Most of us would rather die under the illusion of our own righteousness than live in surrender and self-examination. That's the theme of this week, stemming from God's Word to His people that if they wanted to live, all they had to do was go to Babylon. Yet, we cling to a profane Jerusalem - primarily because we don't want to put in the hard work of dealing with our own hearts. Yesterday, we introduced our fundamental self-interest.
And that raises the question: is it human nature that we are so self-interested? We would like to say that's just who we are, but is it?
This is a really sticky theological question. The gut instinct for most Christians is to simply blame the fall. Who we are today is who we are as a result of sin, and we only get mere glimpses of our original creation. And when God comes back and re-creates the world, He will wipe all of this self-interest away, and we will simply worship Him the pure, whole, unencumbered way that we were meant to worship Him.
I'm not sure it's so simple.
The foundation of our relationship with God is that we choose Him. Love is, after all, freely chosen. And we confess this. We use this argument all the time in discussing how God gave us free will (and thus, we do not hold Him accountable for our sins). He wants us to love Him for real. Not because we have to. Not because we're wired to. Not because the fundamental nature of our creation is that we love Him. But because we choose to love Him.
And when we go back to the Garden, to Eden, we know that there were two special trees in that Garden - the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life. Now, here's where our basic, Sunday school, young theology fails so many of us. After Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, God banished them from the Garden, lest they eat from the Tree of Life and live. So we've somehow gotten the idea that these two trees are the same, that the moment you eat from them, you have their benefits forever. That if Adam and Eve turned around and ate one tiny little piece of fruit from the Tree of Life, we'd all be...eternal (in our present form).
That's not quite how this worked. We can say that with some confidence because prior to this, God never forbid humankind from eating of this tree. His only instruction was not to eat from the other special tree. Without this instruction, we can assume that Adam and Eve ate as freely from this tree as from any other; there was nothing to stop them from doing so. And if they had eaten freely from this tree and God was concerned about them eating from this tree after eating from the other tree, then we can confidently say that eating from this tree once does not bestow its effects forever. If it did, it wouldn't matter whether they ate from it again or not; they'd already be eternal. Even if they subsequently sinned.
The nature, then, of the Tree of Life is that God intended for mankind to routinely eat from it and live. It was a sustaining tree. And if God wanted man to continually come and eat from this sustaining tree, then God wanted mankind to choose life, and to choose God, continually. And if we are expected to continually choose God and God's things, then we are also expected to continually choose against something. That something cannot be the serpent, for God did not introduce man to the serpent or the serpent to man; He was asking man to choose life before the first hiss. So what was there to choose against?
(That was the hiss anyway, wasn't it? Adam and Eve didn't choose the serpent; they chose themselves.)
That's not as catastrophic as it seems, this notion that perhaps we were created as self-interested beings. Because even though we are selfish, there is something in our hearts that is innately God-ward. We know this because we keep seeing the way that it comes up not just in God's story, but in ours. We are a people who turn instinctively toward the Lord when we come to the end of ourselves, and that means there's something inside of us that is wired to choose Him just as much as there is something in us that is wired to choose us. (Roughly. Give or take. You know.) And I think we can defend this notion in just the same way that we defend free will as fundamental to love: there has to be something powerful enough to tempt us away from God to enable us to freely and purposefully choose Him.
So maybe it is just human nature. Not fallen human nature, but real human nature. The way that God made it from the very start - that we would wrestle with ourselves in order that we might fall in love with Him all the more.
That we might, somehow, thousands of years later, surrender to Babylon in order to hold onto something truly holy.