If you want good answers, ask better questions
Has anyone ever really had to teach a kid to ask why?
Nearly every child I have run across and certain every toddler knows how to ask the question of why. It seems as though God simply decided that curiosity was the best method for learning and puts this in the heart of every child around the age of two. What I think happens is our parents either show patience and have foresight enough to realize that this is a good thing or they lose their temper after the fourth or fifth why and say something along the lines of, “If you ask me why so help me I will…”
I think as we get older, this asking of questions becomes a chore for most rather than a sign of an innate desire to understand the world. I know I went off to school and had to ask questions, had to ask them a certain way, and seemed to only be asking for the purpose of checking off an assignment on an ongoing list of assignments until I finally finished with my education. For many, by then the desire to ask questions is worn out of them and they are left with a desire to just have the answers so they won’t have to ask anymore. The certainty of the answer appears to have taken precedent over the wonder of the question.
But I believe there is something wrong with that. I believe that the question is the best way to understand the world around us. I believe good questions lead to good answers and in turn better to better questions. And I believe the kind of question is important as well. If the question is asked with an answer already in mind, we are not really asking a question we are just looking for confirmation that we are right. Good questions, in my opinion, are born of the desire to learn, not the desire to prove that which we think we already know. I think David Dark hits on something in his book The Sacredness of Questioning Everything when he says,
I believe deliverance begins with questions. It begins with people who love questions, people who live with questions and by questions, people who feel a deep joy when good questions are asked.
– David Dark, The Sacredness of Questioning Everything
For me this has been a good means of learning, that is, when I have been patient enough to remember to ask the questions and taken the time to think of good questions to ask. I think this will be a good means of looking at the foundations of our faith as well, of learning about those things that have become central to our understanding of who God is and who we are in relation to God.
What is the story?
Sean Gladding has a great way of illustrated the story of the Old Testament in his book Story of God, Story of Us, where the stories of the Jewish people are recounted by one of the familial patriarchs when the Israelites were in captivity in Babylon. In the story the old man recounts creation and stops and says, “This is how the Story of God begins, and so it is also the beginning of our story.” I think we need to understand that this is definitely one of our founding stories as well as a founding story for Judaism and Islam with some minor differences.
The story itself however, is the same in its basic form for all three: the world is created with man as part of it, man is placed in a garden called Eden or Paradise, man is made part of a covenant with God, man breaks the covenant, God begins the process of restoring covenant.
A quick word about covenant. According to Old Testament scholar Sandra Richter,
“an agreement enacted between two parties in which one or both make promises under oath to perform or refrain from certain actions stipulated in advance”4 In other words, a covenant was much like a contract.”
God creates the world in Genesis 1 and 2 and then places man (Adam) in a specific place, Eden, with a companion (Eve) to aid him in his tasks. This is the covenant that God establishes: live in the garden, don’t eat or touch the fruit off the one particular tree because if you do you will die. Adam and Eve are tempted to go against the one prohibition of the garden, finally give in to their desire, and Adam and Eve are banished from the garden.
What is the point of the creation/fall narrative?
The great question being answered in the creation/fall narrative is not how did we get here (creation or evolution) but why are we here? Why is mankind as it is and how should we understand our existence?
Walter Bruggemann puts the creation this way, in the simplest terms I can possibly think of: “Creator creates creation.”
- There is one God (Creator)
- He is the one who creates (creates)
- We are the result of that creative act, creation (creation)
So simply put, there is one God, the Creator, who created all of creation. This is the first of what I see as two main points for the creation/fall story. It tells us that there is someone who has carefully crafted all of existence into what we see.
The story also explains to us one of the first important relationships in the story of God and Israel: that of man and God. The relationship begins in what we might call a theocentric, or God centered, world. The man, Adam, takes his place in Eden or Paradise as a part of creation with all of the wonders God has created. He is there “to serve” and “take care of” the creation that God has made by caring for it as God would. Man is of course the only creation of God that bears the mark of being created in the image of God, made to bear the likeness and glory of God. God settled man or Adam (literally: “the soil creature”) there in Eden and gave him someone to serve with, Eve.
The major twist of the story happens in chapter three: they do that which must not be done. God gives them free reign except that they should not, “…eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because on the day you eat from it, you will die!” The couple are approached in the garden by the serpent who promises not death from the tree but enlightenment and life,
“You won’t die! God knows that on the day you eat from it, you will see clearly and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
They believe the serpent and we have our first denominational schism. Adam and Eve have broken with the church of God and take a shot at worshiping at the church of self. Their eyes are indeed opened and they now see themselves in a new light, regarding themselves as naked or having themselves exposed in their now broken state before God. They have traded innocence for knowledge and the knowledge they have received is not a knowledge they are capable of handling. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with the pursuit of knowledge. I think everyone should educate themselves as much as they are reasonably able. I am simply saying that Adam and Eve were not prepared to deal with the result of gaining this kind of knowledge about themselves and the universe. Verse 22 of chapter 3 says, “The Lord God said, “The human being has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil.” Putting God’s knowledge of good and evil in the head of Adam and Eve at that time would have been like planting string theory and particle physics in the mind of a toddler. It was beyond them to truly comprehend what they were now about to think about and understand.
God steps in to remake what has been unmade. He gives the inhabitants of Eden a dressing down (the list of consequences for their indiscretion) and then a dressing up (“The Lord God made the man and his wife leather clothes and dressed them”).
Ultimately the point becomes this: God created all that is, man was given a place of being taken care of while taking care of creation, man chose to seek a different way. God made a covenant with man through nature and through relationship and man broke the covenant. God then began the task of restoring covenant.
What makes the creation and the fall part of our story?
This story is not just a story about Adam and Eve; it is a story about you and me. We have been engaged with God as part of creation. We have been entrusted with things to ‘take care of’ in this life. We have been called to hear the voice of God in the quiet of the day. Our problem is the same as that of Adam and Eve: we have broken faith with the Creator. We have disengaged with God and chosen a way of our own making. We take care of the things that are convenient for us to care for. We have been so distracted by the noise of meaningless things that we could not hear God if he were speaking through a megaphone next to our head.
We have broken faith with the Creator and yet the Creator has shown us the way of restoration in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. The covenant that was once remade with temples and sacrifices is now made anew in our hearts as we accept the way of life, the rule of life that Jesus has taught us; as we accept the task of taking up the ministry of Jesus in our time and place; as we follow Jesus example and die to ourselves to born anew as disciples of Jesus serving God. We are living out the story of creation each day as we too struggle with the temptation to live a life that is separate and apart from God, seeking our own way and doing our own thing. We live the story as we embrace the covenant.
How do we live out our part of the story?
There is a story that has apparently been told in one of the books of Quaker writer Parker Palmer:
It’s a story about a three-year-old girl who was the only child in her family. But now her mom is pregnant, and this three-year-old girl is very excited about having a baby in the house. The day comes where the mother-to-be delivered, and the mom and dad go off to the hospital. A couple of days later come home with a new baby brother. And the little girl is just delighted.
But after they’ve been home for a couple of hours, the little girl tells her parents that she wants to be with the baby in the baby’s room, alone, with the door shut. She’s absolutely insistent about the door being shut. It kind of gives her folks the willies, you know? They know she’s a good little girl, but they’ve heard about sibling rivalry and all of this.
Then they remember that they’ve recently installed an intercom system in preparation for the arrival of the new baby, and they realize that they can let their little girl do this, and if they hear the slightest weird thing happening, they can be in there in a flash.
So they let their little girl go into the room. They close the door behind her. They race to the listening post. They hear her footsteps move across the room. They imagine her now standing over the baby’s crib, and then they hear her say to her two-day-old baby brother, “Tell me about God. I’ve almost forgotten.”
I find that to be a haunting and evocative story, because it suggests that we come from God, and when we are very, very young, we still remember that. We still know that.
We live the story by remembering about God. Remembering that we are part of a covenant relationship with the God who created the very fabric of all existence. Remembering that this covenant is one that was made, broken, and then remade in the very beginning. Remembering that we are a living, breathing extension of that covenant as it was remade in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth and ties us, or grafts us as Paul says, to the covenant made with Israel. We remember and we live out the covenant in every moment, every aspect of our lives. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
 Dark, David; Dark, David. The Sacredness of Questioning Everything (p. 14). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
 Gladding, Sean. The Story of God, the Story of Us: Getting Lost and Found in the Bible (Kindle Location 235). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
 Richter, Sandra. The Epic of Eden (p.70) InterVarsity Press. 2008
 Brueggemann, Walter. Genesis: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (p.17) Westminster/John Knox Press. 2010
 Genesis 3:4-5
 Genesis 3:21