For those who want a change from the Gospel
Trinity 1 – Genesis 3:8-15
If you come from the same church background as I do, then you might have noticed what a big deal ‘intimacy’ with God is nowadays. In fact part of my PhD thesis is about exploring what exactly this terms means, why it has become so important, and whether there is any scriptural warrant for seeing intimacy as the be-all-and-end-all of worship. I think the idea has come from the influence of the Vineyard denomination, which, as well as having planted numerous churches in the UK, has also heavily influenced those from mainstream denominations, especially Anglicans. This passage suggests to us that in fact intimacy with God is a mixed blessing.
Gen 3 is wonderfully anthropomorphic; in other words it depicts God as though he were human, or at least as though he had human characteristics. The man and woman can hear the sound of God walking in the garden, maybe scrunching through some leaves or something. God takes this walk in the time of the cool evening breeze, as all who live in hot climates would. God speaks, and questions them, curses the land and the snake, and later makes skin clothes for them, which implies that death has entered the animal kingdom. Yes, it does all go horribly wrong, but the picture at the beginning is one of true intimacy with a God who walks and talks with them. What makes the difference is human sin. The God who, one gets the impression, has often met up with them at the end of a day’s work, suddenly meets them in a different place. He has to go searching for them, and the presence of God which they had previously enjoyed becomes now ominous and threatening, so that they feel the need to hide.
One result of the couple’s desire to ‘be like God’ (v.5) is that they do become like him, in that they gain an awareness of the dark side of life. Some commentators on this passage see it as a ‘coming of age’ story, where Adam and Eve lose their child-like innocence and suddenly realise that the world is actually an awful place, red in tooth and claw, rather like a child suddenly becoming aware of pain and hurt. I’m not convinced that’s what the passage means, but it is a fact that a mature adult awareness of the world does mean that we have somehow to cope with the bad things. But we also need, I believe, to realise that many of the bad things are our own fault, and that perhaps instead of seeking to sing ourselves into that ecstatic moment of intimacy with God, we ought to be thinking a bit more about our role in the sin of the world. And I don’t mean just our personal sin: many of what passes for ‘invitations to confession’ in our churches are overwhelmingly individualistic: let’s take a moment to think about all the bad things I have done this past week. Unlike Isaiah we’re quick to think of ourselves as individuals of unclean lips, but we seldom think of ourselves as members of a community of unclean lips (Is 6:5).
Of course, we live on the other side of the cross, and we do have access to God, because our sin has been forgiven and our guilt taken away once and for all. But I do wonder if in our quest for magic moments of ‘intimacy’ we might have domesticated God and downplayed our tendency to go on sinning. After all, as the author to the Hebrews reminds his Christian friends, it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (10:31). An old and marginally heretical worship song we used to sing told us that ‘there’s no guilt, no fear, as I draw near’. Maybe there should be a bit more!
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