Living the Questions: What Have You Done?

The man said, “The woman you put here with me —
she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” 
Then the Lord God said to the woman,
What is this you have done?” – Genesis 3:12-13

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? That “oh sh*t” moment. Maybe you just shut your locked car door to see the keys taunting you from the ignition. Or you’ve gotten to the bus stop/subway station/carpool meet up spot to see nothing but tail lights pulling away. Or maybe you’ve gone for a drive, left your wallet at home when the red and blue lights come on behind you.

Or maybe it’s a bit deeper than that. A lie exposed. A terrible mistake uncovered. A damaged relationship pushed to the brink. Regret is a hard emotion to deal with. If you could just go back and do things over, maybe they would have ended in a different — better — way. It almost always leads to some sort of guilt or other form of remorse. It can get pretty bleak.

If you’re a religious person, particularly a Lutheran — as I am, this question of “what have you done?” is brought to our attention every week. We start off our services with confession (well, after announcements and maybe an opening hymn). But not long after everyone gets as comfy as they can in their pews, we’re standing and confessing all the crap we’ve done. The sins known and unknown, things done and left undone.

We start our time together feeling terrible about ourselves.

Then we hear words of forgiveness. But for a lot of people, the damage is already done. Once we’ve had time to meditate on all the bad stuff we’ve done and the good stuff we’ve neglected, some people are in a pretty dark place. We don’t even hear those words of gospel that we’re forgiven. We get so caught in a feedback loop of how terrible of people we are that there can be a point of no return. (This is one of my beefs with Lutheranism — it makes you feel like crap an awful lot of the time)

When I was doing my CPE, I dealt a lot with guilt and regret of the “if only I’d done this” variety. That’s a road to nowhere good. My supervisor lead me to a book called “Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality” by Matthew Fox (no, sadly this is not the same Matthew Fox that played Jack in LOST. But that would be awesome).

Fox’s whole point, and what I have been thinking about as I’ve reflected on the question that God asks the woman in Genesis 3, is that we forget that before any sin or wrongdoing happened — before anyone ever asked “what have you done?”we were created as a part of a good creation.

When we gather for worship, the first thing we do is answer the question “What have you done?”, but that’s the 3rd question God asks. We’re missing the first two, which can be incredibly fruitful.

What would it look like if we took time in worship to honor and celebrate our good-ness as created beings of God? Not to pat ourselves on the back or get haughty (we’re still Lutheran, for crying out loud). But what if we made room for ourselves to primarily be the good, created beings that God made us, THEN we moved to the part that we’re steeped in sin and cannot free ourselves?

To me, that just feels lighter. As a worshipper, I would feel much more secure to then explore the indicting question God asks of all of us — “what have you done?” — and then be able to hear those words of forgiveness.

My fear is that by beginning our gathering time as a community with confession, we’re leaving people in that “oh sh*t” moment of having locked their keys in their car. When we feel that pang of shock, we’re often not very open to seeing the blessings that are all around us.

And they’re everywhere.


So What the Hell Do We Do With Sin?

Last year, I was asked to give a talk to a youth group about sin. That’s all the prompting I was given so when I asked for a little bit more direction, I was told, “You know, just talk about the bad things we do and how God wants us to be good.” *Insert defeated sigh here…* I think we have a really big problem when it comes to talking about sin. If we talk about sin as simply the bad things we do, then the church is relegated to nothing more than the morality police. And no one wants that. So I’m going to say that we need to seriously reconsider how we view sin, and I think the results can actually be incredibly life-giving. In short, here’s what I’m saying.

Sin is not the bad things we do, but a broken reality in which we live.

If we think about the story of Adam and Eve, the sin in that story is not that Adam and Eve at the apple (the bad thing they did) but it’s that they violated the boundary of the relationship between them and God. Sin, then, becomes the tragic reality in which we live, the reality of a violated and broken relationship, rather than a continuous string of bad things that we do.

Is this a sometimes uncomfortable way to look at things? Absolutely. You know why it’s so uncomfortable? Because it openly acknowledges that we are finite beings who are one day going to die.

Friedrich Nietzsche wrote that “when you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.” This is why this view of sin can be so uncomfortable. When we think of sin this way, we look into the abyss of our impermanence. And the discomfort comes from the eyes of our impermanence looking back into us.

This is why one of the last scenes in “Garden State” sticks out to me so much. The scene of the three characters screaming down into the abyss is a perfect picture of how we cope with the tragic reality of our sin. We scream in the face of the abyss because it’s all we can do. We can’t run. The abyss will catch us. So we scream into the abyss for the release of knowing that, for now, we exist.

That’s where I’m at right now. We need to change the way we understand sin so that we can move forward past the morality police. But where we go from there is anyone’s guess. What do you think we do with this? Is it completely ridiculous? How do you think we can move forward?

I guess I’ll end by wishing each of us luck exploring the infinite abyss. Good luck!


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