3 Pentecost, June 10
“The man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Gen. 3:8). Having stepped outside the protection of divine providence and the limits appropriate to mortal being, humans go it alone and pay immediately with a consciousness of fear and shame, judgment and death. To this is added a dose of self-justification, blame-shifting, moral maneuvering — a false innocence.
This terrible state is not, however, the worst imaginable condition. Fear and shame and moral blaming indicate a conscience still open “to the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze” (Gen. 3:8). God is walking and, as if forlorn, calling out to humanity, “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:9).
Judgment, therefore, against the serpent and the woman and the man does not blight love from the world, for God so loved the world from everlasting to everlasting. Though they are cast out from the garden of all grace, a measure of grace lingers in the thin whisper of God’s call and the protection of God-made garments tailored to cover shame. “For the first time,” says Gerhard Von Rad, “we see the Creator as the preserver” (Genesis: A Commentary). Perhaps we see something more, a garment of mercy that anticipates the summons to “put on the Lord Jesus” (Rom. 13:14).
There was not when the Son was not. Thus, mysteriously, the grace of Christ’s redeeming work touches even primeval history. Christ is calling and clothing humanity, and doing so “while we were yet sinners,” while we were — while we are — hiding in the trees of the garden. In our fallen state, as the ancient theologian says, we lost our likeness to God but not the image. We may still be reached by love’s longing even as we run and hide. In a sense, being a sinner is a way of being in the presence of God, whom we both fear and need. For all of our days we are sinners, justified in Christ, but still sinners.
This is not the worst possible condition. We cry out from the depths and find forgiveness and hope and steadfast love and redemption from all our iniquities (Ps. 130). The Spirit intercedes with sighs and groaning. The Spirit gives the voice of Nina Simone howling “Oh, Sinnerman, where you gonna run to?” We run to the rock, to the river, to the sea, to the Lord, to the devil. She gives voice to every creature under heaven when she cries “Power!” and when she weeps, “Don’t you know I need you, Lord? … Power, power, power, Lord!” The beauty of being a sinner is being in need. When I am weak, then I am strong.
There is something worse than being a sinner or at least the possibility of something worse. Imagine that the call and grace of Christ is revealed, fully disclosed, and yet awaits the moment of human consent, Mary’s fiat, the first steps of the first disciples, a hand that reaches for his garment, oil poured out in love. Imagine that Mary turned away, that Simon and Andrew kept fishing. This would be the worst possible thing. This would be blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, and it would not be forgiven, for there would be nothing to forgive. Humanity minus God is nothing. Absolute autonomy is absolute hell.
Confess your sin and say yes to the God of all goodness and mercy.
Look It Up
Find a copy of Nina Simone’s Pastel Blues (1965).
Think About It
I need you.