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The Way It’s Supposed to Be

Date: September 8, 2019/Speaker: Sharla Hulsey
Garden

Scripture: Genesis 2:4-25

When I enrolled in a Bible as Literature class my first semester at Wichita State, I thought it would be an easy A. In my major I only had to have one literature class, and for some reason didn’t want to do any of the normal ones, English Lit or Shakespeare or whatever the other options were. I figured that since I’d been going to Baptist Sunday School my entire life, I knew the Bible and thus could just skate through that class.

Wrong.

I’d have been better off, grade-wise, if I had gone with Shakespeare. I barely eked out a C in that class. It’s not that I didn’t know the Bible—I probably knew it as well as any 19-year-old who’d gone to Sunday school almost every week for their whole life—but that I hadn’t ever really thought of it in the same way as we think about other literature. And even though the pastor of the church I went to was fairly liberal theologically, I hadn’t been exposed to what’s often called “higher criticism,” things like how the books of the Bible got to be put together as they are, who might have written them (especially challenging was the notion that some of the books that have someone’s name attached to them, like the four Gospels and some of the Pauline letters, may well have been written by someone other than the people whose names are on them), and such.

That class was the first time I heard that there are two creation stories in Genesis, most likely written at different times and for different purposes. I knew the stories, of course: Genesis 1 shows us God above and beyond creation, speaking it into existence; while Genesis 2 tells us about God forming human beings out of the earth, like a sculptor. But two different stories from two different authors and two different times? I’d never heard of such a thing. Who wrote Genesis? was not a question that ever came up in Sunday School.

But once I got over my 19-year-old attitude that I knew as much as I needed to about the Bible, or anything else, and as I’ve done more studying, I have found out that Dr. Meyers was right. The first creation story, the one in which God creates everything in six days just by commanding it to be so, in which God brings the order of creation out of the chaos of, in Hebrew, tohu va-vohu (a formless void, as it’s rendered in modern English), may well have come from during or just after the Babylonian Exile, when the Jewish people’s world had been thrown into chaos. It must have been a source of hope to a people in that situation that they belonged to a God who was quite capable of speaking an orderly universe into existence. The second story, of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, the one before us today, is probably quite a bit older, maybe dating back to the time of David and Solomon.

Interesting though all that might be, the people who put the book of Genesis together included both creation stories, with the one right after the other, for a reason, and we have to engage with the text as we have it.

One of the commentaries I read this week suggested that Genesis 2 is meant to be a close-up look at the sixth day of creation in Genesis 1. The sixth day, if you remember, is when all creatures who live on land were created, and when God made humankind in God’s own image. So in Genesis 1 we have the big picture of creation, and then in Genesis 2 we zoom in for a closer look at part of it.[1]

One point of connection between the two is the evaluation God makes at the end of each day in Genesis 1: “God saw that it was good.” Then, in the eighteenth chapter of chapter 2, God says, “It is not good…” So the second story maybe happens between the creating of humans and animals and the evaluation of everything as “very good.”

But again, that’s all well and good, but as one of my seminary professors liked to say, “It won’t preach”—it’s just not the stuff that makes for a relevant sermon. What is probably more useful is to think about what it is that God says is “not good.”

Back we go to the Star Trek universe. In the original series, the one with Captain Kirk, the first officer is Spock, a Vulcan. The Vulcan culture deplores emotionalism, and Vulcans learn not just to control their emotions but to erase them entirely in favor of logic. Spock isn’t human (actually he is half human, but chooses to embrace his Vulcan side pretty much exclusively), and he does not have human emotions.

But Spock is one of many Vulcans; he has a family and a culture of his own.
When the next Star Trek series, The Next Generation, began, creator Gene Roddenberry and his staff wanted to have a character who functioned in the crew similarly to how Spock had in the original crew, but knew they needed it to be someone other than another Vulcan. So their emotionless, logical bridge officer was Data, an android. Data had no emotions not because he had been trained to erase them, but because they were not part of his programming. And unlike Spock, Data longed to be human; that’s a subplot that runs throughout the series.

But Data is very different from Spock in one important respect: at the beginning of the series it was believed that he was the only one of his kind in existence. He had been built by a human scientist, Dr. Soong, and as far as he knew, Dr. Soong had never built another android. He was alone in the universe, and if he had had a heart, it would have ached at the notion that there was no other being like himself anywhere. [2]

“It is not good that [he] should be alone…”

The way God intended for humans to live was in relationship—with God, with creation, and with other humans. And the relationship between humans was supposed to be one of partnership, not of hierarchy.

A lot of ink has been spilled about woman’s role as “helpmeet,” most of it declaring that it’s a subordinate position. The man is the boss, and the woman is the assistant, to use the language of the modern workplace.

But that kind of relationship only happens after the woman, later called Eve, eats the fruit from the tree of knowledge and gives some to the man, whose name is quite literally the Hebrew word for “a man,” Adam. That’s not what God had in mind.

There’s no such word in English, even in the Elizabethan English of the King James Bible, as helpmeet. It’s two words, help and meet, which in Elizabethan English meant “suitable” or “appropriate.” What God says he will make for the man is “a suitable helper.”

And the Hebrew word translated as help or helper is ‘ezer, a word that most often in the Old Testament refers to God. [3] “God is our helper” clearly does not mean that we’re the boss of God. And in the same way, when the woman is called ‘ezer, she is not to be understood as inferior or subordinate or meant to be bossed around by the man. They were supposed to be partners, who worked together caring for the garden in which God placed them. They lived together, they worked together, they spent time with God together—and God walked in the garden with them as a friend.

But, as we learn in chapter 3 of Genesis, something went wrong.

It seems sort of inevitable that something will go wrong, actually. God tells the man in today’s reading, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”—which stood in the center of the garden, along with the tree of life—“you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

It’s not like Mom made a cake for the church dinner and put it away in the pantry where the kids wouldn’t necessarily find it; it’s more like she left it right out on the kitchen table, uncovered, its thick buttercream frosting practically begging to be scooped up by a kid’s finger and tasted. “See that tree over there—the one with the beautiful, delicious-looking fruit on it? Yeah, leave that one alone.”

Right.

I find it sort of hard to believe that God could be surprised when the first couple ate from that tree.

The way it’s supposed to be is the way it was in Eden: people caring for the earth, in partnership with other people, and walking with God as a friend. The way it is—people damaging the earth; some people lording it over or even downright abusing others, or perhaps deciding they can go it alone and don’t need anyone else; and all of them afraid of God—that all came after Adam and Eve ate the fruit they’d been told to leave alone.

It’s not punishment, not really. God doesn’t say, well, since you did this thing that I told you not to do I’m going to make your lives and the lives of all your descendants miserable from this moment forward. It’s more like God, after learning what Adam and Eve had done, said, “Here is what you’ve bought by eating this fruit.”[4] God seems to operate in this story according to the “natural consequences” philosophy of child-rearing. [5]

And not everything that comes after this is bad, but there is a lot of blood, sweat, and tears—not to mention violence and death—that becomes part of the human condition at that moment.

I don’t think that’s to be understood as all of us being punished for Adam and Eve’s sin. It is, however, the way things are; but it’s not how it was supposed to be. It’s not what God wanted for creation or for us. It’s not what God wants for creation or for us. But we can’t fix it on our own. Joni Mitchell’s song[6] notwithstanding, we cannot get ourselves back to the garden.

We can, however, do something.

To start with, we can live as if we were back in the garden—nurture our relationship with God, take care of our portion of creation, form relationships based on mutual love and kindness. Jesus Christ came to help us get back to the garden one day, and his death and resurrection have put us on that path. We won’t get there on our own, but we will get there soon.

How do I know this?

At the end of the Bible, the last chapters of the book of Revelation, when the Lamb decisively defeats evil and sin and death and violence, we see the New Jerusalem—redeemed creation—descend from heaven, with God living among mortals just as God walked with Adam and Eve in Eden.[7] The New Jerusalem is described as a perfect walled city—but in those walls are twelve gates that are never closed—and the throne of God and the Lamb (who is Jesus) is right in the middle.

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb, through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life, with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” [8]

The way it’s supposed to be is the way it was, once upon a time. The way it is now isn’t the way it’s supposed to be; but what we learn from the last two chapters of Revelation is that the way it will be will once again be the way it was supposed to be from the beginning. Revelation never calls for Christ’s people to fight against evil on their own; instead, Christ and the heavenly host fight for us while we live as faithfully as we can, even if it means ridicule, or persecution, or even (maybe not for us American Christians, but certainly for other Christians throughout the world and throughout history) death.

And if we read the rest of the Bible, especially the Gospels and Paul’s letters, we find out that faithful living means living as if the way it’s supposed to be is the way it is—by taking care of the world in which we live; loving God and loving our neighbor; and not isolating ourselves but forming relationships with one another that are based on love and respect, not domination and exploitation. In this way those around us will see glimpses of the garden, where we once lived and where we will one day live again, and perhaps choose to travel the way there with us as followers of Christ.

[1] This explanation isn’t perfect, because the details in the two stories don’t match up:  in Genesis 1 the animals are created before humanity, and humanity is created male and female from the get-go, whereas in Genesis 2 one human is created, then all the animals, then the other human, the woman.

[1] As it turns out, Dr. Soong had created another android before Data—Lore—but Lore was defective.  Although he had been disassembled, someone put Lore back together, with rather unpleasant results.  Then in the final movie with the TNG crew, Star Trek:  Nemesis, another Data prototype is discovered.

[2] As it turns out, Dr. Soong had created another android before Data—Lore—but Lore was defective.  Although he had been disassembled, someone put Lore back together, with rather unpleasant results.  Then in the final movie with the TNG crew, Star Trek:  Nemesis, another Data prototype is discovered.

[3] See, for instance, Psalm 54:4.

[4] This compelling language comes from the discussion Genesis 3 in the companion book to the Bill Moyers PBS series from the 1990s, Genesis:  A Living Conversation (New York:  Doubleday, 1996).  It comes from Dr. Leon Kass, a biochemist, ethicist, and professor at the University of Chicago.

[5] This is how my parents raised my sister and me.  For instance, instead of doing battle over what we would or would not eat at supper, instead of nagging or threatening or making us sit at the table until we finished every bite, my mom simply reminded us, “It’s a long time till breakfast.”  Don’t eat the supper I’ve made for you, and you’re going to be mighty hungry by morning.  It’s amazing how much more appetizing those leftovers looked when contemplating a long night with an empty stomach.

[6] “Woodstock,” popularized by Crosby, Stills & Nash.

[7] Revelation 21:3

[8] Revelation 22:1-2