Genesis 3:8-10; 17–24 (NIV) 8 Then 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. 9 But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” 10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” 17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” 20 Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living. 21 The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. 22 And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” 23 So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.
My dear friends in Christ,
It’s time to continue our story. Last week we looked at the introduction. “Acquaint now thyself with him, and be at peace” (Job 22:21 KJV 1900). Along with Job, we got to know the main character in the story—God—better. We saw that he is perfect, wise, and all powerful. As we dig deeper into his Word and make it a regular part of our lives, Then we will know him better as the source of peace.
Today we focus on the beginning of the story. We see the symbol for God, blazing like the sun as the beginning and end of all things. This symbol reminds us where everything came from. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” (Genesis 1:1–2 NIV). John reminds us that Jesus was there too. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:1,3 NIV). The beginning of the story is amazing. It’s beautiful. At the end of the sixth day when God finished creating everything, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31 NIV).
Very good! There are all kinds of words we can use to describe God’s creation. Incredible! Astounding! Amazing! Unbelievable! On Wednesday I met with my friends from the Congo again, and we studied the beginning of God’s story. We looked at creation, and I asked them to share the amazing things God gave to the Congo. They smiled, and one of them said, “God poured out all his blessings on the Congo. The land is fertile. We have every kind of mineral. We have all kinds of animals. The climate is wonderful with summer and a rainy season. There is one area where the people sweep the floors of their homes but they don’t throw away what’s in the dustpan. They keep it and later separate it to find the gold from their floors.” Yes, God’s creation is amazing, and it was very good—perfect!
What happened? The thistle on the altar symbolizes everything that went wrong in God’s perfect creation. God had made a place for Adam and Eve to live. He called it the “Garden of Eden.” God gave Adam and Eve an opportunity to show how much they loved him. He planted two trees in the center of the Garden—the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. They could eat from any tree or plant in the garden except for the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. If they ate from that tree, God warned that they would die. This was their altar. This was their church. They could worship their Creator Father by honoring his request.
They could, but as the beginning of our story goes, they didn’t. The serpent—Satan—tempted Eve to doubt God’s Word and then flat out accused God of lying to her. Eve looked at the fruit. It was beautiful, and she expected it would be delicious. She took some and ate it. She gave some to Adam, who was standing right next to her, and he ate it. At that moment, everything changed. Perfection descended into imperfection. Peace became chaos. Perfect fear, love and trust for God became terrified distrust and finger pointing. Instead of eagerly anticipating their evening walk with the Creator, they foolishly tried to hide from him, like a child trying to hide behind a chair after breaking one of grandma’s baubles. When God asked what they had done, Adam pointed a finger at “the woman you put here with me” (Genesis 3:12 NIV). Eve quickly blamed the serpent for deceiving her.
Maybe some of you will recognize the old Family Circus cartoons, and even if you don’t, good old “Not Me, Ida Know, and Nobody” were already alive and well, thanks to Adam and Eve’s sin. Those three excuses still hang around our homes. “Whose turn is it to do the dishes?” “Ida Know.” “Who dropped the iPad and cracked the screen?” “Not Me, or Nobody!” We blame those three characters all the time. As adults, those three characters become a lot more subtle. We don’t try to blame our wrongdoing on them. We’ll just deflect the blame on someone else— “It wasn’t my fault I didn’t do what you asked me to do. I didn’t understand what you were saying. I didn’t hear it. Your directions could have been clearer!” “Why didn’t you get this piece of work done by the deadline?” “I thought I had more time. I’m sure I told you I needed an extension.” Instead of blaming someone else, we become defensive. If we can shout louder and make more of a stink about the situation, maybe the other person will finally give up and leave us alone.
That’s not even the worst part. Did you catch the one Adam and Eve really blamed? Adam said, “The woman you put here with me.” They blamed God. We blame God too. When we look at the beginning of this story and see what happened because of one tree and one piece of fruit, the first thing we ask is, “Why did God put it there? Why didn’t he stop them? Why didn’t he put a piece of divine duct tape over the serpent’s mouth?” We point our fingers at him and shout, “Why? Why? Why? Our lives could have been so peaceful if you hadn’t allowed this to happen. It’s all your fault!” We are desperate to find peace in our lives. When we can’t find it, it’s easier to blame God instead of ourselves.
The reality is—Adam and Eve had a choice. They knew how much God loved them. They could see it in the way he made them, the garden, and everything else around them. They chose to disobey. They had to face the consequences. “To Adam [God] said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food”” (Genesis 3:17–19 NIV). Up to this point work wasn’t work. It was a joy. It was a pleasure. It was easy. Not anymore. Even today, “work” is a dirty word. When spring comes, our lawns will come back to life, and so will the weeds. Bare feet meet thistle plants in the lawn—ouch! Gardens produce more weeds than the vegetables we plant. We labor and sweat. Our backs ache whether we’re sitting at a desk all day or working on a construction site. Work is work, thanks to our first father and mother.
Adam and Eve had to face the ultimate consequence—death. “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19 NIV). How it must have pained God to speak these words. “Adam, you’ll sweat and eat until you return to adamah.” Adam’s name was “ground,” because God had personally formed him from the earth. Now, God had to follow through with the threat that Adam would die for his sin. Adam’s body, which God had so lovingly formed, would turn back to dust when he died.
The beginning of the story doesn’t offer much hope. Every human being faces the same curse. We work hard, earn plenty through sweat-equity, and what does it finally profit us? We enjoy this life we have, but one day it will come to an end. We we can’t take any of it with us. In fact, Solomon wrote, “For a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it” (Ecclesiastes 2:21 NIV).
Would you believe it if I told you that God’s love permeates the beginning of his story, including everything that happened after Adam and Eve ate the fruit? God’s love walked through the garden looking for them, even when he knew they had disobeyed. God’s love called out, “Where are you?” God’s love found them in their hiding place. God’s love made clothes for them to cover their shameful nakedness. God’s love drove them out of the garden. God’s love placed an angel at the entrance with a flaming sword. There is the significance behind the symbol on the altar. The fire flowing from the sun drives Adam and Eve out of the garden. God’s love prevented them from ever returning. God’s love? Is it loving when God tells them, “No”?
What would the consequences have been if God had allowed them to stay in the garden? Adam and Eve would have eaten from the other tree, the tree of life. They would live forever, doomed to an eternity under the curse of sin. Never dying, yet never really living. God spared them from that consequence. He said, “No!” and drove them away from the garden.
We really don’t like it when God says, “No,” to us either. Think of all the ways he says “no” in the 10 commandments. “No other gods. Do not misuse my name. Do not murder. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not covet” (Exodus 20:3,7,13-17). We assume that God is holding out on us and not letting us experience life the way we want to experience it. God is protecting us. He’s protecting us from the world that offers us everything and gives nothing. He is protecting us from our sinful desires—the insistent child within that demands anything and everything that it wants and expects no consequences.
It feels like God is withholding something from us, but he isn’t. In fact, listen to what Paul said about God saying “no.” “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:20 NIV). When it comes to saving us, God said, “Yes!” “Yes, I love you more than anything else. Yes, you are so precious to me that I will do the impossible. I will send my Son. Yes, he will carry the burden of your sin—for all the times I told you “no” and you said “yes.” He will take your guilt and shame. Yes, he will even die. Yes, he will do it all for you because I love you. Yes!” We desperately need God’s peace, and God promises, “Yes. You have it in Jesus!”
Does hearing that make it easier to admit the mistakes we’ve made? Instead of “Not me!” we can say, “Yes, I’m guilty.” “Lord, help me say ‘yes’ to doing the dishes. Help me be honest about the things that I broke and the lies I told to cover it up. Lord, help me to hold myself accountable instead of blaming others for my weakness and mistakes. Please don’t drive me away from your presence!” He won’t. We desperately need his peace. He stands right here, today, with open arms, calling us into his embrace. We have God’s peace. He loves us with an everlasting love. Nothing can ever change that! Amen.