The bible is pretty easy to understand, right? Let's start at the beginning.
When we read the story of Adam and Eve in the garden, we read about their disobedience, and we see there were significant repercussions for their actions. And so, one of the important take away lessons is that we should avoid disobedience and always obey God so we can avoid the pain and embarrassment of being found out and punished.
Obey God and no one gets hurt. Sounds simple. Right?
Well...not so fast.
If we skip ahead to the story of Jesus in general and specifically Jesus being tempted in the desert, we see that obedience to God (or God's Spirit) might end up being difficult or painful. We see that Jesus obeys God and, along with a multitude of wonderful outcomes, he gets second-guessed, ridiculed, excluded, and eventually killed.
Hmmmm....this throws off our formula some.
And then it gets even more complicated when we get an explanation from Paul about what happened. This passage kicks up all sorts of fun questions for us like would Adam and Eve have died if they had not sinned?
Let's look at this week's readings a little closer to see if we can get any help.
In the reading from Genesis we notice God doesn't tell Adam and Eve what the Tree of Knowledge "is." He just tells them that they will die. It is the serpent that explains to them their eyes will be opened and they will be like God. And it is Eve who adds that God has instructed them not even to touch the tree. What does it mean that the serpent was somewhat correct--Adam and Eve did not die (immediately) when they ate of it as God originally claimed. What does this mean for us when, at least in the short run, God does not appear to be right?
The Psalmist writes about people who are forgiven and about sin that has been forgotten. There is an offer of instruction and guidance for those who are willing to be diligent students and listen and follow. There is forgiveness for those who ask. This is the lived experience of Israel, through their covenant relationship with God. They understood (well, at least they understood some of the time) that the relationship with God was a long-term one that would have ups and downs. Do we have that understanding of our relationship with God?
Paul likely wrote this letter to Rome before the Gospel account (Paul wrote somewhere around 55 and Matthew was written somewhere between 70 and 90). This passage casts Jesus as Adam's foil. As Adam (and Eve) are "in the beginning" the first to act against the guidance of God, Jesus is obedient to his death on a cross and is positioned as the "end" of the power of sin in the world. What if we take Paul's letter to Romans less as a testament about atonement for sin but more as advice and insight about ethical living: ".just as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man's act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous."
Matthew's account of Jesus encountering The Tempter in the wilderness reveals Jesus' responses to temptation. We assume Jesus knew Torah and its stories and guidelines, however in this story there really is no direct advice against sin or even toward absolute obedience to dictates. He is relying upon God, living by the word of God, by the worship and reverence of God. He is depending on God and how he understands that relationship to work. He is willing to go out in to the wilderness, fast, and encounter these temptations because he knows he must remain faithful over the length of the relationship.
So, what does that bring us to here? There is no cut and dried answer-it is more like we get to view a range of experience. Consistent in these stories is a relationship with God. Adam and Eve experienced God walking with them in the garden, and Jesus prepared for his time in the wilderness by fasting and praying (deepening his connection to God).
We often want to boil this whole "God thing" down to simple formulas. We want hard and fast rules that we can adhere to that make everything simple to understand and so we can have an easily identified path for us to walk. Unfortunately, it turns out there are no formulas. The primary piece of guidance we can hold on to is that it is important to tend to / pay attention to / give primacy to our relationship with God.
- How often in this world are consequences absolute and completely understood
- ahead of time?
- What has Grace to do with this?
- Are we wired by our collective history to extend Grace?
- Could it be that our individual efforts to be obedient, to be reliant upon a
- relationship with God, can actually shape righteousness, justification, and
- life for others?
"You should pray like this: Our Father in heaven, help us to honor your name. Come and set up your kingdom, so that everyone on earth will obey you, as you are obeyed in heaven. Give us our food for today. Forgive us for doing wrong, as we forgive others. Keep us from being tempted and protect us from evil." (Matthew 6.9-13 Contemporary English Version)