Then the Lord God said to the woman, “what is this that you have done?” Genesis 3:13
It’s been quite a while since I’ve read the Bible from first to last. I’ve been a pretty good Bible reader and studier for years, contractually or vocationally obligated I suppose. But reading in order to “get something to preach or teach” is far different from reading the Bible simply out of a desire to experience God through the written Word.
Years ago I heard or read the advice from a fellow minister that all of us in the profession needed to read regularly the Bible with a “no fishing” policy. That is, read it without looking for the next great sermonic insight, or sermon series. I found that difficult. I was often fishing.
So this new year, being a couple of months removed from the usual pastoral expectations, I decided to read the Bible from first to last, the way any normal curious person might. You start a book at the beginning and read it through.
I hasten to add here, that I would NEVER recommend this method for the typical, first-time, curious reader. The biblical pathway is littered with the desiccated ideals of countless well-intentioned folks who set out in Genesis and died with a whimper in Leviticus. If you’re reading the Bible for the first time start with the gospels. Get to know Jesus, and read the rest of the Bible through His eyes.
However, I do feel sufficiently qualified to begin at the beginning.
Among the many wonderful insights in the Creation story, my mind settled on The Fall, or as I prefer to call it, The Breaking. God had created a world that was good, from first to last. In fact it was very good. Then our progenitors decided that their will was more important than God’s. The freedom to choose turned inward, and the whole race suffers from the suffocating weight of limitless self-centeredness. God made the world good. We broke it, and still are.
What came to mind in particular though was the rather amusing, if it weren’t so tragic, lineage of blame. God: What happened Adam? Adam: This woman you gave me gave me the fruit. God to Eve: What have you done? Eve: The serpent beguiled me.
The first, and most common, of all human responses to any problem: “It’s not my fault.” It’s as old as Eden.
A true spiritual awakening and the maturing of that spirit depends first and foremost on the reversal of this primordial excuse. We take complete responsibility for ourselves, refusing to lay blame on people or conditions around us. Only then can we be free of that terrible selfishness that holds us down.
As hard as it is to accept, no one can make you do or feel anything. I know that immediately we can come up with all sorts of exceptions, but this axiom applies even at the extreme limits of suffering and injustice.
Victor Frankl, three years in a Nazi concentration camp, observed that initially robust and healthy people had no better chance of surviving the ordeal than the more frail prisoners. What made the true difference was the attitude one brought to his or her suffering. “The last of all human freedoms,” he wrote, “is the ability to determine how you will respond to a given set of circumstances.” In other words, we choose. We always choose.
How does this apply to Adam and Eve’s story? I’m not sure how different the course of human history would be had they accepted complete responsibility and said, “we really blew it,” but I do know that the damnable tendency to refuse responsibility for our choices distances us much further from God than the choices themselves. Clinging to our pitifully twisted need to be right, embracing our personal myths of unbroken success, and refusing to accept our own brokenness we block the flow of grace into our lives. Confession never brings God’s rebuke. We fear, as usual, what does not exist.
Even after the banishment from Eden we get a glimpse of God’s tender mercy. Genesis 3:21 states that God made garments from animal skins and clothed His broken children. That’s quite an image. God sewing together clothes for Adam and Eve. The only other place in the creation story where God used touch is when He formed Adam and Eve. Every other creature He spoke into existence. We see God’s gentle and very personal love in our creation and care.
Which reminds me of another Frankl quote: “The salvation of Man is through love and in love.” Frankl wrote that, but God authored it from the very beginning.
We can all drop the flimsy facades of perfection, and the sooner the better. No sin I’ve committed has ever caused the entire human race to fall from grace, so I think God can handle whatever I’ve done. I don’t need to blame anyone else, worry about someone’s opinion, or forever shrink in shame because of my own fall. I take responsibility for my own actions and choices, and right or wrong I will be open to God for wisdom and grace.
Happy New Year!
Dr. Terry Ellis
January 3, 2016