When I was seventeen, on a porch in West Toledo, I leaned over and gave Ann Weaver a long, passionate kiss. The problem was that Ann Weaver was my girlfriend’s best friend. Another problem was that she was the girlfriend of my best friend. In retrospect, one could easily see all of the bad decisions that led to this kiss. The long phone calls we shared. The sudden interest that I had for tennis that could only be satisfied by Ann who was on the school’s tennis team. The “close calls” we had had before, obviously signalling our mutual attraction. Our temptation for each other was understood between us. When we finished with our late night tennis lesson, I knew what could happen if I accepted the invitation onto her porch. Yet, I dismissed my weakness to this temptation and sat next to her on that swing, our legs touching. Our one and only kiss, ended up causing a lot of high school heartache and drama.
The problem confronting Adam and Eve in that garden is temptation. The temptation is eating from a tree that God had put off limits. The serpent plays just a bit part in the story, only repeating the obvious arguments that Adam and Eve had already made to themselves, why disobeying God and eating from that tree wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. The serpent did not dazzle them with lies. Did not badger them into doing something they didn’t want to do. Did not cast an evil spell over them. The serpent only spoke the truth, slanted as Emily Dickinson wrote in a poem. Adam and Eve were tempted by the tree from the first day.
Temptation is a funny thing because we are arguing within ourselves to do something that we either have been told not to do, that we know will harm ourselves or disappoint and harm someone else. Whether it is a tree in the garden of Eden or Ann Weaver in a tennis skirt, all of us face temptation. Some temptations we resist and others we succumb. Some temptations have minor consequences and some major consequences. And as we age, we don’t get smarter about these things, our temptations just change.
Temptations lead us to break a trust with either ourselves, our neighbor, God or all three. Our most serious temptations are about whom we should trust with our life. The ugly center of Adam and Eve’s temptation is familiar to all of us. They questioned whether God had their best interest at heart. God’s word was no longer enough for them. They asked and answered the question, could they trust God’s command that no longer made sense?
It is interesting what happens next. The whole naked thing. Personally, I am thinking there are all sorts of down sides to what appears to be God’s original plan. Sunburns. Chafing. Just seeing things we can’t unsee. We all have that neighbor who insists on sharing too much. Why would not wearing a shirt on his lawn mower ever seem like a good idea? A review and correction by God of this original decision to have us run around naked seems inevitable to me. Adam and Eve just moved up the timetable.
Of course, their fumbling to stitch some fig leaves together was not about chafing, sunburns or embarrassment at exposing things to each other that shouldn’t be exposed. They weren’t covering their nakedness from each other. They were covering their nakedness from God. Having given into their temptation, they were ashamed to be in front of the one they had disappointed.
This is the drama that follows all of us when we give into what tempts us. At some point, we are going to have to tell our best friend that we kissed his girlfriend. At some point, the person we have betrayed is going to know what feet of clay we have, even if it is that person is only ourselves after we have eaten that donut five minutes before we left work, that evil last donut in the box that had called out to us all day long. At some point, we have to tell the one who trusted us that we were not worthy of their trust. At some point, when we give into our temptation, we will stand before the one we betrayed, naked, exposed, and ashamed.
Adam and Eve’s story is our story. We have all been tempted to do things that we know will bring harm to our neighbors. We have all been tempted to do things that we know will disappoint God. How do we avoid giving into these temptations? Your wisdom is as good as mine. Walk away from the serpent, I suppose. Start singing a song or reading a book to get your mind off of the conversation that keeps playing in your head, why just one bite from that fruit wouldn’t be a bad thing. Or, imagine what it will be like when what we have done is exposed and we are naked in front of all of our coworkers, our spouse, our friends, our God. Imagine how hard it will be to tell someone who trusted us that we were not worthy of that trust. Imagine the end of time, when we see God weep at those moments we said no to God’s hope for us. Or, simply pray for the ability to resist the bad situation we have put ourselves in. Lord help me get off this porch.
When I called my best friend that night when I was 17 and told him what I did, he was hurt but forgave me fully before we hung up the phone. The next call to my girlfriend did not go as well, but she too forgave me enough to marry me several years later. My friends’ response is a good reminder of the power of grace and forgiveness to heal our brokenness. We are made in the image of God and that means each of us has great power to forgive.
Our God, full of grace, can and will forgive our foolishness. God made some proper clothes for Adam and Eve, the fig leaves just wouldn’t do. God figured out a new way to be in relationship with them. The garden just wouldn’t do now. God met them in their brokenness, their nakedness and did not abandon them, but loved them where they were. God will do this for us, too, when we fail in resisting what tempts us. It is just that God can’t undo the hurt that we cause or the consequences that linger. Those unfortunately are our burdens to endure. Amen