Love Plays By Different Rules

WHERE ARE YOU?
It’s the classic Bible story: God makes the world and everything good, then He makes a man, then a woman, then He officiates the wedding, and they’re both naked and with no shame. Because the Message paraphrase tells it like a story, I’ve copied the rest of it from there.

The serpent was clever, more clever than any wild animal God had made. He spoke to the Woman: “Do I understand that God told you not to eat from any tree in the garden?

The Woman said to the serpent, “Not at all. We can eat from the trees in the garden. It’s only about the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘Don’t eat from it; don’t even touch it or you’ll die.'”

The serpent told the Woman, “You won’t die. God knows that the moment you eat from that tree, you’ll see what’s really going on. You’ll be just like God, knowing everything, ranging all the way from good to evil.”

When the Woman saw that the tree looked like good eating and realized what she would get out of it—she’d know everything!—she took and ate the fruit and then gave some to her husband, and he ate.

Immediately the two of them did “see what’s really going on”—saw themselves naked! They sewed fig leaves together as makeshift clothes for themselves.

When they heard the sound of God strolling in the garden in the evening breeze, the Man and his Wife hid in the trees of the garden, hid from God.

God called to the Man: “Where are you?”

He said, “I heard you in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked. And I hid.”(Genesis 3:1-10, MSG)

God asks a poignant question here: “Where are you?” I looked that verse up in four translations, ranging from the very thought-for-thought New Living and Message Translations, all the way to the super-literal Holman and New American Standard Versions. Each phrased God’s question, word for word, in the exact same way.

“Where are you?”

I think it’s a question God asks all of us. He doesn’t ask because He wants to know. He asks because He wants US to know. He wants us to think about it. That was the big thought that started this writing.

“Where are you?”

Adam (whose name, in Hebrew, means “man) has nothing to say for himself… but at least he’s honest. He learns the answer to God’s question. “I heard you. I was ashamed because I was naked. I hid.”

Look at that. I can’t seem to get over what God does with honesty. Plain, blunt answer: “I was ashamed. I heard you coming, and I was ashamed because I was naked, and I hid.” It’s desperate. Adam knows exactly where he is.

“Who told you?” God asks. Another good question. “Did you take from the tree that I said not to eat from?”

The first man doesn’t want to be alone in this. “The woman you gave me to be with me! She gave me… and yeah, I ate.” Not only is it the woman’s fault, it’s God’s fault for giving this beautiful creature to him to be with him. If it wasn’t for her, he’d still be unashamed. At least he admitted that he ate, and didn’t lie and say that she forced him to do it.

I can only imagine God’s sorrow. He turns to the woman. “What have you done?” he asks.

Eve points. “It was the serpent. He deceived me, and I ate.”

THE CURSING
The Eternal One had known all along anyway. When the chain of blame got to the serpent, The God Who Is didn’t ask any questions. He cursed the vile creature. No chance for an explanation; there was none to be given. What the serpent had done was an act of pure, unadulterated malice toward God, and toward His creations that He so loved. Judgment came down. The serpent would be the most cursed of all animals – he would crawl on his belly and eat dust. More than that, there’s now hostility. The sons of men would kill snakes, and snakes would bite the heels of the sons of men.

And in that curse, The Eternal One placed the seeds of a blessing: The seed of the woman will bruise the head of the serpent. More on that later…

The woman, too, gets a curse:

I will intensify your labor pains;
you will bear children in anguish.
Your desire will be for your husband,
yet he will dominate you. (Gen. 3:16, HCSB)

Pain. Anguish. Desiring a husband.. and him dominating her. Ruling over her.

Adam, the man, gets a different curse:

Cursed is the ground because of you
in toil you will eat of it
all the days of your life.
Both thorns and thistles it will grow for you;
and you will eat the plants of the field;
by the sweat of your face you will eat bread
until you return to the ground
because from it you were taken –
dust you are,
and to dust shall you return.
(Genesis 3:17-19, mishmash of translations)

Hard work, and death. That curse touches the woman, too – because as he is taken from earth, so she is taken from him.

ONE WHO RELENTS CONCERNING CALAMITY
There’s something here that I want to bring out that is rarely talked about. Does anybody remember back at the beginning where God said “in the day that you eat from the fruit of that tree, you will SURELY DIE?” Surely die. Death. Now, everybody makes a point that they DID die spiritually, in a way, and that death began in them on that day. Which are both excellent and valid points. But they did not die on that day. In that way, the serpent was not altogether incorrect. To his great disgust, I’m sure.

Jonah knew this secret, and that’s why he didn’t want to go to Ninevah. This is what he had to say, complaining about how God hadn’t come through and destroyed Ninevah like He’d said He would:

“…for I know that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity.” (Jonah 4:2, NASB)

That’s probably what the serpent thought. The serpent felt cheated. God hadn’t played fair. Sure, he’d had no choice but to curse his beloved creation – after all, death was promised, and something had to be done, because goodness requires penalty for sin – but He hadn’t killed them off immediately. All he’d done was given them intense pain, hard work, and the promise of eventual death. Granted, the serpent was probably quite pleased with all of that, but it was by no means instant physical death.

God had cheated. He had played according to the rules of love, and not according to the rules of absolute justice. Punishment, certainly… but not the punishment that was threatened. The serpent had gone to all that planning and had nothing to show for it but three curses that would affect all of mankind and womankind for all the years, and on himself, the worst of all.

God, in His great love, feared that his children would take from the tree of life and live forever in their fallen state. Love left our Lord no option but to seal off Eden. The curse had been set in motion at the first bite, and God was in damage control mode. With the curse came a blessing disguised as a curse: that death would end the curse on the man. That he would return to the dust.

Right here, I want to throw in a very important point made by the Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft in his book “The God Who Loves You.”

God shows us these two faces of His love in the opposite way and at the opposite time the devil shows them. Before we sin, God shows us the authoritative face, the stern warning away from the incomparable harm that always comes to us and others (for “no man is an island”) from sin. If we are sane, if we live in the real world and value things at their true worth, we ought to fear sin more than sickness, suffering, or death itself. At this stage, when we are tempted and contemplating sin, God appears to us as stern and Satan as kind. Satan reminds us then of how forgiving God is, to tempt us to sin and its harms. He tempts us to presumption.

But after we sin, Satan tempts us to despair. Then he reminds us of how uncompromising and stern God is and how awful sin is. Satan tells the truth, but never the whole truth. He tells us the truth we will misinterpret. That’s how he leads us on.

After we sin, God wants to show us (if we only listen to Him rather than Satan) the compassionate face of the father of the prodigal son to keep us from despair. Thus we are doubly surprised if we listen to God: first, by how serious sin is when we feel it is not so bad; and second, by how forgiving God is when we feel only how serious sin is. We should remember these two faces and turn to the one Satan is hiding and God is offering at all times. (The God Who Loves You, Peter Kreeft, p. 190)

Well spoken, Peter.

TO THE CROSS
Now I must go to the cross. I believe it was Charles Stanley who once said that all messages should end at the foot of the cross. It’s been fifteen years since I heard that, and I still remember it well and agree now more than ever.

Jesus comes to earth. God comes into the curse. He does not simply reverse the curse; he enters it. The curse he placed upon the man, God Himself lives under. And when a Rabbi came to Jesus late one night, Jesus leans in and quietly announces the end of the curse:

“God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him SHOULD NOT PERISH but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16, KJV, emphasis added)

Should not perish. Will not die. In a dark alley in Jerusalem, God whispers to the teacher of Israel the secret that’s been hinted at since Genesis 3 – the seed of the woman will bruise the head of the serpent. The curse will reverse. Death itself will begin to work backwards. The promise made in the book of beginnings is about to be made good – in fact, it has already begun to be made good.

The living out of the promise, like being bitten by a snake, is messy. God gets whipped. He feels pain. The fruit of the tree has done its work, and sin has come, and sin “touches Him” (And The Angels Were Silent, Max Lucado, p. 158), in every way except him committing it. God feels suffering, more than any woman. He wears the thorns and thistles the ground has born for Adam. He does the painful labor of our redemption. The sweat of his face is blood.

Nails go through the hands and feet of God, and He’s hung up to suffocate in agony on two cross-bars. He was naked. He knew nakedness. He knew what it was to be ashamed. “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.” He knew the curse well. He made it, and He felt it. He became it. He who knew no sin became sin for us. He knew what it was to be abandoned and alone (My God, My God, why have You abandoned me?!”).

And then He tasted the final portion of the curse: death. His own words echo across the centuries and find Him on a cross, and He bears the curse of His own words: “Dust thou art, and to dust shalt thou return.” There is only one thing left to say:

“IT IS FINISHED!”

Yes. It is finished. The curse has come back upon its Giver. God so loved the world. He took the curse. He wore the curse. And now the curse began to work backwards. Three days later, the first part of the curse comes completely undone, unravelled like a woven sweater when you pull find the right string and start to pull, untied like that shoestring in your favorite running shoes. The curse is done. It is finished. Love has once again and once for all conquered all. Mercy and Justice have kissed, to borrow from Pastor Mark Driscoll.

Chunks of the curse have been reversed – large chunks. Sheol has lost its victory, and Death its’ stinger. The curse remains in affect, but has lost its power. Christianity has given women much more dignity; Christ showed the world how man should love woman rather than dominating her, and lead her rather than lord it over her.

And one last note: God cheated again. Death was supposed to be for forever. Satan won. …and God once again changed the rules, mid-game, in His own and our favor. He played by the rules of love. And love always wins.

LAST NOTES
“I know that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity.” (Jonah 4:2b)

“What shall we say then to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son[!!!], but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not with him also freely give us all things?! Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, even more, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” But in ALL THESE THINGS we overwhelmingly conquer (hyper-nikao) through Him Who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor ANY OTHER CREATED THING will be able to separate us from the LOVE of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord!!!!!!!!!!!” (Romans 8:31-39, emphasis added)

Amen. God bless you all.

STUFF ON THE BOTTOM SHELF
Usually, everyone can figure out their own applications; what this means to them. But I felt like writing out a few pointed q & a’s for further thought.

q: Where are you?
a: That’s a little personal, don’t you think? God’s the one who asked. I’ll let Him know as I find the answer to that myself. The more important question for you, I think, is “where are you?” God usually doesn’t take action until people know where they are. But if you’re not sure, or you don’t like where you are, that’s okay. God understands. He’ll get you there. He loves you. If you’re not sure, maybe think about it.

q: I think I missed something here. Did you just tell me God lied?
a: Funny you should ask. It seems that God is free to change His mind when it comes to calamity. “I know that You are… one who relents concerning calamity.” God said he would destroy Ninevah.

On a bunny trail, there was this preacher once who used the illustration of his kids asking him if they could go to Taco Bell, and he said yes, but then it got really late and he didn’t want to go but his kids were like YOU SAID TACO BELL!!! and he said we should use that phrase with God – “YOU SAID TACO BELL!” for anything God promised us – i.e., “You said You love me and had good plans – You said Taco Bell!” …Like that. Which is quite cool indeed.

Unless, of course, you’re Jonah. Jonah is sitting outside Ninevah and screaming YOU SAID TACO BELL!! and fire and brimstone aren’t coming down. God changed His mind about destroying a city. Jonah was ticked. So was the Devil.

q: But that’s not fair!
a: Walt Disney pictures put out a little picture called “Oliver and Company,” based on Oliver Twist. At one point in the story, The Artful Dodger has done something Oliver finds unfair. The Dodger’s reply to Oliver is the same as mine for you:

“Fares are for tourists, kid.”

q: But… couldn’t we just say that God’s good and He’ll forgive us so let’s go do whatever we want to?
a: What’s that you say? Are we to continue in sin, so that grace may abound? May it never be! Maybe you missed that part about sin being destructive! Letting God save you from sinning permits the life of joy, the life of living, and the life of true happiness and excitement. You’d let messing up your life get in the way of THAT?

q: So… the curse is completely over and this is like, heaven, right?
a: Have you looked around lately? If you’re down here with your eyes open, you know this isn’t heaven. But it’s becoming the Kingdom of Heaven. God is taking over, one heart at a time. Where we do not recognize the truth of trouble, we cannot see the help of hope. Of what use is a life preserver to one who has convinced himself that he is not drowning?

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