Is there Such a Thing as Too Much Freedom?

last will and testament
Photo credit: <a href="">Ken Mayer</a>

Galatians 3:15-18

Take this real-life example, friends. Nobody makes corrections to or ignores someone’s will once it’s been notarized. The promises God made to Abraham and to his heir. It doesn’t say “heirs,” as in many heirs. It says “heir.” One person. That person is Jesus.

Here’s my point. The laws of Moses came 430 years later. That law can’t annul a deal that God had already notarized. It can’t cancel the promise already in effect. If the inheritance were based on Mosaic law, it wouldn’t have any relation to the earlier promise. But as it is, God notarized it with Abraham.

Paul is desperately grasping at straws here. None of this logic makes any sense.

  1. The promise to Abraham is pretty clear (Genesis 15:5) that God is promising a lot of descendents to be Abraham’s heirs, not just one person.
  2. People contest wills all the time. And it’s certainly not uncommon for provisions in wills to be declared invalid, or for them to be over-ruled in court.
  3. Laws change over time. So do terms of agreements. Even notarized agreements.
  4. If God is the one of the parties to the agreement, it’s God’s prerogative to change the agreement.

Besides, it’s sheer folly to use a legal argument when the whole point you’re trying to make is that the law doesn’t apply.

As much as Paul wants to make a case for Christ superseding the old Mosaic law, he’s still so ingrained in and bound by legalism that he himself can’t escape it.

Better to recognize that Jesus was indeed an heir to Abraham’s promise, and that so is everyone else. It’s just that Jesus realized the freedom of that promise in a way that the vast majority of the rest of us haven’t.

Better to recognize that if everyone is the heir to Abraham’s promise, then all of us have the capacity to be blessed and to be a blessing to many.

Better to recognize that declaring faith in Jesus isn’t a magical key that unlocks the pearly gates, but it is a way to realize and live into the freedom that is available to anyone who wants it.

Alas, for many, like Paul, that much freedom is too much to think possible without trying to make more rules about it.

A High Degree of Correspondence

Man and woman
Image credit: <a href="">Benedetta Anghileri</a>

Genesis 2:15-25

God put the earthling in God’s garden to take care of it and cultivate it. God gave the earthling instructions: “You’re free to eat anything on any of the trees, except the tree of moral discernment. If you eat from that tree, you’ll die.”

Then God said, “It’s not good for the earthling to be alone. I’ll make him a helper to be his partner.” So God molded from earth all kinds of animals and birds, and brought them to the earthling to see what he would call them. The earthling gave them all names, deciding what to call all the domesticated animals, wild animals, and birds. Still, none of them was suitable enough of a helper to be called a partner. So God anesthetized the earthling and took one of his ribs, closing over the skin. God made the earthling’s rib into a partner, and presented her to the earthling, who said,

“This, at last, is my very bone and flesh.
I’ll call her woman, because she corresponds to man”

So, ever since, a man leaves his parents to be attached to his wife. Both of them share the same essence, together naked, without shame.

It should go without saying, but unfortunately it doesn’t.

This is about partnership and equality, not domination and hierarchy. The point isn’t that woman is a derivative or essentially different. The point is that she is correspondent and essentially the same.

In its entirety, the story is about the human need for community. The earthling cannot exist alone in a vacuum. “No man is an island,” as John Donne put it. We cannot thrive in isolation.

Genesis recognizes that partnership, collegiality, equality, and community are divine gifts. Even more so when that partnership and community leads to the formation of intimate, life-affirming connections between people.

What’s In a Name?

old man
Photo credit: <a href="">Sukanto Debnath</a>

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

When the Exalted Ancestor was ninety-nine years old, God visited him and told him, “I’m God of the mountain. Stick with me and be true to me, and I will make a deal with you: I will guarantee you a multitude of descendents.”

The Exalted Ancestor threw himself to the ground, and God continued, “Here’s the deal I’ll make with you: your family will be so big, it’ll be nations – lots of nations. No longer will you be called Exalted Ancestor. From now on, you’ll be called, “Father of the Nations,” because that’s what I’ve made you. I’ll make you fertile, so fertile that you’ll give rise to nations. You’ll be the father of kings! I’ll make this deal with you, and it’ll be the same deal for your descendents through the ages. This deal is forever. I’ll be your God, and your children’s God.”

God told the Father of the Nations, “As for Sarai, you will now call her Princess. That will be her new name. I will favor her, and she will have your child. I will favor her and she will be the progenitor of nations and kings. She will be the mother of kings and nations.”

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
Romeo and Juliet, II,ii,1-2

Genesis tells the story of God’s covenant with Abraham several times. The broad outline of God’s deal common to them all is that God will make this old childless man into a father of multitudes. Abraham, for his part, must rely on God to do what God promises and try to stay out of the way of providence – a task, both parts of which are harder than one might think.

In this version, what stands out is the changing of names. Abram (Exalted Ancestor) becomes Abraham (Father of Nations). Sarai, which has no distinct meaning of its own, becomes Sarah (Princess).

While many peoples and traditions look back to an exalted ancestor, or even to many exalted ancestors, the change is to distinguish this one ancestor as a single common originator of a whole branch of the human family. The focus of this tradition is not about venerating ancestors, but about insuring the well-being of future generations. It’s not about past, but future.

It also explicitly acknowledges that the same benefits of divine blessing are available to the whole multitude of nations that will become a part of this heritage. So, even though the promise is made to a single individual, it takes on a universal scope. It’s not meant to be restrictive, but expansive.

Starting Again (Again)

Photo credit: <a href="">William Cho</a>

Genesis 2:4b-14

One day, God made the earth and sky.

Before there were any plants or crops, because there wasn’t rain, and nobody to cultivate fields, the whole earth was watered by artesian springs. God molded the earthling from the earth, and breathed air into it’s nose to bring it to life. Then God planted a garden in the east, the garden of God, and planted the newly made earthling there. God planted every kind of beautiful tree to bear fruit for food. God planted the tree of life in the middle, and the tree of moral discernment.

A river flows from the garden of God that waters it and then divides into four branches:

  1. the Delta, which surrounds the sands where there is a lot of high-quality gold, amber, and onyx
  2. the Abay River, that flows all around Ethiopia,
  3. the Tigris, east of Assyria, and
  4. the Euphrates.

The point is that life, and all that makes civilization possible, emerges from God as it’s center and source.

In the first part, God makes the earthling (hebrew: adam) from the earth (hebrew: adamah). Life, comes from the breathing in of the breath of God.

The second part isn’t about geography. The description of these rivers can’t be reconciled on any map. These four rivers represent the life along which the major cultures of the ancient near east ran: Egypt, Ethiopia, and the fertile crescent.

As such, this second creation story isn’t really about the beginning of the world. It is about the continuous source of life. As God breathes, earthlings breathe. As a river flows, civilizations develop. Eden, the garden of God, isn’t a one-shot deal. It’s wherever you are when you breathe. It’s not geographically bound to a certain place. It’s wherever community flourishes.

No need to go on a great journey to far away places to find Eden. It really is in your own back yard.