Exodus Day Seventeen
July 23, 2020, 5:00 AM

Now, Not Yet
Exodus 5:22-23

Moses turned to the LORD and said,
“O Lord, why have you done evil to this people?
Why did you ever send me?
For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people,
and you have not delivered your people at all.”

This painting is called, “The Fall & Expulsion from the Garden.”  The scene is one of nine panels from Michelangelo’s famous ceiling fresco on the vault of the Sistine Chapel. There is, if you look closely, a theology of the Fall and fallen-ness in the details. The ceiling panels begin with The Creation on the western chancel/altar end of the sanctuary, and moves east, through Adam and Eve’s Garden Party, ending at the Flood and Noah’s drunken Fall. It’s almost as if Michelangelo’s motive in painting the scenes is to remind the worshiper (or tourist, or art lover) why they need God— The need for Redemption. Sin and our great need is the elephant in the room.

In the fresco, note well on the left side of the work, the Garden of Eden is lush and green. There is fruit on the tree, from which Adam is about to make the fatal grab of the forbidden fruit. The grass is green, and a solid rock is prominent to the left. The Rock, perhaps. Tellingly, both Adam and Eve have turned their backs on the Rock (God). The serpent is winding up the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, in a wrapping, slithering stranglehold. The devil personified as a woman, she’s holding out her hand towards Eve’s eager, grasping hand, because according to the Story, she was tempted first. (Although, as mentioned already, Adam is making his move, as well. The culpability is mutual!) Notice too, the dry, dead stump protruding from the ground between Adam and Eve. It seems to be a dark, symbolic hint that the move towards the serpent’s offer isn’t going to end well. The right side of the panel is the Expulsion. Cast out of the Garden, the angel points the sword to Adam’s neck — the judgment: Death. Two transformations are noticeable: Eve has turned hideous, and the grimace on Adam’s face seems to be a foreshadow of the “sweat of the brow” existence coming into the world. The right side of the work— in contrast to the Garden side on the left— is barren, pale, puke green- signifying death and decay. The lush Tree doesn’t extend into this frame. A brilliant work which invites our contemplation.

As an aside, a few subsequent popes were so put off by the nudes Michelangelo painted, one pontiff even wanted clothing painted on the nude figures. One pope almost ordered the entire work be covered over and repainted. Fortunately for art lovers around the world and through the ages, those plans never materialized.

I think our text from Exodus 5:22-23 is the classic expression of human amnesia that flows from the Fall. Moses accuses God of doing evil. He thinks God’s called him to do something that he cannot possibly do. He charges that God is not delivering on his promise. Kind of sounds like Adam’s conversation with God: “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” (Gen. 3:12). In the Fall, and in our fallen-ness, we live on excuses. Sometimes, I’m sure, we even believe our excuses— For unfaithfulness. For doing things we know we ought not do. For dropping the ball. Etc. Etc. Etc. Ad nauseam.

As a pastor, I’m often asked why the world is the way it is. Such as, why do bad things happen to good people? What’s with cancer? How does that fit with a good, Creator God? Why are we so broken and confused and rebellious sexually? Why doesn’t God care about my problems? God doesn’t answer my prayers, does that mean that he doesn’t exist? And so on. And on. And on. I’ve heard them all. And each time I hear the questions, my mind’s eye goes back to that sacred little chapel in Vatican City. Where it all began, in the Garden. With the Serpent. With the good life to their back, humanity moves away from God, and everything else subsequent is the natural consequence of what happens when death enters the equation of life in the world. This is what the Reformers meant by “Total Depravity.” Certainly not that humans are evil, bad, irredeemable reprobates. It doesn’t mean we can’t do good. We can and do! It does mean we are fallen in every aspect of our existence: mind, body and soul. There’s not one aspect of our being that isn’t corrupted by the Fall. This is why we suffer. This is why the world is as it is. And unfortunately, it always comes off sounding like a cliche, or VBS-ish. But, it's true. Those who discern spiritually, with the mind of Christ, know it's true.

However, into this predicament, God comes. Just as he heard and saw and knew of the sufferings of his people, so he came to them. But - - - it didn’t immediately get all right with the snap of a divine finger. For the Hebrews, they had to exit the hard way from Egypt. They had to pilgrim through the wilderness for forty years, before reaching the Plains of Moab. They had to tribulation and trial through many trials.

In the same way, God has taken note of us. We know that because he sent his Son for us. To be with us. To lead us. To give us hope. But— we still have to work through the consequences of sin and death. We know the Kingdom of God dawned in the First Coming of Jesus. But we still wait for the consummation; that is when Jesus comes back to reopen the Garden of Eden. Paradise Regained!

Herman Ridderbos wrote one of the classic seminary texts on the Kingdom of God. Every (conservative) Reformed seminary student cuts his or her theological teeth on that tome. Ridderbos coined the term, “Now, Not Yet.” It meant that the Kingdom is here Now. Jesus said so. But also, Not Yet. Sin is still in the equation. People still die. Evil still has currency in the transactions of human life. We still wait (O, How Long, O Lord?) for the final fulfillment and all things new. When I get the questions about this fallen world, and how long? I want to say, read Herman Ridderbos… But I know most people won’t read that thick theology, though it’s on my library shelf if you’d like to try! So, maybe, I’ll just refer them to Michelangelo’s ceiling masterpiece in Rome. That’s why we are the way we are. That’s why bad things happen to good people, et al. That’s why Moses tried to resign his job so many times. That’s why we need Jesus!

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