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The Introduction to “Dying To Control”

A few questions that I’ve received about my book and blog are “What inspired you to write it?”, “What is ‘Dying to Control‘ all about?” and “What are you hoping to accomplish?” In thinking about how to answer these questions, I figured it might be helpful if I posted the book’s introduction. If the following does not answer your questions or if you have any additional questions, please let me know.

 Introduction

Time was beating second after relentless second as I sat, hunkered down in my apartment study, surrounded by the workload of seminary. Mindful of a deadline that would arise shortly after dawn, I fired away at the keyboard, writing a paper on the subject of God’s holiness. Having been exposed to impressions of God from an early age, I described his holiness as I had always envisioned it—a glorious light radiating his absolute power and authority throughout the universe. I defined holiness in terms of purity, perfection, and the absence of sin. Then, as I was explaining why humans cannot enter or even look upon the holy glow of God, something curious happened. Without warning, the words, “Stop writing what you already think!” blew through my mind. Silenced, I sat staring at the bright, square light of the monitor as a calming peace draped over me.

After a while I stood up, picked up my Bible, walked out of the study, sat down on the living room couch, and began reading the story that speaks to why the relationship between God and humankind is so distant—the story of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit in Genesis 3.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

2The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,3but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

4“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5“For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

6When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

8Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

 

“Where are you?”Those words caught my eye in a way they never had before, and like a child seeing fireworks for the first time, I gazed at them in fearful delight. Awed and perplexed, I began to wonder: If sin and sinful beings cannot exist in the presence of God, then what was God doing walking in the garden of Eden after Adam and Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit? And why did God call out, “Where are you?” An all-powerful, all-knowing God certainly would have been aware of what they’d done and where they were hiding. This Genesis story, credited with explaining the expanse between a holy God and a sinful humanity, actually speaks of a God who reaches out to us.

I didn’t know this God, or at least I didn’t understand the complexity of this God. The God of my Catholic upbringing would have yelled, “I know where you are! I know what you did! Come out and receive your just punishment!” The God of my Protestant faith would have retreated to the purity of heaven to begin bridging the chasm between a holy God and a sinful humanity. Why was I taught that sin could not exist in the presence of God? How had I missed God’s invitation in verse 9 for so many years?

As I watched the foundation of my Christian faith detonate, I marveled at the glorious display. For the first time I was seeing God in color. The blinding white light of a punitive dictator who torments us for our sin had given way to a colorful array, and the silhouette of God as an alienated friend who must overcome the cosmic law that sinful beings cannot exist in his presence faded to black.

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 Since those dawning hours on September 23, 1998, my life has been consumed with studying, teaching, and experiencing the implications of Genesis 3. This book is a product of that journey. Written through the lens of Adam and Eve, Dying to Control is a reflective commentary on twentieth- and twenty-first-century American culture.

To appreciate this book, you don’t have to consider the garden of Eden drama to be a historical account; all that’s necessary is that you’re willing to consider the possibility that the story offers some insight into humanity’s conflict with God and one another. For too long now the debate between the scientific and religious communities over the historical merits of Adam and Eve and the garden of Eden has divided and distracted people from the story itself. Arguments over issues such as whether serpents ever walked or talked have grown old and have little bearing on the meaning and relevance of the account.

To illustrate my point, consider the story of the Three Little Pigs. Imagine if someone dismissed the tale because pigs do not build houses and wolves cannot blow them down. In response to the dismissal, imagine someone else trying to validate the story by providing scientific evidence suggesting that pigs may have at one time walked on two legs, had opposable thumbs, and had a brain mass capable of architectural design. Can you hear the ensuing debate over the intellectual potential of pigs and the lung capacity of wolves? None of which, by the way, would have any bearing on the moral of the story. In the end, with each side fighting to win the debate, the message of the Three Little Pigs would be lost.

To be clear, I’m not equating the story of the Three Little Pigs with the story of Adam and Eve. Rather, I’m drawing a comparison that illustrates our society’s absurd treatment of the garden of Eden drama. I find it hard to believe that those who argue against the historicity of the story simply dismiss the account as a mythical tale that offers little or no insight into our human condition. I also find it hard to believe that those who argue for the historicity of the story continue to focus their attention on protecting their position against attack and dissent. The garden of Eden drama—one of the oldest and most widely cherished stories in human history—has been misused and abused in the battleground of America’s culture war.

Today, across America, you’ll find religious enclaves still fighting this war. Consumed by their self-preserving causes, these communities of truth fighters adhere to a theology of a God who blows down houses when we don’t live by his rules. Deafened by the noise of warfare, these communities don’t hear, but rather fear, the engaging words of God: “Where are you?”

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Where are you?

Like Adam and Eve, we all hide among the trees when we’re afraid. We congregate there with those who view the world in similar ways and welcome what they see of us. We hide and gather with like-minded people because we fear the world seeing the naked truth of who we are and what we think and the shameful deeds we’ve done. We fear being exposed, for once we are truly known, we realize we must face an even greater fear—the fear of rejection.

To avoid living in fear, we grope for control of our lives and surroundings. Desperate to gain control of our world and our eternal destinies, we hijack anything that might give us the power needed to exert our will. Again and again, however, in our attempts to preserve and promote self we end up killing ourselves and one another. This sad irony has been an underlying theme in human history.

So, what do we do? In a world bleeding with religious conflict, in a world coughing from pollution, in a world starving for nourishment and love, what do we do?

Lasting solutions begin with making honest evaluations of ourselves as individuals and as members of families, neighborhoods, nations, and the world community. Instead of covering our humanity, we need to interact with and seek to understand one another in the midst of our humanity. Only after we stop hiding and blaming others for the woes of our world will we be able to own and address the shame we have each brought upon the human race.

My hope for humankind in the twenty-first century is that we will emerge from the shadows of shame to experience freedom from our obsession with control. This is the kind of freedom the world needs—a freedom that releases unconditional love and compassion.

My hope for this book is that it will stimulate self-reflection and dialogue that will draw people out of hiding to experience life with one another. I also hope this book will contribute to the theological framework of the next generation of Christians who believe they have a God-given responsibility to participate in restoring an Eden-like beauty to every dark corner of our world.

In the end we have a choice—individually and collectively. We can continue fighting for control by ignoring, denying, deflecting, rationalizing, and whitewashing the truth of who we are and what we think and the shameful deeds we do—or with open and outstretched hands we can submit to one another.

Fight or submit—that is the choice set before us. That is the dilemma of dying to control.

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