In Beginning 08: Naming

Bill Serjak

This is a message from pastor and teacher Bill Serjak from the Genesis series “In Beginning”

Genesis 2:15-20

The goal of life today is so oriented toward gaining everything our hearts desire that any limits are considered bad. Even the word limit is one of the few considered a modern day bad word; yet, while Adam was still in the ideal state of the Garden of Eden, God put a limit on him. God provided great abundance for Adam. God gave him more food than he needed and all the beauty of the world to enjoy. God Himself walked with Adam in the Garden. The only limit God put on Adam was not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and bad. In the perfect environment of Eden, God still gave a limit. That limit gave form and meaning to his life and helped him enjoy all he had. Life without limits can become formless and meaningless and that takes away joy rather than adding to it. When we live our lives inside good limits we can create joy and understanding. Setting out to understand all the truth of the universe would be a hopeless and meaningless journey, but trying to write a few good poems could enrich one’s life and the lives of others. Even in the perfect environment of the Garden of Eden, God put limits. Even when we haven’t sinned, limits are still needed.

God said if Adam ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and bad, he would surely die. I don’t know if Adam was meant to live forever, but I am sure he knew what God meant. Adam may have known that death existed but would not have known that it would be bad. It may even be that God was defining death as more of a spiritual death in that Adam would no longer walk in direct fellowship with God if he ate of the tree. From what actually happened when the fruit of the tree was eaten, that might have been the way it was. Even though Adam did not know the difference between good and bad, he must have had some desire to continue to be with God and wanted God to tell him directly what he should and should not do.

Julian Jaynes, a Princeton University psychologist, wrote a book called The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. In that book, he maintained that there was a time when primitive humans did not think for themselves but got direction for what they should do directly from what their gods told them. Jaynes thought that men and women not being directly tied to God was a good thing and believed that as humankind evolved we became like gods, knowing good from bad. We then found our direction for life from our own inner consciousness. Although Jaynes maintains that is a very good thing, the Book of Genesis says completely the opposite is true. By eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and bad, mankind fell into sin and lost direction from, and fellowship, with God. Genesis says that was not a good thing.

Adam was alone in the Garden of Eden. Since he had not yet eaten of the tree, he did not know if that was good or bad. It was God who said that it was not good for Adam to be alone. Being alone might not seem so bad, but Adam needed to be awakened to and related to the things that were in the world. He needed to see them as more than just see the scenery of his life. We all like to be alone at times. Being with people or even beginning to look carefully at our environment requires more of us. We have to think and love and relate. Last week, I taught at the Wee Kirk Conference. At the beginning of the conference, I taught in the new pastors’ track, trying to teach them things they didn’t learn at seminary. Later in the conference I taught a seminar on C. S. Lewis. People came to have me introduce his writings to them or help them understand more completely what Lewis was saying. In between, I manned an information table about Son Servants. While eating in the dining hall, people would sit with me and talk about the things I was teaching. I like being with people but, being an introvert, it also wears me out. After a few days, I was becoming peopled out. I wanted to get alone where no one expected anything from me and I didn’t need to relate to anyone or anything. Then, as soon as the conference was over, my sister and her husband stayed with us for a few days at our house. I was pretty worn out by then and it took all my effort to relate to them. Being alone requires much less effort because we don’t have to interact with the people and things around us.

God said it was not good for Adam to be alone, so God sought to expand Adam’s world and cause him to relate to it. He began by having him name all the creatures of the world. That was not just an exercise in zoology, for when we name something we have to notice it and become more closely related to it. The process of simply naming the world around us causes us to expand who we are and see other things as they are. It is harder, but better. We might think that if we hadn’t gotten married or had children, then our lives would be easier. They would be easier, but easier isn’t always better. God said it was not good for Adam to be alone. It is better when our world is expanded even if it is harder to live that way. When I look back at my life, the things that have brought me the most blessings were some of the hardest things for me to do while I was doing them.

Our grandchildren are one of those blessings. They were with us at the beginning of this month. As we were getting ready to take them home, Dean and Martha Effler arrived. Since September, the Efflers have been finishing hiking the whole Appalachian Trial, a feat they began over twenty-five years ago. Dean, who has studied biology and is a medical doctor, began talking to the grandchildren about the shells we keep in a basket near the fireplace. The kids had seen the shells many times and just barely noticed them; however, when Dean began to tell them about animals that had once lived in the shells, telling them what they were called and how they lived, Gage, especially, was fascinated. His eyes grew wide and were focused right on Dean. Before, those were just a pile of shells in a basket near the fireplace, but now they had names and were the object of Berkley’s and Gage’s focus. We didn’t pull the kids away because we wanted them to have that experience. Naming expands our world.

The same thing happens when we know people by name. They are no longer just part of the scenery in our world but we begin to see them as individuals. We know the good and bad about them. It is interesting that the idea of good and bad does not come in the naming part. That knowledge comes from something even deeper than just naming something good or bad . . .( I lost my train of thought here. I started to think about my back pain and lost focus on what I was saying. I gradually wandered back on course). . . That knowledge of good or bad did not come from Adam’s calling a thing good or bad although I would have expected it to. We easily call something good or bad and that is what we think it is. But Adam’s knowledge of good and bad did not come by him naming things such. Adam learned about good and bad by eating the fruit of the tree, by taking it into his body so it somehow became a part of his being.

When I thought of how his eating the fruit caused him to fall into separation from God, I then thought of Communion where we must eat to begin to become redeemed and come back into the presence of God. Jesus said that this was His body and we were to eat of it; this was His blood and we were to drink it. He would then come into us and we would become a part of Him. That is the way the curse on Adam is reversed. Adam did not know good and bad until he digested the fruit into himself. It was not reversed by simply knowing what was bad and not doing that. The law can name what is good and bad but the law cannot redeem us; there is more to it than that. In order to overcome the curse of the sin that came through Adam and Eve’s eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and bad, we must eat of the body and drink of the blood of Christ. When we take Him into our body, we can begin to become like Him. He is the second Adam. We must take Him into us in order to overcome the curse of the first Adam. We don’t live what is good just by naming it and trying by our own power to do it. We can become good only by bringing Christ into our lives. We eat Christ’s goodness into our lives.

When we name things, we bring the reality of them into our thoughts instead of just leaving them in the outside world and we gain the potential to create new worlds in our minds. When we learn to name the things of this world, we can follow that up by beginning to imagine the kingdom of God. We can only see that in our hearts and minds. In this world, we can name the things of the kingdom of God and then see it in our imagination. One reason I enjoy reading C. S. Lewis is that he allowed his imagination to be converted. The children entered Narnia through a wardrobe but we enter that world in our imagination and begin to see God working in that world. To begin to understand the kingdom of God, we need to use our imagination. One day, it will be here in its fullness. For now, it can only be seen by faith. It is by faith that we can see the world beyond the world in which we live, for the world in which we live is not the way it will always be. When we worship, we sing and imagine the world in the way it will be. This begins as we name, and faith is just an advanced course in naming. By naming, Adam really saw the world in which he lived. By faith and imagination, we can see the world in which we will live forever.

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