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2CH sermons

Our declaration of autonomy

A sermon by Dominic Steele

God: our loving God, our maker, the one who is unique and supreme, and who created a world that is good. We also saw that this loving God made us in his image and gave us the extraordinary privilege and responsibility of ruling his world under his guidelines. We were allowed to eat of anything in God’s garden, except the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But we saw that we are just like my children, in that as soon as they are told there is one thing they are not allowed to do, that is all they are interested in doing. Why do we do that? It is because we do not like someone else being in charge.

Genesis chapter 3 begins with the serpent persuading the woman Eve to doubt God’s word

Eve listened to the serpent and thought: “That sounds good! I’d like to be like God. I’d like to know good and evil.”

The first thing to note is that there is no mention of apples here, despite the popular myth that we see in some TV commercials. Also, eating the fruit was not a secret code for having sex. (Some people think it was sex, because straight afterwards they put their clothes on, but sex is part of God’s good creation.)

What was it to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? It was a declaration of autonomy.

An important point to make here is that when Adam ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and in doing so, declared autonomy from God, you and I were right there with him. It’s as if we were whispering in Adam’s ear, “Adam, it looks good, don’t trust God, he doesn’t know what’s best. Go for it, declare your independence. You don’t need God, make yourself the boss!”

When Britain went to war against Germany, Winston Churchill made his great speech: “We shall fight in France, we shall fight in the seas and oceans…we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing-grounds…we shall fight in the hills…”.

The people of Great Britain were right there with Churchill, at war with Germany, and the people of Australia were right there with Churchill, at war with Germany. It was not just Winston Churchill’s war, it was the whole of Great Britain’s war, and it was Australia’s war. Even my father, a little boy was at war with Hitler in Germany.

Just as my Dad was right there with Churchill, so we were right there with Adam. When Adam declared autonomy from God, he acted as our leader and representative.  Similarly, we are at war with God because we have declared autonomy from Him. Now, there are massive consequences flowing from our declaration of autonomy, consequences both for our relationships with one another and for our relationship with God.

First, regarding our relationships with each other, we are no longer at peace with each other, but now have a dog-eat-dog mentality. In the beginning, there was a beautiful picture of life in God’s world: The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame. (Genesis 2:25) There was no shame, and there was total peace in the relationship. They were perfectly open with each other and no one took advantage of anyone else because they were living God’s way. God was in charge, determining what was good and what was evil. There was no need for clothes because there was no way anyone would take advantage of anyone, or take advantage of insecurities, and no one had any insecurities.

In contrast, now there are autonomous people around, making their own rules. Some autonomous people, use, abuse, and prey on the vulnerable. After Adam and Eve had eaten from the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil: Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realised they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. (Genesis 3:7)

If Adam had not eaten the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, then we could all walk around naked and not feel vulnerable. We need to wear clothes to cover ourselves up because as a result of our declarations of autonomy, we do not trust each other and so we are afraid that someone will take advantage of or laugh at us. There is now a break in our relationships that was not there before. The once-perfect relationship, where we were naked and felt no shame before God, now has a fracture, a rupture. God’s beautiful world has been vandalised.

The other consequence of our autonomy declaration is that our relationship with God is also damaged:

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. (3:8) We used to live at peace with God, but now we are afraid, hiding behind the tree. God is angry with our autonomy, treason and rebellion. It is not an impersonal matter because he made us and we are his. When we thumb our nose at him, ignore his guidelines and write our own rules, see how God reacts from verse 9:

But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” 10He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” 11And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” 12The man said, “The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” 13Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (3:9-13)

God had been clear about his expectations, and they have been defied; therefore, God is justifiably angry.

In the same way when we declare autonomy from God, he is angry. Can a loving God be angry? It is important to see that the opposite of love is not anger; the opposite of love is indifference. The parent cares much more about the child’s disobedience than the babysitter. (When I am babysitting other kids children I just try to keep the peace. But when my children declare autonomy – I rebuke them. God is not ultimately indifferent like a babysitter. Because God loves and cares for us, he is angry when we defy him. God justly disciplines those who rebel. First, God holds the devil accountable and punishes him:

So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. 15And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will batter your head, and you will batter his heel.” (3:14–15)

This is the prediction of the ongoing struggle between good and evil. Here the idea is raised that God will do something about the evil that has been unleashed in the world. We will see what God does about it in the next few chapters. The man and the woman are also responsible, therefore they are also held accountable. For the woman, God punishes her by saying that childbearing will now be painful and relationships will be difficult:

16To the woman he said, ‘I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. 17Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you’. (3:16–17)

Now, husband-wife relationships are difficult and the battle of the sexes has begun. She wants him to do things her way and desires to rule him, but he will not be ruled by her. The consequence of our autonomy is that all marriages have tensions and complexities (anyone who says theirs does not, is not telling the truth). God punishes the man by saying that work will now be difficult. Before this, work such as growing food, was easy. In the beautiful garden, you just put in the seeds and the crops grew. But now, God says to Adam in verse 17:

“Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it’, cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. 18It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.” (3:17-18)

Now, in the vandalised, broken world, work will be difficult because there are thorns and thistles in the ground. The perfect world is not perfect any more; therefore, work is no longer a simple pleasure. When working these days, machinery and computers break down, hard disks get wiped, photocopiers will not work, suppliers let you down, relationships are strained, and so on. However, the most significant punishment that God pronounces is in verse 22, and it impacts all of us:

And the Lord God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.’ (3: 22)

If we had not rebelled, then we could have lived forever in perfect relationship with God, walking with him in the garden – forever at peace with God, and with each other. But because we declared autonomy, God will not let us live forever. We cannot reach out and eat from this other tree, the tree of life. Why? It is to limit the destruction and vandalism we can do to this world and other people.

What now? What will be done to put things right? Things cannot be left as they are, with the creation thumbing its nose at the creator. And we can’t fix the problem – because we are the problem! How might God come to deal justly with autonomous me? How could God forgive me? Those questions will be answered in later sermons.

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