Seward United Methodist Church
Thursday, July 09, 2020
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What Is Sin?

Genesis 2:15-17 and 3:1-7

Any time you go delving back into these first few chapters of Genesis, you always run into the question of historicity. As in, did this really happen in history? Are these historical events?

It is a moot point. Whether these events are “real, literal, and historical” or “myth, fable, and allegory” is inconsequential, because it doesn’t change the meaning of it at all.

It begins with God’s instructions: Tend the garden. This is Adam and Eve’s job. And in turn, they can eat any fruit of the garden, including the fruit from the tree of life. That is their reward for their labor.

The tree of life appears again in the Bible in a couple places, but especially in Revelation 22. At the end of all things, in that picture of eternity, there is again the tree of life. It is a picture, a symbol, of eternal life in relationship with God.

But God places one restriction on Adam and Eve: Don’t eat from the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. If you do, you will die.

Why the restriction? Well, I think for one thing, unless we are free to reject and disobey God, then we are not free to love and obey God. Love and obedience must be a choice, otherwise, we are just robots. If you can only do one thing, then you can’t choose. Unless we can say no, we can’t say yes.

In at least one Jewish tradition, this story is told as a “coming of age” tale. Adam and Eve are created as children, not adults. And the restriction is a temporary one. God will allow them to eat that fruit when they are ready. But Adam and Eve are not content to be children. They grasp after the “freedom” of adulthood before they are ready, a common experience with children. The fact that they are suddenly aware of their nakedness after their sin plays in well with that. After all, children are typically not ashamed to run around naked, but once we become adults, we typically don’t. Except that one night…. I’m not saying that’s the correct way to understand this story, but it is interesting. Sometimes it’s helpful to think about things in a different way.

Does God lie to Adam and Eve? He says when you eat that fruit you’ll die. But of course, they don’t die immediately. Or do they? Disobedience to God breaks our relationship with God. God is the source of life. So perhaps the way we should understand it is that as soon as they eat, they experience spiritual death, their relationship with God is broken, which leads to physical death.

Enter the Tempter, the Serpent. Serpents were a powerful image in ancient Near East mythology. They sometimes represented the power of chaos, as in the monsters Leviathan and Tiamat. They also represented wisdom, because of their unblinking eyes. They represented death, for obvious reasons. And strangely, they represented medicine, and I don’t know why. The book of the Revelation says that the serpent is a manifestation of Satan. Satan is a rebellious angel, and he seeks to entice others to join his rebellion against God.

He tempts first by making God seem overly restrictive. Did God really say you couldn’t eat any fruit? The implication is that God is holding back. He’s not giving you the good stuff. There is an element of distrust in sin. It is the opposite of faith, after all.

There is also an element of discontent in sin. They can eat all the other fruit in the garden, even fruit from the tree of life. But they fixate on the one forbidden fruit. We may think God’s rules are restrictive, but they are really protective. Bad things happen when we step outside God’s rules. A really obvious example is sexuality. God says that sex belongs in the covenant of marriage between man and woman. And we human beings often say, “That’s too restrictive.” But a lot of bad things happen when we take it outside the bounds God intended.

The third “D” of sin, after distrust and discontent, is self-deceit. Satan says, “Your eyes will be open and you will be like God.” We can’t become like God by disobeying God. And it is deceitful to think that freedom can be found in disobedience. Sin won’t make us free. It makes us a slave.

But the temptation is to “be God,” to make our own rules, to decide for ourselves what is right and wrong. That’s not just a temptation of adolescence. I’m tempted by that thought every day! There is a constant temptation to make ourselves our own gods. And in that way, sin is an act of rebellion. It’s an insurrection. It’s casting God off the throne and putting ourselves in his place. Sin is rebellion. It’s not just doing a bad thing; it’s rebelling against God.

I think the last thing to take away from this story is that it’s not just a myth, not just a fable, and not just ancient history. This is a daily reality. We are all Adam and Eve. We are all tempted daily to distrust God, to be discontent with what we have, to deceive ourselves into thinking that freedom is found outside of God. We are all tempted daily to rebel against God and make ourselves our own gods. That’s sin. That is the essence of it. And all through this season of Lent, we are called to reflect upon our sin, to repent of it, and to flee from it. Only then can we become like God.

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