A couple of Lents ago I was sitting in Trinity’s Ash Wednesday service feeling pretty pious. Ashes on my head from the early morning service. Yep, I got up early. Leading the faithful through a more extended confessional service. Yep, I’m clergy. Kneeling in prayerful silence. Yep, old school contrition. I remember the prayer of my heart that evening. “Lord, I am so sorry for how human I am.”
Hardly a moment went by without a clear answer, “Nathan, your humanity is not your problem—it is your fixation on being Divine.”
The actual Divine Counsel provoked me. All of a sudden I saw my projects for what they were: Creator-envy. I saw my role in my relationships for what they were: Savior-complexes. I saw my pastoring (pestering) for what it was: conviction-control. Me, myself, and I wanted to be Creator, Savior, and Spirit. I had my sights set high. I would make my own world. I could save--or at least improve--the projects...I mean, people around me. I could certainly save myself.
Adam and Eve left the garden before they were banished from it.
The original sin of Genesis 3 was not gutter-style-sin, but glory-style-sin. It was more of an upward grasp than a downward fall. Almost every pep talk, commencement address, and a ton of preaching is a variation of this seductive message. Eve wasn’t in trouble because she was naughty, but because she was dissatisfied with God’s anthropology. Being a creature wasn’t enough. Adam wanted to be Creator. He wanted to be the Rule-maker and Judge and Justifier. He wanted to be God. The serpent didn’t come to Eve and Adam with temptations of gluttonous consumption or outlawed orgasmic experience.
The serpent tempted with something more to the core: “You will be like God.”
Now, you are talking. “I can be like God? Basically, I can be God? I would do a few things differently than the current leadership. Starting with this fruit from this tree. Knowledge of good and evil seems helpful not harmful. Divine management is so out of touch with life today. If God knew what I knew, he wouldn’t be fussy about this selective fruit prohibition. I’m fine with God if he minds his own business. His will can be done where he has jurisdiction, if he recognizes that my will should be done where I have jurisdiction.”
Adam and Eve left the garden before they were banished from it. They created their own jurisdiction apart from God. Sure, it was a stupid forest fort outside the normal walking paths they formerly trod with God. But, they had bigger plans. Franchise the fruit. Multiply the manipulation. My kingdom come.
The older brother in the prodigal son story did the same. He had holed out space in his father’s house for his rules to govern and his judgment to reign. The crew in Romans 1 did the same. “They...exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Rom. 1:25). The crew in Romans 2 did the same by grabbing the gavel and donning the black robe instead of recognizing the true Judge.
The Creed starts right here, “I believe in God.” It could just as well say, “I believe in God, whom I am not.”
Sure, we are all different, but we all share something in common. We are suckers for the serpent’s offer, “You will be like God.” Most sin doesn’t come from our humanity but from disgust of our humanity. Our limits are disgusting. Our flesh is nasty. Our nakedness is shameful. Our partner is an object of blame. Our co-workers don’t recognize our brilliance. Our old God is not to be trusted. We don’t want to be creature. We want to be Creator. Like the Jeffersons, “We’re movin’ on up...to a de-luxe apartment in the sky.”
Gerhard Forde asks, “We are on our way up, seeking to be gods; God is on his way down, becoming human. Will our paths cross?” (Theology is for Proclamation, 56). The Creed starts right here, “I believe in God.” It could just as well say, “I believe in God, whom I am not.” The commandments start here too, “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods.” So does the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father.” Old Adam and Eve are fired. So is old Nathan and old you. You don’t have to be God. Honesty, you suck at it anyway. Ask the people around you. Our designs to be divine disintegrate into dust. Our ambitions break down into ashes. The dust and ash on our heads is not an outward mark of inward piety, but an outward mark of honest poverty. It is not a cover-up, but an exposé. Not a mask, but an unmasking.
But, look at the shape it takes. It is a cruciform indication of the extent to which God goes in Christ Jesus to claim his own.
Upon that Cross of Jesus,
Mine eyes at times can see
The very dying form of One
Who suffered there for me.
-Elizabeth C. Clephane, 1830-1869
No more climbing, grasping, exhausting upward mobility. No more apologies for your anthropology. You don’t have to be God. God has become human. God has come down all the way to dusty manger, thirsty Samaritan, parched adulteress. He’s changing the subject. God has come to the cheat at the tax booth on the dusty road; to the ‘out-of-his-mind demoniac’ in the dry dead cemetery; to lepers almost dead, little girls, only sons, and grown men already dead. To them all, to us all, God comes. He is not allergic to your dusty ash; he is well acquainted with it. He knew it in everyone he met. He knew it on the ground of dark Gethsemane, on the old rugged cross, and down in the dark and dusty tomb.
He knows right where you are, and he has something to say. Listen and believe his voice: “I do not hold this sin against you. Where are those who would condemn you? I didn’t come to condemn you. I come to give you life.”
When this word is spoken, and with it, the Breath of God is exhaled, human dust lives (Genesis 2:7). Whole valleys of dry bones integrate and breathe (Ezekiel 37). And fearful disciples hope again (John 20:22).
*This article comes to us from our friend, Nathan Hoff.