Monday, October 23, 2017

Out of Eden :: After Failure

This is the second in a series of essays exploring failure and its place in our faith and in God's plan for the believer.
You can find Part 1 here.

Adam and Eve chose the fruit and set a fallen world in motion. They didn't know they were choosing to live apart from God, or that they were ushering in pain, despair, toil, and trouble. They didn't know God would no longer walk with them each day or send them away from the only home they'd ever known. They didn't know they had altered life irrevocably for everyone thereafter for all of time.

That first sin, a cataclysmic failure, had unimaginably far-reaching consequences.

God allowed all this, which appears to be terrible, and he has his reasons. He doesn't have to answer to us about it, although we'd often like him to. We have to be content with sometimes not having answers. WE have to be at peace with the idea that  God can handle our failure — the notion that it might be okay that things are not okay.

But we resist this idea. We think if we work hard to appear flawless — hide the mess we made — we can undo our failure. Surely this is how we best serve God outside the Garden. We've been trying to fix our problems and failures on our own since we donned fig leaves. We think we're on our own, so we do our best.

But we aren't on our own. When God banished us from the Garden and posted an angelic sentinel barring our way back inside, he wasn't leading us to a place outside of or away from him. Our sin alone did that. So if leaving Eden wasn't about separation from God, then what was it?

What if our colossal failure and frailty are parts of God's glorious plan instead of blights that thwart it (as if we are even capable of sabotaging God)?

He willfully placed us outside the Garden and barred reentry, so we should embrace that. If that's where God put us, then most assuredly that's where God is, since he didn't wall himself inside while walling us out. Maybe we need to take God by the hand on the other side of our failures, right there at Eden's guarded gate, and embrace the path that our failures have birthed, acknowledging it as the very path God clearly put us on.

Perhaps we should stop resisting our new identity in a fallen earth. Not to remain in our fallen nature, but to acknowledge it and look directly in its sad face, because it is who we are until we leave this planet.  We can't fix it, but we aren't alone in it.

God is with us and goes before us and behind us. He is able to remedy our failure with the epic redemption plan he crafted even before we chose unwisely. Because he redeems, we don't have to shy away from looking our failure in the eye. We should, in fact, because when we do, God will be there with us. This is why we Christians mourn, but not like those who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13). By pushing us beyond the Garden, God broadened our story into something much bigger and grander.

With the Garden, God created a paradise, but with our sin, we re-created it into a place of pain and lies. Eden was a place where we became sick and ceased to be who he designed us to be. Outside of Eden became the place we would rise, and God would become redeemer and begin to right all things. Out of Eden is the road to more, so much more.

Because of the curse, outside of Eden is a place of harder work. Long ago, we labored day and night to survive this hostile land. After inventing the wheel and industrialization, we now provide for our existence and have time, energy, and resources to spare. There are too many things to choose from, sundry ways and multiple opportunities to try hard and fail again and again.

The ancient, the present, and all the time in between have one thing in common: life outside of Eden is exhausting and unfulfilling. Then and now, we struggle. An old, wise king likened it to vanity and striving after the wind (Ecl. 1:14).

In all of life's busyness and labor outside of Eden, we wear out, we dry rot, we crack. Eventually life's meaning seeps from the cracks. In our weariness and emptiness, we find we've come full circle back to vanity, the futility that marks life beyond Eden.

We struggle because of slavery (Rom. 6:6), we struggle because of the curse, we struggle to thrive outside of Eden, and we struggle by God's design.

This is God's glorious plan: He barred us from paradise and subjected us — against our will — to futility, in hope that we would want to be set free from its slavery (Rom. 8:20-21).

What kind of God would subject us to futility (the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew word for vanity) against our will? We may rail incredulously at a God who would do such a thing and the thought that it could be part of God's plan. What kind of God would frustrate us like this?!

The kind who rescues us in our need. The kind whose judgment is really mercy when we disregarded his command and tasted forbidden fruit. The kind who planned for redemption long before we saw our shame and hid from him.

What kind of God subjects us to futility? The kind who loves us.

Even when our eyes were opened to the knowledge of good and evil. Even when we turned from trusting him to become our own source of discretion and discernment. Even when we thought we could work hard enough to fix our flaws ourselves.

When our sin and failure separate us from God, he comes to us, and he brings a curse to offer us freedom. He banishes us from paradise, but he joins us in our exile, right there on the other side of our failure.

Beyond Eden is where he offers freedom, that in our inadequacy and failure, we might seek him. The path out of Eden is a path to vanity, futility, and failure. But it's the glorious path that leads our hearts back to God. He meets us outside of Eden in our failure so we can ultimately find everything we need in him.

This essay first appeared in Reach Out Columbia magazine in a series on the role of failure in the life of the believer and God's master plan for his children.
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