Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Bonhoeffer and The Garden

 Parshat Mashihi : Messianic Parsha Commentary 2014

 Bonhoeffer and Bereishit

Until becoming a follower of Yeshua I was unable to understand the story of Adam and Chavah and the tree (etz daat tov v'rah). It was clear to me that Adam and Chavah had been told not to eat of the tree- basically they had been given one mitzvah through which to stay in Gods favour and to be able to choose and merit life in His presence. It was a negative mitzvah (mitzvah lo ta'aseh). According to Jewish theology humans must choose God freely and must merit receiving Him, so this seems pretty straightforward- yet the story still troubled me.

One of the difficulties the story posed for me was the nature of the fruit of the tree. If the fruit gave "knowledge of good and evil" (daat tov v'rah) then how could Adam and Chavah have been expected to know that they should listen before eating it? In other words, how could they recognize the moral good of obeying God before they had knowledge of morality?

After becoming a follower of Yeshua and reflecting again on this story I came to a new understanding of it which I recently found echoed in a comment of the great theologian and "righteous gentile" (defender of Jews in the Holocaust) Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945).  

According to the New Covenant, the way to salvation (yeshua) and sanctification (kedushah) is through faith (emunah) in Yeshua. We are forgiven our sins (chet) and declared righteous (tzedek) before God on the basis of our transformative emunah in Yeshua- in his identity, his teachings, and the cosmos changing nature of his death and resurrection. 

"The tzaddik (righteous one) will live by faith" (Habakkuk 2:4) and those dead and reborn in the living Moshiach drink from the waters of life (mayim chaim, Yohanan 4:14) and live now in the world that is coming (olam ha-ba), the world whose life is eternal since its source is the life and light of the world (Yohanan 1). 

The heart of the way revealed in Yeshua is emunah- faith or trust. That is what was required in the beginning from Adam and Chavah. What was required was not so much "obedience" nor moral goodness. "Religion" was not what was required from them. What was required from them was emunah. Emunah is what recieves God, and God is what God wants to give us.

As a great Jewish Rabbi, Nachman of Breslov, once said, "The mitzvot (commandments, good deeds, religious practices) are emunah." What he meant was the essence, meaning and purpose of the mitzvot is emunah. 

Emunah is why Avraham was declared a tzaddik before Hashem (Bereishit 15:6). When Avraham's relationship with Hashem, and the covenant with Avraham's descendants, was tested by Hashem during the Akedah (sacrifice of Yitzhak) it was the nature of Avraham's emunah which was tested. 

It could be said that the essence of Yeshua's mission was to demonstrate the character of Hashem and call forth the emunah of humanity, both Jew and Gentile, so as to re-establish the relationship that God wanted from the beginning. This was the relationship He had with Adam and Chavah before their sin. What destroyed Adam and Chavah's relationship with YHVH was not, precisely, disobedience or bad behaviour- it was a fall from emunah. 

Here we come to Bonhoeffer: "Already in the possibility of knowledge of good and evil Christian ethics discerns a falling away from the origin. Man at his origin knows only one thing: God. It is only in the unity of his knowledge of God that he knows of other men, of things, and of himself. He knows all things only in God, and God in all things. The knowledge of good and evil shows that he is no longer at one with this origin."

"In the knowledge of good and evil man does not understand himself in the reality of his destiny appointed in his origin, but rather in his own possibilities, his possibility of being either good or evil. He knows himself now as something apart from God, outside God, and this means that he now knows himself and he no longer knows God at all: for he can know God only if he knows only God." (Ethics, p.1-2)

The snake approaches Chavah promising wisdom, independence, and equality with God. He offers self separated from God. He offers her her  "own possibilities". He roots this in mistrust of God's word (Bereishit 3:1). Chavah and Adam choose to know good and evil- to make their own choices and to live by their own "works", by their goodness or evilness as opposed to their simple faith. This is the fall into karma, the choice of the way of the ladder. Adam and Chavah are evicted from the garden and barred from the tree of life (etz chaim) though that tree will re-appear in humanity's future in a surprising way (Mishle 3:18, 8:23; Yohanan 1). 

Only through God's full self-revelation in Yeshua can the Tanakh be understood, and this is no more in evidence than in this seminal story. 


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