Here are my thoughts for the 1st Sunday in Lent. This is also Boy Scout Sunday.
I have come to the conclusion that there is a paradox involved when one reads today’s Old Testament reading from Genesis. (Genesis 2: 15 – 17; 3: 1 – 7) After God warns mankind not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil because they will die if they do, He allows mankind to name every animal that was created. To me, this means that mankind was given the ability to think and analyze (it also means that God wanted us to study biology, but that’s for another time and place). And if we are given the ability to think and analyze things, then our first question to God, even though we knew the answer, must have been “why can’t we eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil?”
I cannot explain why God would tell mankind not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil and that the penalty for doing so would be death. It is like a parent telling a child not to touch a pot on the stove because it is hot and it will hurt; you know that the first thing the child is going to do is touch the pot. But a child does know the concept of hot and cold and will not understand it unless they encounter it. Perhaps mankind (I use the term “mankind” instead of “humankind” because I believe it is a reasonable translation of the original words of Genesis) did not understand the concept of good and evil?
It seems to me that there is a paradox here. We were created with the ability to think and analyze yet we were commanded not to be curious. In being curious, we complete our creation yet we put a limit to our existence. If we had desired to live without sin and the consequences of death, then our creation would have been a limited one.
The problem with a paradox is that it cannot be easily settled. Are we not to be curious about the world around us? At what point does our natural curiosity have to be curtailed by the rules of mankind and/or society? At what point must our own internal sense and knowledge of the world tell us that the rules of mankind and/or society are wrong or flawed? At what point must we accept the word of others that some things are wrong? At what point do we make the decision about what is right or wrong? At what point do we accept the responsibility for our own decisions?
We are all creations of God, each with the ability to think and analyze and with the ability to ask questions about the world around us and about God Himself. Some people get confused by this, thinking that asking questions about God is somehow heresy or sacrilegious. But how do we know who we are if we do not ask questions. Asking questions and seeking the answers does not always mean that we are seeking the status of God; it simply means that we are trying to fulfill the design of creation. Yet, so many church leaders today want to prevent us from studying and thinking in those terms.
It seems to me that there are too many people in the world today who want to tell us how to think and how to live. They are simply not willing to let other people lead their own lives because they, the moral police, feel that they know what the right way to live is and what the wrong way to live is. And they are not satisfied just telling us how to think; they want to tell us what to think.
There are also too many people outside the church who wish to do the same thing. For them, the story of creation as told in Genesis is a myth. But, to the best of my own limited knowledge, those who say that that the Creation story is a myth cannot explain how it is that we have come to know that there are such things as good and evil. Whether we like it or not, the actions of early mankind put us in the midst of a massive moral dilemma. In discovering who we are, we are condemned to a world of slavery to sin and death. And the dilemma is a question of how to dowe win in a world where the answer is death?
Today is Boy Scout Sunday. I was a Boy Scout for most of my youth. Much of what I learned as a Scout has served me well throughout my life. I have an appreciation for the world around us and many of the skills that I learned in scouting have been used time and time again.
But I have disassociated myself from the Scouting movement because I no longer think that the organization lives up to the standards that they required of me. They may be able to justify their decisions about who can and cannot be a scout and a scout leader but their justification shows a decided lack of knowledge about the world around us, human nature, and mankind. They have made moral judgments more out of fear than out of knowledge. It will not be up to me to say whether or not the decision made by the Boy Scouts are right or wrong; that decision will come from a Higher Court.
What I do know is that I probably would not be where I am today if it had not been for the Scouts in the 1960’s. The 12th Scout Law “A Scout is Reverent”, has been a part of my life almost from the first day that I started.
In 1964, while living in Montgomery, Alabama, I made the decision to seek the God and Country award. When we moved to Denver, Colorado, I began, with two others, the course of study that would lead to that award.
But after I finished the study and was given the award, I did nothing about it. For many years, the award itself was tucked away in a corner of my desk or in a drawer. I slowly found myself in what I have come to call my wilderness period. It was a period of time in which I moved from place to place, earned my college degrees, and started a family. But it was also a time in which I ignored the call that I received in Montgomery.
I do not know what happened to the other two scouts that were in my God and Country class. I do not know what happened to the ten others who followed us in the second class. But one day, God called me to task and I promised that I would finish what I began with the completion of the course in 1965. So I began serving as the liturgist in the church where I was a member, making sure that I did so on the second Sunday in February. As it turned out, I didn’t always serve as the liturgist; some Sundays I was in the pulpit, serving as a Lay Minister. But I took to heart what I was taught some forty-three years ago and I have taken to heart the “rule” that a scout should do his very best.
I say this because 1) we all have been given the skills to learn and explore the world around us and 2) we have all experienced, to some extent, a period of living in wilderness. Yet we are afraid to use the skills we have been given, taught, and learned and the result is that we find ourselves lost. We find that we cannot choose the right path because we are afraid of what lies beyond the next corner. We seek easy answers for hard and complicated questions. We allow others to give answers that blame the problems of the world on others who are different from us in lifestyle, race, or economic status.
It is our fear that causes us to put aside what we know about God and lets the demands of the world around us dominate our lives. It is our fear that causes us to limit what we know about God so that we can justify what we say and what we do. In fear, we are limited. And in limiting what we can do and are willing to do, we are afraid to explore. We become afraid to find out what it is that God has called us to do. We are afraid to stand up and speak out against injustice and repression, even when a study of the Bible tells us that has been the common theme of mankind for thousands of years. We have changed the church from being an instrument of God’s plan for all mankind to being an instrument of ignorance, fear, exclusion, and repression.
We are reminded that temptations are a part of our life. And we are reminded today that, if we succumb to our temptations, then the plan of creation fails. If Jesus had given in to the temptations brought before Him by Satan during His period in the wilderness, then His ministry would have failed before it even began. (Matthew 4: 1 – 11) And if His ministry had failed or not even started, then our lives would not have the completeness that we so often seek. The creation that began in the Garden of Eden so many thousands of years ago would have been lost forever.
I cannot speak to the issue of whether or not God intended for mankind to eat of the tree of knowledge of good or evil. That is subject beyond what I know. God did give mankind a choice and mankind made the wrong choice. But we are given another choice.
As Paul wrote to the Romans (Romans 5: 12 – 19), it was mankind’s frailty that leads us into sin. But such frailties also gave us the ability to see and know the gift that God has given to us in Christ. And that knowledge of Christ now gives us a way to conquer sin and death.
The world around us can be a frightening place. The problems that we face each day can seem overwhelming at times. Yet, from almost the beginning of creation, we have been given the ability to conquer our fears and solve our problems. We have learned about God. We have learned about Jesus. We have learned about the Holy Spirit. Now, it is time to remember what we have learned about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit and put into action what we have learned.
We can, of course, choose not to do so. We have learned that this choice leads to sin and death. But during this season of Lent, we can remember what we have learned and we can choose to put into action what we have learned. We can open our hearts to Christ and then we can complete the creation story. Shall we remember what we have learned?