(for part 1 click here)
Psalm 32:6-9 6 “I will confess my transgressions to God.” Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin. Therefore all the faithful will make their prayers to you in time of trouble; when the great waters overflow, they shall not reach them. You are my hiding-place; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance.
The past few years and the last few months have felt like walking on water. Now, before you get the idea that I’m either comparing myself to Jesus the Christ, the son of God and humanity, or that I’ve felt so light and effervescent, I need to tell you that is not the case. By “walking on water” I mean: navigating the wind and the waves of life. Thrust upward only to be left falling downward as the surface drops, swept left and then swept all the way right, and smacked forward and backward by liquid turned solid by force and velocity.
There’s no way to extricate myself from this unending sea of waves and wind. It’s water as far as the eye can see. I fear something swimming just close enough but beyond my ability to see through murky water to prickle my skin with its sinister swish-swish-swishes right below my feet. The threat of doom leaves its own trauma. My other fear is becoming so water logged that I forget my real needs, that I confuse swallowing sea water for satisfying hunger, that I just become one with my environment, that I’ll give up or forget to keep fighting. When humans go about just surviving, they end up learning how to just survive and forget that life is so much more than just surviving.
Everything right now feels so unstable and nothing seems to satisfy.
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that 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.” (Gen 3:1-4)
Here, early in Genesis, we are offered a story. A story well known to us. Moses (the traditionally assumed author) tells us that after God created Adam, God brought Adam into the garden. Here, Adam was to work and care for creation. God gave Adam two commandments: eat from any tree but do not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The consequence? “‘In that day you eat of it you will surely die.’” (v.17b) From our perspective this command seems astounding, and the consequence atrocious. Why would God implement such a command and consequence? Why would the acquisition of the knowledge of good and evil be punished severely? Why is God keeping this power from us?
One of the issues is our evaluation of good and evil. These are not just moral executive decisions. According to the JPS Study Bible, we have to reframe our understanding of “knowing” away from a post-enlightenment, scientific revolution outlook to one that offers a more wholistic picture of “knowing.” We know intellectually, but we also know experientially; therefore, there is not only knowing about good and evil, but knowing morally good and evil and (even more) knowing through experience things pleasant and painful. And in these experiences, in this knowing morally, and even in knowing about good and evil there is death. It’s not so much a punishment as it is a consequence of finding ourselves suffering in the midst of good and evil, pulled this way and that, torn through with doubt and inner conflict, suffering from (even unto death) the force of evil in the world.
Then, enter the serpent. In chapter 3, Moses tells us the serpent comes along and strikes up a conversation with Eve. The serpent asks a trick question, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?”; there’s no yes or no here, and Eve knows it. So, she answers the serpent, and this response opens up a means by which the serpent can attack further. Eve says, “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.’“ As she quotes the law differently than it was handed to Adam, the serpent can certainly show her that she can touch it without dying, and here in the chaos of conflict with what one knows and sees and the inner doubt over divine credibility surges. Then the serpent presses further adding in just the right amount of potential divine jealousy: seems God doesn’t want you to have the same power God has…” The deal is sealed when she takes and eats of the apple and hands it to Adam, who was with her the entire time. The one who taught her the law failed to teach it to her rightly, and was himself subject to contemplating another word apart from God’s word. Upheaval was already underway.
Here the couple is thrust into tumult; what was, is now no longer. They were comfortable, now they are uncomfortable. Here they are falling from “true wisdom,” to quote Martin Luther, and “…[plunged] into utter blindness.” They are now saddled with the weight of determining moral good and moral evil, held hostage by the onslaught of pleasure or pain, and chased by the threats of weal and woe. All of their relationships are now upended, their relationship with God, with each other, with themselves, and with creation; the ricochet of the sound of fracturing forever heard in the echo of lightening of the storm clouds threatening doom and in the rumble of their hunger pains.
How do we find stability in the midst of chaos and tumult? Do we really forego peace and comfort until our leaders figure it out? Do we run from each wave? Hide from the wind? I know there’s power finding stability in yourself, but it only lasts for so long. One strong gust or undulation and it topples. No material object can ever offer us the stability we so crave, all of it is of the dust and to dust it will return. There is no job, no amount of money, no home, no relationship secure enough to depend on no matter what. This is what we learned through skepticism: nothing is permanent; so, nothing is permanent. We are all one precarious moment from a free fall.
So, if nothing seems to satisfy, how do we navigate all this instability? We must look beyond ourselves and our consumption. We must be awakened to our deep-seated need and hunger for stability.
Dorothee Sölle writes this in her book, On Earth as in Heaven,
There is a spiritual that begins with the words, ‘Every time I feel the Spirit moving in my heart….’ When I hear this song, I ask myself when was the last time I felt the Spirit? And I would like to ask you: When was the last time you felt the Spirit move-on what occasion, where, why, when? The song ‘Every time I feel the Spirit moving in my heart’ awakens my spiritual hunger, the hunger without which we can, of course, vegetate but not live.
Stability will always be found through and in awakened spiritual hunger, spiritual hunger and need for God. Spiritual hunger will bring us back—time and time again—to the age-old story of unconditional love, resurrected life, and present tense liberation. It is here in this particular story where we are met and reminded of a covenant that runs steady, has no boundaries, and can safely carry us to solid ground over and over again.
Right now, I need God. Right now, God is my constant and my stability because God’s story never changes: God in Christ comes low to walk with those who are hungry, those who crave stability and whispers I will never leave you or forsake you, no matter how bad it gets no matter how scared you are, I am with you. It’s here where I’m brought further out of myself and my desperate attempts at false stability to find true stability…with you, because you are the beloved of God and God is where you are; God is where we are in the hunger.
 Levenson, “Genesis” The Jewish Study Bible, 16. “Knowledge of good and bad may be a merism, a figure of speech in which polar opposites denote a totality…But knowledge can have an experiential, not only an intellectual, sense in biblical Heb and ‘good and bad’ can mean either ‘weal and woe or ‘moral good and moral evil.’ The forbidden tree offers an experience that is both pleasant and painful; it awakens those who partake of it to the higher knowledge and to the pain that both come with moral choice.”
 Levenson, “Genesis”, The Jewish Study Bible, 16. “His question is tricky and does not admit of a yes-or-no answer. The woman, who has never heard the commandment directly (2.16-17), paraphrases it loosely. Why she adds the prohibition on touching the fruit is unclear…”
 Levenson, “Genesis” The Jewish Study Bible, 16-17. “Tragically, this praiseworthy act gave the snake his opening. ‘He touched the tree with his hands and his feet, and shook it until its fruits dropped to the ground,’ thus undermining the credibility of God’s entire commandment in the woman’s mind…”
 Levenson, “Genesis” The Jewish Study Bible, 17. “The serpent impugns God’s motives, attributing the command to jealousy. Whereas in the first creation account human beings are God-like creatures exercising dominion…here their ambition to be like God or like divine beings is the root of the expulsion from Eden.”
 LW 1 147. “For the chief temptation was to listen to another word and to depart from the one which God had previously spoken: that they would die if they ate from it.”
 LW 1 105. “This sermon was delivered on the sixth day; and if, as the text indicates, Adam alone heard it, he later on informed Eve of it.”
 LW 1 161.
 Sölle On Earth 93
 Sölle On Earth ix-x.
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