Someday, death will die. Then Love Himself will reign supreme.
My wife and I are not normal.
That probably goes without saying — I mean, a writer married a musician. But even when it came to our wedding, we were weird. During the ceremony, we featured dramatic readings.
Yes, you read right — dramatic readings, complete with actors. I wrote three short pieces of Biblically-based fiction that our friends performed. In each of them, I imagined how the very first romance might have played out between Adam, Eve, and God.
Sure, dramatic readings at a wedding are weird. But the fact is, they grew out of a strange realization that I had during my courtship: the whole notion of "falling in love" is pretty weird, too.
My pastor and my mama and Boundless all warned me that marriage wouldn't be perfect. I realized this Julie chick could never be everything I needed (and boy, did our first fight prove it). But at the same time, that knowledge couldn't wipe the goofy grin off my face! I still felt that Julie was perfectly wonderful in every way.
Really, I think my longing for flawless love — coupled with a knowledge that in the long run, this girl would be anything-but — was a Divine gift. It was the God-writing on my heart that testified to some great truths:
(1) Creation: We humans were created for perfect union with God and each other. We weren't made for messy marital spats with shouting matches and slammed doors.
(2) Fall: Unfortunately, we messed everything up with our pride, reaching for the fateful Tree of Self-Determination instead of for God. As a direct result, I want Julie to serve me while I laze around the house in boxer shorts.
(3) Redemption: When Jesus came along, He loved me perfectly in spite of my utter self-centeredness, and reunited me with my Greatest Lover. As I work to imitate Christ, I can become the husband Julie always dreamed of!
(Sorry, honey — that still doesn't mean I'll do the laundry tonight. Some miracles have to wait for heaven.)
Anyway, these dramatic readings were designed to illustrate some profound truths on our wedding day. Yes, they're a little weird, and no, they may not be what you want for your nuptials. But for me and Julie, they were a way to picture our love story through the lens of God's love story. They reminded us it was OK to long for perfection as we practice grace in this fallen world. Ultimately, they help us look forward to the day when Jesus will teach us both the true meaning of agape.
I can't promise they'll do that for you. But I thought you might enjoy taking a look. —G. H.
* * *
Imagine a brand-new person waking for the very first time. He instantly discovers the exquisitely novel sensation of bare skin on plush damp grass. Then he blinks into sunlight dappled by leaves; stands unsteadily on newfound legs — takes a leap and laughs from sheer joy!
The man looks into the branches above his head and reaches for a ripe peach. A delicious bite finds his mouth ... and he feels juice dribble down the chin he didn't know he had. Then he makes another discovery — his hand! He gazes in wonder at this marvel that obeys every subconscious command, flexing four fingers and rotating that delightful thumb.
Suddenly, in the midst of the beautiful Garden, the new-formed man he sees Someone walking towards him. That Someone is smiling and laughing with pleasure — radiant and full of more-than-life as He walks through the trees with big strides! Throwing an arm around the man's shoulders, He speaks. "Do you like this place?" He asks.
The man just grins; hasn't discovered how to talk yet.
"It's yours, you know," says He.
The man smiles with delight, and claps his hands together like a small child on Christmas.
Then Adam (that's his name) takes a walk with Yahweh through the budding leaves, amazed by everything. God points out the animals; the ones with the ridiculous-looking noses. "What do you think they look like?" he asks.
Adam moves his mouth — surprisingly, sound comes out! "Elephant!" he says, swinging his arm like a trunk and delighting in the music of his own voice. He is overcome by the splendor of the Garden all around.
* * *
Yet as they wander through the trees, Adam can't help but realize something. There are two elephants in the tall grass; two squirrels in the tree — even (unfortunately) two spiders in a web. Somehow, they're a bit — different from each other. "God," he asks timidly, "Could there be ... another one? Like me?"
God just smiles and gently lowers Adam to the ground. When the man wakes up again (after a little abdominal surgery), he marvels at the magnificent creature God has set before him. She takes his breath away. She's like Adam, but ... so much lovelier — gentler — curvier!
"What do you think?" whispers God with a smile.
Adam form the words: "She's ... good. Very good."
A shy, flirty grin spreads across Adam's face as he reach out to feel the soft flesh of her hand for the first time. She smiles in return. He can't help but marvel at the incarnate wonder standing before him.
"I think I'll call you ... Eve," he says shyly. "That means living. Because you're full of promise ... The greatest companion I could find for this magnificent world."
Then Yahweh teaches Adam some words to say to her. They're beautiful words that symbolize the love between Adam and the woman — between both of them and God. "Set me as a seal upon thine heart," Adam whispers softly to his beloved, taking God's cues. "For love is strong as death. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it."
In that moment, Adam is positive that his love for Yahweh — and for this beautiful creature named Eve — will last forever. There's no doubt in his mind. What could possibly be better than this? "Many waters cannot quench love ..." says Adam softly — and he means it.
Unfortunately, trouble begins to brew quickly. One evening on Adam and Eve's nightly walk to meet Yahweh by the lake, their world comes crashing down.
Sometimes the lions keep them company as they walk: Eve scratches their majestic heads and Adam tussles with them in the grass. But on this fateful night, it's the Serpent who walks alongside. As they pass the Middle Tree, the craftiest of animals speaks words that change everything: "That looks ... tasty," he says, gazing at the tree.
The Middle Tree is a patchwork of deep shadows and verdant leaves in the slanting sunlight. Shining ripe fruits hang low over the grass. The Serpent reaches into the branches and takes a fruit in his outstretched fingers. "Did Yahweh really say you can't eat any of this delicious food?" he asks, with feigned innocence.
"Oh, no," says Eve. "We can eat from all the other trees. But we can't touch this one or we'll ..." Her tongue tastes the unfamiliar word, unsure of what it means — "die."
The Serpent chuckles softly, then pulls them close with his conspiratorial whispers. "I love you earth-people — so naíve. You won't die. If you take a bite, you'll understand good and evil. You'll become ... like Yahweh."
Adam and Eve stare, incredulous. Could it be ... is Yahweh keeping such a thing from them? Could they be like Him, so powerful they could discern the mysteries of the Garden?
Adam thinks of enchanting fruit to appear on his table instead of the daily gathering; not only speaking the beasts' languages but commanding them to do his will. Eve imagines conversing with Yahweh as a peer instead of a learner. What, after all, is this warning about "death"? It's completely outside their experience.
The Serpent plucks a fruit and bites deeply. They watch for the promised judgment; the lightning bolt from heaven ... and nothing happens! So with the air of a child robbing the cookie jar, Eve reaches out and splits an entire fruit with her husband.
The juice trickles down their chins; the thrill of secret sin courses through them. It's only in the moments that follow when they discover the knowledge for which they've paid so dearly: Shame.
* * *
"Adam, where are you?"
Yahweh's voice sounds strange tonight — mournful; distant. The intimacy and joy that have always colored his resonant tones is missing. So when Adam finds a shred of courage to answer, he speaks not as a beloved child, but a cringing criminal behind a tall bush.
"Over here," he says guiltily. "I was, uh, hiding ... because I was naked."
"Who told you so?"
He doesn't know how to answer without confessing everything — so he blames someone else. "Well, the woman made me do it!"
Eve can't believe her ears; he was right there beside her! "But the Serpent made me do it!" She turns away from her husband, hurt by him for the first (but hardly the last) time. She can't believe that he's flinging blame around! He's never done that before.
Then God looks around for the Serpent, trying to get his account of the matter. But the Evil One is nowhere to be found. He knows better than to corrupt his best work with the truth.
So with tears of anguish, Yahweh banishes his proudest creations from the garden of perfection. They're the ones who have broken the relationship, Yahweh is simply giving them what they asked for: freedom. But this new "freedom" is nothing like what they meant by the word in the Garden, when they were liberated to experience joy in the caring arms of God. Instead, "freedom" now means a brief guilty pleasure that ends in banishment and death.
So Yahweh pronounces the doom that they've each chosen for themselves: the Serpent will crawl in the dirt. Adam will fight against the earth to gather food. Eve will suffer in childbearing.
And yet everything is not hopeless. In the midst of these dark prognostications, Yahweh also announces a slender hope. One day, He says, the head of the Serpent — that symbol of pride and death; of everything that's come between people and God — will be crushed by a Man's heel.
Of course, it can't be an ordinary Man who will overwhelm Evil himself. Adam feels certain, as the grief of leaving Yahweh and the Garden overwhelms him, that many years of death will intervene before that hopeful prophesy can be fulfilled.
Eve never gets used to seeing lives end. Yes, death becomes a constant companion outside the Garden — but she never reconciles herself to the horror. All these years later, she remembers the first time death entered her world, just after the Banishment: Yahweh Himself took the life of a lion to make clothes for their nakedness.
She was physically sick when she saw the fallen beast lying on the ground, oozing blood. She remembered scratching its majestic head and listening to the purrs only days before. But her greatest horror came when she reflected that this tragedy was her own doing. She and Adam had brought this to the world at the very moment they tried to become gods. As God draped her with the lion's still-warm skins, she would have done anything to go back to the Garden.
Many years passed. Two sons were born to Eve, and she celebrated their new lives — until one day, death came the flesh of her flesh. Animal killing had become commonplace, but no human had yet been returned to the dust. So it was a shock to her when she discovered, after Cain's murderous sin, that her son Abel was cold — his skin was icy, not warm like it always had been before.
She and Adam weren't sure what to do with his body at first. They kept him in the hut until he began to smell like the lion. Then they finally found a place for him under the peach tree. He liked peaches — just like his father.
Now, many months after Abel died and Cain ran away from his family, death was threatening once more. But this time it was worse, because Adam's spirit seemed unlikely to hold on through the night. Her beloved was certain to die, and another cold body would greet her in the morning.
Eve repeats words through tears; repeats what Adam told her that he'd heard in his God-talk: "Set me as a seal upon thine heart: for love is strong as death. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it."
But she knows it isn't true. Her love is not as strong as death. She tried, with Abel — tried to call him back; cradled him and kissed him as when he was a child. But he stayed cold and lifeless. That's why she refused to speak to Yahweh afterwards.
* * *
The current crisis began this morning, when she and Adam had a fight — about what, she couldn't remember. She'd haughtily walked away from him down the trail, heading in the opposite direction: she didn't even want to look at him.
As she crossed the stream, however, she saw mortal danger: a snake on the path! The deadly venomous coil and forked tongue lay only a few feet away. They meant death, and there was no escape. She screamed as the Serpent tensed to strike; braced herself for the sharp wound ... for the end.
But then he saw her peril. Adam darted ahead of her; threw himself into the path. The viper lashed out at its new victim and a single fang gashed her husband's heel ... but only for a moment. Then, wincing in pain, he ground the cunning evil head into the dust with his good foot.
Eve quickly forgot their argument as she was overcome by guilt and fear. Adam leaned heavily on her as he limped back to their hut. He began to shiver and cringe with pain. He showed her how to suck the venom, but afterwards still sweated and writhed and cursed. Then Adam started to see things ... more snakes; snakes that weren't there. Eve had never been so terrified.
Now, as she groans and weeps beside her husband's twitching body, it's been many months since Abel was buried under the peach tree. She's hardly whispered a word to Yahweh since that time, but she starts talking to him again in desperation. She begs for her husband's life. "Set me as a seal upon thine heart: for love is strong as death...." she prays through limp exhaustion. "I'm sorry, Yahweh ... please heal my Adam. Please."
Finally, she falls asleep. She simply can't keep her eyes open any longer against the onslaught of grief.
The next day she wakes with a vague sense of foreboding. The world seems unnaturally silent. She runs quickly to where Adam is covered in furs against the fever. She feels his heart ... it beats! She shakes him from exhausted sleep; kisses his lips before he stirs. He isn't cold! She kisses him again; pulls his weak but warm arms around her; whispers her fears ... "I thought you were like Abel ... the lion."
He touches her face gently. Then through his weakness, he speaks the love-poem of Yahweh: "Set me as a seal upon thine heart: for love is strong as death. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it."
As they pull each other close, she remembers the prophesy: the lone word of encouragement the day they were banished from God's presence into this desert of death. One day, Yahweh pledged, He would crush the snake that had bitten her husband's heel; crush the death that had almost claimed his soul. She doesn't understand all of what that means yet. But she knows that while her love is not always as strong as death ... Yahweh's is.
For now, as she rests in Adam's arms, that small promise is just enough to make her believe in Yahweh's care again. Someday, death will die. Then Love Himself will reign supreme.
"Set me as a seal upon thine heart," she whispers, to Adam and Yahweh at the same time. Then she smiles as she says, with great gratitude to God: "For your love is even stronger than death."
Copyright 2009 George Halitzka. All rights reserved.