God, Adam & Eve
April 7, 2019
Rev. Fritz Nelson
Text: Genesis 3:1-18
Why did they do it? Adam and Eve had paradise. They had food without working. They had neither stress nor anxiety. They had a close, deep, personal relationship with God. They lived in harmony with each other, with nature. Their lives were complete in every sense. And they threw it all away.
Years ago, when I was old enough to commit mayhem but before I developed impulse control, I came into the kitchen when my mother was squatting in front of the fridge looking for something. It could take a while to find things in the Nelson fridge, as my mom saved every leftover and reused every container. Looking for some yogurt? Good luck figuring out which of the 20 identical yogurt containers contain yogurt and which contain soup, or spaghetti sauce, or half a pork chop. Anyway, I came into the kitchen, saw my mom squatting there, sneaked up behind her, and pushed.
To this day I don’t know why I sent my mom face first into the refrigerator shelves. I wasn’t mad at her. I wasn’t having a bad day. Its like a dark place in my soul surfaced that day. I saw what I was capable of and have been marked by that moment ever since.
Why did Adam and Eve do it? Why did they so blatantly disobey? Of course they were tempted – the devil made them do it – but the tempter was working with something preexisting. “God forbade the fruit,” the tempter tells Eve, “because he knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
“Perhaps,” Eve may have been thinking – if she was thinking at all, “if I become like God, I won’t need God. I’ll be able to be my own person. Do my own thing. Live my own life.” The fruit, we’re told, appeared good for food, a delight to the eyes. I imagine it was bitter to the tongue.
All Lent we’ve been discussing relationships and this Sunday, as we conclude our series, we find ourselves at the base relationship defining our lives – that between parent and child, that between us and God. As we experience those relationships they may be markedly different – we may be estranged from a parent but very close to God, we may be close to our parents and have little desire for a personal relationship with the divine. But holistically, across society, as portrayed by scripture, these relationships appear remarkedly the same.
In essence, Adam and Eve are the teenagers who, seeking independence and possessing an over-inflated view of themselves – decide the rules no longer apply, prudence is no longer needed. Their growing up mimics our growing up. The tension they create in their relationship with God, who is literally their parent, is the tension we create in the relationships with our parents, in our relationship with God.
The question then is not whether we will create such tensions. Children will always disobey their parents. Parents will always create rules begging to be disobeyed – or at least craftily circumvented. The question then becomes how we respond.
At some point, when I was an adult, I mentioned the refrigerator incident to my mother. She had no recollection of it. Then, pressing my luck, I mentioned the time – only weeks after I had gotten my license – I blew curfew so bad she was certain I was lying in a heap of crunched metal on the side of the road. She didn’t remember that one either. Both times she was livid. The fridge incident resulted in one of the few spankings I ever got. The curfew incident resulted in an equally rare tongue lashing and a grounding of indefinite length.
Adam and Eve eat of the fruit and God sets some boundaries. The garden, with its trees of life and wisdom, becomes off limits. Denied access to the garden, Eve and Adam experience shame, broken relationships, physical pain and the toil of labor. Their son Cain kills their son Abel as they both compete for their grandfather’s attention. As God kicked Adam and Eve out of the garden, God banishes his murderous grandson from the community, leaving Adam and Eve to mourn the loss of not one but two children.
I wonder if, as a parent, God cried as he told Adam and Eve they could no longer access the holy space he had built for them. I wonder if God grieved the jealousy between his grandsons. Despite God’s frustration and anger, despite the newly enforced boundaries, God remains connected to his family. Eve experiences the divine presence with the birth of each of her children. Cain experiences God’s protection in exile and the grace to build a new life. God’s presence remains. Within the structures of healthy boundaries, God intentionally, steadfastly maintains relationship.
Honestly, as parents, as children, maintaining relationships within the structure of healthy boundaries may be the best we can do. Even in paradise, surrounded by all that was perfect, humanity’s first family struggled. Our families also struggle. Some of our families may be more functional than others, but we all have our pains, our sour spots, our broken relationships, our hidden secrets and our bad choices. We’re experts in wounding each other, and we do it well. Sometimes the damage we inflict on each other quickly heals. Other times the sins of the parents become the sins of the children.
And, while at times it might be tempting to just write each other off, we can’t. While we can, and should, maintain boundaries appropriate to the dysfunction, we also must strive to remain in relationship – even if its just through prayer, or a card, or phone call every so often. By maintaining relationship with his children, God keeps open the pathways to healing and grace. By maintaining relationship across the complex minefield of parent/child relationships we do the same.