7-God At Work
7- God at Work
We now come to the same passage we discussed in the last chapter, but to look this time not at man but at God. For centuries a dirty lie about God has been making the rounds. This lie suggests that at the fall of man God ruthlessly lowered the boom on guilty Adam and Eve, that he gave them no chance to explain but simply tracked them down, sternly rebuked them (my children would say he yelled at them), began cursing everything in sight, and ended by booting Adam and Eve out of the garden--slamming and locking the door behind them. Nothing could be further from the truth! We must trace very carefully the actions of God in this account because, of course, this is the same way God will treat us after we fall into temptation.
God begins his dealings with man by raising three questions. The first one is found in verses eight and nine:
And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the nun and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, "Where are you?" (Genesis 3:8,9)
It is most striking to me that all religions, apart from Christianity, begin with man seeking after God. Only the Bible starts with the view of God seeking after man. That highlights an essential difference between our Christian faith and the other great religions of the world. Furthermore, this first question in the Old Testament is matched by the first question asked in the New Testament. Here, God is asking man, "Where are you?" and in the New Testament, in Matthew, the first question that appears is that of certain wise men who come asking, "Where is he?"
If we take this account in the garden literally (as I believe we must), then it is clear that God habitually appeared to Adam in some visible form, for now Adam and Eve in their guilt and awareness of nakedness hide from God when they hear the sound of his footsteps in the garden. This indicates a customary action on God's part. He came in the cool of the day, not because that was more pleasant for him but because it was more pleasant for man.
We know from Scripture that whenever God appears visibly in some manifestation it is always the second Person of the Godhead, the Son, who thus appears. If that is true then we have here what is called a theophany, that is, a visible manifestation of God before the incarnation. Thus the One here who asks of Adam and Eve, "Where are you?" is the same One of whom later men would ask, "Where is he who was born King of the Jews?"
Now notice the importance of this question, "Where are you?" Suppose you were on your way to a friend's house, but got lost and called him up to direct you. What would have to be his first question? "Where are you?" He would have to know where you are in order to have a starting point for his directions.
Today we are seeking to find a way out of the confusing situation which prevails in our world. We will never do it until we start with this question which God first asked man, "Where are you?" "Where am I?" Perhaps the reason many are unable to be helped today is either because they cannot or will not answer that question. Ask it of yourself now. Where are you? In the course of your life, from birth to death, moving (as you hope you are moving), to develop stability of character, trustworthiness, integrity of being, all these qualities which we admire in others and want in ourselves--where are you? How far have you come? Until you can answer that, in some sense at least, there is no possibility of helping you. What do you say?
Perhaps you will have to say, "I don't know where I am. I don't know. I only know that I am not where I ought to be, nor where I want to be. That's all I can say." If that is all you can say, at least it's an honest answer and therefore the most helpful answer you can give, and in that sense is the only right answer. "I don't know. I only know that I'm not where I ought to be."
Now God's second question to man is even more significant:
And he [Adam] said, "I heard the sound of thee in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself." He [God] said, "Who told you that you were naked?" (Genesis 3:10)
Let us be sure we read that question rightly. God is not asking Adam, "Look, who let the cat out of the bag about this? What rascal has been telling you tales out of school?" No, this is a rhetorical question. God does not expect a direct answer; it is a question designed to make Adam think.
An Inner Change
God is asking "how do you know this? You say you're naked; you didn't know that before. From what source has this knowledge come? Something has happened, a change has occurred; where did your knowledge come from?" The answer, of course, is that no one told him. Then how did he know?
It did not come from without at all, it came from within. A change had occurred within him and instinctively he senses that change and knows something that he did not know before. An evil knowledge has come to man, just as God said it would. The tree of which he partook was the tree of "the knowledge of good and evil," and by partaking man immediately gained an evil knowledge. From where did it come? From within. It is the birth of conscience, that strange faculty within us that tells us often what we do not want to hear. This is what God awakens Adam to see.
Now, in order to sense the full significance of this, we must link it with the first question, "Where are you?" which had only one proper answer; "I'm not where I want to be. I'm lost, hopelessly lost, hidden. I don't know where I am." Well, why don't you? Why is it that we have such difficulty pinpointing ourselves in our progress and relationship to the world around us? It is because of something within, isn't it? Remember Jesus said that it is not what enters a man which defiles him, but what comes from within. For out of the heart of man proceeds evil thoughts, fornication, murder, adultery, covetousness, licentiousness, pride, foolishness--all these evil things come from within and defile a man (Matthew 15:11-19).
It is what I am within which makes me ashamed and guilty, and sends me scrambling for fig leaves to cover myself up. Someone has well said, "If the best of men had his innermost thoughts written on his forehead, he'd never take his hat off." We know this is true. The basic, fundamental issue of humanity is not what is happening outside, but what is happening inside, within us.
Now God moves to his third question and it is in two parts, one addressed to the man and one to the woman.
"Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?" The man said, "The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate." Then the Lord God said to the woman "What is this that you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent beguiled me, and I ate" (Genesis 3:11-13).
Now there is something very interesting here. God asks them both the same question. He is saying to each, "Tell me, what is it that you did? Specifically, definitely, clearly; what is it that you did?" But there is an exquisite touch of delicacy and grace here, which I hope you do not miss. He does not put the question in the same form to each. To the man he is forthright and blunt. "Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?"
But to the woman he puts the question much more softly and gently. Every married man knows that his wife does not like a direct question. A man may say to his wife, "Where did you buy this meat?" Her answer is not usually, "At Safeway," but perhaps, "What's wrong? Why do you ask?" or, "I bought it where I always buy it." If he says to her, "Have you seen so-and-so lately?" she says, "What's happened?" Or perhaps she says, "Well, I never get out to see anybody--you know that." Or, "Why would I want to talk to her, anyway?" It is comforting to me to realize how fully God understands women and to see him put the question to her very gently. He says, "Tell me in your own way now, what is this that you have done?"
In their answer it is significant that both of them come out at the same place. Each blames someone else (we now call this "human nature," it is so widespread, so universally true), but when they come to their final statement they both use exactly the same words, "and I ate."
Reduced to the Facts
This is where God wants to bring them. This is what the Bible calls "repentance." It is a candid statement of the facts with no attempt to evade them, color them, or clothe them in any other form. It is a simple, factual statement to which they are both reduced; "and I ate." This is the point God has been seeking to lead them to.
Do you see how these questions have followed a certain course? God has made them say, first, "We're not where we ought to be--we know that. We ought not to be hidden here in the garden. We ought not to be lost. We ought not to require a question like this, 'Where are you?'" Then God has made them see that it is because something has happened within them. They have seen that they are where they are because of what they are, and that it all happened because they disobeyed, because they ate the forbidden food, they sinned. God has led them gently, graciously and yet unerringly to the place where each of them, in his own way, has said, "Yes, Lord, I sinned; I ate."
That is as far as man can ever go in correcting evil. He can do no more. But this immediately provides the ground for God to act. This is where he constantly seeks to bring us. This is seen throughout the whole Bible, in the Old and New Testaments alike. When God is dealing with men he seeks to bring them to the place where they acknowledge what is wrong.
Remember Jesus' dealing with the woman of Samaria at the well? After they have been involved in a discourse about the meaning of the water, he awakened her curiosity and interest by offering her living water so that she would not have to come to the well to draw. He then forthrightly put the demand, "Go and call your husband."
That elicits from the woman the only answer she could honestly give. "I have no husband," she says. Then Jesus lays it right out before her. "That's true," he says, "you have no husband. You have had five husbands, and the man you are living with now is not your husband, in this you said truly." He commends her for speaking the truth and from that point on he moves to open her eyes to the character of the One who stands before her (John 4:7-26).
Now this is what God wants to do with us. He finds us in our failure, our estrangement, our guilt, our sense of nakedness and loss, and immediately he moves to bring us to repentance. We misunderstand his moving. We think he is dragging us before some tribunal in order to chastise us or to punish us, but he is not. He is simply trying to get us to face the facts as they are. That is what he does here with Adam and Eve. As John says, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all on righteousness" (1 John 1:9).
As soon as Adam and Eve say these magic words, Òand I ate," there are no more questions from God. There is no more prodding or probing on his part. God begins now to speak to the serpent, to the woman, and to the man. What he says to the man and the woman is not punishment, as we will see shortly, but grace. How badly we have misread these passages in Genesis. And when he gets through, we read these wonderful words:
And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins, and clothed them (Genesis 3:21).
Here is the beginning of animal sacrifices: God sheds blood in order to make clothing for Adam and Eve. He made them from the skins of animals and therefore those animal lives were sacrificed to clothe Adam and Eve. This is but a picture, as all animal sacrifices are but pictures-a kind of kindergarten of grace--to teach us the great truth that God eternally attempts to communicate to us as men and women. Ultimately it is God himself who bears eternally the pain, the hurt, the agony of our sins. As John the Baptist said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away [who is continually taking away] the sin of the world!Ó (John 1:29)
Paul uses a wonderful phrase in Ephesians, "accepted in the beloved" (Ephesians 1:6, KJV). When we have acknowledged our guilt, when we have acknowledged that what we have done is contrary to what God wants, and we stand before him without attempting to defend ourselves, but simply in honest acknowledgment of our own doing, then, Paul says, we are "accepted in the beloved."
There were many sheep farms in the area of Montana where I grew up. Spring was the season when the little lambs were born. But spring in Montana can be brutal; sleet storms can come whirling down out of the north, and snow can still be three or four feet deep on the prairies. Often there are long, protracted seasons of bitter cold during lambing season.
Of course, when the sheep must bear lambs in that kind of weather many of the lambs and ewes die. As a result, sheep farmers have many mothers whose newborn lambs have died, and many newborn lambs whose mothers have died. A simple way to solve the problem, it would seem, would be to take the lambs without mothers and give them to the mothers without lambs, but with sheep it is not that simple. If you take a little orphan lamb and put it in with a mother ewe, she will immediately go to it and sniff it all over, but then she will shake her head as though to say, Well, that's not our family odor, and she will butt it away, refusing to have anything to do with it.
But the sheep men have devised a means of solving this problem. They take the mother's own little dead lamb and skin it, and take the skin and tie it onto the orphan lamb. Then they put the little lamb with this ungainly skin flopping around--eight legs, two heads--in with the mother. She pays no attention at all to the way it looks, but she sniffs it all over again, and then she nods her head, all is well, and the lamb is allowed to nurse. What has happened? The orphan lamb has been accepted in the beloved one.
There came a time when God's Lamb lay dead on our behalf and God took us orphans--he does it all the time--and clothed us in his righteousness, his acceptability, his dearness and nearness to him, and thus we stand "accepted in the Beloved One," received in his place. That is where repentance brings us.
It Doesn't End Here
But repentance is not only for the beginning of the Christian life. It is the way you start as a Christian, true. You come to God, like Adam and Eve, and say, "Yes, Lord, I'm the one. I've been running from you, I've been hiding from you, I've been estranged from you. It's because of what I've done. No one else is to blame but me." Then immediately God says, "I've taken care of all that. My Lamb has died for you and you stand in his place, acceptable to me." That is the way you begin the Christian life.
But that is only the beginning. Repentance is the basis upon which the whole Christian life is built. We must be continually repenting of those areas where we fail or fall back upon a way of living which God has said is not right. I find that as a Christian I am repenting far more than I ever did before; about things I never dreamed of repenting of before, because I am learning more and more that the Christian life is lived on a totally different basis.
I find I must repent of my self-dependence, and so must you. "Without me," says the Lord Jesus, "you can do nothing." If you attempt to do anything apart from that sense of dependence upon him to work through you, you need to repent, to change your mind, to accept again the covering of God, the clothing of his grace, the cleansing of his love.
This can, and perhaps will, occur dozens of times a day until we learn at last, little by little, to walk in this way, to count on his working. He is ours, and all that he is belongs to us. This is standard operating procedure, not just emergency treatment.
Now that Adam and Eve are standing before God, having acknowledged their sin, having said the same thing about it that God said, having admitted that they did the thing God said was wrong, his whole relationship to them has changed and he is on their side, he is "for" them, as Paul tells us God is "for" us (Romans 8:31). He has been this way all along but Adam and Eve could not enjoy it until they repented.
Prayer: Our Father, we thank you that we can echo with the Apostle Paul these words, "if God be for us, who can be against us?" If his love is made available to us then nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ our Lord. We pray that this may have meaning for us more and more, as we learn to repent of our self-dependence and to cling consciously and helplessly to the continual flow of grace and strength from our loving God. We ask in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.