Tuesday, June 1, 2010

More than Lemonade

(Read Genesis 3:1-7 and Romans 5:1-5)

The story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is the Judeo-Christian attempt to explain that from very early on, humanity strayed from God. I don’t read this account literally, but as a story that tries to explain the historic relationship between God and people. As far as humans go, I would speculate that our first breath was pure, and our second was tempted.

In an outpouring of love, God created the universe and all things living, and called them good and blessed them. Man and woman God took special care in creating, forming us in God’s image, putting God’s breath in us as our life force and essentially making us a little less than gods ourselves.

At first, God and people were in perfect harmony, but very quickly, evil, temptation, human free-will and sin entered into the picture. God had given Adam and Eve a command, saying they could eat fruit from every tree in the garden of “delight,” except for two. They couldn’t eat from the tree of life or the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In affirmation of their purity of heart and free will, Adam and Eve chose not to eat the fruit of these trees. That is until the serpent, who is the personification of the force of evil in this story, tells Eve that God lied to her and that she could eat from the tree of knowledge without dying.

Evil made Eve doubt God, that’s what evil does, and in doubting God, Eve became confused.

The serpent told Eve that she would become like God if she ate the fruit of knowledge from the tree, and in her confusion, this sounded like a good thing to Eve. She looked at the tree, and saw that it was a delight to the eyes, and that it was to be desired because it could make one wise, so she ate from it. Adam also desired the fruit, and so without thinking about the consequence of his choice, he too ate of the tree of knowledge.

This one act of disobedience, known as “The Fall,” lead to a rupture between God and humanity, a violation of trust, a broken relationship. But when I really think about this story, I don’t see Eve or Adam being malicious or greedy, actively rejecting God. What I hear in this story is that our separation from God came through foolishness, being naïve, being confused and unaware of the consequences of one’s actions. Without her guard up, Eve simply believed the serpent, and with innocent eyes, she chose fruit that at first appearance seemed delightful and good.

At the end of the day, what I gain from this portion of the Eden account is that, although God created us good and hoped we would stay obedient to whatever God said, almost immediately after our first breath, this was not the case. The serpent, that is to say evil, and human free-will co-existed with God almost as soon as creation began.

The result of “The Fall” demonstrates the powerful law of cause and effect, and human beings are subject to this law. God put us out of the garden to live our lives freely, and that means that choice is ours, and it means that the consequences of choice are ours as well.

We might ask ourselves, how much of our sin, of our straying from God and God’s ways is wrought by a similar type of foolishness, naiveté, confusion or just not fully considering the consequences, like Adam and Eve? And since choice, the law of cause and effect, and the consequences of choice determine the future of our lives, I think we should pray to God to help us make better choices. Without stealing fruit off of any of God’s trees, we can still pray for God to give us greater wisdom and insight. We might pray that the scales would fall from our eyes so we can see clearly how our choices will impact our lives and the lives of those around us.

Sherry had been a foster child, moved from one home to the next. She developed a drug problem in her teens. By the time she was 16, all she wanted was to settle down with her boyfriend, who also had a drug problem, have a baby and start a family of her own. She just wanted some people in her life that would stay with her and that she could love forever.

One night when Sherry was six months pregnant, her boyfriend hit a row of parked cars while driving them home. The doctors at the hospital said that Sherry and the baby were fine, but two months later, when the baby came a month early, worries surfaced. “At first the doctors just thought my daughter was slow. And had seizures,” Sherry said. But at five years old, her daughter couldn’t feed herself, crawl, sit up or say mama. All she could do was hold her head up.

The accident had separated the placenta, causing seizures and retardation. Sherry wasn’t aware of it that night, but her boyfriend had been on drugs while driving. And though Sherry made all those choices when she was naïve and foolish, she now takes responsibility for what she did. Sherry said, “Getting into that car-and what that did to my daughter and me-is something I’ve had to live with every day of my life.” (Beattie, Melody. Choices. San Francisco: Harpers Collins, 2002. Pg. 9-10).

I think many people blame God for the suffering in their lives. I know I do. When you suffer, don’t you say: God, how could you let this happen to me? God, why did you do this? God, you must not love me… But I think blaming God is really just a way to avoid taking responsibility for our lives.

The story of “The Fall” and the law of cause and effect state that it’s not God’s fault we suffer, it’s evil’s fault and it’s our fault. The serpent was given the choice to stray from God, so was Adam, so was Eve, so are we. That’s the choice we made and that’s the choice we live with.

God doesn’t want us to suffer, but at the same time, God doesn’t stop the things that cause us pain. We wanted independence, free-will, choice, and we have it. But often we get angry at God when really we should be angry at ourselves because we don’t know how to use our free will.

This is why making good choices is so important. Bad choices lead to negative consequences. Good choices lead to positive consequences.

Spiritual maturity means that we do get wiser in our decision making. It means that our hearts are getting purer, so that we are choosing holy and wholesome things more naturally now than before. This is all good news because we are all maturing spiritually. At the same time, I just really want to encourage everyone here to take responsibility for your life and the choices you make. They matter. They affect your lives and other people’s lives.

While God doesn’t stop the law of cause and effect, what God does though, is God comes into situations of brokenness, and out of pure love, works to heal the situation. Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden, and therefore all of us were expelled, but look at the land of beauty and adventure we were put in to live our lives and work out our destinies. Adam and Eve damaged their relationship with God by being disobedient, but God healed and reconciled that relationship with them and us by sending us Jesus Christ. A little boy failed the fifth grade, but because he did, he met his best friend in class that next year, a best friend he would have for the next 70 years. A woman was left at the altar by her fiancé, but 10 years later that same woman was happier and more fulfilled than if she had said, “I do.”

You might say that God takes a bad situation and makes something good come from it. You might say that God turns lemons into lemonade. I like to say, God doesn’t cause suffering, but once suffering happens, God knows how to use it.

In the book, The Shack, God says this about the issue of suffering:

“Just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies doesn’t mean I orchestrate the tragedies. Don’t ever assume that my using something means I caused it or that I need it to accomplish my purposes. That will only lead you to false notions about me. Grace doesn’t depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colors” (Young, William Paul. The Shack. Newbury Park, CA: Windblown Media, 2007. pg. 188).

Where we make unwise choices that lead to negative consequences, we will find God working to bring about good. God does more than make lemons into lemonade. God saves us when we find ourselves in trouble. God heals us when we find ourselves sick. God redeems us when we have hit rock bottom.

There’s that saying that when one door closes another door opens. We have to take responsibility for the doors that close in life. Not everything is our fault, but we can’t just blame it on God either. What we can do is see that the doors that are opening are from God. The nature of God is to provide door after door after door. As many as we need.

This is why I love this verse from Romans: “Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.” Because no matter what we suffer, God is using it for our good, to save, to heal, to redeem, to provide new opportunity. There is always hope, even in suffering, especially in suffering.

God does more than make lemonade with our lives. God turns pain into joy, brokenness into relationship, suffering into opportunity, so wherever there is pain, brokenness, suffering, there is hope because wherever those things are, God is there.

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