Free to Fall             Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7                            March 13, 2011
You’ve probably heard this more than once, but truer words were never spoken:
Bill Cosby has a comedic monologue called “First Parent.” After creating heaven and earth, God created Adam and Eve. And the first thing the First Parent said to the first children was “Don’t.”

“Don’t what?” Adam replied.
“Don’t eat the forbidden fruit.”
“Forbidden fruit? Really? Where is it?”
“It’s over there,” said God, wondering why he hadn’t stopped after making the elephants.

A few minutes later, God saw the kids having an apple break, and God was angry. “Didn’t I tell you not to eat that fruit?” the First Parent asked.

“Uh-huh,” Adam replied.
“Then why did you do it?”
“I dunno,” Adam answered.
God’s punishment, Cosby concludes, was that Adam and Eve should have children of their own.
And nothing has changed ever since.
In classical mythology, the Fates are three goddesses who determine world events and individual destinies. If you believe in fate, you accept that you have no real choices to make in a life that will end in death.

It’s no surprise that fate is the root of the words fatalism and fatality.

Modern followers of the Fates will want to check out a new movie called The Adjustment Bureau, starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt. It raises some fascinating questions about the limits of human freedom.

“Life is a series of events,” says the movie trailer. “This man. This glance. These moments. All happened according to plan. … Their plan.”

Whose plan?

The Adjustment Bureau’s.

Damon plays a Senate candidate from New York who has a chance meeting with Blunt, sparking a romance.
This is not supposed to happen in his life. Suddenly a group of mysterious men from the Adjustment Bureau step in to put him back on his proper track.
Damon rejects them, and he and Blunt begin to run for their lives, under and through the streets of New York City.

“We are the people who make sure things happen according to plan,” says one of the members of the Adjustment Bureau. “We monitor the entire world.”
These master manipulators show Damon a book with the plan for his life and tell him they’re determined to use their considerable power to keep him on track.

“You can’t outrun your fate,” another one tells Damon.

Or can you?

The film raises questions of how much freedom we have — and whether unseen forces control and manipulate our lives.

The second and third chapters of Genesis, with the story of the Garden of Eden, raise similar questions. “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to till it and keep it (tend, preserve and protect it),” says Genesis.
“And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die’” (2:15-17).

On one hand, God appears to be like a member of the Adjustment Bureau, placing man in the garden. God is a supernatural force, exerting control over the first human being.
But on the other hand, God gives the man considerable freedom, saying he may “freely eat of every tree of the garden” … except one. The man can make a range of choices about what he will eat within the lush and fruitful abundance of the garden.
Only one tree is off limits: “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” But even though one tree is off limits, Adam is given the power to choose it.

The man is free to fall.

How different this is from the world of The Adjustment Bureau. “If you believe in free will,” says the movie trailer, “if you believe in chance, if you believe in choice … fight for it.”

In reality, Genesis reveals a very different truth. According to the Bible, you don’t have to fight for free will at all. God gives it to you, freely.

What an amazing Creator we have, a God with the confidence to let us make choices! The mysterious men of the Adjustment Bureau come across as grim and anxious, fearful of losing control of the world they monitor and attempt to control.
But God says humans may freely eat of every tree of the garden except one. Notice that in laying down that one rule, God gives the gift of free choice itself. Only after
God has explained the options to us can we take advantage of them; only then can we choose to live within certain boundaries.
Only a truly powerful God is strong enough to give power to others. Instead of controlling and manipulating us, God grants us freedom.

God does it out of love, knowing that truly caring parents give their children the freedom they need to explore, experiment and discover the best direction for their lives.
Anxious parents behave more like the mysterious men of the Adjustment Bureau, controlling and manipulating their children in an attempt to keep them on a particular path.
 A few years ago, overly involved moms and dads were called “helicopter parents” because they constantly hovered over their children. Now the situation is even worse: They’re “Velcro parents,” completely attached to their kids.

Our God is not a Velcro God. Instead, God detaches from us and says, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden” … except one. The Lord is clear about boundaries and freedom, knowing that excessive boundaries prevent growth and discovery, while unlimited freedom leads to death.

In the Garden, Eve ponders, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden” … except for one. She explains that one tree is off limits, and God said that if you eat of its fruit, “you shall die” (vv. 2-3). The woman has a very clear understanding of her freedom, her boundaries and her choices.

Immediately, the serpent strikes. “You will not die,” he promises, and in this verse, the crafty creature is actually telling the truth. But in predicting that the man and woman won’t die, he is sowing seeds of doubt about the truthfulness of what God has told them.

Now they’re in trouble.
• They’re wondering if God has told them the truth.
• They’re questioning if death is really the punishment for disobedience.
• They’re attracted to the idea that they can become like God.

We know what these two are feeling, don’t we? The Bible is full of commandments, rules and regulations, but we wonder if all of them are equally true and binding on our lives today. We know that certain choices are dangerous for us, but we don’t think they’ll actually kill us.
Self-improvement seminars are offered all the time, and everyone wants to be wiser and more self-confident. . . . But a relationship with God? Wonderful, but  let’s not overdo it!
So we eat the fruit. Adam and Eve make a completely free choice, and the result is that their eyes are opened and they discover they’re naked. Feeling ashamed of their nakedness, they sew fig leaves together and make loincloths for themselves (v. 7).
     Gazing at the man and woman ridiculously decked out in fig leaves, God must have had second thoughts, so to speak. What now could be done with these spiritual oddities. The Garden of Eden experiment was obviously not going to work.
All God needed now was for these two to find the Tree of Life and compound their deformity with immortality.

But - and this is the amazing part of the story - God chose not to destroy the quaking humans. Indeed God has spent every moment since that incident finding ways to help the human species overcome its disability.

     The story of Adam and Eve tells the truth about human choices, unlike the story of The Adjustment Bureau. Adam and Eve reveal what life is really like — not in the sense of humans having conversations with serpents, but in the sense that human choices always have significant and lasting consequences.
It’s a lie to say that mysterious men from the Adjustment Bureau manipulate the stories of our lives. The truth is that we make free choices every day, choices that draw us closer to God or push us farther away.

We are always free to fall — to fall out of relationship with God. God’s merciful response is to withhold judgment. Adam and Eve were ushered out of the Garden and into the life that we know today.

Through it all, our Creator continues to want to have a relationship with us. In time, God comes to us in human form again, as Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus calls us to follow him, to trust his Word and to walk in his way.
Knowing that we’re always going to make choices that cause us to fall out of relationship with him, God makes a significant and eternal choice: He gives his life for us on the cross, showing us how far he’ll go to be in a relationship with us.

Our choices matter and we’ll continue to make good and bad decisions. But the most important choice in history was Jesus’ decision to give his life for us, to restore our connection with God. This was the ultimate adjustment in the relationship between humans and their Creator.

We are free to fall. We’re also free to trust in Jesus Christ, who brings us back to God. Amen.
  June 2021  
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