The text below is a transcript of the audio recording. Choose for yourself how you will connect with it best. Close your eyes and take in the story as you listen to the recording, or if you prefer, reflect on the text as you read.
I recently taught on the dangers and harms of judging others, speaking against each other, and elevating ourselves above other people based on James 4:11-17 at a worship gathering of my church community. As I read through that passage, and then through the whole book of James, another story came to mind. A story most of us have heard and believe we know well—so well we don’t often pay close attention to anything new in it.
I’ve been writing on that story here in bits and pieces, about Yahweh and Eve and Adam and Abel and Cain and about fear and shame and purpose and the patterns set and carried out through history. But I’ve been talking about the story instead of telling it. I told the story at that worship gathering, and now I’m sharing it here.
I hope you find it valuable. It’s not meant to be exhaustive, and it doesn’t include every detail of the biblical account. It follows a particular thread through the fabric of the text. In doing so, I’m hoping to highlight aspects that may sometimes be overlooked and draw connections we sometimes miss.
So sit back, breathe, and imagine for the next few minutes you are inside the story. See the sights, hear the sounds, and feel the emotions the characters feel. Surround yourself with the story, and fill the story with yourself.
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
“[Before that] the earth was without shape and empty, and darkness was over the surface of the watery deep, but the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the water.” (Genesis 1:1-2)
So the creative God used words, meaning infused in every breath, and breathed shape and fullness into Creation. God formed the earth and filled it with purpose and beauty, reflecting the Divine nature in every stone and star and leaf and paw.
And it didn’t stop there.
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image. The ones who are like us for all to see. Then they can be stewards, caretakers for all the animals, from the bottom of the ocean to the pinnacle of the clouds, and for each and every creature across the whole earth.”
God formed them and designated them for their purpose.
God made them as if they were the idol in the temple of creation,
Resembling and representing the Divine nature is how God made them.
Across male and female genders God created them.
Yahweh, the one who is God, ‘formed the man from the soil of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.’
Yahweh planted a paradise, rich with plants and trees, as the holy of holies within the temple of creation. There Yahweh placed the man, the image of God. Yahweh took the man and placed him in the orchard in Eden to care for it and to maintain it.
Then Yahweh spoke, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion for him and they will serve creation in my name side-by-side.”
So Yahweh lulled him to sleep and opened him wide. God looked within and took from his core what was nearest his desire and from that he laid the foundation for a companion.
The man said,
“This one at last is bone of my bones
And flesh of my flesh;
This one will be called ‘woman,’
For she was taken out of man and formed from the same stuff.”
They were both naked without any hint of shame.
The God who made them and knew them spoke a good future over them. “Grow and thrive,” God told them, “and fill the earth and lead it. Serve creation in my stead: the fish, the birds, and all the animals, which I have formed from the earth, just like you. To eat, I gift you all the plants and every fruit tree. Enjoy and eat them to sustain you. They are for you and for all the animals—which I have given life through the breath of my spirit—for all to eat and enjoy.”
Then Yahweh warned them, “You can eat the fruit of any tree in the orchard, but don’t eat of the tree of the knowledge of what is good and what is evil. If you do, it will lead you to death.”
One day, the serpent, the liar and accuser, planted distrust and self-doubt in the woman, manipulatively asking, “Is it really true that God said, ‘you must not eat from any tree of the orchard’?” The woman did not see what the serpent intended and continued as it hoped.
She defended Yahweh, answering, “We may eat from the trees. It’s only the one in the middle God warned us not to eat. It leads to death.”
The lying serpent pityingly hissed, “You won’t die. God knows that when you eat it you will see the truth of what is good and what is evil, and you’ll be able to judge, just like God.”
The poisoned words did their work and eroded the trust the woman had for Yahweh. Despite already representing God in authority and love over all of creation, she was afraid there was more she was missing, some important piece she needed to stay secure in the face of evil and to connect with good.
In her self-doubt, believing herself not to be enough, she saw the attraction of the knowledge of what was good and what was evil, and she thought maybe it was the answer to still her fears and budding shame. She took it, and she ate it. She shared her newfound insight with the man, and he took it in as well. They both saw from a new perspective, and they knew the shame and vulnerability of their nakedness, and it was more than they could bear. They hid themselves from the Creator, Yahweh, the one who is God.
God looked for them and they began to judge and find fault and to blame and spoke quickly of the failures and flaws of each other and the serpent and even of Yahweh.
Yahweh was grieved, and he predicted that the very actions they took to gain security and assurance would lead only to suffering and endless struggle and disunity and imbalance and oppression between them. They had rejected their vocation to care for each other and creation. They had rejected their vocation to reflect fully God’s own relational heart and self-giving love and the dance of trust expressed in faithfulness.
And what seemed like an end was only the beginning. The man, called Adam, meaning “of the earth” and the woman, called Eve, meaning “life,” conceived. The craving to be like God had been meant to be true from the beginning since they were created as God’s representatives, in the very image of God as caretakers of each other and all creation, but it was twisted into something far more transient, like grass in a hot wind, by the lies the serpent used to make them believe they were less-than, small, insignificant into a grievously misguided attempt to seize God’s authority and power to be for their self-preservation at all costs.
That craving surfaced again at the birth as Eve exclaimed, “I have created someone just like Yahweh did!” Eve later gave birth to another son, a brother. And they were named Cain and Abel.
Abel attuned to the way of Yahweh and lived sacrificially as an embodied declaration of the worth of Yahweh and their relationship in proper balance. He did so by offering the type of offering Yahweh had instructed and allowing it to be costly and valuable, not holding back anything in the hopes of getting ahead and hoarding wealth or prestige.
Cain, though, did not. He was a farmer who raised crops, and he offered some vegetables, which showed he was not doing any of the things in relation to Yahweh his brother was doing. He was focused on self-preservation.
Yahweh knew it and rebuked him. Cain allowed his guilt to fester into shame, and he couldn’t look anyone in the eye, and he attempted to protect himself from the shame by blaming God and Abel and became angrier and angrier.
Yahweh spoke to him, “Why are you angry, and why are you so ashamed? Your actions can be changed. Doing what isn’t right leads to sin, and it will try to control you, but you must control it instead.”
Cain couldn’t hear the words. His mind turned against his brother, and he judged him as deserving punishment. He invited his brother to join him in the field, and he murdered him there.
Then Yahweh prompted Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
Cain spat, “I don’t know! Am I my brother’s caretaker?”
Then Yahweh, the only true judge of what is good and what is evil, judged Cain’s rejection of his vocation as the image of God, his calling to represent Yahweh’s character of self-giving love, and his responsibility to care for creation including his fellow humans. Yahweh pronounced the consequences of living in violence and judgment of others, separation and isolation, and Cain went into Exile in the east.
Now, where do you find yourself still acting out this story? Where do you find the story acting itself out in you? How can you strengthen what would be good to strengthen and change what might give life through the changing?