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The Fall - & the Death of Relationship-Reality
F. Earle Fox
St Luke's REC, Santa Ana, CA
11/6/26 Trinity 1 – Gen 3; 1 John 4:7-21; Lk. 16:19-31
The Old Testament lesson last week, Trinity Sunday, was Genesis 1 and 2, the story of the six days of creation, ending with the creation of Adam and Eve and the Sabbath rest. That leads to chapter 3, the story of the Fall which we read this morning. Though it was the Holy Trinity doing this creating and directing, there are only vague hints of the triune nature of God.
We see God acting out His eternal nature right in the middle of time and space, first by creating space and all the things in it, both inert matter and living beings, including our human race, and, secondly, by giving His creatures their assignment, their purpose for being here. God is our creator and sovereign.
God tells Adam and Eve that they are to till the Garden, and to populate the world, to raise up children for God. Adam and Eve, male and female would reflect the Image of God in which they were made to their children so as to provide an introduction to the real God when they grew up sufficiently to know Him personally. Their children would move from Adam and Eve being to them as God – to the place where God would be their Parent. They would then be dependent upon God, no longer their parents, for their basic needs, and obedient to Him for their sense of direction and purpose.
For that to happen, the man would have to leave his human father and mother to cleave to his wife, and she would have to do the same on her side. That cleaving together creates the family in which children can grow and flourish. But the only way either of them could gracefully accomplish that leaving of their human mothers and fathers would be for God to be accepted as their true Parent. To be an adult in the world we first must become children in God. That, as Jesus told Nicodemus, is how we get saved. We must be born again to leave our human families and enter the family of God. Our human families, by themselves, cannot save us, but they can prepare us, point us in the right direction.
If you are not fallen to begin with, of course, you do not have to get saved. Then all of this growing up business would happen very naturally and gracefully. But, as we read this morning, that, sadly, was not to be. The children of Adam and Eve would enter an already fallen world with already fallen parents. And so, because their own images no longer with accuracy portrayed the Image of God Himself, Adam and Eve would pass on to Cain and Abel their own fallenness.
Theologians and others have speculated on why Eve and then Adam chose to disobey God, with whom they had had a perfect relationship, totally open to God and each other, totally free to be fully themselves in the presence of each other. One supposes that something must have happened already to Eve which made her vulnerable to the temptations of the serpent.
We are introduced to the serpent as “more subtle than any other wild creature that the Lord God had made”.
That tells us that the serpent is himself a creature of God. But the “subtlety” suggests something sinister. We might not see the serpent, except in hindsight, perhaps, as the arch-criminal of the universe. He seems at first to be just a clever prankster who pulls off one of his escapades on Adam and Eve – as in the book of Job, Satan appears as a rather nasty chief prosecuting attorney, but one would not expect to meet the arch-criminal of the universe walking about the halls of heaven having conversations with God. Satan is seldom mentioned in the Old Testament. It is not until the time of the Exile that the Hebrews began to understand Satan as the entity engineering the Fall for his own selfish and evil ends – the arch-criminal of the universe, as Jesus understood him.
But prankster or arch-criminal, the consequences were tragic and universal. We were plunged into a one-way spiral downhill to self-destruction. As Paul indicates in Romans 8, all of nature fell with the human race. It was perhaps because the line of authority between God and the world was interrupted by the Fall. We humans were no longer in a close relationship to God which could make us adequate transmitters of the will of God to the world around us.
Paul says (Rom. 8:18 ff) that “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God...” And, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now...” The heavens declare the glory of God, but sometimes they rain down death and destruction upon us – both natural and man-made. Jesus knew that redeemed man could tame obstreperous nature, and expected His disciples to do so. But, the disaster was launched.
God had warned Adam that although he was welcome to eat of the trees of the Garden, one was forbidden, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. I grew up wondering why God did not want us to know about good and evil, what they were and how to distinguish them. I learned later in life, probably seminary, that that was not the case. We have to understand the Hebrew idiom – “the knowledge of good and evil”. It did not have to do specifically with moral knowledge. It had to do with universal knowledge. Just as we might talk about “everything from a to z” (meaning everything), the Hebrews instead talked about “everything all the way from good to evil”, (meaning everything).
God was not telling Adam and Eve “Don't try to understand moral distinctions”, but rather “Don't try to get universal knowledge into your small brains”. They could not do it. God understood that that temptation might come to someone who wanted to assert his independence from God. Such a rebel would need that universal, God-like knowledge, just to make it in the world. Without God, you would be on your own, and need that kind of knowledge. That was what the serpent was promising Eve and then Adam, when he promised that they would “be like God” – the ability to go it on their own without God.
The tree was the tree of independence-from-God, not the tree of moral knowledge. God had already given them the distinction between good and evil – good was obedience to His word, and evil was disobedience.
The Tree of Life, which was not forbidden, I interpret to be the Way of the Cross – giving up oneself, dedicating oneself to the service of God. That symbol of a horrible and painful death was turned into the Way of Life. God takes what we give Him and redeems the world with it. The Way of the Cross does not mean hating oneself or beating up on oneself, it means dedicating the whole of one's freedom joyfully to the glorious purposes of God. That is a wonderfully positive step to take, not the self-depreciating and self-destroying way that Christians have too often thought honored God. Loving God does not mean hating myself.
God created us to be His children, not to be self-hating. Healthy and repentant children of God do not cringe before God, they stand up straight and tall. We are to love ourselves, and to enjoy being ourselves. It is exactly that whole and free self which we are to dedicate to God and to one another. In doing so, our freedom to be real persons only increases not diminishes. It is Satan's way, not God's way, that leads to the dissolution of selfhood. Satan is the accuser of the brethren, inspiring self-hatred and unresolvable guilt. God is the one who sets us free from guilt – that peace of God which passes all understanding.
The serpent lied more than once. “For God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened....” God asks later of Adam, why he hid on the grounds that he was naked. “Who told you that you were naked?”, God asks. “Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” In other words, “You are not naked. I am your covering – if you have not rebelled against Me.”
The pre-Fall nakedness of Adam and Eve was not the issue. The real nakedness was spiritual, not physical. Unfallen Adam and Eve had no defense-mechanisms. They were not hiding from each other or from God. They could be open and free with one another. Fully human. But the minute they severed themselves from the protection of God, they lost both their personal stability (they could no longer be free and open), and their moral stability (they no longer were free to obey God). They were compulsively trapped within their now closed circle lives. They had become “independent”, but in a self-destructive way. They thought they could become independent by themselves, but they only became isolated and incapable of ever becoming true and independent adults in the world. They had to keep their defenses always on the alert.
This is the condition of the fallen world. It is to some degree the condition of every living human being. Only by the judgement and grace of God are those who are being saved finding their way out of that terrible trap.
The judgement of God tells us the truth so that we know what we must do, and the grace of God bails us out of our irresolvable predicaments. Only as we know the truth can we cooperate with that grace of God. When we deny the truth, as did Adam and Eve, excusing themselves and passing the buck – we further lock ourselves into the downward spiral.
Genesis 3 tells us of the black pit into which the human race has cast itself, and seems to pursue deeper and deeper. The Epistle and Gospel point us to the other side of the story, the way out.
Jesus often noted that we choose where we want to get our reward, either in this world or in the next. The “next” world is not off in the spiritual heavenlies, it is the sacramental redemption of this here and now world. “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done – on earth as it is in heaven.” “The Kingdom of God is among you....” Jesus says – i.e., in your relationships.
The parable of Lazarus and the rich man makes the point. The rich man had chosen to get his reward in this, the fallen world, not in obedience to God. We know little of Lazarus, but we can assume that his heart wanted to be with God on God's terms. He had lived a hard life, but wanted to do what was right. Upon dying, he finds himself in the bosom of Abraham, a Hebrew way of talking about the Kingdom of God after death. The rich man also dies, and finds himself in hell. He had not reached out to Lazarus, who had sat at his gate, hoping to get the crumbs from the rich man's table. But he wanted Lazarus to come all the way to hell with a bit of water to quench his thirst. Abraham says that, no, there is no pathway between the two. The rich man had had his reward already. Now it is Lazarus's turn.
The rich man wants Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his five brothers about hell. Jesus replies that they have Moses, and that if they will not listen to Moses, then they will not listen even if someone rises from the dead. That was how those leaders who crucified Jesus responded. They were listening to neither Moses nor Jesus. It is a matter of the inner spirit of a man. Just like Adam and Eve in the Fall, the rich man had closed himself off from relationship reality.
The only thing we take with us at death is our relationships. We do not drag a U-Haul with our worldly goods. But we do take our relationships. The rich man had lost the ability to form good relationships. His failure to choose and cultivate good relationships with God or with Lazarus who sat at his gate, left him bereft of the true and enduring riches.
And then, St. John: “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God.” Our loving spirit, if we have such, is the primary evidence of the presence of God in our midst. I read recently that the early Christians did not refer to the empty tomb as evidence of the presence of God among themselves, they referred to the Holy Spirit dwelling within and among them. That was the primary evidence for the resurrection and for the reality of their faith – because the world without God cannot produce that love or that unity among people.
That should be a key point in our evangelism efforts.
John continues: “...and every one that loveth is of God, and knoweth God.” Loving relationships are so distinctly of God that they are evidence of the presence of God. A consistently loving spirit requires those two stabilities: personal and moral stability – which come only from God. It is not possible for us human beings to continue loving in the face of the world without those Godly supports.
“Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” We can love only because we have been loved. We cannot be the originators of it. Perfect love casts out fear. The world cannot cast our our fear, it creates that fear.
“Hereby we know that we dwell in Him, and He is in us, because He hath given us of His Spirit.” That giving of His Spirit was the Pentecostal event which birthed the Church, the family of God. Only that undergirding personal stability of the Hand of God, the security of our inner being, enables us to in fact obey the laws of God. Only He who Is, only He who is eternally stable and righteous can give us the stability which enables us to be loving and righteous toward one another.
The Fall is the death of relationship reality, and salvation is the restoration of that reality.
Heavenly Father, show us how to keep that standard which You have set before us, that we may ourselves join the saints in that heavenly relationship with You.
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