Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Joy That Rescues

Today, we’re going to take a look at Eve as she enters the realm of motherhood and especially as she names her two boys. What we will find is that those names are her commentary on life. As we examine that commentary we are going to encounter some dark areas. She knows that everything isn’t good. But bear in mind the title of the sermon, ‘The Joy That Rescues’. We will end up in a place that is bright.

So, Eve gives birth to two sons. Here’s her response to the first.
Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” Genesis 4.1
Eve is happy. And there are a couple of reasons why. For one thing, she has become a mother. She is happy about that because she was created to be a mother. But there is also another reason for her happiness: God is keeping His promise. He had said that there would be children, offspring who would fight the serpent and those with him. That birth was evidence that God was keeping His promise. So, she names him in a way to mark what was going on, Cain. The Hebrew name translated ‘Cain’ is related to the Hebrew word for ‘gotten’.
I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.
We’ve seen this sort of thing with names before. Think about Eve’s name, or Abraham’s or Israel’s. Their names in Hebrew are related to other Hebrew words and that reveals something significant about each of those three: Eve is ‘Life’, Abraham is ‘Father of a multitude’, Israel is ‘He strives with God’. So, the naming of Cain, along with its explanation, is nothing new to us.

Then, Eve has another child. And he is also named.
And again, she bore his brother Abel. Genesis 4.2
Now we have Abel. But, unlike his brother or those many others in Genesis, there is no reason given for this name. That is odd. And when you come upon something odd in the Bible it’s good to pause and consider what’s going on. Now, the original audience had an advantage over you. ‘Abel’ means something in Hebrew, something that those ancient folk could grasp just by reading. ‘Abel’ means futility, emptiness, vanity. His name isn’t just related to some word like ‘Cain’ is to the word ‘gotten’. Abel actually means futility, emptiness, vanity. This word shows up in Ecclesiastes: ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.’ This is where Solomon writes about the futility and emptiness of life. You’ll find this word in other places also. Here’s one example.
When you discipline a man with rebukes for sin, you consume like a moth what is dear to him; surely all mankind is a mere breath!
The word translated ‘breath’ is the same word elsewhere translated ‘vanity’. The psalmist is joining Solomon in talking about the hollowness, the fleeting fruitlessness of life. And that’s what Eve is doing in naming her son in this way.

In these two names - Cain, Abel - Eve is making a statement. These two names are Eve’s commentary on life.

So, what’s going on? Was Eve just having a bad day when she named her second son? How are we to understand what Eve did? It’s important to remember Eve’s story. She did not start life in a fallen world like you and I did. Eve began her life in the Garden of Eden. Understand what that means. She experienced heaven on earth. How else can we think about what it must have been like to live in that Garden? Imagine: no problems, no pains, no sorrows, no doubts; only happiness, satisfaction, completely beautiful relationships with God and with Adam; no walls to interfere, no hesitation in being fully open, pure love. And then, there was an amazing creation to explore and enjoy. It was perfection in every direction. Eve experienced that. She lived it. Heaven on earth.

But no longer. Sin entered the world at that first tree. How long do you think it took before there was an argument with Adam over some triviality? And yes, God was still there, but not like before. Instead of a stroll through the fields hand in hand with God, chatting as they went, now it’s praying to an invisible Deity. And then, there were all those months of being pregnant. Think first trimester, back aches and all the rest, followed by labor and delivery. Eve experienced the good, and then she experienced the bad. She understood better than any of us the frustrations of this life. So, she marks the occasion with an appropriate name: Abel, vanity.

So, what do you think? Should we agree with Eve? Should we adopt a similar point of view about life here? Or is she being too dark? Well, here’s the first part of an answer. Jesus agrees with Eve and wants us to also. He was the one who said,
Blessed are those who mourn.
Isn’t that what Eve is doing? Isn’t she mourning the evil that she has seen and experienced? She mourns it as someone who really knows what life could have been like. Jesus pronounces a blessing on those who follow in her path.

There is a word that applies here. It explains Eve’s attitude, at least at this point. It’s the word ‘melancholic’. Most people understand that as describing someone who is gloomy and depressed. I found a second definition that I think fits well here: thoughtful sadness. That’s what Jesus was getting at when He spoke about mourning. It’s good and right to think about our situation, to see the evil and then to mourn it. It could have been so much better. That’s thoughtful sadness. That’s Eve.

There are many who see the world like Eve did. But too many of them think about what they see and go beyond sadness. They do more than just mourn. They despair. Their frustrations with this life become hopelessness. And life gets incredibly dark. But - and it’s important that you see this - Eve did not fall into that trap. And neither should you. Why? It’s because of the joy that rescues.

Eve didn’t just see what was so wrong. She did see the evil and was sad, but she also saw the good and rejoiced. She saw what God was doing and took heart. She saw that He was keeping His promise. So, sure, things were not anywhere near as good as they once were, but God had promised the defeat of the source of that evil. Better days were coming. God was pursuing His plan to restore good. And the evidence of that? Eve had gotten a child ‘with the help of the Lord’. Eve could rejoice in what God was doing.

This theme of rejoicing flows throughout the Scriptures. So, there is this from the classic memory verse on the topic.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. … The Lord is at hand.
We are commanded to rejoice. But we do not rejoice despite the facts. We do not ignore reality. We have good reason to rejoice. Jesus is near. He is at hand. And He is still keeping His promises. He has already begun the work of defeating the source of evil. Better days are coming. What He is doing now will result in those better days. And that’s something that we can rejoice in.

So, here’s what I’m thinking. Let’s imitate Eve. Let’s develop both aspects that we find in her - thoughtful sadness and thoughtful rejoicing. Like Eve, let’s recognize the evil that is all around us. Life is hard. And at times we experience what feels like futility. We understand Solomon’s statement: ‘Vanity of vanities. All is vanity.’ Let’s not try to ignore that. That’s trying to ignore reality. Let’s not ignore it but mourn it.

But, like Eve, let’s not fall into the trap of despair. We have good reason to hope. Jesus is near. He is at work bringing us to better days. He is still keeping His promises. And one day He will return to complete that work. And then, it will be the Garden all over. Heaven on earth. Let’s rejoice in that.

This balance between thoughtful sadness and thoughtful rejoicing may seem new to some of you, but it’s not. We’ve encountered it before. We’ve even sung it. Listen for both perspectives in this familiar hymn.
Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change, He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heav’nly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
You hear the balance? Yes, there is evil. There are crosses of grief and pain to bear. But we are not overcome by them. Our heavenly Friend is leading us through these thorny ways to a joyful end. In that we can rejoice. Balance.

So, how do you know that you have this balance? What are the signs that while you mourn you have not given in to despair? Here’s one sign: contentment. Yes, we see, we feel, the evil. The perfect good that we wait for is not yet here, and we mourn that. But it’s okay. We know that Jesus is faithfully working to get us to that joyful end. Contentment.

Here’s a quote I bumped into that I found really helpful.
Only when our Christ is big enough to satisfy us can we be content no matter our particular circumstances; more than that, satisfied with the circumstances and not merely despite the circumstances. This is a telling point. We have not yet attained to biblical contentment when we would be content with Christ were it not for our circumstances. No, genuine contentment is realized both in our circumstances and with our circumstances.
Eve recognized her circumstances. She was exiled from her true home. Life was way harder than it was supposed to be. And there was much more of that to come. And yet, she could rejoice. She had Jesus. And He was keeping His promises. As a result, she could be content.

We also can be content, not despite our circumstances but with our circumstances, as evil and frustrating as they might be at times. We can be content because we have Jesus. We rejoice in what He is doing, even though at times it feels as if He is just adding to the sorrow. But by faith we know that sorrow isn’t the whole story. Jesus is working all of this life toward better days, a return to the Garden, heaven on earth. And in that we can rejoice.

It just seems right to end the sermon by singing. So, we’re going to sing, ‘Be Still, My Soul’.

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