Have you heard the story about a Beloved child taken and raised in a world that believes that child is stained by sin at birth?
It’s a story about a child raised in the belief that there must be punishment for the suffering they see around them. There must be a punishment because someone has committed wrongdoing that has brought calamity to the community or an individual.
It should sound familiar. We have been telling variations of this story for thousands of years.
Humanity has always suspected that we are created by and for a relationship with a Divine Creator. Somewhere deep inside lurks both a lingering suspicion that our relationship with the Divine is fractured and a deep yearning to restore that relationship.
So, we tell our stories and craft our solutions to explain and restore that missing relationship.
Our theological explanation is the story of Eve’s bite of the fateful apple in the Garden of Eden. The sin of Adam and Eve gets them thrown out of paradise and God’s presence. And there you have it – what St. Augustine eventually labels as “original sin.” We can’t help it; we are born that way.
The myth we tell in our communities is that suffering comes from wrongdoing. If the crops fail, or illness invades the neighborhood, or floods and wildfires and drought batter the world–someone did something wrong, and that there must be a punishment to atone. There must be a scapegoat. Think Salem witch trials.
In our personal lives, we tell much the same story. We ask, what did I do to deserve this? Or why is God punishing me?
In that question, why is God punishing me, lies the problem we have created for ourselves. In our desire for an explanation, we have given to the Divine Creator, who we say loves us more than we can imagine, the image of a wrathful God who demands punishment for our wrongdoing, or in theological terms, our sin. Hence the doctrinal theory of atonement. Not much room for the Beloved One who loves us more than we can imagine.
What if, as Dr. Wendy Farley writes, we are instead: “beloved of the Beloved. Poor, troubled children of Eve, we have become confused and lost our way. If there is such a thing as sin, it is not the stain of guilt we cannot wash out but forgetfulness that we are held with tender mercy by our Beloved.”
What if Adam and Eve went about the business of tending to their paradise; pruning, watering, fertilizing, harvesting, and, most importantly, making choices every day. We know the Creator gave Adam and Eve free will. What fun or how meaningful would any relationship be if one partner has total control? You will love me, you will go here, or you will do that, not exactly a relationship of mutual love and respect.
And what if, in making those choices, that little thing we call ego began to take over – you know that voice that tells us you’ve got this, you are in control, you know the best way to do this. That feeling of power grew, and the choices piled up until without even knowing it, Adam and Eve begin to forget “that they were held with tender mercy by the Beloved.”
So, when someone or something came along to say to Eve, you can have it all; it was forgetfulness of being held with the tender mercy of the Beloved that caused the problem.
This story should sound remarkably familiar; it plays out over and over again in the world and in our lives.
What if the Divine Beloved sent the Son, the Christ, to help us remember. What if it instead of a bloody death meant to reconcile us to an angry God, Jesus came to teach what we have forgotten?
Jesus says, “Remember me.” We hear those words every time we gather around Christ’s table.
Of course, we remember that night of friendship and betrayal. We recall the arrest of Jesus, his trial, crucifixion, death, and resurrection. But deep in our hearts, we know that Jesus means much more in the simple words, “Remember me.”
Remember when I asked you to see the beauty in the person lying by the road, beaten and bloody.
Remember the woman at the well, the five thousand we fed, the people we healed even on the Sabbath, the sinners we invited to our table. We saw the beauty of God’s image in each one.
Remember, I said that I love you as the Father loves.
Remember that I commanded you to love yourselves and one another as I love you.
Remember that you and each person you encounter carries the image of God within. Look for that image and treasure that image.
It is our forgetfulness that separates us from the Divine, not some horrible stain of sin we carry from birth.
Remember – remember that the Divine Beloved One created you in love, loves you no matter what, and will guide you in your heart to see that deep beauty in yourself and others.