note the absence of the word sin; the absence of the term ‘original sin’. Just sayin).

Speaking of consequences, our garden couple, by eating the wrong fruit, will initiate a downward spiral of violence requiring a drastic response. But for now life goes on. As the poet says :

“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

God is not dead nor doth He sleep;

The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,

With peace on earth goodwill to me . “

Saturday, January 22, 2022

You Sly Devil


“The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die”…Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden'?"

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1(RSV)

Subtle, crafty, cunning, clever-all variously used to describe “that ancient serpent”, the tempter of Eve. He knew right where to aim-“But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5; ESV; italics mine). Careful readers will note the irony here-Adam and Eve already were like God, having been created in God’s image and likeness. 

Of course, the serpent does not mention that. He isn’t interested in God or God’s image and likeness. The serpent is only interested in remaking humanity into his image and likeness. He accomplishes this by 1. Sowing seeds of doubt as to God’s (honorable) intent, which 2. Serves to convince Eve she does not need God telling her what to do (another, perhaps more theological, way to put it is Eve is free to choose a self-centered life as opposed to a God-centered life). 

Pay careful attention to Eve’s thought process here-“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise…” 

(Genesis 3:6; RSV). Do you see? I like the way this looks. I think this will taste great. This will make me really smart. In other words, it’s all about me. John, looking back on the garden event, puts it this way: “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world.” (1 John 2:16; RSV). Friends, this is where it all began. Whenever you hear the words “I have the right to…” you are hearing the echoes of Eve’s response to the ancient accusation-“did God really say….”.

So here we have it. Short and sweet. ‘I say vs. God said’. In yet another irony, the first couple, already made in the image and likeness of God, in their effort to be like God exchange God’s image and likeness for the serpent’s image and likeness. The serpent who, true to his name (Satan, the accuser) accuses God of the very activity in which he (the Satan) himself is engaged. But we need a God. Paul, looking around at the present state of affairs in the first century Roman Empire, correctly diagnosed that society (and ours) and in so doing lays it at the feet of our garden couple: 


“ who by their wickedness suppress the truth…for although they knew God they did not honor him as God…they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen.” (Romans 1:18-25; RSV).

Please carefully think this through because it is going on all around us; we are all guilty to some extent or other. The solution (there is only one) lies in Paul’s analysis: Acknowledge the truth. Honor God. Give thanks to God. Glorify God in our bodies, here and now. Demonstrate God’s image and likeness.

O come, let us worship and bow down,

let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!

For he is our God,

and we are the people of his pasture,

and the sheep of his hand.

O that today you would hearken to his voice!”

(Psalms 95:6-7;RSV)

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the lands!

Serve the LORD with gladness!

Come into his presence with singing!

Know that the LORD is God!

It is he that made us, and we are his;

we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,

and his courts with praise!

Give thanks to him, bless his name!

For the LORD is good;

his steadfast love endures for ever,

and his faithfulness to all generations.

(Psalm 100; RSV).

None of us can influence everyone. All of us can influence someone. 

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Ubuntu and the Big Bang

 rē'šîṯ ĕlōhîm bārā

First God creates. Variously translated “In the beginning God created” or “In the beginning when God created” or “When God began to create”. Subtle differences; perhaps intended to teach us there is more than one way understand the Biblical narrative (now would probably be a good time to mention the Bible is a book of truth, but not necessarily a book of fact, or history, or even historical fact). 

The point here is everything that exists was created by God.-

Genesis 1:3

God spoke: "Light!"

And light appeared.

Genesis 1:6

God spoke: "Sky! In the middle of the waters;

separate water from water!"

Genesis 1:9

God spoke: "Separate!

Water-beneath-Heaven, gather into one place;

Land, appear!"

And there it was.

Genesis 1:11

God spoke: "Earth, green up! Grow all varieties

of seed-bearing plants,

Every sort of fruit-bearing tree."

And there it was.

Genesis 1:14

God spoke: "Lights! Come out!

Shine in Heaven's sky!

Separate Day from Night.

Mark seasons and days and years…”

Genesis 1:20

God spoke: "Swarm, Ocean, with fish and all sea life!

Birds, fly through the sky over Earth!"

Genesis 1:24

God spoke: "Earth, generate life! Every sort and kind:

cattle and reptiles and wild animals—all kinds."

And there it was…”

Genesis 1:26

God spoke: "Let us make human beings in our image, make them

reflecting our nature

So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea,

the birds in the air, the cattle,

And, yes, Earth itself,

and every animal that moves on the face of Earth."

-The Message

Are you sensing a pattern here? God speaks; things appear. When and how are not mentioned, but consider this-if we understand science and mathematics as the operating principles God put in place to run God’s universe, and engineering as the application of those principles, the creation/science conflict begins to fade away. 

Genesis 2:4

This is the story of how it all started,

of Heaven and Earth when they were created.-The Message 


We’ll, yes, and no. Genesis 2:5-25 tells another story of creation. Two stories, because there is more than one way to tell any story. And if there is more than one way to tell a story there is more than one way to understand a story as well. The important points, which we don’t hear much about today, are, first, since God created every existing thing God owns every existing thing-which means we do not, although we act like we do-however, we are responsible for the proper care of God’s good creation. 

Second, God is reflected in God’s creation (cf. Psalm 19; 50; Isa 6:3; 40:21-26). Everything was created by God; everything belongs to God; everything reflects God. Richard Rohr says it this way: 

“This is what it means in Genesis 1:26–27 where it says everything is created in the image of God. God planted this whirling, alluring attraction of life toward life in everything created.…Nothing is meaningless; nothing is able to be dismissed…if I had to name the Big Bang in my language, I’d call it the Great Radiance…the inner radiance of God…radiating into forms.”

Big Bang, Great Radiance-same event expressed two different ways. Not either/or but yes/and. These are critically important points to understand if we are to have any hope at all of moving forward, surrendering our tribalism and discovering just how connected we all are. Archbishop Desmond Tutu had a word for this connectedness, and a warning as well:

“And so we speak of Ubuntu. A person is a person through other persons. And there must have been some people who said, ‘Ah, what a primitive way of thinking.’ It’s the most fundamental law of our being. We flout that—we flout it at our peril.”

Excerpt From

The Book of Joy

Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu & Douglas Carlton Abrams

This material may be protected by copyright. 


Which is precisely what our first parents did. Which leads us to life in the garden, and the origin of the phrase “I have the right to…”

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

One Life

 As far as I can tell, the Bible only ever mentions one source of life. Here it is.

Genesis 2:7

“ …then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.”-NRSV 

(Note here we see the personal name for God. God is not merely creating. God is relating-imparting God’s very life.)

And here.

John 1:4

“…in him (the Word) was life, and the life was the light of all people.”


And again here.

John 14:6

“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life…”


We all have one common source; our source is God’s life. (By the way, on this point I must disagree with our brothers and sisters who say life begins at conception. The life was already there, in the sperm and in the egg. What began was a new, unique expression of life.) Which is precisely what we are-unique expressions of the one life. God’s life. (Following this line, we can also make the point that every living thing is a unique expression of the one life). We are all connected in this way. Since this is true, we can ask, along with Francis Shaeffer, ‘how shall we then live?’

  The answer is our vocation-to bear God’s image and demonstrate God’s likeness. This is the common vocation for all humankind. How we do that-demonstrate God’s likeness-is our calling. Calling can be anything, from pastor to teacher to mother (or father) to factory worker. Calling can change over the years. Vocation never does. 

Vocation involves inner transformation.

2 Corinthians 3:18

“And we all, with unveiled face, reflecting (RSV mg) the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord...”-RSV

And lest you think this ‘image and likeness’ business was somehow erased (or cancelled) in the garden, consider God’s words to Noah after the flood.

Genesis 9:6

“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image”.-RSV 

Before you dismiss this as merely justification for capital punishment, consider how the two parts are related, and why (for additional context see Matthew 5:17; 21-24). 


Right about now you might be looking around and asking “if we’re made in the Imago Dei, what happened?” Good question; I’m glad you asked. We will address that in the garden, but before we do let’s go back to the beginning; to the first six days and the false conflict between creation and science. (Spoiler alert-if you absolutely cannot wait, you may want to read Romans 1:21;28). 

Saturday, January 8, 2022

New Thoughts for a New Year


First God creates. The first three words of the first chapter of the first book of The Holy Bible-first God creates. First. In the beginning before anything else. God. Elohim. The common name for God. Not the personal name given to Moses; the name by which all humanity everywhere may know God. Creates. The first recorded acts of God-creation. Everything that ever has, does, and will exist finds its source in and testifies to Creator God. Why, you may be thinking, does the Bible not begin with some attempt to prove God’s existence? It does. Creation itself bears witness  to its creator.

Psalm 19:1-4

“God's glory is on tour in the skies,

God-craft on exhibit across the horizon.

Madame Day holds classes every morning,

Professor Night lectures each evening.

Their words aren't heard,

their voices aren't recorded,

But their silence fills the earth:

unspoken truth is spoken everywhere.

God makes a huge dome

for the sun—a superdome!”

-The Message

Paul says as much in his letter to the Romans.

Romans 1:19-20

“But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can't see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being…”

-The Message


And then there’s this. 

Genesis 1:26

God spoke: "Let us make human beings in our image, make them

reflecting our nature so they can be responsible…

God created human beings;

he created them godlike,

Reflecting God's nature.

He created them male and female.”

-The Message

And so right off the bat, before anything else, the Bible tells us where we came from and why we’re here-to bear (or contain) God’s image and demonstrate (or leak) God’s likeness. Hers’s a few questions to consider, before we move on-if God created everything, who does everything belong to? Who does it not belong to? What does “so they (us) can be responsible” mean?