Bible Stories You Didn't Outgrow
My goal for the next few services is to tell Bible stories.
Does that sound a little basic to you? A little childish? Good. You are the reason I'm doing it.
Don't get me wrong: Teaching these to children is great. My family owns all the VeggieTales videos. Not only are Bible stories great stories, they're good stories.
But here's the danger: By targeting kids, we turn Bible stories into kidstuff. And then we can pretend we've outgrown them. Some Americans have done this on a grand scale, imagining the Bible as a big book of fairy tales, written for primitives and children. Even many churchgoers, I think, take parts of the Bible seriously the parts that are for adults. But Noah's Ark? Please. Don't insult my intelligence. Noah's Ark is that toy boat with little plastic animals stowed away in Junior's closet. (My kids grew up with a Noah's Ark night light I bought for them. I'm guilty as charged.)
C.S. Lewis it's always safe to quote C.S. Lewis on your first week in a new church C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity says, "There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of 'Heaven' ridiculous by saying they do not want to 'spend eternity playing harps'. The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them."
The Bible is written for grown-ups. I want to take a few Bible stories that are usually left behind in Sunday school, and show you that you haven't outgrown them after all. I'm here to liberate them from their prison of flannel.
Our first installment: the Garden of Eden
You know the story, right? God makes a man and a woman. Everything is blissful. Then the devil, posing as a snake, cons the woman into ruining everything. And that's why women shouldn't be President.
Or, family style: God makes people and gives them rules so they can keep living in the best place in the whole world. They disobey, and so God throws them out and hands them a death sentence. So, kids, quit arguing and do what I say. Papa don't take no mess!
Well, look again, and you'll see a story with a lot more richness and a lot less certainty. It's a picture of how we turned our back on everything good God had planned for us. It's a picture of how I turned my back on it too, and how nothing I can do now will change that.
Act One: It's all good.
Genesis 2:5-9: adam, adamah, providence, two mysterious trees.
Gen. 2:15-17: conversation with God, cultivation, commandments. These may be what Gen. 1 calls "imaging God."
Gen. 2:18-25: "God is not enough." The gift of speech, as faithful representation/dominion. Woman as perfection. Human community, equality, righteousness.
Here is the beauty of the life God set out, and the unique honor of being human. Have you sensed this? Wanted it? Lost it? Never had it?
Act Two: We make it all wrong.
Gen. 3:1-5: "Shrewd" serpent (not Satan) versus "naked" (unsuspecting? unknowing? gullible? immature?) people. Word tricks: "any"/"all", "you shall not die"/"no, you shall die."
Gen. 3:6-7: Failure. From here, the story unravels like an unfinished sweater. This was the critical moment for gullibility to mature into wisdom. Instead, it crumbles into shame.
Gen 3:8-11: Breach of community with God.
Gen. 3:12-13: Blame-shifting. The ass-covering, so to speak, goes from literal to verbal. The woman goes from being the man's flesh-of-his-flesh to being his scapegoat. Words go from blessings to weapons.
Bottom line: The two were supposed to be the Master's ruling representatives in the world; instead they let the world master them.
A stupid, trivial act messes up everything. How many of us could tell this story with our own lives? You know it's wrong, and you're confused into it, or fooled, or coaxed, or convinced or worst of all, you do it because you don't really care. And then there's no way to reverse the damage, but you try anyway, and that only makes it worse. And like a rolling snowball, sin grows and grows from its tiny beginnings in a human heart. And in Genesis 4, the very next chapter, jealous Cain has killed goody-goody Abel.
And the trivial cases are more profound for being trivial. Genesis brilliantly begins with something absurdly small. Sin is a habit that grows from a tiny seed into the biggest weed of them all. The stupidity of picking forbidden fruit lays bare the sheer senselessness of the way I live my life. (Augustine: pears.)
This sad story is played out every day, in each of our lives: In the office. At the school. On the freeway. With the kids. In the bedroom. Gen. 3 works as a children's story because you don't have to be an adult to sin. But I've learned that it really helps. Woe to the parent who thinks Eden is just for kids. Eden is the beginning of an unstoppable addiction. And you and I are the addicts.
God's curses basically add detail what has already started happening. Fear between animals and humanity; power politics between men and women (and children); poverty, struggle, and death from working with an earth reluctant to give up its produce. And worst of all, no more walks with God in the afternoon. Instead, absence. Ugh. Aren't you tired of living this way?
Act Three: Adam the Second makes it all right.
"Hey, Telf, thanks for cheering us up in the first week of your series." Well, you're welcome, but I'm not finished yet. We've read about the first Adam, but not the second.
Let's move over into the New Testament, and look at Jesus' life from the ruins of Eden:
1. Instead of a ruptured communion with God, Jesus lives a life in perfect communion with God. There's no shame, no blame, no hiding, no distance. Instead there's total honesty, total trust, total intimacy. The first Adam is wearing fig leaves, and hiding (probably because he doesn't know how to sew). The second Adam is totally present to God, and vice versa. Totally authentic.
2. Instead of manipulating and using other people, Jesus puts them first. He creates a whole new community where it's not about power, or favors, or taking someone else's fall. It's about gifts, and needs, and truth, and honoring through love.
3. Instead of toiling for survival, Jesus brings back that relationship with all creation that God had in store for us. Lions and lambs will lie down together at his feet. Want some fish? Put your net over there. Hungry for bread? Reach in one of those baskets. Would you like some more wine with that?
What Adam the First ruined, Adam the Second has repaired. He is living proof that the choice isn't between immaturity and disobedience, but between stunted growth and true maturity.
If Jesus is the second Adam, then who are we? Second Eve. After we fail, our second Adam doesn't compound the problem by going along. He doesn't disown us before God. He says faithful to God and to us, redeeming the situation, keeping the relationship alive after every one of our failures, even when it costs him his life. Why? Out of love for God and for us, who are flesh of his flesh. To restore our capacity to image God. To make us "mothers of the living" who bring life into our dying world. To take us to a place where someday we won't fail anymore, ever, because his maturity has grown us and his strength has healed us. And in the meantime, to show us a kind of life we don't have to cover up, or hide from loved ones, or outrun, or trick our way through.
I don't know whether you're aware of your addiction. I don't know whether you've tried to kick it. I don't know whether or not you've given up. Wherever you are, Jesus is your way back to the garden and its tree of life. Listen to Paul as he writes to a church that's worrying about whether Eden's curse was going to beat 'em. 1 Cor. 15:47-49: "The first adam was from the earth, an adam of dust. The second adam is from heaven. As was the adam of dust, so are those those who are of the dust. And as the adam of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the adam of dust, we shall also bear the image of the adam of heaven."
You're not stuck with the first Adam. You can leave it behind, today, now. The second Adam's offer stands. With the new morning, it's been extended one more day. This Bible story isn't an offer to regain some lost childhood. It's not a lifetime pass to Disneyland. It's the offer of an adulthood finally reached one we have denied ourselves since the beginning.