A half stick of fresh gum was enough to risk a spanking for. I pushed a kitchen chair over to the black rotary phone on the wall where my father had left gum on top, somehow convincing myself that while he’d said I couldn’t have it, maybe what he really meant was that I simply couldn’t reach it, implying that it was really mine if I could figure out how to get to it.

Or maybe he just meant that I couldn’t have it until after dinner, so it was technically already mine since it would be mine at some point in the future, the time of which seemed to be more conveniently now in my mind.

Looking back, these seem to me like sophisticated thoughts for a soon to be four-year-old. I wonder now whether a serpent slithered across the linoleum.

When what’s at stake is something as delicious as half a stick of Juicy Fruit, suddenly the mind forgets exactly what’s been said by your father and feels mixy. It listens first to half truths and then spins complete lies, giving you easy permission to do what you had no thought to do just five minutes before.

This is my earliest memory of the sort of deception the serpent pulled on Eve in the garden. I wish it was my only memory. Forbidden things are sirens that call, because the serpent gives them words that work in us where he knows we’re weak.

[I got both the gum and the spanking, by the way].

Genesis 3-4

The action of Genesis 3 begins at once. Satan in the form of a serpent comes to Eve in the garden and says, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” Ge 3:1. The text says he’s crafty, and this sentence is a good example.

Compare it to what God actually said to Adam before Eve was created in chapter 2, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die,” Ge 2:16-17.

Satan deftly slices open God’s positive message of freedom to eat from all the trees but one and inserts the opposite, negative message posed as a question–as if he’s just trying to get the facts straight himself–using very close to the same wording.

Here are the nearly identical parts of God’s and Satan’s words…
God’s: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden…”
Satan’s: “You must not eat from any tree in the garden”?

Satan had to have eavesdropped on the original conversation between God and Adam in order to get the wording so nearly like God’s. His deception is skillful because while using so many of the same words and not adding any more (he actually uses 1 less word than God in the portions above), he rearranges them into a question to pretend his own confusion about what God said.

Examine them. God’s words begin with a positive tone, “You are free…” Satan’s words begin with a negative tone, and he implies that the negative words come from God, “You must not…?”

God’s words are generous, “…eat from any tree…” Satan’s imply deprivation, “…must not eat from any tree…”

God’s words focus on the freedom to eat what they please, except for that one tree, “You are free to eat from any tree…” Satan’s words are designed to plant doubt and skepticism about God’s goodness, implying that he’s holding out on them, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree…’?”

But the most effective tool Satan uses is what he begins with, the question, “Did God really say…?” Because if he can create confusion in Eve’s mind about what God said and plant doubt about God’s goodness while she’s not looking, then it’s only a matter of time before the serpent has her literally eating out of his hands. [This is exactly the question I found myself baffled by in the Juice Fruit caper, “Did Daddy really say….?”]

Eve’s answer to Satan’s question corrects him with information he already knows. She tells him that God said they could eat from the trees, just not the one in the middle. And here she adds a command that God had not said, “and you must not touch it, or you will die,” Ge 3:2. Turns out, it’s a dangerous thing to mess around with what God’s said.

But she was already in over her head, even before she said the part about not touching the fruit. Do you hear it? She’s attempting to explain God to Satan. As noble as that might sound, it’s actually ridiculous. She’s not responsible for helping anybody understand what God’s said to Adam, let alone a talking snake and least of all Satan himself. She’s just responsible for understanding and obeying God’s words herself.

Besides, what business is it of the serpent what God has commanded Adam and Eve anyway? This is the thing about temptation, it starts with a presumptuous conversation–whether with someone else or just in your own head. What sounds like a casual comment or question comes along and blinds you to common sense, to the red flag waving right in front of your face, and eventually leads you down a path where you never thought you wanted to go.

[The fact that she’s not undone by a serpent that speaks tells me that life in the garden was not-the-usual.]

Eve is not equipped to handle the one leading her astray, and I want to give her the benefit of the doubt here for a moment. Maybe Adam hadn’t communicated what God said very well. Since she hadn’t been in on the original conversation with God, maybe Adam fumbled here, Ge 2:15-17. The text doesn’t say. Maybe Adam had said she couldn’t touch it, thinking if she never touched it, she’d never be at risk of eating it.

But she doesn’t have to be equipped. Who’s equipped for all the danger to be found? And who ever gets perfect communication from their spouse? The point is this: Eve should have turned around and walked off. Sketchy conversations are alarm bells for temptation, particularly ones where God’s word and character are maligned, whether they’re in person or in your own head. I’ve learned the hard way that anytime I’m tempted to question God’s goodness or what he’s clearly said, I’ve got a toe on the path to the slippery slope.

Whether Eve or Adam is to blame for adding the command not to touch the fruit, it turns out to be a dangerous mistake, because this is exactly where Satan strikes. I’m wondering if he somehow forced her to touch the fruit, and she saw that she didn’t immediately die. Because he seems suddenly emboldened to directly contradict God’s words, “‘You will not surely 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,'” Ge 3:5.

In that moment, she didn’t remember the God who made them and loved them and had given them paradise to live in. What she landed on was that he couldn’t be trusted to tell the truth about important things like life and death…and fruit. (What we’re tempted by after-the-fact always looks silly, doesn’t it?)

Satan drops the ultimate temptation on Eve–the desire to be like God, which is really the temptation to BE God–the same temptation for which he himself was banished from heaven. It was so powerful a temptation, in fact, that what Satan just said goes right over her head: he’s basically said God lies.

Eve looks at the fruit and sees that it’s good food to eat and that it’s appetizing to look at. I wonder if she might have turned from it had she not believed the part about it opening her eyes and making her wise, Ge 3:6. There’s something in us that wants to believe we know what’s best for us. Deep down we’re afraid that God won’t give us our best life–the one we really want. (Images of heaven being an endless choir practice might be partially to blame.)

But she can’t turn away from the triple temptation of wanting to eat what’s good and healthy–a physical temptation; wanting to eat what’s beautiful–an emotional temptation; and wanting to eat what makes her just like God–a spiritual temptation to pride.

So she takes it and eats it and gives some to Adam, who’s surprisingly been with her all along. Their eyes are opened (the serpent was right about that) and they see they’re naked and feel ashamed. They make clothes out of fig leaves to hide, Ge 3:6-7.

What does God do? Not anything I’d expect.

He comes looking for them in the cool of the evening to take what I’m guessing was their usual sunset stroll. God’s not like Gladys Kravitz watching from across the street, ready to pounce on them as soon as they mess up. He hangs back. He waits. He calls to them and asks where they are, Ge 3:8-9. Doesn’t he know? Well, of course. God gives them plenty of room to come to him to fess up.

But they don’t.

Adam says he hid because he was naked and afraid, which I’m sure is true. After what’s gone down with the snake, they’ve gotta be terrified. God said they’d die, and they haven’t yet. What gives? They’ve gotta be wondering if the snake was right and they’ll get to live. Ge 3:10.

God asks Adam, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree…?” Again, God knows the answers. Maybe he’s trying to lead Adam into confessing, practically putting the words into his mouth with the questions he asks. But Adam doesn’t get it, and he blames God instead for giving him the woman, and Eve for giving him the fruit, Ge 3:11-12.

Then God gives Eve the same chance to confess. He asks her what she’s done. She says, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate,” Ge 3:13.

I can’t help but notice that God doesn’t reprimand Adam or Eve for their failure to take responsibility. He doesn’t try to make them see what he sees. He doesn’t remind them of the rule they’ve just broken or bargain with them for better behavior. He doesn’t get lost in explaining or blaming them himself. He doesn’t try to extract any sort of “Say you’re sorry” language. In fact, God doesn’t say anything in response to Adam or Eve at all.

What God does do is love.

Think about all that God’s done for these two: made heaven and earth, the land and sea, the sun and moon and stars, the animals and everything that flies, swims and crawls. He’s planted a special garden for them, one where it’s not surprising to talk to the animals or to eat from a tree of life that keeps them alive.

He knows all that’s ahead for them as the result of this measly piece of fruit, not to mention what’s ahead for the entire human race, and what it will cost him to redeem them all, but his words are relatively few.

First there are the curses for the serpent, the woman, and the man, all of which are brief and to the point. God doesn’t scold or plead or draw up contracts. He just gives them the consequences they’ve chosen: the serpent will crawl and Satan will be crushed by the woman’s offspring; the woman will experience pain regarding her roles as wife and mother; and the man will experience pain regarding his role as provider on a cursed earth and eventually die, “to dust you will return,” Ge 3:14-19.

God doesn’t say anything about how he feels or how his dearly beloved Son will have to pay for their piece of fruit with his blood. The only mention he makes of the Savior who will have to clean up their mess is in what he says mysteriously to the serpent, Ge 3:15.

The restraint here of what he must deeply feel, the calm and measured words he speaks, the blessed brevity of the scene…all of these make me weep for the love in each piece. God doesn’t amplify what’s been done by them. He simply lets them bear the consequences for their sin.

The curses God hands out are also signs of his love. Now that sin has come in and constant communion with God is interrupted, there will be at least one overwhelming temptation for them–to find their all-in-all outside of their relationship with him. Because of sin, Adam and Eve won’t experience walks with God in the evenings as before. God won’t always feel like he’s their “best good” as he once did. It will take some effort to connect with him.

God brings them curses right where they’re most tempted to worship elsewhere. For women, it’s in their role as wife and mother. For men, it’s in their work. By cursing these things, God keeps them–and us–from finding fulfillment anywhere in this life but in him. If not for the curse, would anybody seek him?

And then God does an amazing thing: he covers Adam and Eve with skins. “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them,” Ge 3:21.

In this devastating scene where Adam and Eve have just sinned in seismic proportions, God himself makes their clothes and dresses them. He would have had to kill animals in order to get skins. He might have said that the shedding of blood was needed to forgive their sins, but Genesis doesn’t tell us, He 9:22.

This action of making clothing and dressing them feels like an extravagant lovingkindness to me. After what’s just happened, God takes care of their physical, emotional, and spiritual need of clothing, a neediness they didn’t have before because they were always filled.

The serpent was right: eating fruit did open their eyes. But what they see makes them feel shame, like they need to hide–not holy, not like God. When could sin ever make them like God? It’s a piece of insanity to think that doing what God says not to do makes anybody good.

After they’re clothed, God drives them out. He banishes Adam and Eve from Eden because they might “take from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So God puts cherubim and a flashing, flaming sword to guard the way, Ge 3:22-24.

Is this love, too?

I wonder why God didn’t want them to live forever. Isn’t eternal life what he’s all about? I’m guessing it’s because now that sin’s entered their hearts, getting eternal life would mean having a broken and sinful life forever. It wouldn’t be the eternal perfection-in-paradise life it once was.

It would mean there was no hope of something better coming, no heaven, and nothing really to live for, not even a restart button to push. Gandalf wouldn’t be able to laugh in lighthearted answer to Sam’s hopeful question, “Is everything sad going to come untrue” as he does at the end of the Rings story. He’d only be able to say something like, “We’re stuck, and there’s nothing we can do.”

It was God’s great love and mercy that put the cherubim and the sword to block the garden, so Adam and Eve wouldn’t be eternally stuck in sin. When my mother died, I realized what a mercy death is when it’s time. It became the escape hatch from her failing body into the paradise God originally intended. Living forever as sick and suffering human beings would be a fate worse than any death.

God’s kindness despite his sorrow, his goodness in the face of their foolhardy sin, his faithfulness compared to betrayal on a lark, the curses so they’d have to seek him, their handmade clothes of skin covering shame, and the fiery cherubim who guard the tree so that all is not lost, so that one day they can come home to him at last…

O, Lord. Your love is beyond description.

It forever outlasts.

Matthew 2:13-3:6

John the Baptist was prophesied by Isaiah as one who would come to, “Prepare the way for the Lord.” He wore camel’s hair clothing and ate locusts and wild honey and preached in the desert, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near,” Mt 3:2-3.

And people did. They went out to the desert from Jerusalem to hear him and to confess their sins and be baptized in the Jordan River. It must have felt like a revival. According to Isaiah, John told them to “Make straight paths for him,” Is 40:3. I’m guessing that straight paths are also right ones–good ones.

It can be confusing to hear that I can’t be good enough for God and to hear someone telling me to “straighten up and fly right,” which is what John says. Repent for messing up! And stop messing up! Jesus family tree showed us yesterday that even his own family wasn’t good enough for him. But here John is saying, “Make straight paths! The Messiah’s coming!”

Which is it? Can I or can’t I?

I like how Paul words it, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure,” Php 2:12-13.

It’s on me to do all I can to live the good life God wants me to live, even to the point of trembling. But I can only do this “work,” this good living, by God’s power. It’s his Spirit in me that gives me both the desire to do it and the doing of it, a team effort.

It must have taken a lot of humility on John’s part to carry on a ministry aimed at getting everybody ready for the next guy. And even more to step aside once Jesus came along. It would’ve taken a lot of faith to see that Jesus was the point, not John’s successful Revive-n-Baptize ministry.

I’m guessing John had to prepare himself the same way he preached for others to prepare–with repentance and right living. Believing that Jesus was the point made him humble enough both “to will and to work.” Thanks, God, that we don’t have to do it alone. Thank you for your Son.

Psalm 2

This psalm says the nations conspire against God in vain. God laughs at them and rebukes them in his anger. He says if they don’t turn and “kiss the Son,” his “Anointed One,” they’ll be destroyed, and God will have the last laugh then.

The psalm ends with “Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”

It’s comforting to read that you reign over the rulers and power brokers of all nations on earth. And that one day, they will know it, too.

It’s easy to get caught up in current events and the sometimes disastrous choices of world powers. Thank you for the blessed simplicity and safety of life with you as my refuge.

My take away today is God’s overwhelming love in Genesis that gives Adam and Eve what they don’t deserve–kindness, even in the curse, hope in Satan’s eventual crushing by the Savior, animal skins to cover their shame, and cherubim that protect their eternal bliss.

I see it in his sending John to prepare the way for Jesus with words of repenting and right living. And I see it in his reminder that the nations are as nothing before him. I can find my stronghold in him–not in what they do—because the news can be terrifying.

But most lavishly I see his love in the giving of his Son, the Light in our dark, the Blessing from the curse, the One who would be born through the one who preferred fruit for dessert. The “Anointed One” is the most convincing proof of God’s love, and his telling Adam and Eve about his coming from their ground-zero, square-one is a goodness I can hardly fathom.

Such riches from their rags. Such a mercy for misery.

Give me repentance for my sin, God, and straight paths for him.

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