Weekly Bible Devotional
“The Bible: Good and Evil”
February 7, 2021
Scripture for Sunday: Genesis 2:4b-7, 15-17; 3:1-8
In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens,5 when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; 6 but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground—7 then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 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.”
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; 5 for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
8 They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
Notes on the Text:
One of the great themes of scripture is about dealing with evil and suffering. There are many different voices and experiences in the Bible on how to deal with pain in the world. This week I would like to highlight an overarching biblical theme related to evil and pain: Affirming God’s goodness and presence in the midst of our brokenness and suffering. We are using the stories of creation from Genesis 2 and 3. The context for these stories is the Babylonian Exile for the people of ancient Israel around the year 587 BCE. Because of their location in the Bible, we often think that the stories of creation were written first. However, these stories were shared and written during the time of Exile. The people were influenced by their experience of being forced to leave home because of their mistakes and disobedience to God’s vision for their lives. In order to subdue them and destroy their national identity, the Babylonians sent most of them, especially the leadership into exile. In exile, the people of Israel had to re-examine their faith and their understanding of God’s covenant with them. The context is that of suffering. The Israelites gave a different reflection on creation than that of the Babylonians who saw violence as a redemptive force. The Babylonian stories about creation were based on violence. If you are interested in more information about the myth of redemptive violence, you may go to this article by Walter Wink: https://www2.goshen.edu/~joannab/women/wink99.pdf. The Israelites on the other hand, affirmed the goodness of God and that only when we are reunited with God can we find our true peace. Rediscovering our connection to the source of original goodness does not eliminate suffering, but it gives us the strength to find meaning and to continue through life with love and hope.
The scriptures this week highlight the theme of being created good and in connection to God, to each other, and to all of creation. Whenever we lose that sense, we suffer deeply. The stories of creation in the first three chapters of Genesis are about God’s grace and love even as people mess up and lose their sense of connection to God. The human struggle to know that God is with us even in our suffering is an essential part of our faith and its stories. What is interesting in this story is that God prepares Adam and Eve for the journey by clothing them. Even though God is not pleased with their disobedience, they are not left to fend for themselves. God sews clothing for them that are more substantial than the fig leaves they sewed for themselves. They had to leave the garden, but they did not leave without God’s provision and love for them.
We can’t always explain why bad things happen, but we can always trust in the presence of God with us in all of our experiences. The illusions of shame and separation are healed when we become aware of God’s care for us in the midst of our suffering. There is no mistake or mishap big enough to separate us from the love of God (to quote Paul in Romans 8).
The stories of Genesis help us to get this truth according to Richard Rohr, “Whenever we fall out of right relationship with God and others, we no longer experience paradise. The breaking of the unity is the loss of the community, which is the sharing of life in honest, open companionship…We want to put ourselves first. We want to be independent. We don’t want to admit our dependence on God.”
One of the patterns we see in the Bible and on the spiritual journey is this: Orientation, disorientation, and reorientation or as Rohr puts it: “Order, disorder, and reorder.” It is the pattern of human maturity. We are created in the image of God (being deeply connected to God), we lose our sense of that, but God helps us to mature into union with God and others. And this is a work in progress for us, a continual cycle. We are born innocent with a feeling of connection to all, but when we grow up, we feel separate and get wounded and then we wound others. The healing and transformation come to us not by going back to that state of innocence. Instead healing comes when we allow God to help us find a higher wisdom for living life. Even as we experience pain and suffering, we are aware of the healing presence of God and can access that source each moment or at least each day. This does not resolve the contradictions and challenges of life. It instead embraces them through the power of God. Instead of having to classify things or people as good or evil, we rise above and see them from the perspective of God’s love. The focus is to be on healing and presence instead of analyzing, fixing, or controlling.
Prayer by Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman:
O My God
My soul’s companion
My heart’s precious friend
I turn to You.
I need to close out the noise
To rise above the noise
The noise that interrupts –
The noise that separates –
The noise that isolates.
I need to hear You again.
In the silence of my innermost being,
In the fragments of my yearned-for wholeness,
I hear whispers of Your presence –
Echoes of the past when You were with me
When I felt Your nearness
When together we walked –
When You held me close, embraced me in Your love,
laughed with me in my joy.
I yearn to hear You again.
In Your oneness, I find healing.
In the promise of Your love, I am soothed.
In Your wholeness, I too can become whole again. Amen.