There’s always been a bond between people and animals that is closer than our connection to any other part of creation. It began at the beginning. God didn’t ask Adam, “What is this rock’s name? This plant? This body of water?” But he did bring every beast of the field and every bird of the sky to Adam so that he could name them (Gen. 2:19).
On this day all is good again. On the sixth day, a Friday, the God who made the first Adam, recreated us all in the second Adam.
I wasn’t wearing fig leaves for underwear, but I’d just as well have been. That day I felt more like Adam than I ever had before, or since. The forbidden fruit, far from digesting, sat like a rock on the bottom of my gut. The man who stood before me was my boss. I was in his office to come clean, to tell him what I’d done. I’d lied to him before, lied to his face. And I was afraid. O dear God, was I afraid. I was afraid of him. I was afraid of myself. I was afraid of the truth. I tell you, I was afraid of damn near everything. Most of all, I was afraid of how he would react. I soon found out. I told him what I’d done. How I’d lied. How I’d broken the commandment. How I’d listened to the serpent, plucked the fruit, and loved the taste of it so much that I’d gorged myself. I had prepared himself for his anger. I knew it was coming. And I deserved every bit of it. If he had wagged his finger in my face, shoved me out the door, and told me to get the hell out of there and never come back, I wouldn’t have been surprised. In fact, I think I would have been a little relieved. At least then, I would have convinced myself that I’d paid for a tiny bit of my sin by suffering such rejection.
His reaction was totally wrong. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. When I’d finished confessing, he didn’t start yelling. Out of his mouth came words like forgiveness, grace, Christ, clean slate. He was saying all the wrong things. This isn’t how bosses are supposed to speak. They’re supposed to hammer out words like deserve, punishment, consequences, disappointment. He didn’t. He shocked me by being gracious to me. He spoke as a father would to his son. And this son, who heard those paternal words of grace and absolution, would, to this day, relive that moment time and again as one of the most defining moments of his life. That day, instead of getting what I deserved, I received nothing but love.
I may have walked into that office wearing fig leaves, but I walked out clothed in the skin of the Lamb of God.
The story of Adam and Eve’s fall into sin doesn’t go the way it’s supposed to go, either. It’s all wrong. When God enters the garden that infamous day, he’s supposed to march in with an iron hand and a tongue pulled back, ready to lash. After all, he had given his children everything; they wanted for nothing. Yet these stupid, selfish people do what stupid, selfish people always do: they go and ruin it all. What they needed was punishment—swift, complete, merciless justice. They had it coming. That’s the way things were supposed to go.
But they don’t. In God’s first question to fallen humanity, he asks, “Where are you?” And in that question—merely one word in Hebrew—is packed a whole theology of who God is.
Where are you? God wasn’t seeking information; he knew where they were. He was fully aware of what they’d done. He was also fully aware of the fallout from this fall. Yet he asks, “Where are you?” Just as he will later ask murdering Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” or hating Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry?” or persecuting Saul, “Why do you persecute me?” In these questions is the answer. The answer is a confession, a repentance, an embrace of the forgiveness offered and bestowed by the God who seeks and saves the lost.
The story of Genesis 3 doesn’t go the way it’s supposed to, the way I expect it to, because God works contrary to my expectations. I expect wrath and he pours out mercy. I expect judgment and he speaks absolution. I expect the end and he gives me a new beginning.
The Lord does indeed go on to tell Adam and Eve that things will not be in this world as they were before. There will be pain in childbirth. There will be thorns and thistles and sweat on the brow. When I left my boss’s office that day, there were still pains in my life; I still bear the scars of the thorns and thistles. But I bear something better, too, as did our first parents. I bear a promise from the God who is love, that in love he has provided a Seed who crushed the head of the lying viper, a Seed who sucked up into his heel the death that I deserved, that he might pour into me the life that I don’t deserve.
That promise makes all the difference. It is the promise that God in Christ does not desire the death of a sinner, but that he turn from his evil way and live. It is the promise that God does not deal with us according to our sins, but is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
I hope one day that God asks me, “Chad, where are you?” I know what I’ll tell him, “Father, I am right here, in your Son, Jesus Christ. That’s where I am.”
Gaze at a sunset and what happens? If you’re the romantic type, maybe you get dreamy, eloquently poeticizing about how the kaleidoscope of colors paints the celestial canvas with fading rays of light. Or maybe you just say, “Oh, look, that’s pretty.” More often than not, we pay no attention to this daily occurrence. The sun goes down, the sun comes up. So what? We’ve seen it thousands of times.
But Adam had not. Not that first day of his existence. What did the father of our race think when he saw his source of warmth and illumination slowly swallowed by the western horizon? For hours few he’d loved its light Had basked in its embrace. Then soon, too soon, befell the night, When darkness veiled his face. There is an old Jewish tradition that Adam, during his first experience of night, was overwhelmed with fear, because he assumed that he had forever lost his beloved sun. To him that virgin sunset was not poetic, nor pretty, nor mundane; it was cataclysmic. All through those black hours he wept like one bereaved, as if he’d witnessed that ball of fire lowered into its distant grave. Only when the eastern horizon began to blush with the first winks of dawn, and his lost gift of light was found again, did Adam grasp that this, too, was the course of life in this world. The sun that sets will also rise.
Granted, a manmade tradition this is, but one that for me has always embodied a divine truth. It is a parable of human loss. For who of us, at some point in our lives, has not watched with horror and grief as our own “sun” vanishes? You stand around a rectangular depression in the ground to watch a box of wood that cradles your beloved slowly lowered into the dark earth. You walk out of the courtroom where you and the one who was flesh of your flesh, bone of your bone, had sat on the opposite side from you, hard and cold as stone. You are haunted by the scream of “I hate you!” and feel the whoosh of the slammed door as the child you bore stormed away to God knows where, disappearing for God knows how long from your life. You become like that Adam of legend, as light wanes and darkness waxes, and your life is swallowed by shadow.
I suppose I could try to encourage you with the assurance that your sun will rise again, that loss and gain, like sunset and sunrise, are merely part of the course of life in this world. And there would be truth in that, as well as hope. But I wish to impress something else upon you, which I think is even more important. For I too lived a shadowed existence for years, my loves and hopes trampled under midnight’s foot. And in those years of dark grief, though the hope of a coming sunrise did ease my suffering to an extent, knowing something else meant even more to me.
That something else is that there’s someone else in the darkness beside you. He is one who was born in the cold and the dark, unwelcomed by the world he came to save. He knelt in darkness the night before his execution, wrestling with the thought of his impending death, praying so fervently that his sweat became crimson. He hung suspended in an unearthly darkness for three hours, impaled upon a rack of torture, forsaken by friends, and even by his Father, till death came calling, and the tomb welcomed this lord of life.
There’s someone else in the darkness with you: this man, this Jesus. This is the one Isaiah described as “despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” Jesus is a God who knows darkness firsthand. From the night of his birth until the day of his death, he felt its cold chill, knew its temptations to despair. He is the one who is beside you during those lightless hours. You may not feel him there. There are times when you may not even want him there. But he is, and will remain, closer to you than your own skin.
This man who is light of light will sustain through the dark of darkness. When your life is swallowed by shadow, he will feed you with his love. When tears run down your face, he will wipe them away with hands that bear the stigmata of a saving crucifixion. He is not a God to give up on you, nor to walk away, no matter how long your night lasts. For when, like Adam, all you’ve knows sinks away into darkness, he will make known to you that his love is light even in the deepest, darkest midnight of life in this fallen world.