I know that it’s not always arbitrary, and that someone out there knows exactly why bottles of fluids can be no more than 4 ounces when traveling within the guidelines of the FAA. But when my bottle of hair conditioner is 5 fluid ounces and they won’t let me through security, it feels arbitrary. I want to tell the person in a nice blue uniform with shiny badges that I am a decent person, I won’t blow the plane up, and look, it’s only 5 ounces of hair conditioner. Ultimately, it’s frustrating that I don’t have a voice – one can have no conversation with the FAA rules.
Why this craving for a voice? Why the need to participate, to exert my own particular self in every situation? I’m starting to see that through participation I can work out what it means to be human. Even from the beginning, God demands unwavering participation from humans. In Genesis 2 the Lord God commands the man, “You may freely eat of every tree in the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” Don’t miss that we are invited to pay attention to all the OTHER trees – in fact we may “freely” eat of them. But let’s face it, the enticing detail is given only to the one tree – in the day that you eat of it you shall die. Now you’ve got my attention. But is it an arbitrary boundary placed there to demonstrate who is in control? Is it God on a power trip (again)? Perhaps. Or is it God nudging us toward participation?
The command that God gave was explicit, no doubt. Yet it was minimal. Not in content, but in form. We know how hard it was to keep. Yet God leaves everything to the imagination. Leaving a great deal unsaid, God preserves the freedom of the humans as they start to make this place their own. Strangely, we know by God’s silence that the room for human agency was vast. It’s as if we discover that God might trust us to actually do something special in this new place. As if God might be waiting to see what will happen. Freedom was navigating this vast uncharted territory by engaging it – as Adam did in celebrating the woman. Indeed the first true act of unmarred human freedom was the sexual embrace between Adam and Eve. It stands there in the text like a beacon of the beautiful possibility of human freedom. God didn’t tell them to have sex. It was an act of sheer free will. But still, why the ever looming Death Tree? Placed right in the middle of the garden, it is the inescapable reminder that freedom is never secure. But neither is it a part of the past, instead it is an ever living present freedom that must be claimed moment by moment. The freedom to trust God was a perennial choice for Adam and Eve, ever before them, always sharpening spirits and quickening hearts. Life in the Garden was also ripe with anticipation, wonder, and the looming question of what could go wrong “if.” It seems this is just what real life is like – latent with possibility.
So, it seems the real danger in this story is moving from trust and freedom to a predictable security. At least we know what will happen after the consumption of the fruit. How easy is it to trade in uncharted territory for nicely parceled subdivisions? How easy is it to contract out our own participation, or to shrink away from it altogether? The serpent is so good at filling in the blanks that God intentionally left behind. It’s enticing, but our voice is stolen away in the process. With the serpent, there is no room for human agency. Even Eve’s voice is crowded out and silenced in the wake of his dramatic outburst. I’d rather not fill in the blanks for my children or for anyone else, even if it seems like a favor. It only creates an expectation and a craving for the security only the serpent can offer. We traded trust for knowledge all those years ago, and the challenge remains choosing trust and participating again. Stop listening to those predictable voices. Move again in the realm of uncharted territory and do something beautiful.