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09.20.15 It’s a Matter of Give and Take Philippians 2:3-11 Sermon Scraps

by on September 21, 2015

Here are some thoughts that didn’t make it into the sermon. They relate to the so-called “Fall” story of Genesis 3.

  • Is it true?
  • What the curses of the serpent, woman, and man mean
  • An example of grace

People sometimes ask whether I read the story about the serpent in the garden literally. A long time ago I discovered that the better question, which applies to all passages of scripture, is, “How is this true?” The historical factuality of miracles cannot be verified by definition; since miracles uniquely defy natural law, they cannot be repeated. The point of miracle stories is less to impress us with their uniqueness than it is to evoke thought about their enduring lessons.

With that in mind, I find Genesis 3 to be full of interesting suggestions. This is the story of the serpent questioning the woman (not yet named) about the divine prohibition to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. I’ve had occasion to touch this topic the last three weeks, so readers can look at the previous messages on this blog for more. But here I share some shorter thoughts.

One results of this event is that the serpent must slither on the ground. Apparently the serpent walked on legs or did something other than slither. But now, under the divine curse, the serpent must remain as close to the ground as possible. Since the human is made from the ground, and in the image of God, could the serpent’s curse include being close to humans, close to the divine image, but not enjoying the benefits?

For the woman, childbearing will see an increase in pain. It’s hard to imagine that it could have been pleasant—but as the woman doesn’t give birth the first time until after the curse, we have no testimony of a pain-free birth.

For the man, the ground is cursed so that farming becomes difficult. For the rest of his life, the man will struggle against the ground to extract nourishment. Eventually the ground “wins,” as we return to that from which we were taken, and from which our sustenance has been taken. Regardless of how epic and necessary the struggle, humanity is destined for death. This is the truth of Ash Wednesday: “Remember from dust you came, and to dust you shall return.” The point might be that we receive life only so long, and then we return to non-life. So enjoy the days you have.

The story ends with God making the human clothes. They had fashioned leaves around them to hide their newly discovered nakedness. God provides more lasting garments. God accommodates to our reality, a reality which we have chosen and made for ourselves—even against God—but God does not abandon us. This is grace, and while it is not a license, it is an assurance that God is with us and provides for us even in our rebellion. And this lesson of grace is helpful, since God then expels us, destining us to search throughout this life for our return to God.

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