At the fall, Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened to what they looked like from the perspective of someone who didn’t like them very much. Prior to the fall, they were defined by God who thought they were as cute as toddlers in a bath tub. After the fall, they realized that this wasn’t the only possible way of being seen.
God looked at them through the eyes of a loving, doting father. But his is not the only perspective in the universe. We also have an enemy whose entire reason for being is to tell God what is wrong with his creation; ie to make accusations. He’s the one who looks at mankind’s nakedness and says, “Look at how ignorant they are. Why don’t they stop lolling around and do something with themselves? Put some clothes on, go explore the mountains, become more sophisticated and refined? They’re capable of it. They should be ashamed of themselves.”
The enemy views the world entirely differently than God does. God looks at it and says, “it’s good.” He looked at us and said, “they are very good.” The enemy looks at everything and says, “here’s what’s wrong with creation. Here’s how it ought to be better. Here’s what’s not good enough.”
When the serpent told baby Adam and Eve that God didn’t want them to be as he was, he wasn’t lying. God knew what it was like to see things from the perspective of the enemy, the one who didn’t like him or approve of his ways. It was useful to him even, much like giving your work to someone with an extremely critical eye for evaluation can be useful.
But God did not want us to have that experience. He wanted us to live and enjoy our lives like the animals do, without worrying about being judged. The enemy knew that we were different from the animals in an important way. If you sneer at a lion for it’s poor table manners, it will take no notice. But the mere prospect of of using the wrong fork at a fancy dinner has been known to drive us humans into a panic. The enemy took advantage of that. He invited us to see what we looked like not just from the perspective of good, but the perspective of evil as well.
Prior to the fall, all we knew was good. All we knew was what we looked like through the eyes of one who loves us. If we wanted to run around naked and throw poop at each other, that was no problem. Sure, throwing poop is unsanitary so we might get sick from doing it. But we humans are particularly good at learning. We’d figure out soon enough that the poop throwers always had the runs, sometimes died and had no friends. In time we’d teach our kids that poop throwing wasn’t such a great idea.
After the fall, we could see what we looked like through the eyes of evil. Through the eyes of evil, we look shameful and appalling. In order to avoid that shame, we tried to force ourselves to be better. There was no longer room for error, learning and natural progress. Just an ever growing list of rules, standards and expectations for us to live up to. We allowed the evil one’s declaration of “shameful” to define us, nearly forgetting that God had already defined us as “very good”.
And so it has gone lo these many long millenia. Even after Jesus died on the cross and came out the other side with the declaration that we are now innocent in the eyes of God, we have continued to give preference to the perspective of evil which says we are guilty of being not good enough. We ground our identity in original sin rather than original blessing. We view our children as born sinful rather than very good but immature and inexperienced. We continue to have faith in the power of rules, standards and expectations to better ourselves and others.
Frankly, the church has too often served as the mouthpiece for evil’s view of humanity. The mirror it holds up to the world is not one which shows what we look like to God, but one which shows what we look like to our enemy. It declares us flawed, inadequate, shameful, guilty and generally not good enough.
But we humans do learn. In fact, God is counting on it. He’s counting on us rediscovering and claiming for ourselves what he said from the beginning: we are very good. It’s not that we don’t make mistakes and messes. It’s not that there’s no room for growing and maturing. It’s that us making mistakes and messes and being ignorant and immature aren’t actually shameful. Instead, they are parts of being human which we are well equipped to deal with. Because we can learn from our mistakes. And, being made in God’s own image, alive with God’s own breath, we will, once we’ve been relieved of the burden of shame, freely chose love over evil.
Much of the rest of the world already knows this. It’s one of the main reasons people are walking away from the church. They are no longer willing to believe that humanity is bad. They are no longer willing to look at other human beings as abominations. They are willing to risk the wrath of God and the threat of hell to come out from under the knowledge of evil.
And you know what? We’re making a God awful mess in the process. We’re destroying families and communities and sometimes even our own lives. But we are human. Which means we learn from our mistakes. As we come out from under the weight of shame, we will willingly choose love over evil because our true identity is bound up in love, not sin.
Which isn’t to say that we’re getting ready to walk into some progressive utopia. A lot of harm has been done over the millenia. It’s going to take time to work all that pain and suffering out of the system. It will probably get worse before it gets better. We have very little experience with real freedom. So it’s going to take time for us to make our mistakes, admit them and learn from them. It’s not going to happen overnight. The bible says our evil lasts into the second and third generation, so we’re going to be a mess for a while.
But as we walk through this process, it’s vital that we as Christians serve as mouthpieces for God’s view of humanity. If we know God through Christ, then we are the world’s experts on the truth of our identity as image bearers. We need to call out good wherever we see it. We need to celebrate love whenever and where ever it makes an appearance. We workers may be few, but the harvest is plenty.