Sunday, 5 March 2017

The Mythological First Man and his Transgender Clone

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.”’
But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. (Genesis 2.15-17,3.1-7)
And so the first man, and his transgender clone, dropped the whole world in it by taking instructions from a talking snake with legs.

I'm not a massive fan of the whole Original Sin / Penal Substitution construct for how to deal with human fallen-ness and redemption.  Not saying it's wrong.  Just saying it's only one model among many. Again, it's only part of the model but I thoroughly enjoyed Francis Spufford's "Human Propensity to 'Foul' Things Up" (I've made it SFW there) in the book, "Unapologetic." This idea that, despite all good intentions, we can still just get it wrong - isn't that just us? Isn't that what we see the whole time?

You know how it works. Somebody thinks that maybe America ain't what it was in the world. Which may be true. The blue collar workers don't have the old job security. Which is true. Something must be done.  Could well be true. And the next thing you know, President Trump is awake at 3am tweeting conspiracy theories. You can see at each step how you got from A to B to C - but the precise point where you turned off and ended up at Φ probably eludes you.

Or some people gather on Sundays in an ancient church in Bedfordshire to worship God. The rector wants to make children more welcome; Kevin wants the rules to be obeyed. The next thing you know they're in the Mail and talking to the diocese. How does that happen?

There's nothing wrong with the fruit in the garden.  It's good fruit. And there's nothing wrong with the fruit of knowledge. It looks lovely. And there's nothing wrong with eating fruit. But just that one fruit is the one they can't touch. It's not hard, is it?  Everything else - fine. That one fruit. But the disobedience creeps in.

First there's the fake legalism - "Did God say you can't eat any of the fruit?" Relativizes the rule. Because this is fruit - and you can eat it. And that's fruit.... why can't you eat it?  Because God said?

Then there's the outright deceit "You won't die if you eat it." And the temptation - it looks so lovely. It's a shiny lovely fruit. And the snake is making a promise - if you eat this, you'll be as clever as God.  And that's what God doesn't want. He wants you to be safe - docile - tamed. He wants you under his thumb. He doesn't want you knowing what he knows - how can he be God if you're just as god like?  And that's the snake's hookline - you can be gods.

So they go for it. And all this time later, we've got global warming and "Let it Shine".

Now I don't believe in a literal Adam and Eve.  I mean, there was clearly a first homo sapiens sapiens but the pair in the garden, the snake, the whole thing - it's a fable. It's saying this is how it is - you give us a job to do, we'll get it wrong. Give us something beautiful and we'll foul it up. It's an accurate deactivation of us.

But there's a symmetry of disobedience and obedience, in the story of God and humans.

Eve is born from a man. She disobeys and then so does the man. The world is cursed.

Then a woman obeys. She is told she will carry God's son and says OK. The child is born. And then he obeys. In the desert he is offered choices - an easy life, with compromises and  bowing down to the Evil one - or a life where God is supreme and his law is what matters.

He chooses God's way, even if it's harder. Even if it leads to a cross.

And our human ability to mess it all up isn't taken away. But it's made possible for our nature to be picked up, cleansed, refined, carried up into God by the obedience of that second Son of God, overturning the disobedience of the first.

To think of ourselves, to be selfish, to want the easy way - that's our temptations every day. We're not strong, we're not clever, we're not holy. We face our own struggles, temptations and deserts.  But we follow the One who chose the right way. And he'll lift us up in the end.

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