Monday, February 2, 2009

God Don't Do, "D'Oh!"

I don't like the way many people interpret the Garden of Eden story where it tells of the first sin that separated humankind from God. I don't think that "getting back to the garden" is our goal. Here's why:

Going back to exactly the way things were in the Garden of Eden seems to negate all we go through in our lives.

If the end is identical to the beginning, then all our suffering, pain and struggles become for nothing. I can agree that we want to regain something of the garden - the fellowship with God and one another and all creation I long for. But it has to be something more than it was or the journey was a throw-away event. And I don't believe God throws away our pain and sorrow in this world. Instead he ensures that it refines and polishes us into something more precious than gold or diamonds.

Our current journey is not an "Oops!" It is part of the plan.

There are at least two passages I think of that say that Jesus' sacrifice was in place before human history began. Revelation Chapter 5 pictures a being who takes and opens a scroll representing all of human history from the Father's hand. This being appears as a slain lamb.

1 Peter 1:20 says "Jesus was chosen before the creation of the world..." If the sacrifice for our souls was already chosen and prepared before the world began, then God knew sin to be part of our story.

Doesn't our human saga express the essence of something called the Hero Journey not to mention the journey of the Prodigal Son?

I haven't read much by Joseph Campbell but as I understand the so-called Hero Journey he says that in all our great tales and myths the hero sets out, goes through many trials, and eventually returns to his origins. But due to his journey he now sees it with different eyes. It has taken on a new and much greater meaning. I'm not saying I think the bible is mythology. I'm rather saying that this very concept of the hero journey is built into us as beings.

I'm reminded of the Prodigal Son. He leaves home as the beloved, adventurous and naive child. He returns as an adult full of humility and neediness, with a much deeper, more abiding love for his father. The older son, meanwhile, doesn't leave at all but his relationship with his father has never matured into love. Instead he only obeys his father from a sense of duty and complains of their dead relationship compared to the younger brother. This parable also encapsulates what Christians call the Old and New covenants. And surely the New Covenant is absolutely necessary in any Celestial Plan where God knew beforehand that we would make mistakes along our way to becoming sentient, mature, loving beings.

Did Adam and Eve love God?

I would argue that they did not. They might have adored him the way an animal adores its master. But that kind of love doesn't go deep enough somehow, does it? Mature love must include the real possibility of rejection. Was the Prodigal Son the same man after his return as he was before he left? So too, each of us becomes somehow more in Heaven than Adam and Eve were in the Garden. But could there have been another way? I don't know. God put the tree in the garden. God knew what the outcome of that would be. You tell me.

Our before and after pictures are represented in the bible by the Garden of Eden in Genesis and The New Jerusalem in Revelations.

One is a garden where only Adam and Eve and the animals live with God. The other is a heavenly city where huge numbers of people from every tongue and tribe live amongst the heavenly beings with God himself. In the garden no one is portrayed as worshiping God or actually loving him. In the City of God there is endless praise going on. In the Garden life is naive and simple and child-like, but in the City we are told God wipes away all tears and pain and sorrow. That is, they are known but finished. No longer dwelt upon, but worked into the fabric of our being. That part of the journey is done and a new and even more amazing life begins. Not by returning to less than we've become, but by embracing the good in what we've been through and going on.

Omniscient, Omnipotent, Omnipresent - or not? We can't have it both ways.

One more aspect of the traditional presentation of the Garden of Eden story that troubles me is that it can easily be misinterpreted as, God makes mistakes. Or, Satan throws sticks into the spokes of God's Great Design and sends God scurrying back to the drawing board wondering how to clean up an unexpected mess.

This doesn't fit with belief in an Omniscient God, does it? Or as Homer Simpson might express it: God don't do "D'Oh!"

All through the Bible even though passages may be written as if God needs to learn something about us, I think the more theologically correct view is that we need to learn something about ourselves. We need to see ourselves more truly. For example, God may say to Abraham, "Now I know you will withhold nothing from me..." But I think it's really a case of now Abraham realizes this. God knew it all along or he isn't Omniscient.

I think we subtly undermine our confidence in God when we fail to recognize his true nature. God does not struggle against Satan, though we do. Nor is Good equal and opposite to Evil. Evil only exists in the shadows where people do not allow the Good to penetrate. It is the absence of light that causes darkness, not the other way around. Light is the controlling factor.

In closing, just to illustrate how deeply this idea of "Getting Ourselves Back to the Garden" penetrates our culture, I'll close with this hauntingly beautiful song by Joni Mitchell:

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