Garden Thoughts

Dave Armstrong made a comment about my review of the Bible Miniseries last week I’d like to react to. My original comment was:

The Garden of Eden/Cain and Abel . . .Could we have some better sense why they went wrong? It sets up the whole story, and just saying they disobeyed God isn’t enough. Adam and Eve’s Sin is they wanted to be like God.

Dave observed: “. . .I like Fr. Michael Himes (Boston College) who said that the sin of Adam and Eve was not wanting to be like God—-it was their failure to believe that they were already like God.”

I agree with this quote in part but I’m not sure I can agree totally. That’s the problem with a quick observation while talking about something else: there was no room unpack the meaning of Original Sin, at least not my view of it. It’s amusing that this is the same problem with how the series covered it: far too briefly. This time, let’s unpack this a little in hopes of discovering something.

God is with us always, part of us. We don’t have to go looking for God, God is right here in our hearts and in our minds. We are like God when we live by our Covenant with Him; we are like God when we reach out to one another in love and charity, when we do good for those in need, comfort the sorrowing, feed hungry, and so forth. If we think God is alien to us or apart from us we are in trouble.

I think Adam and Eve’s Sin isn’t they were looking for something that was already near, something they didn’t realize they had already, but they were looking to replace God with themselves. They wanted to be Law unto themselves, answerable only to themselves, they wanted to set the standard of Good and Evil for themselves. That’s the core of Satan’s rebellion: to put himself on the seat of Heaven. When we commit a Sin, we put our want in the place of God’s standard, substitute our view with God’s, our way for God’s Truth, our concept of love for God’s. That’s where I was going when I said Adam and Eve wanted to be like God. When we sin, we want God to be limited to the same limits we have: to live by the extent of our power and ability to manipulate.

Of course, they were like God and didn’t realize it; the same is true with us much of the time. I think Original Sin is more than failure to see God within us, more of a will to power that disregards the dignity of any other life. Overcoming Sin is about making sure we’re listening to God’s voice, and that’s not always easy. Like the serpent promised Adam and Eve something they wanted, our Dark Side tries to sounds like the Voice of God, trying to persuade us that what we want is what God would want, or at least, something God doesn’t care about too much. That’s why reflection and focusing on the still small voice within us is so important: because with changing circumstances and our own changing emotions, it’s tough to say how the right thing will feel. Sometimes the way that feels most peaceful is the right way, and sometimes it isn’t. Perhaps the most important thing to keep in view is how our thoughts and actions affect others.

While we’re talking about gardens, I’d like to talk about Bathsheba and her garden.  I’ve got several friends who’ve opined that Bathsheba was at fault, presenting herself to David’s view in order to tempt him.  I think the reality is different, as are the morals of the story:

-David wasn’t supposed to be home while the army was on campaign. Kings were expected to lead the army from the rear, at least, and David’s reputation as a warrior was good enough to make Saul jealous. Kings who didn’t go off with their armies were frequently deposed when the army got home from the field. We’re not told why he stayed behind, and when this episode is over, David returns to the battle to take charge of the army for the final blow in the war.

-The nudity taboo in Biblical times wasn’t about being naked, but looking at someone else’s nakedness. See Genesis 9: 20-27 for an illustration. This was a culture where large groups of people slept around a common fire; there were other things the culture expected people to ignore beside nudity, or else the Israelites would not have increased. Bathsheba was probably counting on taboo to do what Uriah’s walls and foliage couldn’t do to cover her. Uriah’s garden probably had a wall high enough to block public view, except the King’s Palace at the highest point of the city.

-Bathsheba necessarily wasn’t a flirt or a loose woman. There was no way for her to say “no” to the King; people who did that usually found they had no future, like Uriah did. David could have dragged her kicking and screaming into his presence, as well as having her restrained if he wanted. How could she not give in? As a loyal subject, it would have been difficult. Only a woman of heroic moral character could have refused David; it’s tough to blame her for not having that kind of character. Even today, a woman would have a tough time refusing an absolute ruler.

The flip side of this is almost impossible. Just as the Secret Service would try to keep an unknown woman away from the President (no jokes please!), David’s guard probably kept any woman trying to seduce David away, at least without checking her out thoroughly. David’s reputation wasn’t for debauchery, although he did have several wives and concubines at his disposal (which meant he didn’t have to call on Bathsheba).

There is no good reason to suspect Bathsheba was seeking David’s attention. Once he was interested in her, she had no choice, willing or unwilling.

-When Bathsheba found out she was with child while her husband was away, her life was in danger. If her neighbors thought she committed adultery, they could have dragged her out and stoned her without warning. Telling the King about the situation was an act of self-preservation more than self-advancement. The King shows his continuing interest in her, as well as protection of his own reputation, by the lengths he goes to cover everything up. If he really wanted his affair covered up totally, he could have the neighbors tipped off about her situation by one of his street operatives and the neighborhood could have done his dirty work. He showed this kind of ruthlessness in Uriah’s case.

-God taking the life of the newborn child is tough to digest. It seems God is punishing an innocent for the sins of his father. This is where remembering the Bible is written by humans from a human perspective is important: just because people thought God killed the child and wrote it in Scripture doesn’t mean He really did it. Many infants died in the first few days of life, even in a royal palace. It’s reasonable that David and Bathsheba’s first son died early and this idea was used to explain it theologically.

Even the great King David couldn’t profit from an Evil act, or make Good come from Evil, which is a moral for us all regardless of the historical reality. As many of us heard when we were growing up: “cheaters never win”.  Of course, God can make Good come from Evil.

-A woman was considered blessed if she had a son, so Bathsheba giving birth to Solomon was redemption for her wronging by David. 2 Samuel 6 tells of the Ark of the Covenant’s arrival in Jerusalem: David’s wife Michal dies childless as punishment because she criticizes David’s performance in the sacrifice. Perhaps the reason Bathsheba’s story is remembered at all is because Solomon went on to succeed David, thanks to her intercession with the King.

David had other sons: 2 Sam 3: 2-5 lists the ones born in Hebron, 2 Sam 5: 13-16 the ones born in Jerusalem, there were probably more that weren’t listed. Solomon wasn’t a shoo in for the crown, so Bathsheba’s intercession for him with David was crucial.

What does all this mean for us? I think it’s about how highly we value our leadership. David was considered the founder of Israel even though he wasn’t their first king. He’s still considered a hero today. But he wasn’t perfect by a long shot, and his court was just as scandal ridden as any.  Some scholars say the two books of Kings in the Old Testament is one long warning about how the Kingship of Israel and Judah was a failure.

We must be careful how highly we prize any of our leaders, be careful of idolizing them too much, or of holding them above the Law, whether it be civil Law or God’s Law. When any leader, public or private, can live above the Law, we’re not living in a Just country. God will hold any leader accountable.  Making a King into an icon is a mistake, at least.

We must also be careful of enabling. David had a lot of help stealing Bathsheba: the guards who ushered her into his presence, Joab and the army who set her husband up for death, and other people whose roles we don’t know. “I was only following orders,” is a line we haven’t tolerated from ex-Nazis; we should not tolerate it from ourselves, either.  Even as we seek to obey proper authority, anything doesn’t go and we are still responsible for our actions.

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