Sermon: So Much for Wisdom

March 1, 2020
First Sunday in Lent

Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7

by Eric Anderson

Wisdom seemed like a good idea for a Lenten study. Wisdom is highly valued in many parts of the Bible, and though it has some core characteristics there are enough differences in the ways the Biblical writers thought about wisdom to make it interesting.

And then along comes the first Sunday in Lent with the Genesis account of the successful temptation of Adam and Eve. “The tree was to be desired to make one wise,” it says. “She took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.”

The tree was to be desired to make one wise, it says. Well, so much for wisdom.

The problem is that it makes sense, doesn’t it? God called it the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. What have human beings done for millennia with children? Teach them right from wrong, good from bad, good from evil. Children don’t know these things. They’ve got to be carefully taught.

Shouldn’t these first human beings have been carefully taught?

Looked at through that perspective, God looks like a terrible parent. God left these two untaught immature human beings with the briefest of instructions. “Go ahead and eat everything,” said God, “except that one.”

During our Bible Study of this text this week at least one person wasn’t even sure that God had pointed out which tree was the forbidden one. We came to imagine the man and the woman wondering, each time they ate from a new tree, if this was the one that would kill them.

Since the woman – she doesn’t get a name until after this takes place – was able to point out the tree to the snake, it seems the author was being a little vague about God’s instructions, to everybody’s relief.

Still. It’s not much guidance to give, now is it?

It’s not much guidance because it was a simpler world.

This is the open secret of the Eden story. Despite its name, the tree cannot be the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God had just defined good and evil, but in a way we can barely imagine. Good consists of nearly anything at all. Evil is just one thing. Only one thing. It’s so simple that we might not even notice that it’s defined at all.

They knew, man and woman both, that eating from the tree was evil.

So much for simplicity.

What changed for them was not knowledge but experience. What changed was that they had gone from a condition of knowing what to do and the very short list of things not to do to having the experience of doing the thing they weren’t supposed to do. Now they had betrayed the trust God had placed in them.

Is it any wonder that their first response was shame.

So much for simplicity. So much for wisdom. So much for experience.

We didn’t read the next part of Genesis, but I suspect many of you remember it. The man and the woman turn out to be quick learners. They were the first to use what has become a time-honored approach to being caught in a transgression: pass the blame. The man passes it to the woman. The woman passes it to the snake. God doesn’t give the snake the opportunity to pass it to anyone else. God held all three accountable for their actions.

By the way, not one of the three made any attempt to apologize. Justify, yes. Apologize, no.

So much for self-justification.

What are we to make of all this?

For the ancient Israelites, this story served to explain things that seemed wrong to them. Why do people have to work so hard to stay alive? Why do women have to suffer so in childbirth when other creatures don’t? Why do snakes slither along the ground? Isn’t that gross? Couldn’t and shouldn’t all of these things be different?

God must have been terribly angry with all of them, they reasoned.

I am more skeptical of the mythological claims of this story. I do not think a primordial couple ruined the world for their descendants, and the fossil record strongly suggests that snakes were slithering on the ground long before human beings appeared.

I do think we find some wisdom – yes, wisdom – here.

The woman and the man found the tree desirable because it would bring them wisdom. Well, that was a lie. Lots of people make false claims about things, and thanks in part to this story, other people often call them snakes. Taking the fruit flew in the face of the wisdom they already had, because it damaged the most precious thing they had and knew: the relationship with God.

It damaged their relationship with one another, too. “Pass the blame” has never improved a relationship and it never will. But it started with God: God, who had offered so much and asked so little. God, who dearly loved them both. God, whose bitter disappointment is heard so clearly in the question, “Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”

The wisdom of this story is to consider our relationships as we consider our actions. Life is more complicated for us than a simple yes or no about a tree; we live among far more people than two human beings and God. We will inevitably make compromises and trade-offs and hurt one person so as to avoid hurting other people.

Can we, at the least, do so with more consideration than is described of Adam and Eve? Can we ask ourselves, “How will my spouse be affected by this? My parents? My children? My friends? My neighbors? The citizens of my state? My nation? The people of the world?”

“If I make this choice, how will it affect my relationship with God?”

Alphonetta Wines writes at Working Preacher, “Many have, because she ate first, blamed the woman for all the world’s troubles. Even today, many think the woman is somehow second class, less than, inferior to the man. That is not the point of this story. This chapter reflects on the tragic reality of brokenness in relationships between God and humanity, among human beings, and between humanity and the earth.”

Broken relationships. So much for the wisdom they thought they were offered.

Let us seize a different wisdom, build up our relationships, and draw closer to one another and to God.


Listen to the Recorded Sermon

It would probably be wise to stick to the prepared text… So much for wisdom?

The Creation of Adam and Original Sin painted by Unknown Romanesque Painter, Spanish (12th century) – Web Gallery of Art:   Image  Info about artwork, Public Domain,

Categories Sermons | Tags: | Posted on March 1, 2020

Social Networks: RSS Facebook Twitter Google Stumble Upon Digg Reddit

Leave a Reply

close window

Service Times & Directions

Sunday School Classes

Sunday 8:45 am

Sunday Worship Service

Sunday 10:00 am

Adult Bible Study

Monday 6:30 pm, Wednesday 9:00 am

(International Young Adults Association)
Bible Study

Wednesday 7:30 pm

The Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga

(The Rev. Tevita) Sunday 1:00 pm Wednesday 7:00 pm (Sanctuary)

The United Church of Christ, Pohnpei - Hilo

(The Rev. Ichiro) Sunday 10:00 am (Bdg. of Faith)

The Samoan Church

(The Rev. Sunia) Sunday 4:00 pm (Sanctuary)

440 W. Lanikaula Street
Hilo, HI 96720
(808) 935-1283