Life and Death

“At the east of the garden of Eden God placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.”

Genesis 3:24 (NRSV)

While still reeling from the bitter blows that had dropped from the Lord’s lips, here came God’s grisly mercy and grace, His steadfast love and faithfulness. For now the Lord silently gathered animals from nearby, slaughtered them in the presence of His beloved human beings, perhaps allowing the blood shed before them to spill over their feet, and splatter their skin.

From bitter blow to round-eyed horror, ish and ishah experienced death as a visceral reality. One moment creatures were soft, trusting, beautiful, richly alive; then, with a terrified betrayal of trust, suddenly limp and dead at the hands of the One Who had brought them to life, Who had created them in beauty and love, and Who now took that life from them.

Gore spilled out of the skins God peeled from the animals’ dead bodies. Once shaped around ish’s and isha’s bodies, the animals’ sacrifice would provide a covering better suited to the harsh reality of humankind’s new existence. Before, the man and the woman represented life, wisdom, and care to all creation. Now, they had become death and cruelty, betrayal and loss to all that God had made.

Wrapped in the skins of death, God now showed His two creatures the door—not a portal to promise, but an exit from Eden. It was salt in their wounds.

Next comes a puzzling end to a grim story. “Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken.He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.”

Had the serpent been telling the truth, after all? Did the man and woman indeed become like God? Was knowing good and evil something God had intentionally withheld from them, because then they would be like God, and somehow a threat to God?

And, had the man and woman really never eaten, then, of the Tree of Life? Why not? Because that tree was in close proximity to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, did it seem therefore, somehow, also faintly forbidden? Or, was it, after all, not lovely to look upon, as the other tree was, and the fruit not appealing? Was it simply an oversight? Perhaps the Tree of Life was a very unassuming tree, easily overlooked, as life was already in abundance, and death merely a philosphical anomaly. Still, it seems strange that neither the man, nor the woman, had ever tasted from this tree. Nevertheless, evidently, they had not.

Lastly, it seems, just the east side of the Garden, their home, was guarded by fearsome cherubim, whose chief occupation was to prevent humankind from obtaining eternal life—apparently a real possibility—through the Tree of Life. I wonder if Adam and Eve tried to sneak into that part of the Garden, first circling round to the west end, and slinking through, darting from tree to tree, staying within the shadows, till they came close to the Tree of Life. Or, perhaps they tried to appear nonchalant, wandering in a seemingly aimless way until they appeared, quite surprised, near the clearing where the Tree of Life grew. Did the cherubim bring their flaming, swirling swords round, and menace the two steadily aging humans?

Perhaps, eventually, they came to understand the exacting mercy of God, Who protected them from living endlessly into eternity in their sinful state. With their ever-aging, ever-decaying bodies, their souls twisted and warped by darkened thinking, contorted emotions, eternal life would have been true damnation indeed. Perhaps, as their years stacked up higher, and the evident wickedness and evil in their offspring grew, so might their death wish have also grown, and they found it easier to uncurl their gnarled fingers from the love of life.

Yet, God would not leave Adam and Eve destitute. The promise God made in this chapter is called the proto-evangel, the first prophecy of the Messiah. Understanding Who the Messiah would be, and what He would do, was going to slowly unfold throughout the Old Testament. Then, throughout the New Testament, Who Jesus is and what He has done is revealed. He is the victor over Satan, disarming the powers of darkness, so filled with Life that not even the cross and the grave could hold Him down. Eternal death is only for those who refuse Jesus Messiah.

As the church, we must make it first priority to know God, know His attributes, put our trust in God’s goodness, His love for us, and His power. We can only accomplish this through being filled with the Spirit of Christ, the study God’s word, communion with God, and living out what we learn together, as a community, building each other up “in the Lord,” as the first century church described it.

Without this continued commitment, we are not going to know God very well, there will be distance in our relationship with Him and we are not going to be able to understand what His will is. Without understanding God’s will, we won’t be able to live by His will, or to operate in the power if His Spirit. You and I have to know the revelation scripture contains before we can take what God is saying to us, for our own life. We must continually ask God for wisdom, for help, then actually do what He says. And, we must speak into each other’s lives, continuing to ask each other for wisdom, for prayer, for help, for understanding. (All taken from James’ epistle.)

The church is to live the countercultural portrayal of God’s triune nature, wherein God is three equally divine, equally eternal, equally infinite Persons. Before sin there was union, and after sin there was separation. Before sin there was equality, after sin there was hierarchy. So, IF there is a proscribed hierarchy, as patriarchal cultures and societies around the globe insist upon, then it is to be lived out so subtly as to be undetectable.

The Lord Jesus Christ, though the King of the Universe, was so humble even His closest followers treated Him like one of them. In fact, even a week before His crucifixion, after three years together, only one person treated the Lord with the kind of reverent, sacrificial love the King of Kings deserved, and His closest followers were offended at the waste of resources lavished on Him. (Read the whole story in John’s gospel, chapter 12.)

Is Jesus the King? But He lived and led so humbly, and so gently, the hierarchy of His Kingship over the whole earth, over His people the Jews, over the Sanhedrin, the Levitical priesthood, and even over His own disciples, was rarely felt, even when vividly demonstrated (consider how quickly events devolved, for instance, after the Transfiguration).

Surrounding the men who followed Jesus, from the very beginning of His ministry, were the women; women who financially supported His mission from their own means, women whom Jesus had invited to follow Him, learn from Him and to be His disciples. These women, as females, had been raised to be community builders, collaborative, sharers, knowing what it meant to subsume the self for the sake of the community.

Was it not intentional that Jesus sent the women to the men with the news of His resurrection? Did He not intend to heal Adam’s breach, to once again bring the women to the men, and to say, “Here is your rescue, and your strength, here is your glory?”

What if, actually, there is no proscribed hierarchy among men and women based on sex? What if all heirarchies are human invention, based on what God told Adam would roll down from his–from their–rejection of God and His rule? This is the fullest understanding of Joel’s prophesy, who predicted the day would come when all God’s people, men and women, young and old, would be equally filled with His Spirit, and equally proclaim His good news of salvation. (From Acts 2:17-21 referencing Peter’s use of Joel 2:28-32.)

In particular, the church is to resist the world’s ways of coping with the effects of Adam’s and Eve’s choices. The church is a redeemed people, living in a redeemed culture.

Think about the way a child copes with a hostile environment they cannot control, and people who cause them harm, asking,

“Is my world safe – for me?”

“Am I loved – for who I am?”

“Does my world work – with me in it?”

The child will go to the one thing they can control: themselves. As a child, our coping strategy is to assume we are not lovable, to explain why we are not loved and cared for. We deduce that the world is not safe because there is something wrong with it: me. I am not safe for my world; I make my world unstable. We decide that our world would certainly work if we were not in it. Our presence makes the world not work anymore. We must change ourselves, or get rid of ourselves somehow.

Instead, it is to be true within the church that we know we are safe, for Christ is the Head, and the Church is His Body. We are to know we are loved, for we are joined to each other through Him Who is Love. We are to know the world works the best with us in it, for God is reconciling all things in Messiah. Our lives matter, and our contribution to life carries purpose and meaning, for we are called by God, and we carry His purpose and meaning within us by His life and His Spirit. (Understanding Ephesians chapters 1 and 2)

In contrast to the world, women in the church are to be empowerd, built up, cherished, and included as equal partners in the great Kingdom Work God calls every believer to engage in. Much has been made over God’s words to the woman, Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you. And, for millennia, women across the globe have indeed been ruled, owned, traded, sometimes worshiped, yet mostly brought to heel—mastered—by men.

The church is to recognize that ‘willing submission’ among its members loses all meaning when it is legislated. Once legislated, there is no ‘willing’ left. ‘Willing submission’ is a meaningful phrase only when there is a genuine choice. And a genuine choice exists only between equals.

Therefore, the church is to be known for embracing and promoting the equality of all peoples, seeing none of the distinctions imposed by the world, by economic strata, language group, technological advancement, personal ability or inability, and not by sex nor gender.

By the same token, the church is also be known for its humility, and willingness to serve each other and others.

[Franz Stuck (Public domain)]

Published by Joanne Guarnieri Hagemeyer

Bible Teacher and partner with Ancient Voices, Sacred Stories

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