Everything goes back to the Garden of Eden. It always does. Everything right in our world, everything wrong, everything good, everything we were meant to be, and everything we are now. The beauty & goodness, the fractured Creation, the mercy daily haunting our footsteps, and the wild-hearted God at the center of it all—everything goes back to Paradise. A hushed exchange of words, a seed of doubt, a bite of fruit, and the world was changed forever.
Genesis 3:1-7 recounts how these tragic events unfolded, and the heart of the Serpent’s temptation was this (v. 5): "God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."
You will be like God.
Both east & west of Eden, those words were apparently irresistible—and they still reverberate today. The temptation to be God is just too great for us to pass by. The shiny fruit appeals to our egos in all of their restless cunning, and we salivate at the opportunity to be omnipotent. In Genesis, the gauntlet for control is thrown down, and the question at issue is, “Who’s going to be God?” It’s a perennial struggle, and the human heart is the battleground on which it is waged. To be God is to be in control, sovereign over all things. It is to be the one guiding the planets in their orbits (Psalm 8:3), appointing the times and the seasons of life (Ecclesiastes 3:1), and establishing mankind’s footsteps (Proverbs 16:9). That sounds like a job for us, captains of our ships, and masters of our own destinies that we are. If someone is going to be God—if someone is going to be in control—then by God that someone should be us!
Earlier in the Creation account (Genesis 2:15), God had given Adam a very specific vocation: To work [the garden] and take care of it. Adam & Eve were farmers, placed there to cultivate the soil, tend the land, and steward the resources God had placed beneath them. In a word, they were caretakers. But the problem with humans is that we’re rarely content with our lot in life, and rather than embrace our God-given, creaturely roles, we’d much rather climb the corporate ladder: CEO of the Garden of Eden is our goal. As Eugene Peterson notes, the switch “from tending the garden to running the garden”(1) is rarely far from our minds. We’d much rather be lords than gardeners. We want to run the show. We want to be God. Or, at very least, we want to be indistinguishable from Him.
The problem, we think, is that gardeners don’t have enough control. We’ve got a hoe, some water, and a few seeds. There’s a limited amount of resources at our disposal, and we’re utterly dependent on external, uncontrollable, & often unpredictable factors that determine the outcome: sun, temperature, rainfall, soil conditions, etc. That’s unacceptable. We need more power. And in our efforts to make such conditions a reality, we’ll even arm-wrestle the Garden’s owner for the deed to His land & His stock shares.
The idol of control is an especially pernicious one, and so often it goes undetected—masked under the guise of good intent, work ethic, & goal-setting. If we can sufficiently manage, manipulate, & predict outcomes, then daily life in all of its multifaceted, dendritic messiness will be at our beck and call. If we can tame & schedule our days and hours into something a bit more wieldy, then the reins will be in our hands. But such a seemingly common-sense life philosophy has a dark underbelly, because it’s simply another attempt to make the words of the serpent into a reality: To be like gods.
It’s hard to believe we’re not actually at the center of the universe, and switching from a Ptolemaic to Copernican frame-of-reference is not so easily managed.
So, how do we pull it off? Or—perhaps a better question—CAN we pull it off?
Here’s where we need to go. Here are the words we must learn to confess to God in all sincerity. The question of HOW we get there remains to be seen, but the confession itself still provides a good starting point: “I have no hand in the arrangement of one single moment of my life; everything belongs to you.”(2)
Such a confession, however, need not simply amount to “Jesus take the wheel.” There is no comfort in naked sovereignty. A bully may be said to be “sovereign” over the elementary school playground, but that doesn’t bring much comfort nor does it promise security. We need something more than a God who is in control.
The only way one can find comfort in a God who holds past, present, & future in His hands is if that God is unconditionally, unequivocally FOR YOU. And in Christ Jesus, God has given us just that. Romans 8:31-32 (NIV): "What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?"
Commenting on this passage, Karl Barth notes: “He, whom we can apprehend only as against us, stands there—for us. That Christ has been delivered up, means—we must dare to say it, dare to storm the fortress which is impregnable—and already captured!—that God is for us, and we are by His side."(3)
When we survey the landscape of our lives—past, present, and future—the days and hours may look scary in all of their naked, unfiltered unknowability. But when we view them through the lens of the Cross—not the hidden but the revealed God who suffered and died and rose again for our forgiveness and justification, all motivated by His great love for us—things start to come into sharper focus. The contours resolve. The hills level. And comfort and security arrive. But this comfort and security is not sourced in a suburban, weed-cleared life, tidied up and neatly controlled. Instead, it is sourced in the unpredictable grace and mercy of a wild-hearted God whose forgiveness relentlessly pursues you so that you might be free.
He loves you. In fact, He loves you to death. And that means your future is as secure as the dawning of each new day.
So may we learn to unclench our fists—even just a little—resting in the secure embrace of the crucified One, who is always and ever for you and me, and who has the nail scars to prove it.