Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A snake in the garden

Apologies to those of you (both of you) who get up each day and first thing, check this blog. It's been pretty sparse lately. I guess the end of Lent is catching up with me -- seems like there's a lot going on lately!

Genesis 3

In true Genesis form, we don't get any explanation where the snake comes from or why it's in the garden. It's just there. Again, it seems like Genesis is not trying to give a cogent account of what happened in some past time -- or if this is a record of past events, it's offered with little thought for rooting the events in history. The point, whatever the historicity of this story, is mythological. Not at all in the sense that these things are false -- but exactly the opposite. Frederick Buechner says that a myth is a story that is always true. In that sense, this is a mythological story. It is true right here, right now, in the coffee shop where I'm writing. In fact, there are many parallels between this spot and the Garden of Eden. It's a good place. All my needs and some of my wants are supplied in this place, and I recognize that God has provided (through the work of some individuals) all this for me. I've had many a good conversation with God here, and I've also spent time here doing the work to which God calls me -- preparing sermons, writing, having conversations, praying, meeting new people, getting reacquainted with old friends. Yet there are opportunities here to step outside God's intentions for me as well. Most obvious is the cheese danish in the bottom of the case up at the counter, but there are less obvious, more "crafty" (depending on your translation) temptations as well.

The most crafty temptation here is to lose touch with God and begin to experience life for myself. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, if I want to know God I can know only God, and all other things through God. As soon as I know anything apart from God I have lost the knowledge of God. So the cheese danish, the other customers, the owner, the coffee, the laptop, the sunrise, are all available to me in two distinct ways: as gifts from God to be received appropriately and used in obedience and love that springs from a strong connection to God as my source and my guide and my center; or I can access these other things as things available to me directly, to be managed, used, or worshipped as I choose. This is the question for us in every moment, in every Eden where we find ourselves.

And there is a snake.

I am not left on my own to gently reason these things out and come to a good decision about choices. No, the choices come at me hard and fast, crafty and subtle and before I know it I have begun to consider the fruit in its own merits rather than knowing the maker of the fruit. Because you have to make the choices, don't you? Is it possible just to opt out of the decision making of this life?

Probably not. But we can reduce the number of decisions, and we can certainly reduce the number of temptations. "In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it," God said (see Isaiah 30). Truth is, we like making our own choices, and we enjoy the frantic pace of our lives. We choose these things again and again when God lays out opportunities for repentance and rest, quietness and trust.

So we find ourselves grateful for the snake, and we work in league with him for our own destruction. It is only when we get tired of eating from the fruit of this tree, when the knowledge of good and evil on our own terms has tied us up in knots time and again and we descend into slavery that we begin to be willing to live dependent on God, rooted and grounded in him and him alone. Until then we keep saying, "I'll just do this one on my own ..." and the story happens all over again. It's our story. The coffee shop, the office, the living room is the garden. I am Eve. I am Adam.


  1. As one of the TWO folks that checks this blog every morning, I am glad to see a new post! Thank you.

    Now, at the risk of appearing derogatory, I have a sincere question: Do we not run into danger theologically when we claim that certain scriptures are myth? Is it not not wiser to assume that God's inspired Word is literal, except in such cases as the inspired author directly states that the intent is poetic, prophecy, or a parable?

    With that said, I must admit that I am finding far more in Genesis than simply history. Thanks again for sharing you thoughts and theology!

  2. Bruce,

    As always thanks for your comments! I'm going to respond in another blog entry because I think this is really important and would make for a LONG comment.


  3. Taking a deep breath after reading this.

  4. How many of us I wonder thinks themselves one of the two? So, you're becoming a heretic with all this myth talk? Where will you be going next? I don't know if I'm ready to have my belief system challenged so sharply.

  5. Jack, no danger at all of me becoming a heretic. In somebody's book I've been there for years. Just depends on who you ask.