Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage (Genesis 3:1-7) takes me on down to Paradise City, where, according to G&R, the grass is green and the girls are pretty. Given the way the original Paradise City story unfolds in the Genesis album of human pre-history, it is worth noting that the song finds its place in the album Appetite for Destruction. It was written by a drunken pair of rockers, Axl Rose and Slash, in the back of a rental van on their way home from a gig in San Francisco. The lyrics evolved with one of them improvising a line, and the other responding with another line, until the song was complete. Their resulting Paradise City came complete with the presence of pollution, capital punishment, and street people.
Probably as much or more interpretation has been written about and read into the original Paradise City saga in Genesis 3 than any other story of Hebrew scripture. It has woven its way into the fabric of culture in numerous ways. Here’s an example of one of those threads – (who can hum this tune and name the artist who sang it?) – Tempted by the fruit of another. . . As far as I know it’s the only song in pop music to start out with a line about toothpaste and a toothbrush. But I digress; we find no allusions to dental care in the familiar forbidden fruit story, as the conversation unfolds between the cunning serpent and the Mother of Life. But here’s something to chew on: Doesn’t it strike you as a bit odd that God placed Adam and Eve in an idyllic Eden that came complete with a sneaky serpent and a taboo tree? It would seem that temptation was meant to be part and parcel of paradise life. In fact, seduction was central to life in paradise city, as the taboo tree was placed square in the middle of the garden. The nemesis of hubris was not meant to slither out on the margins of life, out on the edges of existence, but was center stage, dangling there right before Eve’s eyes. The cunning call to become godlike, to make the kinds of decisions that bring good to some and evil to others, was and continues to be central to the design scheme of paradise city, be it Eden or San Francisco or Fairview, NC. This allure taps us at our core; it is the gut instinct that tells us we should be more than we are and should be calling the shots for good or ill.
Given Jesus’ full humanity, it’s no surprise to learn that he, too, was taken down to Paradise City where the grass was green and the girls were pretty. When the Spirit shot him out of the baptismal waters into the wilderness to face the tempter, Jesus entered the core struggle of his life as a human. And a very significant truth was discovered – the truth that temptation is a necessary part of being human. Forbidden fruit trees grow in our paradises and in our wildernesses, and we are always within earshot of serpentine seduction, with sirens singing soft and sweet subterfuge, sowing discontent and convincing us we can rise above our humanity and be like God. Taking the bait leaves us naked and ashamed, which is to say, vulnerable, exposed, and uncovered. Perhaps it takes forty days of fasting and confronting our demons to suppress that growing appetite for destruction that comes from living so close to the forbidden fruit.
As always, your feedback and comments are welcome.