‘The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.’
“In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Found in Genesis chapter 3: 1-24
How do I look this child in the face and tell her everything is going to be okay when the reality all around her says it’s not? When her nine year old frame spins on a planet full of poverty and pain and sadness and she knows more than most what this means. When she spins on that planet in a city with one of the highest murder rates in the world and bullets don’t stop and ask if you’re too young. When she spins on this planet in a community where girls lose childhood innocence far too soon, and she’s knows in her numb heart just how this feels.
I don’t need to tell her about all this spinning sadness, because the scars on her heart have driven it into her soul. With all the hardness of heart of a veteran of war, she knows. She knows the darkness of violation that no nine year olds should know. She knows that humans flex their ‘free will’ at the expense of hers. She knows that living in poverty wages war on her dreams. She knows.
She knows, she feels, she lives, all of this. She knows the dark, and it isn’t light. It weighs heavy on her soul. Just as it does for most human beings on this planet.
Where is the light in all this spinning pitch? Because there are seasons here on this patch of earth when we all worn-out wait, languishing in darkness, searching, straining, scanning the horizon for a thin gold rim of hope.
This is not the world that any of us were dreamt for. This is not the world our fragile human hearts were formed for. It is now our lived reality, but it was not our breath’s beginning. The beginning that was planned for us in a garden long ago.
There was another reality then. Unmixed with fear and pain and thickening dark. A time when light and hope danced all together, when this whole spinning planet spun on chords of love alone. When we were wholly alive in the breath of God in our lungs, living in trusting love, purposeful existence and volitional freedom.
‘God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.’ Genesis 2:31
It was all very good. All of it. Good and safe and free from all this spinning pain.
“Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” …
…”And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die”.” Genesis 2:8-9, 16-17
There were two trees, and no restrictions were placed on the one that gave life. It was good, it was given, because only good things were freely given then. No fear, no sadness, no world of spinning pain. Adam and Eve had only experienced good, goodness was their lived reality.
It was all good, until that day, the day that altered every day after that one. That day that arrives with a hiss on the wind, and a whispering truth twister slides and skulks, waiting to wedge himself between all that was beautiful and good and right in the world; between God and and His children.
“Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” Genesis 3:1
And this slithering darkness dresses up in light, using twisted truths and subtle lies, winding them around humankind’s ego, stroking deception into their veins, massaging the poison in, “Did God really say…” he hisses planting doubt where had dwelt trust.
And sometimes it is in the absences we truly see what is present, omissions revealing subtle motivations. From the beginning of the second account of creation in Genesis chapter two, the name YHWH is used twelve times describing God’s active personal involvement in His creation. ‘YHWH’ is a proper noun translated in English as ‘the Lord God’, and is the personal name of God. No other name from chapter two on is used for God until this hissing serpent’s speech at the beginning of chapter three.
This serpent slips himself between God and His children and in his words attempts to de-throne God as Lord, using the more impersonal and generic ‘Elohim’, a distancing arms-length name for God, rather than His personal name YHWH, revealing his contempt and rebellion against the Kingship of YHWH.
And Eve, with his hissing ‘did God really say…’ is drawn by his words, drawn into deception, drawn to discard ‘Lord’ from her references to God also.
“The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,
but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die”.” Genesis 3:2-3
And right away the disease begins to take hold. Not only does Eve start to refer to God with the same distance and disrespect as the serpent, but she then also begins to twist truth herself, presenting partial truths in her retelling of God’s commands for them.
Where God in His generous abundant grace had said ‘you may freely eat’ (Genesis 2:16) now she reports it simply as ‘you may eat’. Where God had only said they ‘must not eat’, now she adds ‘and you must not touch it’. And when God has said ‘you will certainly die’ she simply says ‘you will die’.
Her exaggerations and omissions makes God appear mean. And now the serpent comes to her rescue with an alternative version of the truth, a twisted truth she would much rather hear…
“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:4-5
“You will not certainly die,” the serpent hisses and in this statement reveals that He knows exactly what God has said. Where Eve misquotes God (dropping the ‘certainly’) the serpent does not. He simply twists Gods words and makes God look like ‘the bad guy’, claiming He is withholding ‘truth’ and ‘wholeness’ from them, “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened”.
“You will be like God” he hisses. And were they not already like God? Made in His image?
The Devil wields partial truth to wreak a full deception, he uses the very thing they are to twist them into something less.
For Eve to yearn to be like God was not wrong, identifying with God, well, that was the best of her, her spiritual yearning to be more like her heavenly father. But she reached for what was right in the wrong way, and herein lies the root of all our problems, the achilles heel of all humankind. Our authentic spiritual yearnings get twisted up in half truths, and half truths fully deceive us and become the source of all our pain. And still we reach in the wrong directions in an attempt to satiate our authentic yearnings, yearnings for wholeness that can only ever find their true fulfilment in God. Yearnings for love, twist into unhealthy relationships, yearnings for significance twist into selfish ambition, yearnings for purpose twist into drivenness for success. These twisted truths have a strangle-hold on humankind as we are blinded by the slithering whispers of darkness dressed as light.
The whole truth is we are like God because we are made in His image, we are loved because we are God’s children and He loves us, we are significant because we bear His image, we have purpose because He has given us a vocational calling.
The whole truth is that all our yearnings are at the root yearnings for only what God can provide. And this is perhaps then the greatest irony in human history. The one relationship that would satiate all our inner yearnings is the one we now push away. The truth twister works his wiles to write God out of the picture altogether, using our very yearnings for God and our God-given identity against us.
“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realised that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” Genesis 3:6-7
Pulled by the threefold enticements of their hunger for beauty, their appetite for good food and their thirst for the subtle power knowledge brings, they reach. They reach past God’s command for more. And now human eyes are opened to the darkness. Where before was only light and life, now they see the mixed truth of good and evil, the mixed truth of darkness and light.
Their eyes are open and so they begin to cover up and hide, shame for the first time enters human vocabulary; authenticity, freedom and openness are replaced by avoidance, alienation and fear.
‘Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” ‘ Genesis 3:8-9
This first question in the Bible is the first question God always asks, asks them and asks us ‘Where are you?’. God knew exactly where they were. He was giving them a chance to name it for themselves, just as He asked them to name the animals now He asked them to name their fear, their sin, their disobedience. The way we name things reveals where our heart is. Our failure to name in truth reveals the truth of where we are at. Adam answers in partial truth, a trick he learned from the hiss on the wind.
He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” Genesis 3: 10-11
Again, God knows the answer to His question, but He always gives this chance, this chance for naming, for remorse, for repentance. And Adam throws Eve under the bus, revealing that the dismantling of the image of God within him has began, truth has crumbled, love has disintegrated, self interest, not personal responsibility, reigns in his words.
‘The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”’ Genesis 3:12
In one breath Adam blames both God and Eve, not using the intimate name of either, but distancing himself from both. And then Eve follows suit by shifting blame to the serpent.
‘Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”
The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”’ Genesis 3:13
Humankind chose the mixed tree over the tree of eternal life, eternal good. We chose a cocktail of evil and good mixed together and now we live with the scars of one and the longing for the other. We are mixed, within our souls still holding flashes of the gifts of Life, like a distant song with words only partially remembered amidst the inner dark.
It wasn’t just Adam and Eve’s choice to take the fruit that set the chain reaction of brokenness into action, it was that in choosing to replace the love and worship of God with anything other than Him at the centre they took out the foundation stone of all creation, and the beating heart core of all humanity, and then tried to live without it. And the ensuing avalanche of bricks and mortar right down through history is simply the result of a gaping hole in the foundation of human existence, the absence of the only foundation that can hold all things in place. Nothing we try to prop up our humanity with can replace the foundation stone of God Himself, and we forever fall without Him.
Humanity chose the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and we know it, we know it in the darkness flashed on television screens, the contorted bodies of children killed with sarin gas, the body bags of teenagers in high school mass shootings. We now know what evil looks like, and it isn’t good.
And wounds open, fault lines crack and pain is the only thing that was ever going to come from all of this. And we become the living dead, separated from the life of God, but yet still mysteriously not separated from the love of God. The fragments of who we are as human beings lie scattered on the ground, love in shards and shreddings, our vocational calling turns to dust, slipping through our fingers. From dust we were formed and to dust we return, in the shadow of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Now everything has a worm and a rot, a rank and rusty death. All that was good is infiltrated by evil and we get to know it all.
If only humankind had chosen the other tree.
And on the week I was working on part of this writing project, (the writing of the story of our Imago Dei anointing, our blessing and our calling to steward this planet and all it’s creatures) on that very week in May a human being made in the image of God drops poison into our yard for our big gentle mastiff dog to find and eat and writhe in pain for days from. And while I scratch on paper and type in text about our human vocation to steward all creatures on earth, she slips away each day little by little in agonising pain haemorrhaging her life from the inside out.
And this whole planet now haemorrhages from the poison in all our veins, the poison usurping the image of God within us.
And in the middle of this same sad week, the week that I wrote about the blessing and calling, one afternoon I drop a teenager up the hill to her home and I realise who she is and how her father died two years ago, shot two hundred yards from my front gate. I remember the sound of the bullet beating-down life that night. I remember the thud of fear in my heart with my husband not yet home. And now this beautiful girl made in the image of God, she is fatherless in a fragmented family.
And this world is haemorrhaging losing blood, losing love, losing our humanity as it seeps out through the cracks in all our lives, the cracks of a building without a foundation. And the bearers of the blessing become the bearers of the curse, the curse dismantling love, stewardship, truth and freedom.
And Adam and Eve, from that moment, that moment when they listened to the whispering deception in the garden, they know it, the knowledge of good and evil, they get their wish. Their eyes are pried wide open to the knowledge of good and evil, as evil takes hold of one son and he takes the life of another. They get to know it all now. They get to feel it all as close as a putrid breath on their skin, to feel for the first time the pain of shame, of loss, of anguish, of regret… of all the myriad feelings that now flood in with the dark.
The whispering hiss on the wind didn’t tell them the whole truth, not this part. The whole truth that everything would break including their own hearts.
So much has been lost, broken, shattered in shards:
Our relationship with God,
“…and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden” Genesis 3:8.
Our relationship with each other,
“The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”’Genesis 3:12
“Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” Genesis 3:16
Our relationship with our mandate and calling,
‘“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground,”’Genesis 3:17-19
“For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.’ Romans 8:20-22
Our relationship with our own physical self,
“with painful labor you will give birth to children” Genesis 3:16.
“through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life” Genesis 3:17.
Our relationship with our very own inner self, our Imago Dei spirit, our breath of God within,
“until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” Genesis 3:19.
‘For dust you are’ and with those words the image of God within all humankind lies in brokenness on the ground. Though still physically alive, our breath, our God given understanding is no longer mentioned, ‘for dust you are and to dust you will return’. Where dust was described first in the forming of us, now it describes the (at least partial) deconstruction of us. We acted in mud and mud we became. We made our choices and our choices made us. Break.
A disconnect enters our human soul, where once was inner freedom and spiritual life now lies an inner turmoil, an inner battle and brokenness between our human spirit and human soul. Between the coping mechanisms of our psyche and our struggle to hear the voice of God. Just as we work the ground by the sweat of our brow, so we ‘work out our salvation with fear and trembling’ (Philippians 2:12) , our battle to grow spiritually by the sweat of our brow. Spiritual life no longer comes naturally and freely. It becomes a battleground with all the usual casualties of war, as some of us give up altogether and become more mud than breath.
All peace is broken and all wholeness in pieces, at the foot of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. And all this pain floods into this spinning world. And where God in love had pronounced His blessing on humankind, now in sorrow He pronounces curses (Genesis 14-19).
And the battle rages all around us now, all around us and within us, good verses evil, light verses dark, always boiling down to this one repeating choice: The love of God as the foundation of our humanity or something else, trust in God’s way of seeing things, or another way, our own way; eyes wide open to the dark. Because everything truly good is of God and everything evil, the absence of Him.
Human life has become a tug of war, and our arms wrench and teeth clench and pain is the only outcome from this tear, the tear between who we are formed to be and who we have become, the tear between our Imago Dei and our grasping after dark.
And like the leaves Adam and Eve plucked to use to cover their shame, they have plucked themselves and all future generations from the tree of life. They still breathe, but their slow death has begun in the long listless fall to the forest floor. All human life is now in the inevitable end game of death.
“All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away.”
There were two trees. There are always two trees and now almost unknowing, we bend towards the dark. But at least we still know both. Though we bend towards brokenness we know what good looks like. By the grace of God there is still good. The gold threads remain, the wheat with the tares, the sheep with the goats, the light in the darkness. Now all that remains is to wait for the light…
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”
There were two trees.
But there would also one day be a third.
Within humanity’s curse that day, that day in the first garden long ago, there had been a hidden message, folded into the words of loss, were hid the words of hope…
“So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,
“Cursed are you above all livestock
and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
and you will eat dust
all the days of your life.
And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.”
Genesis 3: 14-15
The word ‘offspring’ also means seed. Buried within these words of loss lay the seed of hope. A seed of hope planted deep in darkness, a holy seed that will one day become the shoot of a sawn off stump (Isaiah 6:13), a tender shoot growing in dry ground (Isaiah 53:1-3) that will be struck on the heal by death, only to turn death on it’s head. A seed that will fall to the ground and die (John 12:24), and in doing so become a tree of life. The third tree.
How do I look this child in the face and tell her everything is going to be okay when the reality all around her says it’s not?
Because this reality of darkness will not have the final word.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:1-5
Pluck a leaf from a tree today and rest it somewhere, on your window sill, your table or mantle piece, to remind you: This is where we are at. Living, but separated from the life of God…
“All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away.”
Consider for yourself today. In what ways have your right yearnings for love, significance, freedom and purpose been usurped by brokenness. How have you reached for the right things in the wrong ways? What has been the impact?
There is no way around the brokenness of humankind. No matter how we try, we cannot fix this.
God doesn’t expect us to. Without Him.
“ In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
What response rises in your heart to the message in this verse?