Sunday, September 19, 2010

Smarter Than God

This article has been linked to Sunday Snippets

Condensed from this year's 2nd class:

Let's see, what book in the Bible are we learning about? Genesis! Yes, we're up to the end of Chapter 2 and Adam & Eve are in Eden. Somebody tell me about life in Eden. Nothing was bad! Yes. Could Adam & Eve get sick? No. Get zits? No. Get hit by lightning? No! Die? No! Right. In fact, life was so good in Eden that Adam & Eve hung out with God in a physical way, not just spiritual...does God the Father have a body? No. Right. But listen: "...they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day", even though God didn't have a body, he was still with them sort of like the way we're together now. He wasn't far-off in Heaven, but right there.

[I pull out a rubber ball] What's this? A ball. Yes... watch this. I throw it down, it bounces up. I throw it up, it bounces down. OK, watch closely this time, it's gonna decide not to bounce down...nope, it came down. Let's try again, I'll decide for the ball not to come down...huh, it came down again! Why does the ball always come back down? Gravity! Yes, the Law of Gravity. Can we decide not to obey the Law of Gravity? Huh? If I jump like so, [jump] can I decide not to come down? No! Right. It's a physical law, I can't decide to ignore it. The Laws of Physics are part of God's Creation, and we don't have any choice about observing them. Can someone think of one of God's laws that we can choose to ignore? Yes, tell it. Don't steal? Yes, someone else, another one. Don't kill? Yes. Why can we decide to ignore those moral laws? Because we have free will? Yes, what's that mean to have free will? It means you can be good or bad. Yes, that you can freely decide to be good or bad. If I grab your wrist & swing it to slap someone, are you being bad? No, you are bigger than me. Right, you have to make a free decision to be bad...or good. Hmm...can a bear decide to be good or bad? Ha, no! Right. Bears and other creatures aren't made in God's image & likeness like we are. God loves us so much he allows us to choose between good and evil on our own. He doesn't force us to be good, doesn't treat us like babies.

Speaking of babies, what was the first commandment to Adam & Eve? Have babies! Yes, be fruitful and multiply. And the second commandment? Don't eat the fruit! Yes. Let's look at that now. Chapter 3 of Genesis says, "Now the serpent was more clever than any other creature... He said to the woman, "Did God say, 'You shall not eat of any tree of the garden'?" And the woman said, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees; but God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, neither shall you touch it, or you'll die." But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not die. God knows that when you eat of it you will be like God, knowing good and evil." Tell me, who's the snake? The devil. Yes. How is the snake tempting Eve about the fruit? No guesses? Is he saying it's tastier than the rest? No...? OK, listen again,"God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." Guesses? That she'd be like God! Yes. And if Eve could be like God, in the sense of being equal to God, would she have to obey him? No, she could do what she wanted to. Yes. Show me hands, who likes to be told by their parents or teachers what they can or can't do? Nobody? Don't feel bad, I don't like it either. Neither did Adam & Eve. We're all proud of ourselves; we're the smartest things Earth, we don't need to be ordered around, right? We don't like to be subject to anyone else's authority. And in Eden there was only one little thing that was forbidden; why wouldn't Adam & Eve leave it alone? Well...they just wanted to see what would happen, they wanted to know for themselves? Yes, they wanted to be as smart as God; smarter, even. When I was kid, I asked my parents, “What’s in that cabinet? That’s the liquor cabinet. What’s liquor? It’s something grownups drink, like whiskey. Can I have some? No it’s for adults, not children.” So what did I most want to taste in the whole world? Liquor! That’s right! Who can tell the story about Pandora's Box? She had a beautiful box that she wasn't supposed to open, but she opened it anyway and bad things came out. Yes, that's a Greek myth, and it makes the same point: people's pride, mostly pride in their intellect, their brains, gets them in trouble. Who's someone who never sinned? Umm, Jesus? Right. And was Jesus proud, or humble? Humble! Yes, perfectly humble. And who is a huge sinner? The devil! Yes, Satan. And if Jesus is humble, then Satan...has a lot of pride? Yes. And that's one reason he knew he could appeal to Eve's pride: "Oh Eeeve, God doesn't want you to know what he knows, you wouldn't have to listen to him me."

So Adam & Eve sin was simply to disobey God because of their pride. All their descendants, that includes us, still have this problem with our pride. We like to think we're as smart as God.

After they ate the fruit, "the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God. But God said to him, "Where are you?" Adam said, "I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself." Why did Adam hide? Because he was embarrassed? Yes…but God knows he’s naked, God doesn’t care. Why’d he hide, give me another reason. He felt guilty! Yes, he disobeyed God and he feels guilty, and ashamed. When I was a kid and would get in trouble in school, what did I do when I got home? Go hide in your room! You bet I did!

Then God said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?" The man said, "The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate." Then the LORD God said to the woman, "What is this that you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent tricked me, and I ate."

I love this. First Adam says, "It ain’t my fault, you gave me Eve, and Eve gave me the fruit." Then Eve says, "It ain’t my fault either, that snake made me do it." See, pride hates to admit guilt, because it’s humbling. It’s easier to say someone else is guilty. Show of hands, who likes to apologize for bad stuff you do? Me neither; but we should whether we like it or not.

So what happens to Adam & Eve? God makes them leave Eden. Yes. God doesn’t get rid of Eden, he…gets rid of Adam & Eve! Right. “He drove out the man; and at the east of the Garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, with a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.” Hey, who knows what a cherub is? They’re like little baby angels. Yes, you see them on Valentine cards, things like that, they’re chubby and silly. But a real cherub is not chubby and silly…what language do you suppose cherub is if I’m reading from Genesis? Umm…Hebrew? Yes, genius! In Hebrew it’s spelled like this: K-E-R-U-B, kerub. Kerub means “near one,” someone who is close to God. When the President goes out in public there are usually some tough guys who stay near him all the time, why’s that? They keep people from bothering him. Yes, what do you call those guys? Bodyguards? Yes. The kerubs, the cherubim, are God’s bodyguards, and they are serious as cancer. Did you know we have two kerubs in our church? We do? Where? Mmm, I’m not telling tonight, but we’ll find out later this year. In the meantime keep your eyes open in church.

So Adam & Eve are out of Eden. Could they get sick? Yes! Get zits? Yes. Get hit by lightning? Yes! Get sucked up by a tornado? Yes! Be a snack for tigers? Eww, yes! Die? Yes! Right. Their sin didn’t just mess up their souls, it messed up Creation. The consequences of sin are almost always bigger than we can imagine. God said, ”cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you… In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return." Yuck: one sin and even the ground is cursed.

But Adam and Eve still obeyed God’s first commandment, and so…? They had babies! Yes, who? Cain & Abel! Yes, and what was Cain’s job? He was a farmer? Yes, and Abel? He was a shepherd. Yes, good. Genesis says, “Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel brought the firstlings of his flock.” Question: what’s an offering? When they gave something to God? Yes, good. Cain gave God some of his wheat and fruit, I suppose, and Abel gave what? What’s a “firstling of the flock?” Umm, a baby sheep? Yes, what’s a baby sheep? Oh, a lamb. Yes, and the firstlings would be the best ones.

Y’all tell me how a lamb is offered to God…did Abel say, “This firstling lamb is for you, God; now I’m going to make it into lamb chops just for you and then eat them just for you?” Ha, no, he had to kill it but not eat it! And then what, leave it sitting there for buzzards to snack on? Umm, no…he had to burn it? Yes, and Cain did the same with his offering. When people kill lambs & offer them to God what’s the word for that kind of offering? A sacrifice? Yes, good. Did Adam & Eve offer sacrifices in Eden? Umm, no? Right, they did not…why not? Why were they thrown out of Eden? ‘Cause they ate the apple? Yeah...what’s the bigger reason? They sinned! Yes. So where there’s no sin there’s…no sacrifice? Yes, and where there is sin…there’s sacrifice! Yes. What is it about sin that makes people offer sacrifice? OK, if you break your mom’s nicest flower vase, what should you do? Fix it? Yes, what if it’s too busted up to be fixed? Well, I guess buy another one? What if it’s too expensive? Umm, say I’m sorry? Yes. Suppose you didn’t break it in the first place? Then I wouldn’t have to do anything. Right. So what’s the point of sacrifice? Making it up to God? Yes, partly; making up for what? Well, just sinning? Yes. And it’s also a way of saying thank you. Abel is saying, “thank you God for all these sheep, I’m giving the best back to you.”

Back to their offerings: “And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.” Abel offered God his “firstlings,” but Cain probably offered some good fruit, some bad. God could tell that Cain would rather keep the best stuff for himself.

“So Cain was very angry. The LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is waiting at the door; but you must master it." Why didn’t God look with favor on Cain’s offering as he did Abel’s? Cain didn’t give God his best stuff. Right, and if Cain is upset about it what can he do? Give his best stuff like Abel does. Yes. It’s clear, but Cain wants to keep his best for himself and is angry that Abel isn’t as selfish.

So “Cain said to Abel his brother, "Let us go out to the field." And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him.” What had Abel done to Cain to deserve being killed? He didn’t do anything to Cain. So why did he kill Abel? Because Abel was so good? Yes. Cain couldn’t stand being made aware of his own selfishness by constantly comparing himself to Abel. It’s the same in school: slackers and misbehavers can’t stand a good student.

This is the first time in the Bible, but not the only time by any means, that an innocent person is killed just because sinful people can’t stand to have him around. We’ll learn about those other people later this year.

After Cain killed Abel, Cain was driven away. But Adam had other sons and daughters, who knows of one? Seth! Yes. Seth fathered Enosh, who fathered Kenan, and so on. In each case, the Bible says “and he died.” One man in that line of fathers & sons was named Enoch. About Enoch, the Bible doesn’t say “and he died.” Instead it says, “Enoch walked with God; and he was not here, for God took him.” What would that mean, “Enoch walked with God; and he was not here, for God took him?” That God took him straight to Heaven? Yes, more or less. Remember, Jesus hadn’t opened Heaven yet. But Enoch still 'walked with God' in some special way. And Enoch isn’t the only person that went to be with God without dying, as we’ll learn about later on.

By the way, Enoch was Methuselah’s father; who was Methuselah? He lived the longest! Yes, the Bible says he lived longer than anyone. What’s more interesting about Methuselah is that he was Noah’s grandfather. We’ll discuss Noah next week. And that brings us to the end of Chapter 5.

Class over!

P.S. That's a self-portrait of Maurice Quentin de la Tour, whom I regard as the Artist of the Enlightenment. I saw this image a single time more than 30 years ago, and recalled it again today for its trenchant portrayal of humanity's pride in its own abilities.