This post is one of seven reflections on the whole narrative of the Bible as a story of God’s hospitality. To read these posts in order, click here.
By welcoming people into creation, God runs the risk that they might mess the place up.
Of course, God could have eliminated that risk by hardwiring the man and woman to always act hospitably, but eliminating risk requires the elimination of freedom, authenticity, and true hospitality. Rather than creating co-hosts and co-creators, God would have made merely anthropomorphic accessories, cogs in the universal machine.
Instead, God makes partners and friends, people free to join in creation, but also to introduce destruction. As the old story goes, they opt for the latter. Given the space to be fully themselves, the man and woman decide instead to try to be God. After all, the story of the snake and the fruit isn’t really about the allure of fresh produce; it’s about the urge to co-opt the identity of another. By eating the fruit, the people pass on the roles they were invited into in an effort to become “like God.” They inhabit God’s space, and then try to crowd God out.
In short, they reciprocate God’s hospitality with hostility, trading friendship for rivalry. In a world where people are gods, there’s no longer room for God, nor are people fully people anymore. The worst possible scenario in God’s risky act of welcome has become a reality:
Humanity has rejected our role as guests as well as our role as hosts.
It becomes immediately clear that the man and woman in this story no longer feel welcome nor welcoming. Watch how they hide from God behind bushes, ashamed to be themselves in God’s space. Look how quick the man is to throw his wife under the bus, the same woman whose presence he had eulogized moments before. And notice how the relationship between man and woman turns from mutual welcome to domination and subservience, or how the even the land shifts from a hospitable home to a hostile task. The hospitality that welcomed them into the world seems to be completely undone!
(Of course, to see how inhospitable our space has become, we could always look up from our Bibles and out at the world around us.)
And yet, God’s welcome does not falter. Even as the man and woman leave the garden, God makes animal-skin clothes for them. Despite the enmity that had emerged between them, God responds with hospitality, turning something lifeless into something as warm and comforting as a fur coat.
And this story becomes the theme on which all the stories which follow are variations. People trade in the welcome of God in an attempt to make gods for/of themselves. And God responds to this estrangement not with retaliation, but with increasingly risky acts of hospitality.
For further, better reading, I suggest the next page of the Bible, or this morning’s newspaper.