In the Beginning

The tempting fruit shined in the sunlight, and the piercing echo of the words of God echoed in Adam’s head. In the first act of suppressing one’s own internal dialogue, Adam pressed through his own resistance to join his wife in eating the fruit she had taken from the forbidden tree. At least abstractly, he knew the stated consequences. A knot formed in his stomach as he took the first bite. He couldn’t lose his wife, or rather, he had to know that wherever he was, she would be there as well. Nothing delighted his heart more than her happiness and vibrancy, but he had overvalued immediate reward against long-term consequence, and suddenly he was aware of his nakedness. The devil’s bargain is always to entertain a shallow, fake reality and act accordingly for a short-term gain that undermines long-term reality.

Adam’s shallow, immature love was short-lived, and now the pressure of the curses upon them both weighed heavily. His shame at how quickly he betrayed her when God confronted him with his choice bore into his soul. Why had he blamed God for placing there with him the one whom he claimed he treasured most? The feeling was echoed by the muscular pain that accompanied his new form of labor bore at his extremities and back and the way the thorns the ground now yielded dug into his skin. This form of suffering was now the only way to make the ground suitable for seed and growth. Even at the emotional level, it seemed at times that the more he catered to Eve, the less she responded to him, as if something within her resented the fact that she needed him more than he needed her, and the weight of the expectation on him to produce and perform was foreign from his beginnings.

He felt the wise thing to do was to balance his affections with hard truths to allow a deeper, more authentic love to grow; after all, it was his gutless acquiescence and unwillingness to stick to what he knew was true that had ejected them from a much easier set of circumstances in the lush garden which was their previous residence. The brief yet intense pain of facing facts and taking full responsibility for his family’s situation at least gave Adam a sense of purpose, a framework for how to live the rest of his days, and an explanation to the children he had borne into a world much different from the one he left behind. It also provided some consistency to the somewhat unstable relationship he now experienced with Eve.

***

It was a common enough practice, wasn’t it? Abram considered Sarai’s offer of a second wife through whom he could bear children with a heightened level of anxiety. His own desires warred with what he believed God had meant – when he said “one through your own loins,” did he not mean through the wife to whom he was faithful up to that point? When Sarai had justified it by saying “The Lord has prevented me from having children,” did that not clash with the promise of having offspring as numerous as the stars? Certainly the God of all the earth did not need this connivance to fulfill his promises. Abram acquiesced, and a son to be named Ishmael was born.

It would prove impossible to truly separate the act and practice of human love with the event of procreation, as Sarai had done – as if a baby could be split in two and still be considered a baby. Sure enough, mutual disgust bubbled to the surface between Hagar and Sarai. All violence truly begins as a distortion of reality in the mind that is expressed in distorted language and bears fruit in distorted acts. Errors once cultivated cannot always be easily uprooted immediately – sometimes they have intertwined themselves in living realities and must be allowed to finish their course. Ishmael’s offspring would be many and great, but resolution to Sarai and Hagar’s quarrel in Ishmael would not happen until the renewal of all things.

In the meanwhile, restoration to the ideal would only come through a rebirth. Abram would now be Abraham, Sarai would now be Sarah. Ishmael would go with Hagar to find their own place and their own way. In one sense God would start over, and be more explicit now that Abraham and Sarah knew that great things couldn’t simply be done in the easiest way available: “Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac.” Great things are always audacious. The notion that an old man and an old woman would have a healthy, robust son would prove to anyone who heard that God was not like the idols and edifices man made in his own image; God was audaciously greater than man’s imagination.

***

Pain rippled through the crown of Jesus’ head as the crown of thorns was placed upon him. Fervent prayer could not abate the necessity of the fate that lay before him. In this world, choices are only the compromises of those who are unable to see and grasp perfection. Jesus had long ago concluded that a temporary, short-lived act of laying aside his prerogatives of authority and power for a humiliating fate would reap eternal rewards for those he cherished the most in time. As later witnesses would attest:

[Luk 24:25-26 ESV] 25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”
[Act 17:2-3 ESV] 2 And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.”
[Heb 2:17 ESV] 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.

The blighted, compromised condition of those who had grown to hate him – his own countrymen, the people of Israel, and because of Israel’s failures, the rest of humanity – was a reminder that out of what was now darkness would come, over time, a purified and glorified nation, ready to rule and reign in righteousness. Fallow ground would be broken up among the Gentile nations and their ascension among the nations of man as they honored him in even the small measures in which they knew him would fill the earth with the knowledge of God. The joy he knew would come fueled his resolve to endure the series of events which he allowed to befall him.

The pain on his mother’s face from the piercing of her soul and the confusion in John’s eyes at the foot of the cross was precious in his sight. It was a bittersweet sensation of enduring devotion in the midst of his physical suffering, and even momentarily distracting from the cruel fate he was enduring. Peter’s grief at abandoning the Lord he had testified of had caused him to weep bitterly and avoid the horrific and confusing sight of Jesus crucified. They would understand in time. The absurdity of “the Messiah, the Son of the Living God” – whom Peter had proclaimed and on whose behalf Peter had taken up sword against civil authorities – have been stripped bare, tortured, and crucified to death sent his thoughts into near blackout with confusion.

Their mourning would be turned to joy as they saw that the curse of Adam had been inverted. What the one in whom God first breathed, who walked with God in the cool of the day, should have known is the God who was greater than everything always had a ready solution for even the worst failings if only he had come to him in the cool of the day in spirit and in truth.

Instead of being known by humanity from time immemorial, this robust and absurd mystery was hidden from the foundation of the world until the coming of the last Adam. It was greater than the law and existed before it, and would be revealed in and through Christ’s body on earth to all who would believe. The blessing of Abraham, originally secured by a sacrifice averted by faith and obedience, would reach all nations because of Jesus’ sacrifice, a necessity because others did not obey.

From the mouths of the church’s opponents, Jesus’ act and the cascade of events set in motion would “turn the world upside down.” Had someone told a Roman Caesar of the day that a single Jew’s death would, 400 years hence, completely upend the religious life of the empire and create the most prominent religious institution in the entire world, certainly laughter would have been an appropriate response.

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