On the origins and consequences of fear: part 2

Forbidden fruitIn yesterday’s post we laid some groundwork to help us see what we can discern from the Eden accounts of Genesis 2 and 3 about the origins of fear. Today we’ll begin to delve into the meat of it, before hopefully wrapping up tomorrow.

To reiterate and build on something I said yesterday, in my opinion these accounts in the early chapters of Gensis are not intended to provide us with a chronology of the fall. In other words, they are not meant to describe a historical event or events that resulted in sin coming into the world. If we read them that way, we’re likely to come away with quite a shallow understanding. If, on the other hand, we read them as texts that are meant to provide insight into the condition of sinful human beings, there are riches of understanding to be gained.

So, let’s repeat part of our text from yesterday:

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 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.’ (Genesis 2:15-17)

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. 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. (Genesis 3:-7)

I believe there are plenty of clues to indicate that these accounts are to be read allegorically rather than literally. We have a man named Adam (meaning “human” in the Hebrew language), a woman named Eve (chavah in Hebrew, meaning “mother of all life”), a talking snake, and God walking in the garden. In fact, the entire genre of the early part of Genesis is Hebrew poetry, thick with symbolism and allegory. Continue reading

On the origins and consequences of fear: part 1

Adam Eve windowYesterday I wrote about the fact that fear is a deeply ingrained aspect of the human condition. I pointed out that, since we are made in the image of God and God knows no fear, presumably God’s perfect design for us to live free of fear.

But where does this pervading fear come from? I think this is a hugely important question, for it cuts to the very heart of what we believe about ourselves and our relationship to others and to God. How we answer it is therefore decisive for how we perceive and move through the world.

It’s clearly going to take more than one post to come anywhere close to doing this question justice. With that in mind, let’s see where we get to today and then pick up again tomorrow.

In order to try to trace the origins of fear, let’s go back to the founding texts of the book of Genesis:

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 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.’ (Genesis 2:15-17)

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. 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.

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. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ He said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.’ He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’ The man said, ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.’ Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’ (Genesis 3:6-13) Continue reading

Looking forward to that day

Our life is a short time in expectation, a time in which sadness and joy kiss each other at every moment. There is a quality of sadness that pervades all the moments of our lives. It seems that there is no such thing as a clear-cut pure joy, but that even in the most happy moments of our existence we sense a tinge of sadness. In every satisfaction, there is an awareness of limitations. In every success, there is the fear of jealousy. Behind every smile, there is a tear. In every embrace, there is loneliness. In every friendship, distance. And in all forms of light, there is the knowledge of surrounding darkness… But this intimate experience in which every bit of life is touched by a bit of death can point us beyond the limits of our existence. It can do so by making us look forward in expectation to the day when our hearts will be filled with perfect joy, a joy that no one shall take away from us.

— Henri J.M. Nouwen, Making All Things New: An Invitation to the Spiritual Life

Afraid

AfraidA couple of days ago, the following quote was credited on Twitter to American pastor Jonathan Martin:

The heart of God toward us, the whole message of Scripture, is summed up in four words: Do not be afraid.

Is Martin right, or is this just a bit of theological wishful thinking?

I’ve read estimates to the effect that the Bible contains around 360 instances of the words “fear not”. I don’t whether that number is entirely accurate, but even if it isn’t, I think we can safely assume that there is a strong emphasis in scripture on not being afraid.

As well as the witness of scripture, there is also the witness of life lived. Anyone who’s old enough to have been around the block a few times knows well enough that fear is a feature of the human landscape. Continue reading

A new day

This is the final instalment of a special three-part Easter series (you can find parts one and two here and here). I hope you enjoy it.

New dayIt is another morning, this time far from the hustle and bustle of the city. Uncertain of what the future held, we had gravitated back to the comfortable familiarity of Galilee. Once here, not knowing what else to do, it had not been long before we were back in our boats.

We spent the whole of last night trawling the lake, and came up with nothing to show for it. And then, just as we were drawing in the nets and preparing to come in, he called out from the shore and told us to try the other side of the boat. Now, the bulging net lies on the ground beside the boat, and we have just finished a hearty breakfast of fish and bread. A breakfast cooked and served to us by him.

Having got up to begin cleaning away the remains of breakfast, I find myself alone with him, a few yards away from the others. This is the third time I’ve seen him since he rose, but the first time we’ve been face to face. Although I am close enough that I could reach out my hand and touch him, something holds me back – there is a distance between us that cannot be bridged by mere touch. There is no doubt in my mind that this Jesus who stands before me now is the very same man I saw die a criminal’s death; God has raised him to new life, just as he said would happen. Which means I cannot escape the conclusion that everything he said about himself is true, that he really is the Messiah, the chosen one, the Son of Man who is Son of God. This – though it defies all logic and human experience – this I can accept, for there are no alternatives that remotely explain the facts. Continue reading