Nine Lessons of Christmas Meditations: 2. The Big Context
Reading 1: Genesis 3:8-19
Gen 3:15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring[a] and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel
The Context: According to the website of King’s College Cambridge where this service has been held for the last ninety-nine years (2018 will be its centenary), “The main theme is the development of the loving purposes of God…seen through the windows and words of the Bible”. Note in particular the words ‘development’ and ‘loving purposes of God’. This first reading, seen without that understanding could be considered an obscure Biblical quote, apparently randomly chosen from Scripture, but it is not. The thrust of these verses, so often merely heard as words with little meaning for today, is in fact a most dynamic understanding of the plight of the human race set in the bigger context of the entire history of the world. Nowhere else in history, is written down this understanding which makes sense of why the world is like it is.
The Reading: The reading is about Adam and Eve AFTER the Fall, after the perfection of the garden, it’s environment, this couple and their relationship with God has been shattered. They have disobeyed God by a specific act of disobedience. The text shows the couple in the Garden (clearly located in Mesopotamia) encountering God from whom they hide (v.8). The Lord calls to them and they have to confess their fear (9,10). From this they confess their guilt but blame one another and the serpent (v.11-13). In what follows God tells a) the serpent (v.14,15), then the woman (v.16) then the man (v.17-19) the consequences of their disobedience. That is it.
Lessons? Now the whole point of this short series is that we ask ourselves, what do each of these readings teach us.
1. The Bigger Context: It is said that post-moderns do not like and do not trust ‘big pictures’ of history but that may be true of some of the world’s so-called ‘big pictures’ but to reject this one is to reject the one account that makes sense of the whole world. We live in a fallen world; that is the Scriptural picture. For those who reject the Bible we live in a world of contradictions, where human beings clearly have the possibility of greatness of achievement but at the same time spend so much of their time fighting. At least one historian has suggested that human history is the history of wars. The first lesson is that we live in a ‘fallen world’.
2. Consequences: But why should it be? The Biblical solution is set out here in these verses: God made a perfect world and whenever we exert our wills contrary to His, contrary to His design for humanity, it all goes wrong. Even before the Lord starts spelling out the consequences that are going to follow because of their broken relationship with Him that has just come about, consequences because they will be cut off from His blessing, the blessing of His very life-giving presence, and be left to their own endeavours, there were already obvious negatives that had not been there before: guilt, shame and fear which had entered human experience following that disobedience seen in the early part of Genesis chapter 3.
These characteristics are now inherent in the human race and although conscience is part of us that kicks in when we know we do wrong, we can yet override it and harden ourselves against it. Yet, deep down, there is this feeling about God, and so we rationalise Him or reject Him in our self-centred godless state that the Bible calls ‘Sin’ (with a capital ‘S’) that is expressed as ‘sins’ (small ‘s’).
Sin is what has become the natural propensity to be self-centred and godless, while ‘sins’ are the individual acts of thought, word or deed that flow from that. The consequences are always tough (in health & childbirth v.16) and in everyday work (v.17-19) and are ultimately destructive (Gen 2:17)
We see this in the most simple and obvious ways. For example, God has given us appetite and food to eat – an incredible range of foods – and while we eat naturally we are healthy; when we start to eat for comfort or for greed, we eat in excess and obesity follows and a whole range of other harmful effects on the human body follow. The second lesson is that we have to live with consequences of disobedience to God.
3. The Nature of this State: If we think on from these verses and what we have said so far, and examine the human condition and human experience, we find two things: we are helpless and hopeless. We would like to be different – hence shelves of self-help books and New Year resolutions so quickly given up – but we find (if we are honest) that, in reality, we cannot change as we would like to; we are helpless. So we tolerate our state, seeing no hope of change, and so we cover it up with projects or activities, things that will take our minds off our hopes that are being dashed. The third lesson, in the face of all this, is that we need help.
4. God’s Long-Term Plan: The verses of this reading appear, at first sight, to present a helpless and hopeless situation where we are having to live with the consequences of our choices, However there is, in the midst of them, one very strange verse, spoken to the serpent or Satan: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (v.15) Stress, but more than stress, between the woman and Satan, who she already blames. But she will have offspring, children in the human race and one particular one – ‘he’ – will be in conflict with the ‘offspring’ of Satan with the end result that in that conflict Satan is going to ‘strike his heel’ but ‘he’ will crush Satan’s head.
Now that leaves us scratching our heads as to what these two ‘injuries’ can mean. It is only in the fullness of time, as we watch the unfolding events of the life of Jesus Christ, and his death, resurrection and ascension, and see the effects of all of that, that we see things happening that fit these descriptions. Now alternative paraphrase renderings suggest that both ‘strike’ each other, but the end products of the big picture show something else. Satan ‘wounds’ Jesus but Jesus totally destroys the power of Satan over others.
That IS the big picture. The ‘wounding’ of Jesus? The Cross which looked like it was a terminal wounding but proved to be temporary as he was raised from the dead. The ‘crushing’ of Satan? The fact that the work of the Cross means that his power over believers is removed. We have been taken out of his dominion and put into the kingdom of the Son (Col 1:13). Then in the long-term he will be cast into eternal destruction (Rev 20:10). That is the guaranteed end because God has decreed it. So the fourth lesson is that God has a plan (hazy to us at the beginning) that was formulated by the Godhead before the foundation of the world and we are part of it today, and that is very reassuring when we see the things going on around us in today’s world.
And So: And so here we have indicators of the big picture, of a wonderful world, that is now fallen, a world where we must live with the consequences of our actions, but a world in which there is hope because God has planned for it, and the signs are there, back in the Old Testament and the New Testament, and all around us today, that He is working it all out and working towards an end resolution that gloriously involves us. Hallelujah! So, if you attend a service of readings and carols and you hear this reading, ask the Holy Spirit to remind you of the wonder of these ‘lessons’ that are being conveyed in this first ‘Lesson’ of the nine.