Through this Lenten season we are looking at the important role that gardens play in the Bible. We want to see what these garden stories teach us about God, our own lives and how to live in relationship with God. The Bible begins and ends in a garden. There is the Garden of Eden when God created the world and in the book of Revelation we see heaven talked about as a garden with a tree of life and crops for all seasons and leaves that bring life. In the center of the biblical story we have Jesus suffering, dying and rising again in a garden and on that first resurrection day Jesus was even mistaken as a gardener. Next week we will see how the Promised Land was often thought of as a lush and fertile garden and then how the teaching of Jesus about the Kingdom of God used a lot of garden themes and ideas. So gardens are important to the Bible and we have a lot to learn from them.
Last week we learned that the creation story found in Genesis 1 reads like a litany or poem where we see the rhythm and flow of God’s work in creating paradise – the King’s Garden. God speaks, something is created and God looks at it and calls it good. Our response to this story is to give thanks, care for the garden God has given us and make sure we are following the example of God by having our own rhythm of work and rest. This is what we learn from the creation story in Genesis 1, but there is a very different creation story in Genesis 2.
If you read Genesis 1 and 2 you might have seen that there really are 2 very unique stories that talk about the creation of the world. Because these stories were not written as science lectures to talk about how the world was created, they don’t really compete with each other, they each have their place and purpose and each one was included in the scriptures to teach us something about God and ourselves. Genesis 2:4-9, 15-18, 21-22
In Genesis 2 we see that God creates us out of the dust of the ground but we are still special and unique in all of creation because God breathes into us and it is that breath that gives us life and makes us children of God. In Genesis 2 we also see that God creates man first and then creates woman second. Some people have wanted to see this as a reason for claiming that men are superior to women, but there are some problems we find in the text if we do that.
The first problem is that in Genesis 2 we find that man on his own is not good. In fact, it is the first time in both creation stories when God looks down and says that something is not good. Genesis 2:18. So men, on our own – we are not good. God looked at us and said, yeah, they are going to make it – I need to make them a helper. The world helper is the word edzer which doesn’t mean assistant but someone stronger who comes to rescue the weak. So God created from man a stronger version of man who was not going to help him but rescue him – in some sense help make him good.
So good took a rib from the man and made a stronger and better human being – woman. And I think we can all agree that in many ways women are stronger. Women go through the pain of childbirth. If men had to do that, our race would have died out after just a few generations. Women are often the ones to raise the children and care for the family so they are often the ones who are stronger emotionally. Statistically women also live longer than men and so the strength of women in life and faith is all around pretty clear to see.
This creation story also reveals to us the core mission in marriage. The mission in marriage is not to always be in love with the other person – the mission in marriage is to be a helper. God didn’t look at the man and say, oh look how lonely he is – he needs someone to love and to love him – he looked at the man and said he needs someone who will help him in life. Marriage isn’t about love as much as it is about helping and serving. Marriage is about being willing to sacrifice so the other person is cared for and supported, it is about meeting the other person’s needs. Marriage is about putting the other person first and living for them and if both parties make this the mission – the marriage will survive and thrive. Now to say that marriage isn’t really about love is misleading, it is all about love as long as love is defined as sacrifice, service and help. If that is how love is defined then the mission of marriage is love but maybe not always to feel in love.
What we begin to see in this story of Adam and Eve is that it really is not the story of the first two people, it is a story that explains and defines our story. We can’t read this as history looking back at a man named Adam and woman named Eve. This is not a story about their life and problems this is our story. We are Adam and Eve. Adam means man of the earth and Eve means life giver and in some sense this is who we are. We have all be created out of the earth and we are all part of giving life so this is our story. This is a story that talks about who we are in relationship with God and one another and it teaches us that we need others in this world if we are going to be the best that we can be and that we all need to be helpers.
As we read on Genesis, we also see that this story of Adam and Eve in the King’s Garden teaches us how things got so messed up. Genesis 3:1-7. What is important to see here is that it is not always the big overt lies that get us into trouble but the subtle half-truths and embellishments. The serpent was crafty by using a kind of half-truth when he spoke to the woman. He said, Did God really say that you must not eat from any tree in the garden? That is a kind of half-truth. God didn’t say they couldn’t eat from any tree, he said they couldn’t eat from one specific tree. So that half-truth begins to muddy the waters a little bit. But then notice Eve’s response. Genesis 3:2-3.
God didn’t say they couldn’t touch the tree so where did that idea come from – it had to come from Adam who was the only one who heard God give the instruction. God told Adam he could not eat from that true before Eve was created so it was Adam who told Eve they couldn’t eat from the tree and apparently Adam added that part about touching it as well. We don’t know why Adam may have added this, but he may have done it because he wanted to have more control and authority. Maybe he was embellishing the story to make himself feel stronger and wiser in his relationship with Eve, not that men would ever do anything like that.
What this story reveals is that things begin to go bad when we listen to half-truths or embellish God’s truth in order to feel superior or in control. Eve listens to the serpent and goes to the tree and sees how good the fruit looks. She then takes the fruit and eats it. Then she gives some to Adam who also eats it. They didn’t want to be children of God, they wanted to be God. They didn’t want to listen to God or walk with God – they wanted to be like God and so they did the one thing, they only thing, they were told not to do.
And what happens when they eat the fruit? They immediately see that they are naked and they feel shame. They hear God walking in the garden and feel guilt. Instead of walking with God they now want to hide from God. What was beautiful has now been lost. What was innocent and pure and filled with love has been tarnished and stained and filled with guilt and shame and pain.
Once again, this is not really the story of 2 people who lived long ago, this is our story and we all have that forbidden fruit that we are tempted to eat. We all hear that voice telling us that we can be more, find more, experience more, get more in life if we will just take and eat. If we will spend a little bit more money and get those things we want – we will be happy. If we cut corners on that project or on our taxes to save a little bit of money – we will get ahead. If we share that juicy story we know that makes us look good and puts someone else down – we feel better about ourselves. If we cheat our on spouse and go deeper into that exciting relationship – our lives are going to be more fulfilled. We are all tempted to take and eat because we all hear that voice telling us it’s ok.
So this story of the fall, paradise lost, is not just Adam and Eve’s story about how it all went wrong in the beginning, this is our story. Every time we give in to the serpent’s voice and take and eat the forbidden fruit – something beautiful in us or around us is lost. Our innocence is lost. The beauty of relationships is lost. Our integrity and honesty is lost. Our physical or emotional health is lost.
This story of paradise lost is not only the story we see in us but it is the story we see unfolding all around us. Most of the tragic stories we hear in the news come from people knowing the right thing to do but choosing the bad. They listen to and follow the wrong voice. War, the violence we see in schools and homes, sexual assault and misconduct, crime and greed, our political divide, the hatred we see on social media, poverty and starvation in many third world countries are all due to people listening to and acting on the wrong voice.
What we need to learn from this story is how to make sure we are listening to the right voice and the voice of God. So let me close with this simple question and challenge. What voice will we listen to? What tree will we eat from? What choice will we make when we are confronted with a choice between good and evil, God and the short cut we think will lead us to life and love and happiness? Too often we have listened to and acted on that wrong voice so here is the challenge, say yes to the voice of God. Listen to and follow the voice of God who calls us to come and follow him.
And if we have been listening to the wrong voice and dealing with the consequences of that choice – all is not lost. Through Jesus and in another garden, God forgives us and welcomes us back into a relationship where we can once again walk with God in the garden.
The Garden of Eden – Paradise Lost
1. Read Genesis 2
What does this story tell us about our relationships with one another (especially male and female)?
2. The word helper (edzer) means one who is stronger who will come and rescue the weak.
• How does this definition shape your understanding and view of marriage?
• How can helping your spouse help strengthen your marriage and family?
• How can you help your spouse this week?
• Who beyond your spouse might you need to help?
3. Read Genesis 3
Identify all the half-truths and embellishments found in this story?
• What do these tell us about the power of lies?
• This is our story, how do the half-truths and lies found here reflect the motives of our hearts and words?
4. When has a lie led you astray? How did that situation get resolved?
5. Eve listened to the voice of the serpent that told her she could get more and be more.
• What voice tempts you to get more and be more?
• What forbidden fruit are you tempted to take and eat?
6. How can you minimize the voice of temptation and maximize the voice of God this week?
Who can you ask to be your helper in this work?