(Taken from a sermon from March 8, 2014, by the Rev. Frank S. Logue, elected Bishop of Georgia just last year.)
In our Old Testament lesson, we find a test case for free will in the Garden of Eden. We humans usually have good excuses to offer for the bad choices we make. Like Jean Valjean in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables--he steals bread to feed his sister’s child, who is near to death from starvation. Or we can look to someone who kills in self-defense--feeling justified in an action he would normally condemn. But the Garden of Eden is paradise and the only two human occupants have everything they need. They don’t have any excuses.
They don’t want for food. They don’t need clothes, as the weather is perfect. Besides, they don’t even realize they’re naked. No animal will harm them. Adam and Eve have been created as perfect companions for each other. The Hebrew describes Eve as equal and corresponding to Adam. The King James version says that she is his “helpmeet,” meaning a helper who is meet, or equivalent, to him. God even walks in the Garden with them. What more could they have?
Into this perfect situation comes a single choice. In the middle of the Garden is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Eve tells us that it is a nice-looking tree with very tasty-looking fruit.
Notice that there is no mention of the word “apple.” It’s just “fruit.” On one level, the only choice in Eden is to decide whether to avoid eating from that one tree or not. But at another level, the real choice in the Garden of Eden is to decide whether or not you can trust God.
Looking more closely at the text, the conversation with the serpent proves interesting. Eve tells the talking serpent that they can eat of any tree in the Garden but one. Then Eve herself expands God’s prohibition. Eve says that not only can they not eat of that tree, but they can’t even touch it. This is more than God tells Adam. Now in Eve’s words they can’t even touch the tree or they will die. Reminiscent of Mt. Sinai in last week’s Old Testament lesson.
The serpent goes on to tell Eve that they won’t die, and we should note here that the snake is right on this point. Neither Eve nor Adam dies. In fact, the snake is right in telling her that what will happen is that they will know the difference between good and evil. The snake says that eating of the tree will make them like God, and on this point God agrees later on (in the section past our reading for today. (3:22-23)
The snake uses the truth to lure Eve into checking out the fruit, much as Satan will quote scripture to Jesus in seeking to tempt him away from God’s will. Eve gets a nice piece of fruit, examines it closely and finds that it is a delight to the eyes, and, knowing that it can make one wise, she eats of the fruit. Then she gives some to her husband. Notice that she does not go track Adam down to bring him up to speed on everything. Adam is there all along, going along with everything, first by not speaking up, and then by eating. Adam is together with Eve in desiring the forbidden fruit. They both choose not to trust God.
The fruit does give them knowledge. Now Adam and Eve realize that they’re naked. That cheap knowledge is all Adam and Eve get for their disobedience, and they go from eating forbidden fruit to wearing fig leaves in nothing flat.
(Tsk) Adam and Eve are given one choice to make. They choose not to trust God. And they eat of the fruit of that one tree God said could kill them.
While the fruit does not kill them that day, through disobeying God, Adam and Eve become mortal. Death is now in their futures. They are destined to die for their wrong choice. But that‘s not the end of the story. Just past our Old Testament reading for today, Adam and Eve are hiding in the Garden, fearful God will find them cowering behind their fig leaves.
God will make Adam and Eve own up to their wrong choice. They will confess and be punished for their disobedience. The cost is mortality and expulsion from the Garden. But God doesn’t abandon them. God fashions clothes for Adam and Eve, and sends them to settle East of the Garden of Eden.
Innocence is gone. Paradise is lost. (hmm – good title for a poem there.) The way back into the Garden is barred forever, and yet, with all that said and done, God does sticks with his first two humans. Even in expelling them from Eden, God provides a future for them.
As a test case, Eve and her quietly consenting husband show that, even given everything they could ever need, humans would still choose to disobey. Some claim that this proves that Adam and Eve are teenagers. While funny, that claim is neither fair to teenagers nor honest to adults. All of us, regardless of age or maturity, can be given every chance in the world and still make bad choices.
Unlike Adam and Eve, we already have the knowledge of good and evil. With that knowledge, most of our choices, the ones that matter, boil down to either trusting God or not trusting God. God warns us not to murder, steal, or commit adultery, among other things. Just look back through the Ten Commandments. God says that if we do those things, we will die. Do we trust God or not? If we trust God, we will try to keep his commandments. If we do not trust God, we will ignore them as we go through life.
Remember that we have a real choice. We can decide not to trust God. We can live our life as if God does not exist. We can make our decisions without ever putting God in the picture. However, that choice will come with a cost. Just as Adam and Eve made the wrong choice and found death (i.e. mortality instead of living forever), we too can one day find ourselves staring at death without God further down the road called “not-trusting-God.”
But notice that even in our wrong choices, God won’t abandon us. The grace in Eden is that even when Adam and Eve do the one thing they’re told not to do, God still cares for them. In God’s story, wrong choices have bad consequences, but God still offers us a chance to then make the right choice. The way God tells the story, we can go our own way and choose to lose paradise, or we can trust God and live with Him.
During this season of Lent, we are called to examine our life. Do we trust God? Are we willing to live our life as if God’s promises in scripture are true? God offers us a chance to put our whole trust in Him. God is still holding out hope that we will one day come home to the Garden.