Wednesday, February 09, 2011

When Minding Our Own Business is Wrong

One of the books I'm reading these days is When to Speak Up and When to Shut Up, written by Dr. Michael D. Sedler and published in 2003. The title of the book intrigued me, especially since many of my problems in life have been caused by speaking up when I shouldn't have and clamming up when I should have spoken out.

Sedler has an interesting biography. A social worker who has an advanced degree in Christian ministry, he was raised in a devoutly Jewish home. He came to faith in Christ at the age of 22.

In chapter 2 of his book, titled "When Silence Isn't Golden," Sedler points out something I had never noticed in the Bible before and when, in passing, I shared it with the adult Sunday School class at Saint Matthew Lutheran Church, where I serve as pastor, people were as surprised as I had been.

Sedler says that there are times when those we love would definitely benefit from our speaking up. He then points to a famous incident in Scripture to underscore that truth, Genesis 3:1-6. It contains the account of Adam's and Eve's fall into sin. Here's the entire thing, as translated in the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible:
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’“ But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.
Familiar, right? Nothing in there to teach us about speaking up, right?

Consider what Sedler writes:
This story has been recounted over and over in homes, churches, synagogues, in books, magazines, and on television. Always it is the same. The snake deceived Eve and she ate. She then urged Adam to eat. He did so and the two were condemned to a life of hardship. But was it really that simple? Was Adam "tricked" into his actions? Or was silence involved, a time when a voice should have been heard but was not?
Sedler then goes on to point out a truth that is often hidden in plain sight, that Adam was Eve throughout her entire conversation with the serpent:
...and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate...
Now, in the Lutheran circles in which I run, no one has ever suggested that Eve bore more responsibility for humanity's fall into sin than Adam. The Biblical witness is clear and anyone who's exercised the office of teacher in the Lutheran movement of which I'm a part has said simply that both Adam and Eve fell into sin and both bore responsibility for its consequences.

Nonetheless, as my wife mentioned during this past Sunday's class, "I always thought that Eve talked with the serpent and then went to Adam." Every person there either nodded in agreement with her or verbally affirmed her impression.

But, as Sedler points out, you find the same story in almost any translation you consult: Adam was standing right next to Eve during Eve's entire conversation with the serpent. Here are some other translations' renderings of Genesis 3:6:
She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. (The New International Version)

...she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. (New American Standard Bible)

...she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. (King James Version)

...she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. (English Standard Version)

...Her husband was there with her, so she gave some to him, and he ate it too. (Contemporary English Version)

...She also gave some of the fruit to her husband who was with her, and he ate it. (New Century Version)
So far, the only translation any member of the class has been able to find in which it wasn't pointed out that Adam was with Eve during her interview with the serpent is The Message.

Sedler says that this fact has, in some Christian circles, been ignored with more sinister results than has occurred in Lutheranism as I've experienced it:
Many Bible commentaries skim over verse six, choosing to ignore it rather than deal with it. Venerable Bible commentator Matthew Henry writes:
It is probable that he [Adam] was not with her [Eve] when she was tempted, surely if he had, he would have intervened to prevent sin.
Sedler dismisses this as an attempt to get Adam off the hook, to lay the blame on Eve, and therefore, to insinuate that women are more responsible for the fall into sin than men. But verse six says otherwise.

As Sedler points out though, there are deeper lessons to be learned from Genesis 3:6:
Adam heard the conversation, saw Eve's dilemma, but remained silent. All the while that his wife was being deceived, Adam watched and assessed the situation, but kept his thoughts to himself. He chose to be silent. 
He did nothing, Sedler points out. Or did he? Sedler turns to Genesis 3:12. There, Adam responds to God, Who has just asked Adam if he had taken a bite from the forbidden fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil:
The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” 
Sedler writes:
Adam did what people do best when feeling defensive: He blamed another person...Could Adam have prevented [Eve from taking the fruit]? It would seem that he carries...responsibility for watching a precious helpmate make a destructive decision without intervening.
"Mind your own business" can be a good cautionary motto in many circumstances in life. But when you see people about to make errors that risk destroying them or parts of their lives, "mind your own business" is a cover-up for a failure to love. It's an excuse for personal cowardice. (I know what I'm talking about; I've been a coward so many times that it's painful to remember.)

Love must be tough enough to risk incurring the anger of those we love. If we can't tell the truth in love, we can't tell the truth at all.


JACKIE said...

Wow! You have no idea how this message has come at the perfect time fir me and for Don. Bless you and thank you fir sharing! Jackie

Mark Daniels said...

Thank you, Jackie. I'm glad you found it helpful. God has good timing!

Take care and God bless!