Sermon For February 18, 2018 - God, Who Am I?
6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
In Genesis, specifically the story of Adam and Eve, God is showing us who we are in this world. The words “sin” and “fallen”, and other similar concepts, come with so much preconception, and personal baggage, that often we get confused, much like Adam and Eve, and become lost in our ideas of ourselves in relation to the world and God. We get lost in the intellectual understanding of our existence as we dissect existence into difference concepts. If we look at the verses above, we begin to see the most basic definition of sin- separation from God. It’s not merely a physical separation but a spiritual one. It’s a knowledge of good and evil, combined with a new awareness of themselves as separate from God, and an enactment of that new awareness through their physical act of covering themselves. They didn’t just glimpse something different, they became different.
Once Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, became aware of themselves as separate individuals, and obtained knowledge of good and evil, they trapped themselves in a world of contradiction and powerlessness. They were made in God’s image, yet now separate from God. They had knowledge of good and evil, just as God does, yet no power to fully understand, or ultimately control, good and evil as God can. Now banished from their garden, their knowledge and intellect was both necessary to survive in the new world they created, but also a curse which kept them separate from God. Adam and Eve put themselves in the ultimate paradox of opposites.
I think each one of us, to one extent or another, is aware of this condition within ourselves. It's that nagging feeling, a kind of tension within us, that can lead us to seek God, or do horrible things in this life seeking things we think might fulfill us in the absence of God, because there is a sense that we are not complete. There is something missing that should be there. Whether we admit it, or understand it, or not, our entire lives are an expression of our desire to find God. Some of these expressions can be beautiful, while some become horribly distorted and evil. The Muslim idea of Satan being sent to hell because he loved God too much, and hence would not bow to man, comes to mind when thinking about how a distorted seeking of God can become evil. Joseph Campbell, in his conversations with Bill Moyer, expounds on this idea.
We see this new world Adam and Eve created described, in often painful detail, in the Old Testament. Man’s existence is accounted with constant proofs, provided by God, showing man that, in his fallen state of sin, he can never find God by relying on himself, by his own action and intellect. The knowledge mankind gained by eating the fruit is a knowledge tainted by self consciousness and isolation from the fullness of the divine. Try as he might, even with the best of intentions, man cannot actually do anything to get back to God, and resist his constant battles with good and evil. This must come through God’s Grace, later to be known as Jesus.
Consider these verses from our perspective of knowing that Jesus is prophesied and will come-
22 And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” 23 So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side[e] of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.
This new condition of man, the condition of sin, of being separate from God, now requires death. A man cannot, based on his own power, will himself back to God. Man must undergo a different kind of transformation, one that he cannot control nor avoid. In these verses, one can see the coming of Jesus, without a single word being actually said about Jesus the man.
The son of God, Jesus Christ, would come into human form, and save man from the state of sin. Would he do this with a great boom, a flash of light, and an instant transformation of reality? No. Jesus would take the form of fallen man, suffer as a man, become yet another victim of the forbidden fruit and all it meant for our human condition, and then show that, through not his own power, but his own surrender and death, he would return to God- and that so could we.
The Truth of Christ, while surely not to be contained or summarized in mere words, is the way to the end of sin. It is not through our own intellect, will, power, knowledge, action etc that leads back to God. It is through our giving up of our individual self, our knowledge, all the things we “gained” when we ate of the forbidden fruit. People have toiled since Adam and Eve to be good enough, to be strong enough, to trust in the things of the world, no matter how well intentioned, in order to simply be happy or to get back to God. Their own efforts have never been quite enough. Every person who has relied only on their own power to find happiness, God, the way out of sin, has died in that state of sin, without exception. Christ, however, is showing us the reversal of the bite into that fruit.
When Christ died for us, He showed how God’s Grace can transform those caught in sin. Not even the son of God can hold onto his individual identity, his life in this world. In order to return to God, one must be transformed by the Grace Christ has made available to you.
This can be both freeing, and frustrating, depending on your current state, or mindset. It goes against the Adam and Eve in us which wants a path to Grace, to favor in Christ. We want to be able to work for it and achieve it. We want the power and ability to get back to God. Isn’t it interesting that, even having gone through the examples above, the verses in Genesis, when we hear that it is Grace, the saving Grace of Jesus Christ which is beyond our “control”, that fallen part of us is still both afraid of such a thing and confused by it.
And yet, from the perspective of Christ that lives within us all, this news is the ultimate freedom. It means that we are promised that we need not do anything to be saved. We are, in fact, already saved and we only need to be what we naturally are, through Christ, and not anything of our own making.
But how does someone accept Christ without needing to do anything? Isn’t accepting Christ as one’s saviour an ‘action’? Part of the answer to this is in the difficulty of talking about Grace, and Christ, within the context of our intellect, our knowledge gained from the fruit, rather than BEING in Christ’s Grace. Accepting Christ is not an action as much as it is a realization of a ‘being-ness’ that you already are.
Without getting mired in what words actually mean, symbol versus experience etc, looking at the example of Christ on the Cross can be another helpful way if we insist on using intellect as a stepping stone to further experience of Grace. Although Christ’s true nature is divine, he suffered, both spiritually and physically, on the cross. He even felt betrayed, forsaken, by God while dying at the hands of his torturers. In this sense, Jesus was still us, searching for understanding, knowledge, control, help for his individual state. However, in the subsequent surrendering of his individual identity, his form as a man in a body, and his ultimate death, God’s Grace delivered him from the broken state of a man. Grace came only after Jesus truly accepted God’s will and let go.
While in one sense you could say that there was some kind of action taken by Jesus, it was not the action of will or power- Jesus did not perform a miracle to remove himself from the cross. There was individuality up until the point where Jesus surrendered to God’s will. If you have ever been in a situation where you fought and fought, all the way up until you simply had nothing left, and you had to accept whatever it was, this is similar, but with respect to a single situation rather than your very existence. Mourning the death of a loved one is a close example. One does not force the actual acceptance of loss, of the situation, but one does BECOME more open to a transforming of the experience. What we are speaking of here, however, is the transformation of your entire existential reality on a scale different from a single experience within the totality of your life.
So, Grace, by its very nature, resists our attempts to intellectualize it and define it. St Paul vividly testifies to his own lack of control, his yearning for God to intervene in a way he needs it a an individual, and to God’s ultimate affirmation that it is Grace alone that is enough, regardless of the individual desire. As is vividly written in the Bible, and shown by Jesus on the cross, God’s strength is perfected in your weakness- not your knowledge, ability, power. When your individual self becomes weak, Grace has an entry point.
These teachings from God, from Jesus, are not to be tucked away in the Bible, nor idolized as some great and vast teaching which is beyond us in our daily lives. These truths apply to the biggest, most difficult situations in our lives, life and death, loss and being lost, and to the smallest moments where we might lapse into our worldly selves and go on auto pilot. If I had to guess where most of your pain, anxiety, and feelings of incompleteness and being lost came from, I would point to times when you took too much on your shoulders, relied on your own power and perceptions, ignored prompting by God and stubbornly forged forward in your own scheme, put value in something worldly only to be let down....does any of this sound familiar? I could go on because the ways we pretend to be in control are endless really. What about the times you felt most connected to God? I’m not talking merely about worldly happiness, happiness based on conditions you liked, but that indescribable, transcendent feeling. What was going on inside before, during, and after these feelings? Can you see parallels to Adam and Eve when comparing your worst and best times to their time before and after eating the forbidden fruit?
Living in sin, separate from God, is not your natural state of being. Jesus Christ defines each and every one of us, transforming our sin through His Grace. Under the veil of your self conscious state, just beyond the separateness that our suffering inflicts upon us, lies the Grace that Jesus died to bring to us. Faith, which brings selfless action, allows the saving Grace of Christ to bring you back to your natural state in God.