Exiled, But Not Abandoned
When I was in college I remember being handed a pamphlet entitled “God’s Story.” It was divided neatly into four sections – Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration. In “The Fall,” they had a picture of a naked white couple (I assume they meant Adam and Eve) eating an apple from a tree. In the next page, “Redemption,” then was a picture of the cross. Even if you have never held this particular pamphlet in your hands, you probably have heard the story of scripture summarized this way before.
There is a lot that is true about that summary. I especially like the fact that “Restoration” of this world is included in it. But there has always been something that bugged me about it too. In this story of God’s plan, we jump from Adam and Eve being kicked out of the Garden of Eden to Jesus on the cross and nothing in between. It makes it seem like for the thousands of years between that moment with the serpent and a child being born in a manger in Bethlehem, God just vanished off the earth. In this pamphlet, God appears to disappear from us and our world until Jesus finally comes.
But that is not the true story of scripture. And it is not even the full story of Genesis 3. God did not leave Adam and Eve when they ate the fruit. And God did not leave humanity behind at the moment of that first sin. Even in our first dark and difficult hour, God stayed right by our side.
There are a lot of different interpretations of what Adam and Eve’s sin exactly was. Some have used this story to claim women should be subservient to men. Some have used it to point out sin in others without realizing they are also included in this brokenness, and should really be looking at themselves. At the heart of this first sin, it isn’t an issue of a women speaking too much (remember, both men and women are created equally in God’s image in Genesis 1). And it isn’t an issue of judging whose sin is worse than others. At the heart of this first sin of humanity is us – all of us– trying to be our own gods.
In verse 5, the serpent entices Adam and Eve with these words: “God knows that when you eat of [this tree] your eyes will be open and you will be like God.“ It is the temptation of breaking the first of the Ten Commandments: I am the Lord your God…have no other gods before me.” We might think that just refers to golden cows or fast sports cars, but one of our biggest temptations is to make ourselves into gods.
There are two things that become destructive when we claim, “I am God. I am the one in total control.” The first is that we start to judge and treat others wrongly. We puff ourselves up and put others beneath us. “You have a different opinion than me… You must be wrong because I am God. You act differently, speak differently, come from a different place than me, practice religion differently, you must be wrong because I am God. I have everything right. I make no mistakes.” That’s our idolatry. And when we worship ourselves our focus gets turned more and more inward and those around us get treated with less and less and less care and love. Instead of realizing we all are broken and sinful and need of a great deal of healing, in need of one another, we turn this life into a competition that we must win, even if it means hurting others to do so. Because, we say to ourselves, “I am God, and what I want must go.”
The second danger of self- worship is that we convince ourselves that the only person I can rely on is myself. There is nothing else out there helping me. It’s just me. Self-worship shuts us off from all the love, all the strength, all the life that God is offering to us. Like Adam and Eve, we hide away from the one who desires to give us the fullness of life, because we have falsely convinced ourselves that we can do it all on our own.
And there are consequences to this sin of self-worship that Adam and Eve enact. The Shalom, the wholeness and peace of the Garden of Eden is broken. They are broken. Their relationships have been changed. Shame and enmity and have entered in. And for the first time, they question who they are as God’s wondrous creations. The cover themselves up. They hide their skin as if being a creation of God is something to be ashamed about. They struggle to live in their true identity, not because it is not enough, but because a voice, and not God’s voice, has told them they are not enough.
This perfect place, the garden that they have known as home is no longer home. They have lost something great and now must leave the place that felt like their own, the place where at one time everything was right with the world. They lose a lot in this scene. We lose a lot. But the one thing they don’t lose is God, or even God’s mercy.
In chapter 2, God told Adam that if he ever eats the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, “on the day that you eat it, you shall die.” Not in a week you shall die. Not in a month or a year. On that very day, you shall die. But when God discovers what Adam and Eve have done, they do not die that day. They are allowed to keep on living.
Nor are they cursed. A couple of months ago, David Keller was telling me that he reread this chapter and was shocked to see that nowhere in it is humanity cursed. The serpent is cursed. The ground is cursed. But Adam and Eve are never cursed. Instead of death, instead of a curse, instead of receiving what we deserve, instead of God giving up on human creation, God walks next to them as they journey out of the garden. The Lord gives them clothing and support. God gives them children and grandchildren, and great grandchildren. And with their descendents, God makes promises, makes covenants. God speaks and shows them new ways of living. God frees them from slavery and carries them into a promised land. God rescues them from the belly of a fish and the den of lions. God puts music on their lips and wisdom in their hearts. God is still working on that fullness of redemption and restoration, but in this in-between time, in this exile from our true home, our exile from the garden, God never stops walking with us.
In our own lives, we know times of exile. We know times when we don’t feel at home, when we feel out of place and wandering. We know times when a relationship has ended painfully. We know when a job is lost. We know when we find ourselves in a new strange place, and don’t feel like we belong. We know when we miss so much of what we used to have. We know what it feels like to look back at that entrance to Eden and wish so much we could go back in and not have to stay in this wilderness.
In those moments, God is there. The Lord didn’t hang back in Eden. God packed up alongside us, and said, “Wherever you go, I am ready to go. Whatever you have to face, I will face it with you.” There is going to be difficult days. There is going to be crappy days. There is going to be days where you are searching for something more. In those days, God is still there. God is still hearing your prayers. God is still offering you grace. God is still the God of clothing the naked, lifting up the lowly, feeding the hungry. God is still working out the great plan of redemption and restoration. But in the meantime, this wilderness journey of life, God is by our side.
A couple of years ago, I was at a high school camp, helping out. It wasn’t a fancy place with wealthy amenities. It had cabins and bugs and campfire smell throughout it. But for many who came, this place felt like home. It felt like the place they belonged, like where they could find Shalom.
One night, one of the counselors, a college student, stood up and spoke in worship. And he said, “I know that leaving here is hard. Many of us are in schools wondering, ‘do I belong.’ Many of us struggle for the 51 weeks before coming here again. Because life is hard. The world is hard.” And he was right. At the end of this week, these youths were going back to lives where they were awkward and confused, ignored or attacked. And life is hard.
“But,” he said, “But you don’t have to go it alone. God made you and sees you and knows you and loves you dearly. Whatever you face, God will be there.” After he said those words, I looked around and saw how much that message was needed in their lives. After the service, a lot of them shared just how messy their lives were with family and friends, with home lives that didn’t feel like home, with school lives where the last thing they could think about was what the teacher was teaching. They needed to know they weren’t alone in those moments.
Life is not perfect. Life sometimes kicks us pretty hard. It has been that way since we left the garden. And it will be that way until we return. Our hope today is that God is still with us. Whatever your story is, whatever wrong you may have done, whatever pain you know, whatever mess and brokenness surrounds you, you aren’t alone. The one who made you, the one who sees you, the one who knows you better than you know yourself, will be by your side.