(This is the second in a series of Advent Devotionals.)
When humanity’s progenitors ate the fruit, they were not acting like naughty children but like rebellious conspirators and, at least to some degree, they knew it. What happened in the garden was not a slip but a jump that turned into a fall.
I’m not sure what Adam and Eve thought would happen next. Perhaps they thought that one bite was all it would take and they would be like God, just as the tempter said. He’d told them that their eyes would be opened and they would be like God. And, in one sense, their eyes were opened; but they were not like God. In fact, they were less like God than they had ever been. Their eyes were turned in on themselves, in a way that had never happened before. They knew good and evil, but not at all as the Creator knows it; they knew it as the devil knows it.
God intended the humans to rule his world but now they were at its mercy. Under God’s rule, they could rule, but the moment they stopped being subject to God, they became subject to fear (Gen. 3:10) and were ruled by desire (Gen. 3:16). The earth that once cooperated with them no longer yielded to their touch. On the very day of their revolt, there began a struggle between man and God, man and earth, and man and man. They were expelled from the garden, and the world began to fall apart. And so did the humans. And, to all appearances, so did God’s plan.
But the Creator is not easily stopped. In fact, he is not stopped at all. Ever. It was his plan that the world fall apart, should the humans turn away from him. It was a safeguard and a mercy. The recalcitrant earth, the relational conflict, the pain and fear and, above all, death were God-designed consequences of man’s rebellion. Why? Because God wanted revenge? No. Because God wants us. Sorrow and failure and struggle are a mercy. His judgments are a kindness. The Creator knows we will not come to him without them. And if we don’t come to him, we cannot come to ourselves, to our rightful place, and to our joy. Only when we have fully come to God, can we fully be ourselves.
The man and woman were expelled from the safety of the garden into the world they had defaced. Immanuel – the God with them of the Garden – was now God away from them. And the distance they had introduced into that relationship had also come between them. They were no longer with each other in the same way they had been. Their disobedience had introduced a new reality into their world: distance. They were far from God, increasingly far from each other, and even far from themselves – the selves they were made to be.
That’s the world into which we were born. Physicists tells us that the universe is constantly expanding, which means the distances between constellations and solar systems is growing. Theologians tell us that what is happening on the physical level is also happening on a spiritual one. Adam’s and Eve’s sin – not eating a fruit but rejecting the Creator, going one’s own way and setting up as one’s own god – has been repeated many billions of times and has created great distance between humans and between humans and God.
The result of the choice they made (and that we’ve all made too), the choice to take God’s place, is chaos. There is injustice, hatred, misunderstanding, malice and bitterness. And these things not only bubble over in society, they bubble over in us. Chaos without and chaos within. This is what happens to the world and to individual humans when God-with-us is God-away-from-us, and even God-against-us. Nothing can be right while we are our own gods. The world will be wrong as long as the king’s regents insist on taking his throne.
The humans rejected the Creator, and that is our shame. But the Creator did not reject the humans, and that is our hope. He went looking for them. Genesis 3:8 says, “They hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?” Rather than crushing the rebellion, God chose to reverse it. The damage had been done and it was horrendous. The relationship between the Creator and his creatures was no longer the same. They were no longer regents, they were rebels. The damage had been done, but God knew that it could be undone, and he set about the task of undoing it. That’s what Christmas is all about.