To enjoy the “good” we must trust God and obey him. If we disobey, we will have to decide for ourselves what is good and what is not good. While to modern men and women such a prospect may seem desirable, to the author of Genesis it is the worst fate that could have befallen humanity.
– John Sailhamer, The Pentateuch As Narrative (p.101)
Recently, I overheard a bit of conversation between a young woman and her brother. Apparently, he was in the process of moving in with a new girlfriend, who had two young children. The sister was explaining to him reasons that she was against the idea. She said that she was concerned for him and for the children of his girlfriend. She also mentioned the fact that her own children would be wondering about the morality of what their uncle was doing. She would not want to make him look bad to them, but she would have to be clear in teaching them that what their uncle was doing was wrong.
His message was pretty simple: He cared for this girl, it seemed good to both of them that he move in with her; and since he was a grown man, he did not have to have anyone’s permission to do what he wanted to do, and no one should be judging him for it.
I began to think of the assumptions that lay beneath the arguments of both the sister and the brother.
Decisions about such things as where and how to live are so large, and yet so basic, that they reveal a lot about us. Deciding to live here with these people in this way, rather than there with those people in that way, declares much of our worldview to all who encounter us. Further, when this brother gives a defense of his actions, he declares even more. His defense – specifically the part where he says that he need not give any defense – comes from the great heritage of Enlightenment liberalism.
Depending on who is casting it, a biblical view of man is likely to identify such things as the imago dei or the (potential for) filial relationship to God as being the core essence of a human being, that which makes us human. But liberalism says that the core essence of our humanity is our freedom. And this is not even the great philosophical distinction of free will as over against determinism. It is simply the notion of societal and cultural liberty.
In other words, our truest essence is Homo Liber. For a man to be himself in the fullest sense, he must be free to choose this or that. Especially in America, our lives as choosers are seen to be most fulfilled when we have the greatest number of choices with the greatest number of alternatives. This thinking is what lies behind arguments for everything from legalized abortion (pro-choice) to the invitation to shop from a given retailer (‘we have the largest selection of…!’).
Apparently thinking themselves to be high-minded and progressive, a local Oregon town elected themselves a cross-dressing mayor a couple of years ago. Recently the town and its mayor have been back in the news. City employees are tired of the mayor showing up for meetings and public gatherings in short skirts and high heels. Completely unable to deal head-on with his right of choice, they are reduced to making vague arguments about his attire being unprofessional.
There is nothing wrong, of course, with having the freedom to make decisions, the freedom to choose some things over others. I do not want that freedom to go away. But the question is: Is our freedom to choose at the core of who we are? Is such “liberty” the thing that makes us human?
That, it seems, was the serpent’s argument.