Maybe you’ve heard of the $27 million Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky. The museum’s central mission is to square the stories in Genesis with the facts of science. For those who insist the world’s creation occurred in six 24-hour days about 6,000 years ago, the museum provides answers for ponderous questions such as, If Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Abel, then where did their wives come from?
It’s possible to strangle a wonderful Bible story, examining details under a microscope with criteria not meant for such a narrative. The Bible is often about truth even more than facts—related but different words.
There are many historical (and scientific) facts in the Bible, but the church’s book can’t be governed by the convictions of the late Jerry Falwell or by the discoveries of the astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, who died two years ago this month
Good people are tempted to either a) make the Bible into a museum where everything is tidily explained, or b) file these old stories with childhood tales of Mother Goose because insights in chemistry class don’t jive with the apparent cosmology of holy Scripture.
And so they ate some fruit. Adam and Eve were told to steer clear from a certain tree and the once-happy couple failed miserably with disastrous consequences.
“Don’t go there,” my parents said. “Don’t even think about going there.” And, of course, I wanted to—might as well paint a bull’s-eye on the forbidden.
Please don’t get lost down fascinating rabbit holes concerning this story: the location of Eden, the challenge of “old” or “new” earth theories, the conundrum of wives for the two sons. This is primarily a story about us, our limits and our freedom—grist for soap operas and many sad lives.
Jesus offers grace and forgiveness, yes. But also a way of obedience. He saves us not only with his death but also with his life, his ways.
Nobody—and if you’re a parent you know this truth well—has ever worked out a foolproof balance between rules and trust. We struggle with the theological intersection between those words.
Two of the most popular maxims uttered on a regular basis are these: “It’s a free country; I can do as I please” and “There ought to be a law against that.” Christians don’t need a museum to explain this contradiction. We just need to take a hard look in the mirror and find Adam and Eve looking back at us.
God sets limits; we regularly tiptoe past them. Open the Pandora’s box of freedom and you’ll discover results ranging from the best possible good to the Holocaust. Would you trade in your freedom if you knew humans could be preprogrammed to always behave and get along?
God can’t force us to always choose the right thing—our actions would surely be something other than human. Love (as we know it, a choice) couldn’t exist. We are really and truly free, filled with frailty, foible and potential.
What does Jesus offer us in this old dance? Why this particular man instead of sleeping in on Sundays? Paul makes an audacious claim: “So by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19). Jesus offers grace and forgiveness, yes. But also a way of obedience. He saves us not only with his death but also with his life, his ways.
“It is written,” Jesus replies to the devil in Lent (Matthew 4:4). “It is written,” he answers to a variety of temptations. “It is written,” he says to the one who is sent packing.
God’s written word isn’t some magic totem to ward off all evil. We still use a Bible to “swear people in” as witnesses promising to tell the whole truth (and nothing but the truth) in a court of law. Any attorney can tell you about lies heard after such an oath. The Bible is not magic.
Immersion in the Bible’s pages won’t prevent all heartache in this life, but it does provide a way through the wilderness.
One man’s obedience suggests the shape of our own.