“And the Lord God commanded the [human], ‘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.” (Genesis 2:16-17, NRSV)
Have you ever been told what NOT to do?
As a parent, I feel like I spend a ton of time telling my daughters not to do something. “Don’t throw your food on the floor.” “Don’t hit your sister.” “Don’t talk to people like that.” “Don’t run into the ocean.”
But, I’m also told what not to do. Megan came home from the grocery store one time with a carton of cookies. She looked me right in the eye and said, “These are for Monday night.” Translation: Do not eat the cookies.
It turns out that being told not to do something is as old as time itself. In the these, and surrounding, verses from Genesis 2, we hear the familiar words of God telling the human what NOT to eat.
But it is really less about what NOT to do, and more about what God is doing.
First, God gives the Human a purpose. The Human’s vocation is “to farm and take care of the garden.” God created the Earth, but the Human is called to share in the care of that creation. Second, God permits the Human to eat of anything in the garden.
Third, God calls the human to trust and obey. You thought I was going to say NOT eat from the tree of knowledge, right? Well, that’s true, God does do that. While God permits the Human to eat freely, God prohibits eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
Walter Brueggemann writes about these verses, “The primary human task is to find a way to hold the three facets of divine purpose together.” We have a purpose from God in caring for God’s creation, which includes caring for each other. God permits us freedom and free will, yet God also calls us to trust and obey.
This is really what is happening here. We do God an injustice when we reduce what is happening in these verses to a “don’t do that” command. In fact, command is the wrong word.
It is an invitation to trust and obey the Creator.
All the things we tell our kids (or spouses) not to do is for their safetly. We are helping them be better humans. And we listen to those who tell us these things because we trust them. It is the same with God. God is longing for us to trust and obey.
And it is not because God needs us to, but because God loves us.
Lent is a prime time to consider how we are or are not trusting and obeying God in our lives. This season of self-reflection invites us to contemplate how we may over used our free will to the point of not trusting and obeying God.
How are you trusting and obeying God?
Lord, God, in this season of self-reflection, may we slow down to hear what you are saying to us. May the words you speak to us in the stillness and silence of our hearts move us to trust and obey you. Amen.
Resources: Brueggemann, Walter. Genesis. John Knox Press, 1982.