Tuesday 12 May 2009

Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible (6/50) – How Could They?

‘Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible’, from London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, is a series of fifty emails designed to look at the main milestones of the biblical story, seeking to show how whole-life discipleship is woven through Scripture as a whole, from beginning to end. Here is the sixth of the fifty emails, written this week by Helen Parry.

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.
Genesis 3:6

However we interpret the first three chapters of Genesis, they teach profound theological truth which is fundamental to our understanding of our faith.

The core sin of Adam and Eve was, of course, their disobedience to God’s explicit command, ‘you must not eat from the tree’. It was both a transgression – the crossing of a forbidden frontier – and thus, inevitably, a revolt against God. The prohibition represented a limitation on the behaviour of people who were otherwise given extraordinary freedom to explore and exploit God’s creation; and an assertion, in the enjoyment of that freedom, of the ultimate authority of God.

There’s a widespread belief outside the church that Christianity is a very negative religion – human freedom being curtailed at every turn by ‘thou shalt not… thou shalt not’. But, perhaps surprisingly, negative commands give more freedom than positive ones. Thus, rather than giving Adam and Eve handbooks on pruning or sex (‘now this is exactly what to do’), God gave them the liberty to find out for themselves how to do things, and the joy of making their own discoveries.

This included, of course, the liberty to make mistakes. The transgression, however, was more than a mistake: they could hardly have turned to the Lord and said, ‘Oh, so sorry, we forgot’. They thought they knew better than God, and made a conscious choice.

It seems almost incredible that Adam and Eve, among the lavish gifts of the creation (yet to be explored), their wills not yet corrupted by sin, should have succumbed to the seductions of one of those very creatures over whom Adam had been given authority. But succumb they did.

And that ‘original sin’, committed by the parents of the human race, was passed on, like a hereditary disease, throughout that race. Humanity, as Psalm 51 reminds us, has borne its stain ever since: ‘I have been… sinful from the time my mother conceived me’.

But let us never forget that the great story of the Bible doesn’t begin with sin and end at the cross. It begins with a perfect creation and ends, by way of the resurrection, with a perfect new creation.

Helen Parry

For further reflection and action:

1. The serpent tempted Adam and Eve through their God-given faculties of taste, sight and aspiration. In what areas of your life are you most vulnerable to temptation?
2. Adam and Eve showed little understanding of the seriousness of their sin. How far have we  – in the permissiveness of our society – got used to living comfortably with our own besetting sins?
3. In speaking this week to others (whether or not professing Christians), let us try to express our understanding of the ‘glorious liberty’ that God planned for his people, rather than the negative attitudes that so often characterise our conversation.

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