The Devil Made Me Do It
By Charles Rush
May 4, 2003
Genesis 3: 1-13 and Genesis 11: 1-12
ended the sermon last week with
the observation that Christianity has always presumed that the world is a
broken place and we are principally in the business of mending what is broken.
Spiritually life is not about getting it right the first time, it is about
doing what we can to heal what is broken.
I want to say something about
brokenness today, particularly the part of brokenness that Christians call sin.
We don’t hear the word sin much these days. It has been falling out of usage
for a long time. When I was young the comedian Flip Wilson played a character
Geraldine, a sassy black woman that was always warning people that her
boyfriend Killer would be home soon. Geraldine was often some place that she
should not have been, doing something she should not be doing, and when someone
would confront her about it, she would say, “The Devil made me do it.”
That is cute, but also tame and
rather narrowly subscribed around our desires. Kids in my confirmation classes
always want to know why evil exists and why would God
make the world that way.
Our texts this morning both attempt
to answer that question and they do it in different ways, one on the social
level and one on the interpersonal level. On the social level, the story of the
Tower of Babel suggests that there is something about the origins
of civilization itself that compounded and magnified our brokenness. And the
story of the Fall suggests that our propensity to sin
is inherently part of the responsibility of our freedom to determine our own
destiny. The knowledge of good and evil implies the capacity to choose both.
Theologians use the term Original
Sin to describe the fact that brokenness precedes us personally and encompasses
us in a way that we cannot fully escape. Perfection is not an option in human
Most of us here have a number of
negative connotations with that term Original Sin, largely because of the
unfortunate history of what the Church has taught about it. The vast majority
of us, if we are of a certain age, were taught that Original Sin has to do with
sex. That is true whether we grew up Catholic or in the conservative wing of
the Protestant churches. At some point, usually in our teenage years, we got
some stern teaching about sexual desire as the root of all evil. Adam and Eve
were singled out as sterling examples of the age-old problem of lust, and we
were filled with fear and guilt. I have yet to meet anyone that was actually
persuaded by this speech, although everybody was affected by it.
I’ve mentioned before the
observation of a friend of mine that “we
all grew up schizophrenic in Texas because the Church taught us that sex was
dirty, nasty, awful and wrong, and… so special that we ought to save it only
for the person we marry.”
Not real helpful. The Church- and
especially the people that actually talked about sex with teenagers- were
always more comfortable telling us what to avoid than what to seek. So we have
a lot of people that compartmentalize- my spiritual side, my sexual side- two
independent spheres that are mutually exclusive.
One of the principal reasons that we
associate Original Sin with sex is the towering influence of Saint Augustine, the 4th Century
Bishop of Hippo, the Roman name for the ancient city of Carthage.
Saint Augustine, it is safe to say, read
his own personal life into his teaching on Original Sin and sexuality in
general. It is a tale that I wish Eric Erickson had worked on like he did on
Gandhi and Martin Luther. Saint Augustine wrote an enormously
influential book The Confessions that partly details his own religious
pilgrimage, and it was complicated, even more than he realized.
On many fronts, he was a fairly
typical young man in the late Roman Empire. He was born into a family
from the upper classes, well educated. He had a girlfriend that apparently lit
his candle at both ends. He drank deeply of the life of passion with her in his
twenties. But his mother, a widow that he was very close to, did not approve of
the woman. She was not on a social par with their family. This created enormous
pressure on the young man for a number of years and eventually he married a
woman that his mother approved of but it was not a happy marriage. His solution
was to take another girlfriend on the sly and plod on through,
compartmentalize, worry, feel guilt. And it appears that through much of this
time he was still dreaming about his old girlfriend and wishing that they were
Meanwhile, his mother is becoming
more and more religious. She was a convert to Catholicism. Eventually she takes
him to hear St. Ambrose preach, the great Bishop of Milan,
that was probably the greatest orator of his day and a terrific
intellectual. Augustine converts to Catholicism, eventually chooses the
monastic life, fairly quickly becomes the Abbot because of his considerable
erudition. And his mother joins the nunnery attached to his monastery for the
remainder of her life. There is some rich material there for a psychoanalyst.
And I can’t help but wonder how Western theology might have been different if St. Augustine had developed an
integrated, uncomplicated sensual life and there had been some other area that
he could have used for a serious moral, spiritual introspection. The road not taken.
Instead, St. Augustine argued that Lust and Pride
were the two principal forms of sin, two sins which Romans certainly knew a
great, great deal about. And he often used our two texts to illustrate both.
Pride is the form of civilization that seeks wealth and glory, usurping the
place of God or the need of God.
And Lust is one of the primordial
drives that fuels men to pride. At points, Augustine comes pretty close to
suggesting that sexuality is the problem for us. It’s subterranean power is something we cannot control, a
kind of overwhelming temptation. And he comes pretty close to suggesting that
the root of this problem lies in women, who are more sensual, who are
beguiling, and who are morally weaker, evidenced by the fact that Eve ate of
the apple first. Unquestionably, the conclusion drawn from this metaphor down
the generations was that women needed to be carefully controlled and the way to
do that was through patriarchal prejudice and might.
Every educated man in Europe was at least somewhat
acquainted with Augustine and his teaching on Original Sin, so the scope of
influence of this mistaken understanding of sexuality and women multiplied and
grew in dangerous ways down through the centuries. You just want to hit the
rewind button or the backspace key quick. A train wreck is coming. We need a
whole different teaching on sexuality, one that tells us where we are headed,
not what to avoid, one that shows us how to integrate our sensual selves and
our spiritual selves and I can’t do that today.
I think the text is profound for
reasons quite other than sexuality that I would unpack today. Genesis 3 has a
family structure feel to it from the outset. It feels pretty much like parents
with their teenagers doesn’t it? God gives Adam and Eve outrageous bounty,
beautiful trees with fruit, animals- lots of opportunity here, lots of good
stuff. And God sets a boundary, everything but this one tree. And the new
Humans are perfectly behaved and apparently contented. And then God leaves… Big mistake on God’s part.
One of my neighbors was leaving town
for the weekend with his wife, had his two sons over at friends homes, was
picking up an item at Kings on the way out of town and another parent comes up
to him and asks, “What time will the party be over tonite?”
“What party?” “The party my daughter is going to at your house tonite.”
God leaves, new humans are alone.
Enter stage right the serpent, a latter day Eddy Haskell from the 50’s show Leave
it to Beaver. Eddy Haskell used to butter up Mrs. Cleaver, “My your hair looks particularly beautiful today Mrs.
Cleaver.” Then he would head up stairs and say, “Beaver, go steal some money
from your Mom so we can buy cigarettes.”
God sets one boundary around one
tree and says there will be consequences. The serpent says, “There won’t
be any consequences… Trust me.” You know these people. They worked for
the legal department at Enron. They were in accounting at Tyco. They sent
e-mail back and forth from traders to investment banking at Citigroup and
Morgan Stanley. They are everywhere. “There won’t be any consequences…
not for you… This is not a problem.”
eats, gives it to the man who eats… no apparent consequences. But… we are told.. their eyes become open, they are
aware of good and evil, they are aware they are naked. There is some
fundamental sense that we only really become attuned to the nature of right and
wrong when we violate our conscience and actually do something wrong.
was visiting, was dying to shoot a BB gun. I told him shoot the gun at the
target against the wood fence. But do not shoot at the birds. Later that
afternoon he is sobbing uncontrollably. Can’t speak. I
hold him for a while, finally go out back to see if I
can determine anything from the terrain. And there is the dead bird. More
holding, finally I tell him that it was not right, not good but it we are going
to get beyond it together… He blurts out… “I’m a killer” It was
hard not to laugh. But on another level, he was right. Taking life is a big
deal. He crossed over a line and he couldn’t go back. He was grown older in a
day. Saint Augustine said in the
Confessions “I have become a problem to myself.” We don’t really get the
importance of internal values until we violate our conscience… and then we get
hide. God comes back to the Garden and can’t find them. Presumably God looks
and looks finally they come out. God says, “why were
you hiding Man?” And man says, “I was naked and I hid.” God says, “Who told
you, you were naked?” No answer.
this sound familiar? “Who told you, you were naked?” No answer. Then the direct frontal question. “Adam, Man, did you eat of
the tree I told you not to eat from?”
pause, very long pause… “It was the woman you gave me”. Deflect
attention from yourself to anyone standing nearby.
to the woman. She says, “It was the serpent…” In agreeing to pay the fine to
the SEC, my client neither admits nor denies any wrong doing. Dealing with
ourselves honestly, soberly when we have made mistakes is one of the hardest
things for us to do. We spend most of our lives trying to avoid that kind of
interior moral introspection. We only do it when we absolutely have to, for the
briefest amount of time.
news from the teaching of Jesus is that God takes us as we are,
that God wants to heal us. God will give us the confidence to look directly
into the mirror. That is what God’s love for us is all about.
dealing with it is not an option. Indeed, a realistic, frank understanding of ourselves, our strengths and our brokenness, is essential
for spiritual growth to take place.
serious mistakes is not possible. Our second story suggests that our broken
character is intimately connected to higher civilization. Reaching back through
the sands of time, back to the early era of Giants and legends, back to the
time that Men and women first came together and built cities, we were askew.
contains an important insight. We are formed- we are mal-formed even before we
know it. We inherit the misalignment of the previous 20,000 generations of
genetic wheeling and dealing (as Carlyle Marney used
of us that is a little bit different. For some of us this is hard to
interiorize. For Southerners of my generation, it is easy. I was born into a
racist community. I was born into a racist family, trying to overcome it, but
it was just there. And before I was even old enough to know what it was and
what it meant, I was already mal-formed. Mind you, these were all nice people,
kind people, generous and funny people. But I have a vague memory of being a
child, standing in the midst of adults talking about the integration of the
school system or some issue like that, having a realization, my first awareness
of the great contradiction that I was born into in the South.
back on it years later, I realized that this was my first encounter with the
divine. It didn’t happen in Church. It happened on the street out in front of
my house on a typical day in the midst of the ordinary.
back on it years later, I realized how much healing and growth I have been
privileged to experience, how many people I have encountered on the way. I had
a simple experience a few years ago. I was singing a hymn in the little church
that I served as pastor when I was in graduate school in Princeton.
That Sunday our congregation was pretty close to half white, half black. One
the one hand, it was no big deal, it should have happened a hundred years ago.
On the other hand, I was thinking how far I had come in my lifetime, that if
you had told me I would be here when I was 7, I could not have conceived of it,
let alone believe it. And I thought of all the subtle and not so subtle changes
that have taken place in our country, in my family, in me- and all the people
that I have met along the way- I just felt the blessing of God wash over me.
friend Charlie Johnson is fond of saying: “We all have our bucket of rocks to
carry”. And so do you. The good news that Jesus came to tell us is that God is
principally in the healing business. God wants to fix what is broken in you.
You are not alone in this work. And healing feels good. May the blessing of God
wash over you too.
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