He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Genesis 3:11-12
For many years, I struggled long and hard with the story of creation in the Bible. Is it truth, myth, allegory? For over a decade of my life, I believed it was simply the conjuring of ancients to give meaning to a nonsensical and paradoxical world. Today, through the lens of faith, I’m giving the genesis story another try, or, maybe more appropriately stated, it’s me that is getting a second chance… .
It has been revelatory for me to recognize that after Adam and Eve’s initial disobedience (subverting God’s will with their own), they first feel shame (realizing that they are naked), and then Adam blames Eve, and Eve blames the snake. It’s striking to me that the second sin ever committed is blame-shifting, and that that blame-shifting was the response to shame.
As I carried this story in my heart, I began to see how much of what I do on a daily basis is a response to the deep insecurity I feel in my heart. Often, I feel so intensely the shame of my flaws and failures, that I defend myself like a gravely wounded animal. If someone is critical of me, or cuts me off in traffic, or I do something awkward, or I’m selfish or unkind, then I feel vulnerable and exposed, as naked as Adam and Eve in the garden, and I point the finger at something or someone else to escape the pain taking responsibility for my sin. It’s easier to see myself as the victim, to see the problem as being external—the fault of some other person, or circumstance, or institution—rather than dealing with my own broken condition.
In order to recover from the shame and blame reaction, I need firstly address the shame that I feel. I believe shame can be a healthy feeling, it serves as an indicator that I’m spiritually off course. After I feel the intrinsic result of my sin, shame, I must repent and move forward in the freedom of God’s forgiveness. No where is this process captured more beautifully than in Philippians 3:12-14,
“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Shame is not my master, for Christ has made me his own. I need not dwell on the past, or abide in shame, for in Christ I have been set free from bondage to sin.
In light of these truths, the urge to shift blame becomes a tool. I can use it as an indicator that I’m operating from a place of shame, and not from a place of freedom in Christ. If I do feel appropriate shame (the direct result of sin), I can repent and move closer to God in his grace. I need never blame any external source. The words of this recovering alcoholic sum it up well,
“Acceptance is the answer to all of my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation—some fact of my life—unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God’s world by mistake… unless I accept my life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.” Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 417
After drinking deeply from its cool spring, I’ve come to see that it matters less to me whether the Bible’s genesis story accurately depicts the mechanics of the earth’s formation, and more that it illuminates the formation of my own heart.