The Garden of Eden

Americans are presently engaged in a great social debate.

Rising costs of health insurance and medical care have encouraged many Americans to debate the viability of Obamacare, and to believe that “repeal and replace” (or simply “repeal”) is our best route forward. President Trump has proposed deep cuts in the popular social programs that have provided support for the poor and aging members of our society, and the Republican health insurance bill demands deep cuts in Medicaid and in other programs that total more than one trillion dollars in the next ten years. Betsy DeVos continues to promote school vouchers that will give tax-payer-funded tuition support to parents who choose to remove their children from public schools and to enroll them in for-profit learning institutions (leaving students, whose parents can’t afford private education, to learn and develop life-skills in the now inadequately funded schools.) The Protestant Work Ethic continues to encourage Americans to believe that those who are struggling simply need to work harder and to learn to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.

American Individualism is dangerous and destructive to society.

The Bible contains two separate stories of creation. The first story is found in the opening chapter of the book of Genesis and contains the story of a God whose Spirit hovered over the primordial chaos before “created order” was established by the power of God. The second story of creation can be found in the next chapter of Genesis and contains a story that’s much more focused upon the creation of human beings. Both stories contain accounts that include the creation of trees, rivers, livestock and beasts of every sort. But, the second story of creation contains an insight that we need to grasp and understand as we develop American public policy. God openly tells us, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” (Genesis 2:18)

The second story of creation reminds us that people were made by God to live in community with each other, to share life with each other, and to bear each other’s burdens. Very few individuals in America can afford to pay for medical care that they need by simply tapping into their individual savings – and a short week of hospital confinement can leave many people bankrupt. Aging Americans often need the support of programs like Meals-on-Wheels to remain in their homes. Most individuals in America cannot afford to send their children to private, for-profit learning institutions and require the help of a more public-based education system. A growing number of individuals in America can’t afford to purchase medicines they need or to even pay the cost of heating their homes in the winter.

God creates people to live in community with each other, to share life with each other and to share each other’s burdens. The Biblical story of creation reminds us that radical individualism isn’t God’s intention. But another voice echoes from our primordial past, and is just as deeply planted in the human heart. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain responds to the God who asks him about Abel. (Genesis 4:9) The community that God created was broken by anger, jealousy and self-centered thinking. Cain broke the “community” that he shared with his only brother, and his burning anger and jealousy erupted into murderous thoughts and actions. Cain forgot that his brother’s life was as precious in God’s eyes as his own. Cain forgot that human community is God-ordained; and that, in the beauty of God-ordained creation, people are equally loved and embraced by their Creator. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain asks with, perhaps, a puzzled look on his face. And, if we listen to the story carefully enough, we can almost hear God say, “Yes!”

Americans are presently engaged in a great social debate.

We are being asked to decide if America is a nation that’s filled with rugged individuals who fight only for themselves, or if America will continue to be a nation filled with people who feel a sense of responsibility for the health and welfare of other people. We are being asked to decide if our nation is going to be built upon the foundation of God-ordained human community, or if we prefer to become a nation where people respond to the needs of others by asking God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” We are being asked to decide if America will grow toward becoming a nation where people join hands with each other (even when they need to reach across the partisan chasm that politicians have created) and work together to create sustainable programs that meet the genuine needs of individuals who are aging, and suffering the effects of poverty and injustice, or if America will become a nation where we simply cut people loose to rise (or to fall) by themselves? Christians are being challenged to direct our nation as our elected leaders decide whether to build America’s future upon Judeo-Christian principles of God-created human community, or to allow rugged American Individualism to encourage individuals to believe that they are only responsible for their own personal welfare in a dog-eat-dog world where people rise (or fall) alone.


The American Court Jester