This week has been slower from a medical standpoint, so I thank God for the chance to spend more time with Him. As an update regarding the patients I described in my last post, the young boy with multiple segments of dead small intestine is doing reasonably well. I was able to put his intestines back together again and we’ve started nutrition again. He has a long way to go, though, but God seems to be healing him. The 18-year old man with the twisted intestines did not survive. He died about six hours after surgery. This was not unexpected but we wanted to give him a chance. Before we operated on him, we talked with him about Jesus. He said he was a Christian and attended one of the churches in the area. We specifically talked with him about the possibility of dying that day. He said he had put his faith in Jesus’ work on the cross and that he felt ready to meet the Lord. We praise Christ for that. For this young man, death was no longer the enemy. The woman with the retained placenta and anemia did well and has gone home.

As I’ve been studying the Word, I’ve been thinking lately about the fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden. What really happened there and how does it affect us today? As I’m wrestling with this, I wanted to share some of my thoughts about it in sort of a ‘forum’ environment. I would invite the critiques of wiser and better educated people. I know a thing or two about surgery but I’m no theologian.  I may be off base, so let me know. Even if I’m not off base, I may just be a little late on the scene.

In fact, as I contemplated sharing my thoughts, I started to chuckle as an illustration of my attempt came to mind. There is a scene in the movie ‘Dumb and Dumber’ where Jim Carey’s character, Lloyd Christmas, is walking out of a bar in Aspen. He sees a newspaper headline in a frame on the wall and pauses to look at it. It is about the first moon landing of the Apollo missions. In amazement, he says, “That’s great!!” and as he walks out he screams for everyone to hear, “WE LANDED ON THE MOON!!!”

So, anyway, whether it’s wrong or just common knowledge that I’m just now seeing, I’ll share what I’m thinking. Forgive me if I struggle to present it in a coherent manner. I find it challenging to get these thoughts and ideas out of my head and into language. I’ve always admired gifted writers and speakers who do it so much better.

In Genesis 2:15-17, it says, “Then the Lord God took the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” In the next chapter, Genesis 3:1-7, it says, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’” The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.”

And the world has never been the same since. I believe in the doctrine of Original Sin, that somehow all of mankind was “in” Adam at his fall and that all mankind fell at that time. Therefore, we are all born into this world broken from the outset. We aren’t content with that, of course, and we all proceed to add our own thoughts, voices and actions to the active rebellion against God. As I read this passage for the umpteenth time, I wondered, “What really happened with that tree?” What was it about that fruit that killed us all?

I’ll start with a few observations. At first blush, I have to admit that this story kind of underwhelms me. In light of all the evil and horrors we know of the world today eating some fruit from the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” seems kind of tame. It’s not like Adam got in a fight and killed someone or carved a statue and sacrificed Eve to it. It fails to rock my world as badly as it clearly rocked the world.

But then again, most horrible things seem to start out much less conspicuous. We marvel at yet another government official who is arrested in an FBI sting when he tries to have a sexual rendezvous with a 10-year old girl he met online. But I don’t think any of those guys just decided out of the blue one day that they wanted to have sex with a 10-year old stranger. They probably didn’t even decide out of the blue they wanted to start sinking hours and hours of their lives into pornography. In truth, it probably started one time where they were stressed and anxious and they remembered the little adrenaline rush they got when they stumbled on a picture of a naked woman. And so they decide to hide from life for a little while by indulging their eyes. Then little by little it grows and begins to take control and even worse things happen. So one of the things that really interest me about Adam’s fall is that, according to the Bible, it is the “little” thing that kicked off the whole sordid show we have now. There must be something important there.

My second observation has to do with the Law (that is, the Ten Commandments and all the rules and guidelines set forth in the Bible). As a Christian, I’ve heard, read and learned many times that grace and righteousness by faith came before the Law was given. According to the Apostle Paul, Abraham was considered righteous before God not because he followed the Law but because he had faith. In fact it was 430 years later that the Law was even given. So God’s grace and mercy came before we even had the rules to try and measure up. What I haven’t thought much about is that the fall and death (the very reasons we need God’s grace and mercy) also came before we had the rules. Now I don’t believe God is either capricious or interested in tricking anyone. If Adam had killed himself by breaking the Law, and God isn’t interested in tricking anyone, it seems God would have given Adam the Law so that he might not break it. If God had pronounced judgment on Adam for breaking the third Commandment, Adam would probably have had a point in exclaiming, “What third Commandment?” (This is one point especially that I would seek the wisdom of better educated people.) But rather we read in Genesis that God didn’t give Adam the Law, but God did give a warning about the very thing that killed Adam.

Hence we’re back to this tree and its fruit. And this tree seems different than the Law. Adam doesn’t hear anything about all the stuff written about in the Law and the Law mentions nothing about refraining from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Indeed, we can’t even get to the tree because Genesis tells us mankind has been barred from the garden ever since. If God is not capricious, then there must have been something inherently bad about eating from the tree. It could not have been some neutral thing that God decided to throw out as a test, the failure of which meant death.

So what about this fruit? When I’ve listened to sermons about it or read books about it, I hear that Adam’s sin was that he wanted to be as God. That was the lie Satan told them and that he bought. I certainly believe that is true but it is as I’ve pondered the implications of this truth that I’ve been thinking of the ideas I want to share here. For so long, I’ve unconsciously thought about Adam’s fall as a choice, a cataclysmic choice, between good and evil. Adam was given a good and wonderful world to live in but God warned him about this evil thing and Adam chose the evil thing. I suppose this is a natural thought to have because it is what you and I do over and over again every day. We are constantly confronted with choices to do the good we know we ought to do or to do the evil we want to do.

The problem is it seems logical that Adam didn’t even know what evil was! How could he know what evil was if he hadn’t yet eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? If he didn’t know what evil was, how could he do what we do every day, that is, choose evil? It seems to me that the fall was a philosophical step before the sins you and I commit all the time. It was fundamentally different.

It seems to me that Adam did not in fact choose evil over good, rather he chose to choose. In desiring to have the knowledge of good and evil he wanted to make his own decisions instead of taking what was handed to him by God. He would evaluate for himself and chart his own course through the world. This meshes with what I already know about the fall, that Adam wanted to be as God, a god to himself, rejecting the authority of God.

The fascinating thing is that all the muck and pain of the world flowed out of this. God didn’t say you’ll die if you choose poorly (between good and evil). He said you’ll die if choose to choose for yourself. We were never meant to handle that power, we just can’t do it. We don’t have the necessary resources. The tragedy is that Adam wanted to learn about good and evil… and he did, by becoming evil and loosing the goodness he enjoyed. Mankind wanted to take the steering wheel and we wrecked the world.

So where does that leave us? It seems in a big jam. A large chunk of the world is living life making choices regardless of right and wrong, but based solely on whatever they happen to want. Another chunk is keenly aware of the fact we’re an evil wreck (this chunk is at least closer to the right direction than the first) but is generally failing as it tries desperately to choose good. I can remember many years of my life struggling with sweat and tears to choose the good I knew I ought to do over the evil I wanted to do. Sometimes I chose better but so often I failed miserably. At no point, though, did I feel anywhere close to successful.

It’s exhausting trying to hack your way through the jungle of life by your own reckoning and under your own steam. I know so many ‘good’ people who are trying to do the same thing. They’re hacking their way along, periodically climbing a tree to survey the land. They’re critically evaluating the options, weighing the pros and cons, picking the good route. They read the Bible and decide they like this part and this part, but not that part. That just isn’t how a loving God would be (as I understand it, of course) so it must not be true. They select the desirable values of other religions, of humanism, of charity. And yet the world is still a mess and we still can’t get it right.

It’s fascinating that we’ve jacked it all up not because we choose poorly but because we demand to choose. It grates at our soul that we should let Another call the shots. And yet that is the only way we’ll ever get back. Of us all, only One has ever done it right. When Jesus walked among us and was tempted (in every way we are, according to the Bible), he did it right where we did it wrong. He didn’t just “choose well”, he refused to choose. He deferred to His Father in Heaven instead. He always deferred to his Father. It’s all over the gospels.

I’ve read that on the walls of the United Nations Building in New York there is a text from Isaiah 2:4, “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” A few comments. Despite the UN and our high hopes, the world doesn’t look like this. We are still killing each other wholesale. Second, the first part of this verse was left out. It says, “And He (God) will judge between the nations, and will render decisions for many peoples.” Apparently the text was a gift to the United Nations from the Soviet Union, a militantly atheistic society. The world still trying to choose well and make the world good but we’re still trying to do it on our own terms. We’re still failing.

My last observation is maybe the most difficult. It seems that often the church and Christian culture moves contradictory to this truth. We write books and tell people arguments and validations and evidences for the truth and goodness of the Gospel of Jesus and compare it to the insanity and worthlessness and futility of the world. While I think this is right and good, it is what we do next that seems crazy. We then ask a fallen world to evaluate these two and choose the Gospel of Christ. We ask them to choose to accept Jesus as their personal savior. Do we not ask them to munch on the same fruit that killed us in the first place?

So where does that leave us? Well, if you’ve read this far, you’re probably begging me to wrap it up. In short, I think the answer is to surrender to God, but we not capable of that surrender. A world history of human choosing has proven that. God has to do it for us. I’ve been wrestling with that for the last seven years and I suspect I’ll be wrestling for as many years as the Lord gives me in this life. For now, I’ll let smarter people dig through that.

Paul

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