Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Real Choice

Somebody blew my mind this weekend. It was simple and quick and without any fanfare. I was sitting on my couch, watching our church service through the internet hooked up to our TV, and suddenly light was shed on something I've been hearing about my entire life and never really got.

I'm not really one of those people who cares about Creation versus Evolution, about whether dead people go directly to Heaven or if they have to wait until Jesus comes, or if the Earth's been around for a few thousand or a few billion years. It truly makes no difference to me whatsoever in the way I live my life in the here and now. But there's this story, and it's right smack at the beginning of the bible. It's been allegorical in history... well, throughout history. It's a garden, and a couple of humans, and two trees. One tree is allowed and one tree is forbidden.

So what do the idiots do? They eat from the forbidden one.

And every time you read it, you think, "WHY!? It's so obvious. Don't do what you're not supposed to do. Do things the right way. Don't be bad. Be good."

Oh, but we all do it, every day. It's easy to sit here in 2014 and mutter, "I'd never have eaten from the wrong tree if it'd been my choice." But we all make the same choice, it's just not in the shape of fruit. We choose the wrong path constantly. Sometimes it's simple to see, sometimes not so much.

But what's really at the heart of the issue? Is it sin? Is it being good versus being bad? I don't think so. If sin is at the heart of the issue, then the issue is doomed from the beginning. Is rule-following what it's all about? Nope, that can't be, or else what Jesus did on the cross would have been pointless.  After the extensive amount of reading and studying and meditating on scripture and writing that I've done over the last few years, I'm in awe at the simplicity of it ever single time the realization hits me again.

It's about Grace.

The Amplified Bible always adds 'God's unmerited favor' after the word grace, just for a little bit of extra explanation. Unmerited means we didn't earn it. And we didn't earn it because to earn it would make some of us better, some of us more deserving, than others. It would mean that Jesus' death and resurrection was pointless because we could've earned this grace without Him. It would tie our salvation to something trivial and temporary instead of something profound and eternal.

Here's the thing that blew my mind (...you like how I'm jumping around like I'm playing Hopscotch on crack?):

The two trees, said the teacher this weekend, are The Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. (Duh, I already knew that.) But what became apparent to me that had never in 37 years made sense until now is that they're tied to Grace versus Legalism. They're tied to doing things God's Way versus doing things Our Way. If we have 'knowledge of good and evil', like the law of Moses which Galatians said was given to us for that very purpose, to illuminate our sin and make us aware of it, and we rely on THAT tree... if we choose to eat from THAT tree... we're putting all of our efforts up in hopes of salvation. We're using works to get us into Heaven, into God's favor. We're saying that what we can accomplish is more important than what Jesus already accomplished. We get up in the morning and make our to-do lists, checking them off as we go: time for bible reading, time for devotions, time for work, time for charity, time for finances, time for tithing, time for rest, time for prayer, time for bed. If we get them all 'right', then God will love us more, right? If we get one of them wrong, we'd better be sorry and beg forgiveness or He won't love us as much, right? Isn't that exhausting?

The Tree of Life is the Tree of Grace. It's fruit is forgiveness, favor, prosperity, and, above all else, UNCONDITIONAL love. Last night, my daughter just happened to ask me what love meant to me. A million things flashed into my mind, and it took awhile to put into words, but the thing I needed to explain to her the most is that love -- real, true love -- has no conditions. You can make a million mistakes, it's still there as strong as ever. It doesn't say, "You do this, then I'll love." It doesn't say, "If you do this, I won't love."

This is why God's love is the only flawless love that is, was, and ever will be. Human love is tied to human works. Marriages, friendships, familial relationships -- so much of it is cause and effect, if-then mentalities. Sure, there are flashes of unconditionality in it, but we're flawed humans and so our love is flawed as well. Knowing this, knowing that we can't ever go through life checking off every box on the to-do list with the perfection of our Deity, isn't it a complete comfort to know that there ARE two trees? It's true, we all have a choice in life, in every area, every single day.

Our choice isn't to be good or to be bad.

Our choice is to ACCEPT GRACE or REJECT GRACE.

It all depends on the tree you're eating from.

Choose wisely.

Stephanie Jean

(For more on this subject, recommended reading is Galatians 3.)

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