Tuesday, October 08, 2013
Eve Was Framed!
“Eve Was Framed!” At least that’s what it said on a bumper sticker I saw some time ago. It was right next to one that said, “Question Authority”. I thought of these at the time – and remember them today – as signs of the times. The world used to be understood in relative absolutes. Right was right and wrong was wrong. There was no grey area in between – at least that is the way it seemed. And yet attitudes about the limitations of women and minorities live on from time before time, and many of these find their root in the story of forbidden fruit in an enchanted garden with a talking serpent.
Still, to say that Eve was framed and that we should question authority may even sound like an invitation to evil itself, but I would say that these statements are instead a call to greater and deeper faith. Without going too far into the concept of feminine evil, I will just say that the Achilles’ Heal of our doctrine of original sin is the idea that it all came about (sin and our separation from God) because Eve gave into the temptation of the serpent and then tempted Adam. It certainly is convenient, but it is also disingenuous, to interpret certain parts of the Bible literally and others as contextual.
The reality is that this is an ancient story that was told to answer eternal questions about whether or not God is active and present. It is a story to help us understand how there could be a good, just, and merciful God while there is yet suffering and pain that seems to be avoidable if someone were in charge of things who actually cares.
The thing that is easy to miss when we get caught up in the blame game between the serpent and Eve and Adam, is that evil was already there. The tree they ate from was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Unless we question the authority of the narrative that we say over and over again without even thinking about it, we will miss out on the serpent hiding in the woodpile of our faith.
The serpent in the story of the first sin is also the first personification of evil. We need that. We need to locate the evil in someone else. Sometimes we need to do that because it is too hard to see how we might be connected to the person in poverty who creates an act of violence out of desperation. Sometimes we need to locate evil in someone else because it is too easy to see it in ourselves.
The serpent in the woodpile of our faith comes out in the way we think of evil. We often think of evil as a force opposing God in some eternal, dualistic struggle. We define what actions and relationships are in opposition to God. We think of our faith as a way to keep us on the good side – to bail us out and keep us in the right. But that is not always the case. Even in the Psalms we hear a shift from the human plea for justice to the deeper motivations of the heart of God.
The Psalmist cries out, “Cut the lips off of those people who say that they don’t need God!” But what rouses God to action? “Because the poor are despoiled, because the needy groan, I will now rise up,” says the Lord.
So, the presence of evil is messier than we want it to be, and the Bible does not necessarily answer the question of why evil exists. It simply treats the reality of sin and evil as something we must contend with – something we can only overcome through a higher power. In the Prayer of Jesus we are told to ask not to be “brought to the time of trial.” Some translations say, “Lead us not into temptation.” Although some manuscripts of Mathew’s Gospel say, “rescue us from evil” the NRSV adds, “rescue us from the evil one.”
According to Jesus, God has a role in our experience of evil – even of the evil one. In this most intimate of prayers before God – where we have establish our relationship as parent and child, as Creator and creature, as citizen finding order and meaning in a nation without borders, and as beneficiaries of Divine providence – in this Holy Conversation, the Prayer of Jesus, we also recognize that left to our own devices we will sail into the storm of self deceit and self destruction every chance we get!
Perhaps that is a pessimistic view, but it is nothing new. Confucius said it this way, roughly 500 years earlier than Jesus in China. “The small [person] thinks that small acts of goodness are of no benefit, and does not do them; and that small deeds of evil do no harm, and does not refrain from them. Hence, [that person’s] wickedness becomes so great that it cannot be concealed, and [that person’s] guilt so great that it cannot be pardoned.”
How beautiful it is that we know that God does pardon our sins! How beautiful it is that we have been given the prayer of Jesus to help us be moved not only to repent when we fail, but to guide us away from all that distracts us from the good, the meaningful, and the pure things in life! At the root, evil is a distraction from the good. Evil is found in our complacency that catches us off guard when we realize that things have gotten beyond a point that we can tolerate.
Evil is lurking in our willingness to support international commerce that requires slavery and injustice that we would never tolerate in our own country. Evil is active when we read the words of the Apostle Paul that say, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good,” and we respond by saying, “That’s too hard, impractical, etc.”
I can’t speak to international, or even national or local, politics on this issue – at least not without expressing personal biases from the pulpit – but I can tell you about my friend, Ken. Several years ago he found out that the Mars Corporation – which supplies the majority of the world’s chocolate – uses coco beans treated by chemicals that burn the hands of the children who pick them. So he made his house a chocolate free house. That may not sound like a big deal to you, but the volume of chocolate that comes through most houses with children is higher than you might imagine.
When I first heard about it, I thought there was some odd chocolate allergy. It was an odd allergy. It was an allergy to injustice that he described by saying, “I won’t let my kids have chocolate that other children can’t have, and I won’t contribute to harming someone else’s child.”
Since then he has found, to the appreciation of his family, that there are chocolates and coffees that are certified as safely harvested and fairly traded (like the coffee we serve here). It may not seem like a big thing, but his willingness to identify with the struggles of others allowed him to become removed from blind participation in something that is undeniably evil.
I think that is the heart of the matter in the Prayer of Jesus – removal of the blinders that cause us to participate in the evil of the day. I often hear people talk about the way this world must certainly be heading to an evil end, but the same was said by David in the Psalm.
You, O Lord, will protect us;you will guard us from this generation forever.
On every side the wicked prowl,as vileness is exalted among humankind.
Is evil the reason for wickedness? Perhaps, but maybe evil is more of a description of harmful things that we can’t understand or explain. Is there an evil one in opposition to God? Yes, and sometimes I see him in the mirror. I think a harder question to answer is whether or not I can see the face of God in a creature that seems determined to deny God, to cause pain, and to live for him or herself alone. An even harder question to answer is whether or not I can see God as active and present in war and famine, in disease and disaster.
I believe that through the Prayer of Jesus we can say, “Yes, God is active and present in all things!” As we pray in the way of Jesus – that’s what in means to pray in Jesus’ name, to pray as Jesus would – we can become more aware of the God we serve, who is bigger than the God we can conceive. We can stop framing Eve. We can stop feeling victimized. We can truly expect that God’s will is being done on earth as it is in heaven, and we can begin to see new ways to be a part of what God is doing.
I pray that it may be so with me. I pray that it may be so with you, and to God be the glory both now and always, Amen.