I’ve made a mess of things.
My first awareness of my potential to make a mess was at the tender age of six. Faced with an earth moving decision requiring a Caterpillar D10N bulldozer, I played in the dirt and made my first mess.
I consulted my higher power regarding my decision. She, my mother, not only gave me her wisdom, she told me exactly what to do. But in my 6-year-old mind, my way was better than her way.
So, I said, “No thanks, Mom.”
And so began my first mess. A real mud pie. I don’t remember the dilemma or the decision. I just remember saying “no” to my higher power. Then the real agony came. The ceaseless internal chatter.
“Why didn’t you listen to your mother?” came the harshest voice from the inside. “You dummy! Why didn’t you do what your mother told you to do?”
Then, just like that, I made a vow.
With my right hand in the air and my left palm on the Bible, I vowed: “From this day forward, I will always do what my mother tells me to do.”
Problem solved. No more messes. Fixed that. Small price to pay for avoiding future messes.
I remember that day in the life of my six-year-old self better than I remember yesterday. It was the day I reached for the forbidden fruit and took a nibble. It was the moment I tasted the bittersweetness of self-will and ventured one small step outside the garden.
My mother didn’t retaliate; she didn’t throw me out of the house. She didn’t curse me or scold me. Phrases like “I told you so,” “You shoulda,” or “Maybe next time you’ll listen” never left her lips. No. My mother, like any good detergent, ran to the rescue. She cleaned and consoled and welcomed me into her embrace.
In the creation story, Adam and Eve take a bite and create the mother of all messes, a mess that messes with the whole of humankind. Somebody has to clean it up. Their mess is so great, we’re told, that God takes extreme measures and casts them out of the garden forever.
Maybe that’s the way it happened. Maybe God became so angry over the mess the two had made that a mud slinging contest began and ended with God banishing and cursing the couple forever.
Or maybe, just maybe, God didn’t throw them out of the garden at all. Rather, they threw themselves out of the garden, and they, we, have been blaming God ever since.
Maybe God didn’t separate God’s self from us. Maybe we separated ourselves from God.
The way I see it? All God has ever done, from that first slobbery bite forward, is to try and clean up our mess. To change our perception of the story. To alter the bad rap sheet God’s been given. To throw out a life raft to the castaways we believe ourselves to be.
All God has ever done is to run after us. And run hard.
Jesus portrays a running-after-us God in his beautiful story of two messy sons, both of whom step foot outside the garden. This story, straight from the imagination of Jesus, God the father is willing to embarrass himself, even make a fool of himself as he runs after both sons. The younger son, a renegade, totally dishonors his father by running away on foot then squandering his inheritance on prostitutes and perversity. The older son, slaving away in the fields while his younger brother is doing only-God-knows-what in a foreign land, is the perfect son in his own mind. Then he accuses his dad of loving younger brother more and blames his dad as the reason for not attending his brother’s homecoming celebration.
In both instances, Jesus paints the picture of a father who longs to spick-and-span the messes that both sons have made. In this divine story, God is constantly running toward, pleading with, giving gifts to, and embracing his children.
The way I see it? All God has ever done is to try and bring us back home. All God has ever tried to do was bring me back to the garden.
I’ve often wondered how often Adam and Eve returned to the garden in their memories. How often they lay awake at night on the other side of the garden, looking up at the same moon and stars, asking the same messy question, “Why didn’t we listen? Why didn’t we do what God said? Why did we say ‘no’ to God?”
“Why did we say, ‘Thy will be undone?'”
But there was no turning back. They could not return to the garden. Their “no” could not be changed into a “yes.” Ever.
In another time, in another place, there was another garden. And in this garden, a man on a cleanup mission from God would confront Eden’s messiness face to face. Cleaning up this mess would not be easy. Under the weight of this mess, the man’s knees buckle and hit the earth. The weight heavier still, his face makes contact with the mud. And in a miraculous moment of matchless messiness, the mess is handed a Messiah who says, “Your will be done.” He says, “Yes.”
What Adam and Eve had once “undone,” Jesus had now “done.”
I made a mess. God made a Messiah.