Monday 18 May 2009

Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible (7/50) – The Fruit of Fruit-Eating

‘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 seventh of the fifty emails, written this week by Helen Parry.

The man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
Genesis 3:8

Milton, in the opening lines of his magnificent epic poem Paradise Lost, announces his intention to proclaim:

‘…man’s first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
Brought death into the world, and all our woe.’

Paradise lost, indeed. Inexorably, the consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin unfold. First, the new sensations of shame and fear. Next, self-justification and mutual recrimination. Shame and fear towards God; recrimination towards each other. And thus, in a few masterful verses, the writer of Genesis records the breakdown of these two key relationships.

The banishment of Adam and Eve from the garden now seems inevitable. Gone is the intimacy in which they could relate to the Creator. Worse still, perhaps, the prospect of their eating from the tree of life and thus living for ever is now unthinkable. The expulsion symbolises the gulf that from that moment onwards stood between humans and God – God who is the source of life. ‘The wages of sin is death.’

But the tragedy doesn’t stop with the humans. The whole created order was in some way implicated.

The pain of childbirth, male domination, inhospitable land and toilsome work – things that still dominate human experience here on earth – all of these, and many other ways in which the world has fallen from the perfection of its creation – all are presented here as the result of the humans’ initial rebellion. ‘All our woe’, wrote Milton, blind, twice widowed and politically disillusioned.

Thus we see in the Old Testament recurring cycles of disobedience and idolatry, hatred, pride and corruption; and in the wider world, to this very day, human history has been bedevilled by greed, ambition, cruelty, injustice, oppression, the misdirection of sexuality, the corruption of creativity and the destruction of the environment.

Easy as it is to bewail the state of the world, we must all acknowledge, too, that these destructive things run through every human heart – through yours and mine.

Our first legacy is the image of God. Superimposed upon it – but not obliterating it – is the legacy of sin. But, as Milton goes on to remind us, the victory of sin could continue only:

‘till one greater Man
Restore us and regain the blissful seat’.

Helen Parry

For further reflection and action:

1. ‘Inhospitable land and toilsome work’: do we often feel that this describes our daily experience? Can we try this week to replace such negative feelings with gratitude?

2. It’s easy to see the faults of others, or of our culture. How far do we allow the world to ‘squeeze us into its mould’? (Romans 12:2, J.B.Phillips’ paraphrase)

3. Try to encourage someone this week, who is struggling with a difficult situation at work, or a broken relationship.

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