Saturday, May 1, 2010

Loose ends

In Genesis 3:20-24, God ties up a bunch of loose ends. These verses almost never get examined in any detail; we think the story is over and done. Sort of like how after the crisis, after the emergency, after the blowup or the breakdown, we don't often pay close attention to what happens in the mopping-up phase of things. But the reality is, those after-action moments can be some of the most critical pieces of setting a foundation for the future. So let's take a look at a few details:

1. God clothes them in animal skins. We've commented on this before, but it's worth revisiting. To give them leather outfits, God has to kill animals. Blood is shed to cover their sin and to protect them from its consequences. This again is a prefiguring of Jesus. The book of Leviticus tells us that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness, and we see it acted out right here at the beginning. What does this say about the nature of forgiveness? First, it is messy. Forgiveness --whether God's or ours -- is not some neat and clean "oh-that's-alright" wiping the slate clean. Sin needs to be covered, not made as though it did not exist. Whether here in Genesis or in the sacrificial system described in Leviticus or in Jesus' death on the cross, the biblical solution for sin is not to make it go away, but to cover it with blood. There's a lot -- books' worth -- to be said about this, but we'll move on.

2. Adam and Eve get kicked out of the garden, specifically to keep them from eating of the tree of life and living forever. It's tempting to see this as a judgment on God's part but this is really an action borne out of God's broken heart and his hopeful love for us. God is looking ahead to the cross, saying, "I'm going to cover this sin, provide a way for sin to be dealt with on a permanent basis." The worst thing God can imagine here is that we should live forever in bondage to our broken, sinful selves. Reality is, the very best day you've ever had is still far, far, short of what God wants for you -- because that Very Good Day was still lived in the brokenness of sin, in the context of a broken creation. Someday God will fulfill what he began at the cross (see Romans 8 and 1 Corinthians 13) and we will live in the fulness of God's hope for us.

3. We are cut off from Eden also as a way of helping us seek the God we are now alienated from. Ecclesiastes says God has set eternity in our hearts -- in other words, he's placed an emptiness in us that yearns for him. We are cut off from him but still yearning to get back to him. As Augustine said, "We are restless, O Lord, until we find our rest in thee." This again is part of God's grace, God's love for his creatures. We need that internal compass to draw us back to him.

4. The man is sent out with his vocation intact. He is sent out to work the ground, just like God told him to do before sin came on the scene. The two are sent out together -- in fact, almost in a reversion to the end of Genesis 1 where male and female look like two halves of a whole humanity or two sides of the human coin, God refers to them both by simply saying "the man." So both carry their vocations out of Eden. They are called by God to till the earth and keep it. The male focus in this vocation tends to be work oriented, the female focus in this vocation tends to be relationship oriented. But both keep their calling as they go out into a sin-broken world.

5. There are spiritual realities in this world that are out of our sight. We can't travel to the location of the Garden of Eden and see the impassable Cherubim guarding the way to the tree of life. Instead, in spiritual terms there are things going on we cannot see with our material eyes. We know that we are cut off from the life God intends for us, that this separation is rooted in God's love for us, and that the cherubim are beyond our sight. The goal is not somehow to get past this barrier; instead, we need to be asking, "What does God want for us now that we are broken by sin?" That's the question the rest of the Bible works to answer.

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