Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Everybody Falls

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’

The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.” ’

But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
Genesis 3:1-7
We usually call this the story of the Fall. It's the moment that, through Adam, sin entered humanity. Before this moment God walked and talked with people in a garden and after this moment God pronounced judgement for the disobedience. We have a neat explanation for why things are wrong: there were two people who made a mistake and we have inherited it from them.

They made the mistake. We inherited it from them.

For a long time I understood this as a literal story. An actual man and woman called Adam and Eve. I could blame them. I could ask questions like "if only they hadn't..." and say things like, "If I was there I wouldn't have..." Somehow I could use this story to blame someone else for the situation that I'm in.

But of course this isn't true. Whatever it is that I choose to do, I'm the one who made the choice and I must live with those consequences. I can't blame Adam any more than I can blame my cat. If I was Adam, I probably would have done the same thing. I would have grasped for the opportunity to be wiser, to know more, to be more godlike. We humans are like that. We want more from life. We want to be stronger, smarter, more beautiful, richer, and so on. We can see this just from the average magazine rack. They offer the promises of a better life, a better house, a tighter six-pack. We want these things and magazine publishers make money off this desire. The desire is real.

And that brings me back to the story of the Fall; a story that tells more if we stop reading it literally and instead read it as a parable. If you like, read it as the answer to this question: what are human beings like? If you leave us alone, away from the watchful eye of authority, what are we like?

There's a fluffy bit of advice that says: sing like no one is listening, dance like no one is watching. Maybe this story of the Fall is what happens when humans live like no one is watching. Maybe we should stop calling it the Fall and start calling it the Revelation of Human Nature. This is what humans are like. We grasp for things. We see what we can get away with. We lure each other and blame each other. We want what the other person has. We even want the wisdom of a serpent, the wisest of all creatures.

Perhaps when we tell the story we should add a preface like Jesus did for many of his parables. He liked to say, "To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like..."
The Revelation of Human Nature
To what shall I compare human beings? What are humans like? It is like two people in a garden, surrounded by all the animals of creation.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’

The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.” ’

But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Reading the words for what they are

When we read we always read into the text, adding something to it from our own experiences. We read it through our own lives. We read it with our own expectations and we read it with our own conclusions.

I grew up in Rockhampton, a cattle town in Queensland. One day I read a story about the Fitzroy River flooding and straightaway I could imagine it. I'd seen it flood before and remembered the way the water flowed and churned. I remembered how high it came up the banks. And when I saw footage of the later flood on TV I was startled. It wasn't the same. Things had changed in Rockhampton. My recollection was old, for sure, but also Rockhampton moved on since I'd lived there. There were new buildings, new parks, new roads. When I'd read about the flood, I read my memories of the place into the story.

We do this sort of thing all the time, and if we don't know that we're doing this we tend to miss the details and we miss the point of the story. In other words we read it already knowing what we want to get from it and end up not getting what the writer wanted us to have.

It's especially true with the way we read the bible. Most of us come to it after someone else has already talked to us about it. We've already heard the stories and parables. We've heard sermons preached about them and have already had them explained and interpreted for us so when we read them we find ourselves learning nothing new, and oftentimes learning something vastly different to what was meant. Ultimately, we can miss the point.

Reading what was written takes patience and attention to detail. The slow reading and awareness of details is what lets you into the world of the author. They wrote those details in so that you would read them. They included all those people by name because they want you to see them and know them, even just a little bit. Those words are written for you.

To really understand what had happened in that flood in Rockhampton, I needed a new set of mental images of the place. After watching the news footage I would be able to go back to the written article and see the story in a new light.

The bible doesn't really have a news video. It has dramatically-interpreted movies. The buildings look the way that the directors wanted. The people spoke English and are all-too-often white-skinned. Those mental images are artistic recreations

To really get the point of the written story, especially the one that has no documentary video, you need to read the bible slowly, taking it all in. Let the details come to life and imagine them. Who was there? Where was it? What time of year or day was it?

Those detailed words will transport you to that world and into those lives. And when you get there you will be able to see what you're meant to see, hear what you're meant to hear, and take away and understanding that will change the way you see the world.