Trick Questions

There are things that I wonder about.  Things that keep me up at night…thinking.  Questions and problems that do not have easy answers.  Let me share a few of them with you:

  • Why is it that we park on a driveway, and we drive on a parkway?
  • If nothing sticks to Teflon, how do they get Teflon to stick to the pan?
  • If you were able to drive a car at the speed of light, and you turned on your headlights, would it make a difference?
  • Why does Hawaii have interstate freeways? And,
  • Why do they put braille letters on the keypad of drive up ATM machines?

These are things I wonder about.  And I know that many of you wonder things too.  After the Saturday night worship, one of our older members, came up to me and said “you know what I wonder about?”  “What’s that?”  “I wonder what chairs would look like if knees bent the other direction?”

These are, of course, trick questions.  Questions that either have incredibly obvious, or incredibly bizarre answers.  (Or, sometimes no answer at all.). For the record, my sons also call these kind of questions, “Dad questions,” which are closely related to “Dad jokes.”   And if that’s true, then I’ll own that label…proudly.

Our Old Testament story today, Adam and Eve in the Garden, the apple…the figleaf…and God, is one that is probably familiar to many of you.  Throughout history, it has been called the story of the original sin…and the story of “the fall from grace.”

I like to call it the story of the trick questions.

So, Adam and Eve have eaten from the tree.  If you remember the story, God gave them the garden…really a metaphor for all of creation…and said “this whole thing, it is for you and your descendants to tend…to take care of…just one limitation…only one.  Stay away from this tree.”

Have you ever told your young kid “whatever you do…don’t push this button…this one right here.  Don’t do it.” We know where this leads.  <Boom!>

Well, let’s just say that Adam and Eve let their inner child out that day.  “Don’t eat from this tree?  This one right here?  Ok.”  The story uses the image of the snake as a metaphor for temptation.  And like your child heading straight to that button to see what happens, Adam and Eve bust through God’s only limitation, like it was tissue paper.

And so there they are, their mouths full of apple.  Guilty, and they know it.  And as they are standing in the garden, suddenly feeling shame and guilt and embarrassment over what they had done, they feel what scripture says is the “evening breeze” blowing.  The Hebrew word used here is “Ruach,” which means both wind and spirit.  It is the same word used later for Holy Spirit.  So they feel the breeze, and they know that God is in the Garden, and on the move.  They were so busted.  They hide.

And God asks the first of two trick questions: “Where are you?”  “Where are you?”  We aren’t meant to believe that God doesn’t know where they are.  This is God…creator of the Universe…the one whose breath gave Adam and Eve, and all the animals, their very lives…the one who created the paradise where Eve and Adam are now hiding.  No, God knew exactly where they were.

Adam and Eve, now show themselves, conveniently covered in fig leaves.  Adam says “I heard you, but I hid, because I was embarrassed, because I was naked.”

God then asked the second trick question: “Well, so who told you that you were naked?”  Again, God knew the answer to this question…but God wanted to hear Adam and Eve’s answer.

God’s superficial question was, “Who told you that you were naked?”  But the real question here, the deeper question is, ”why do you suddenly feel embarrassed and guilty?  What have you done?”  Then God asks: “Did you eat from the tree?  Did you break my one limitation?”

Adam chooses the easy path…the path of least resistance.  He points at Eve and says, “She did it.”  God looks at Eve.  Eve points at the snake and says, “The snake made me do it.”

It has been said that Adam and Eve taking fruit from the tree committed the first sin against God.  Maybe so.  But the first sin against our neighbor?  It was not accepting responsibility…it was blaming someone else.

I’ve heard people talk about the disintegration of personal responsibility…the unwillingness of people to take responsibility for their actions, as if it’s a new phenomenon.  I even heard one commentator on TV say that “personal responsibility” disintegrated in 1968, in the midst of the Vietnam war and social upheaval; as if prior to that date, our culture had no issues like this.

But our Biblical story shows us pretty clearly that our unwillingness to own our own actions goes back to the beginning of human history.  And it’s still something we struggle with today.

Watch the news.  Listen to politicians…to the entertainment industry…notice people scramble to avoid blame and responsibility.

We all struggle taking responsibility.  Let’s be honest.  We just do.  Pastor John Ortberg, in his book, The Life You’ve Always Wanted wrote about an experience he had with his young children.  He writes that “we bought a couch.  It was a light-colored couch; Kind of a mauve color.  The man at the furniture store warned us not to get it when he found out that we had small children.  You don’t want a mauve sofa,” he advised.  “Get something the color of dirt.”  But we had the naïve optimism of young parenthood.  “We know how to handle our children,” we said.  “Give us the mauve sofa.”

From that moment on, we all knew clearly the one rule in the house.  Don’t sit on the mauve sofa.  Don’t touch the mauve sofa.  Don’t play around the mauve sofa.  Don’t eat on, breathe on, look at or think about the mauve sofa…on every other chair in the house, you may freely sit, but upon this sofa, the mauve sofa, you may not sit, for the day you sit thereupon, you shall surely die.”

And one day, it happened.  There appeared on the mauve sofa, a stain.  A red stain.  A red jelly stain.

So my wife,” Ortberg writes, “who had chosen the mauve sofa and adored it, lined up our three children in front of it.  The four-year-old, the two and a half year old, and the six month old.

“Do you see that, children?” she asked.  “That’s a stain.  A red stain.  A red jelly stain.  It is not coming out.  Not forever.  Do you know how long forever is, children?  That’s how long we’re going to stand here until one of you tells me who put the stain on the mauve sofa.”

Mallory was the first to break.  With trembling lips and tear-filled eyes she said “Laura did it.”  Laura passionately denied it.  The six-month-old, said nothing.  There was silence.  No one said a word.  I knew the children wouldn’t.

I knew they wouldn’t because I was the one who put the red jelly stain on the mauve sofa, and I knew I wasn’t saying anything.  I figured I would find a safe place to confess…such as in a book I was going to write…maybe.

This is John Ortberg’s story.  It is also Adam and Eve’s story.  It is also, your story, and my story.  We all have our mauve sofa story.

And I think our scripture text from Genesis forces us to confront a question:

Why is it so hard for us to accept responsibility?  Why?  Why can’t we admit when we’ve done something wrong?  Why is it so hard for us to confess, and take responsibility?

I think it is because we are afraid.  Adam and Eve dodged their responsibility because they were afraid of what might happen; they had broken this one thing God had asked of them; they had broken God’s trust.

I think the same is true for us.  We don’t take responsibility because we too are afraid:

  • We are afraid of consequences
  • We are afraid of looking weak because we couldn’t resist temptation
  • We are afraid of others discovering the truth, and what that might mean for our relationships
  • We are afraid that people might discover that what we look like on the outside, isn’t the same as who we are on the inside
  • We are afraid of breaking trust

There is a gap between how we present ourselves, and who we are.  That gap is sin…it is brokenness…and we are all subject to it.  All of us.

There are two things that I think God wants us to know from our scripture text today.

First, while God loves us as we are, warts, problems, lack of responsibility and all, God wants us to grow into who God designed us to be.  God wants us to take responsibility for the choices and decisions that we make.

God didn’t ask Adam and Eve those trick questions for God’s benefit.  God was trying to teach them something.  The trick questions were asked in a way that made it obvious what the answers were, and so that Eve and Adam understood completely that they had broken their simple covenant, and in the process, broken their relationship with God.

We take responsibility for the actions and the choices we make by confessing, by opening ourselves up and making ourselves vulnerable.  God’s great love for us is always greater than the fear that we might have of being exposed for some kind of fraud, or hypocrite.  If we have trust in God’s love, we have nothing to fear.  If we have trust in the love of those closest to us, we have nothing to fear.  Love always overcomes fear.

The second thing I think God wants us to know is that regardless of taking responsibility or not, God’s love and grace remain.  There were consequences for Adam and Eve…they were removed from the garden.  But they weren’t abandoned.

And ultimately, when humans proved that they couldn’t fulfill the law all by themselves, God came in human form; in the form of Jesus, to restore the relationship.

When you cannot, or do not take responsibility, Jesus does.  That’s why he went to the cross.  There still may be human consequences for your actions, but God does not punish.  And through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, you are made whole; because Jesus loves you.  Trust in that!  And then, you can set aside your fear, shame and guilt; and you can work alongside God to turn creation, the world we live in, into the garden paradise that God originally intended.

And so, when we feel the evening breeze, and we know that God is on the move, and we trust in God’s goodness, God will never have to ask us “where we are,” and we’ll never have to seek God out; because Jesus loves us, God will have been alongside us, the whole time.

Thanks be to God!


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