March 9, 2014

And the Lord God Commanded the Man

Passage: Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7, Psalm 32, Romans 5:12-19, Matthew 4:1-11
Service Type:

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’

After discovering how to clone humans, two scientists challenged God: "We don't need you anymore," they said. "We can make life by ourselves now." "Okay," God replied, "let's have a human-making contest." "All right," said the scientists. "We'll do it like you did in the beginning." Then they reached down to grab a handful of dirt to begin to form a man. Then they heard God's voice from heaven: "Hold on for a moment—get your own dirt!"

The accounts of human beginnings we find in the book of Genesis were not written as technical articles for submission in a scientific journal. The assumption of God’s address of humans in the scripture isn’t that we need better or more technical information. Yes, understanding is important—we are to love God with our minds—but the primary challenge for the human is not fundamentally a lack of knowledge. The creation accounts of Genesis are part of a long narrative that asserts that humanity is blinded; blinded to our sinfulness by our sin. This is not to say that God somehow lacks scientific sophistication in God’s disclosure of himself to us in the scripture.

It is always important to keep in mind both the limitations of science and the purposes of God through the scriptures. We know enough about our scientific discoveries to know that tomorrow’s understanding will show the incompleteness of today’s assertions. In a recent sermon (Feb 16) I cited a news article that described a survey of scientists asking which ideas ought to be “retired” from science … because they are old and ineffective. The idea that “the Big Bang was the beginning of time” was among those ideas some scientists thought should be retired.

I have pointed out to you before that the Biblical book of Genesis is written after the Israelites are delivered from Egypt. The logic of the gospel, then, is that we are first apprehended by God as our saviour/deliverer and then discover that the God who saves us is the also our Creator. No one deduces from purely a scientific study of the world that there is a God who loves us. Yes, philosophers have postulated a “prime mover” or “grand intelligence” or “great designer “ or some such idea: but this is a far cry from the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ revealed in Jesus coming among us. It is when apprehended by Jesus as our Saviour that we learn that this same Jesus was “in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” (John 1:2-3)

The Biblical accounts of creation are narratives/story that fit within a much larger story of God’s loving redemption of humanity. Like all stories the details of the story presumes a certain actuality/reality. When my step-daughter wrote her first novel it was set in Toronto—a city she knows and lives in. The editor at the publishing company advised that the book would have wider appeal to an American audience if it was set in New York City. So my step-daughter did some research about the city of New York and edited her book accordingly. When you read a novel and a street name is mentioned a certain actuality about the geography of a city is presumed. It may not be of high interest to the reader but if someday you stood on that street corner the novel will be understood in a new way. Not unlike travelling to see Israel and then reading of the places you visited as you re-read the stories of the Bible. The narrative of the Bible presumes details of all kinds and the creation accounts presume the actuality, from God’s perspective, of what it means to be human.

I invite you to reflect with me on the reality this text of scripture on Genesis presumes or implies. In particular to think a little about what is implied for our humanity in this sentence: “And the Lord God commanded the man.” One of the pressing issues for many people in this generation is with respect to a struggle with personal identity or a having a sense purpose—we want to be able to attach some kind of meaning to our lives. I suggest to you that what this text implies about the nature of our humanity as God sees it is a great help for the believer with respect to a sense of life full of purpose.

1. A few weeks ago I was out for dinner with some good friends. There were four of us—two of the four were of Irish descent, the third an owner of a funeral home, and me. This prompted one of the participants to frame our dinner together this way; “Finish the sentence, two Irishmen, an undertaker and a minister went into a bar …. Well, however you might finish that sentence, I can tell you this—there was no lack of conversation. In fact there were times when you had to compete to get the floor. (People were moving away from close proximity to our table so they could hear their own conversation).

Every one of us knows something of this kind of experience—it is such a delight to observe it in the foyer of our church following worship. We know that friendships—love relationships—inspire and, dare I say, require conversation. In fact to refuse to speak to someone is, we say, to give them the proverbial “cold shoulder.” To walk into a church as a newcomer and have no one speak to you is considered to have failed in our faith toward one another. Conversation is at the heart of good relationships. Why is that? Well, we can think of all kinds of reasons—it is how we learn about one another, how we express our support for another. Listening to another communicates a sense of worth to the person speaking. But I am not asking you about the benefits of human conversations, I am asking you why do we have conversations at all?

The biblical answer is implied in this brief sentence in Genesis, “And the Lord God commanded the man”. The sentence may be brief but it speaks volumes. When you read the Genesis accounts of creation the thing that distinguishes the human from all of God’s other creatures—we humans are God’s creature—is that God speaks to the human. This implies that the human was made and equipped for this conversation with God. Put succinctly, every last human being is a dialogical partner with God—is made for dialogue with God. All other dialogue arises out the fact that humans were created for it—first and foremost for conversation with God. The pattern of being first for God then for one another is stamped everywhere in the scriptures’ narrative. Take, for example, the character of God’s love command—love for God is first and then love for neighbour, said our Lord. You and I were made for conversation with God.

2. There is much more here. This creation story shows us that we are made as God’s dialogue partners and that dialogue has a purpose for and is set in the context of the particulars of life. To say we are God’s dialogue partner is to say much more than that we are equipped to talk and listen. We observed a moment ago that conversation is crucial for our relationships in life so this ability for dialogue is set in the context of a particular relationship—namely with God—and its purpose is to function in that relationship. That God speaks to the human tells us we were made for relationship.

God, then, intends us to be creatures whose ultimate profundity is rooted not in economic matters of any sort but in relationships. The meaning of our existence is not most profoundly rooted in career, being the best athlete or musician or scholar or writer or actor or any other champion that “reality” television show may proffer; God’s meaning for us is most profoundly rooted in relationship. At the end of life very few wish they had spent more time at the office; singers rarely pine to have had one more hit song; no dying architect longs to have crafted just a few more buildings. We wish we had more time to spend with our loved ones.

In Genesis chapter 1 we are told that "God created man in his own image. In the image of God created he them." (Gen. 1:27) Adam is properly Adam; Adam is properly himself only in relation to Eve. To be sure, Adam isn’t a function of Eve, nor Eve a function of him. Neither one can be reduced to the other; neither one is an aspect of the other. None the less, each is who he or she is only in relation to the other. I am not reducible to any one of my relationships or to all of them together. I am not an extension of my wife or an aspect of my parents or a function of my children. I am me, uniquely, irreplaceably, unsubstituably me. Still, I am not who I am apart from my relationships.

Every last human being is a dialogical partner with God. This isn’t to say that everyone is aware of this or welcomes this or agrees with this. But it is to say that the God who has made us can’t be escaped. He can be denied, he can be disdained, he can be ignored, he can be unknown; he can certainly be fled but he can never be escaped. Not to be aware of this truth is not thereby to be spared it. The living God is always and everywhere the dialogical "Other", the relational "Other" of everyone’s life, even as there are countless creaturely "others" in everyone’s life.
Decades ago theologian Martin Buber wrote, "All real living is meeting." He was right: what isn’t profoundly a "meeting" isn’t living; it’s death. The great news of the gospel affirms that the real is the relational.

We often say, “it’s not what you know but who you know that counts.” We know that relationship is important to our commercial and work lives. This is sometimes spoken of as a criticism as if relationship gave people unfair advantage. I would say this—let your relationships in life be genuine; that is take genuine interest in others for their sake, whether the “other” is a person with whom we share commercial or business interest makes little difference. Take genuine interest in them and their wellbeing. I think you will find blessing in such approach.

3. And the Lord God commanded the man. Many hear that as God bossing us around which is an instance that confirms the story of the fall we read in Genesis 3. At the heart of that story is a turning away from the goodness of God and believing that we are able to judge whether God has guided us well. What our Puritan forbearers in the faith asserted needs to be repeated; all God’s commands are covered promises. The wonder and joy of obedience—all kinds of trees were available except one—is simply boundless.

“Good-and-evil” (virtually one word) is a semitism, a Hebrew expression meaning “everything, the sum total of human possibilities, everything that we can imagine.” To know, in Hebrew is to have intimate acquaintance with, to experience. In forbidding us to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil God is warning us against intimate acquaintance with the sum total of everything that we can imagine. He is warning us against thinking we must experience or even may experience whatever we can dream up. In other words, God has set a limit to human self-extension; God has set a limit to our extending ourselves into anything at all that the mind and heart can invent. Why has God set such a limit? He sets such a limit just because he loves us; he sets this limit for our blessing. This side of the limit is blessing; the other side is curse.

We were made for this dialogical relationship with God whose purposes in the relationship are blessing and life. But, as the Bible witnesses, we have each turned to our own way; we have turned from this relationship with God. The grand narrative of scripture is that God has been pursuing us ever since to restore us to this relationship; to bring us all back home. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son to bring us into right relationship with God.

Much more could be said here but this is all we have time for in this message. Friends, do you want to fulfil the purpose of your life? Go talk to somebody. Yes it begins with talking with God the very function of our worshipping together. But as we go engage with someone who needs a friend. And the Lord God commanded the man.