Monday, February 25, 2008

A View from the Dumpster

Some years ago, on a crisp December morning, I wheeled my old, battle-tested Mercury Sable into the parking lot of Calvary Baptist Church in Garland, Texas. One of the odd jobs that I did to support my family while in seminary was to provide periodic custodial duties at the church we had attended for the past year. This usually consisted of arranging chairs to prepare for or recover from various meetings or parties with the following cleanup. We had the usual constant expenses and a baby on the way so I welcomed any opportunity to pick up some quick cash to ease the burden.

On this day, as I was taking out the garbage (the usual day-old cake, cookie fragments, and leftover punch) I paused beside the dumpster to tie the supersized trash bag before its final shove into the abyss of junkdom. My tying handiwork was interrupted by the brisk north Texas wind blowing the rolling trash can into me. So there I stood, trash bag in one hand, the other trying to keep the trash can from being blown down the parking lot. In my interaction with that contrary wind, I was battling the elements like so many had before me in the long history of mankind. My obstacles in this case were small by historic standards but my frustration was a microcosm of what has been felt by millions since the beginning of time. In the midst of this, strangely or perhaps not so strangely, my mind traveled back to the first time that a man struggled against contrary natural forces. He and his wife had been banished from their beautiful habitat with the promise that, before things got better, they would get much worse. Now, several thousand years later, in that chilly Saturday morning wind, I realized that I was facing…the CURSE.

It need not have happened. Our first father, created from the dust, was fashioned by the hand of God Himself. Our mother was skillfully crafted from a rib of the man who called her “the mother of all the living.” God had formed them in purity and placed them in an idyllic setting, a garden He planted which only required tending by the first couple. Accompanying this, God gave only two commandments. The first was, “Be fruitful and multiply.” Neither the couple nor the present six billion of their progeny have ever had a problem with this commandment. It was with the second commandment that the problems began.

There must have been a myriad of trees in the garden, species that could delight any palette with their delicacies. However, there was one that was very different from the rest for it was of this tree that God said, “you shall not eat of it.” Perhaps, it did not looked materially different from any of the other trees and, but for its central location and designation by the Holy One, would have remained unnoticed among the throng. However, there it stood, the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” There, our first mother, tempted by the serpent and captivated by her own lusts for godhood, partook of this “forbidden fruit.” Not being selfish (or, more likely, not wanting to be the lone transgressor), she shared her find with her husband who also ate. The response was immediate. They did gain the knowledge of good and evil that they sought. However, the evil they now saw was within themselves. They were naked and ashamed.

When confronted by God, the new change in their nature became immediately apparent. Where there had once been harmony, there was now self-seeking. Where there had once been submission, there was now self-justification. Each tried to shift the blame to someone else. Milton wrote Adam well in Paradise Lost:

She whom thou mad’st to be my help
And gav’st me as thy perfect gift, so good,
So fit, so acceptable, so divine,
That from her hand I could suspect no ill,
And what she did, whatever in itself,
Her doing seemed to justify the deed,
She gave me of the tree and I did eat

There were, of course, other consequences. The Fall ensured that there would be a gender gap. Man would rule over woman and women would chafe under this rule. Women would give birth in pain and travail. But, also, the earth was cursed for Adam’s sake. So much so that Paul himself wrote that the creation itself groans under this curse. Just as the nature of man’s heart changed from harmony in his obedience to God to that of rebellion and discord, so also, in like manner, the creation changed.

We will never know in this life what would have become of humanity had Eve not taken of the fruit and then shared it with her husband. And what would have occurred if Adam had not eaten and plunged the human race into ruin and the creation into chaos? Full answers to these questions must await another age. They must await a future earth in which righteousness dwells. However, for the present, this is the only world we have known and in it, cursed though it may be, we must dwell.

In a final note, as I was wheeling the garbage can out of the church before my encounter at the dumpster, I saw the Minister of Education driving away in his sleek Chevy Suburban SUV. I threw up a big wave to this fine man which he returned in an expansive fashion, displaying the friendliness that I had come to expect from him. We have a lot in common, both native Alabamians, both Crimson Tide fans, and both pursuing ministry, he with his two seminary degrees and me in my seminary quest for the Master of Theology. However, in that moment, there was the slightest twinge of … what was it?…was it shame? Deep within the recesses of my soul there was the slightest bit of embarrassment that I should be seen doing so menial a task, a task so beneath my obvious gifting and training. Praise and adoration doesn’t usually follow the garbage man. He goes about his task in seeming anonymity and, while we appreciate his efforts, we don’t expend a lot of energy complimenting him on his theological insights or “how he’s been such a blessing to us.” So, there again, I’m confronted with the effects of the Fall. My desire is to be exalted, not viewed as servile. So unlike our Lord who took on the form of a servant. So much like the Shining One who said, “I will exalt my throne above the stars of God.”

We live in a cursed world but we don’t have to live cursed lives. The great Apostle Paul once cried in anguish, “who will deliver me from the body of this death?” We can claim the same answer that he did, “through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Thanks be to our God that the curse is broken with the new birth, will be eradicated with the new body and will be banished from the new earth.

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