I Kings 3: 1-15 Romans 8:31 – end
A sermon for evensong at Adel Parish Church Nov 10th 2019
“Ask what I should give you”, says God to Solomon in tonight’s reading.
That’s quite an offer – and the basis of many stories from King Midas onwards. Sadly the choice usually ends in disaster – in the hero discovering, too late, what is really important. Having everything you touch turn to gold, for example, includes those you love…If we come across the offer of ‘anything you wish for’ in a book or film, we generally know it won’t end well.
Solomon, it seems, managed to avoid the pitfalls and made a wise choice: being able to discern between good and evil. Rereading it this week though, I was reminded of another story. I’m sure you know it…
”You may eat freely of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”
For Adam and Eve, the same choice led to disaster. So is this knowledge of good and evil a good thing or not?
Amongst other things, the story of Adam and Eve seems to grapple with the mystery of how knowing good from evil, having free will we might say, seems to lead inevitably to our separation from God.
You would think knowing good from evil would help us make the right choices. But I bet we can all identify with St Paul’s anguished statement in the previous chapter of Romans: “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want.”
Making the wrong choices seems to be an inevitable part of being an independent person. We see it in our children. When they’re tiny, they might snatch a toy from another child because they’re hardly aware of the other child’s existence. But although they gradually learn that it’s wrong – this always doesn’t stop them doing it.
Children rely on parents to teach them right from wrong – but it doesn’t mean they always follow the teaching. As with Adam, Eve and the apple tree – being told we shouldn’t have something or do something seems to make it all the more desirable.
Hopefully as we grow up we learn some self-restraint. We rely on friends and family to tell us when we might be going astray. We accept that on the whole the laws of the land are there to help us behave well. But – unless you’re all far more holy than me – we still do, or say, the thing we know to be wrong.
Even for Solomon – famed for his wisdom – it didn’t all work out well. He governed wisely, but in the end his private life was not so virtuous. God gave him the ability to discern good from evil – yet even he was unable always to do the right thing.
It’s a mystery that led to the concept of ‘original sin’, the idea that somehow we’re born in a state of sin. We may not accept the link of this with Adam, Eve and the apple, but the fact that we just tend to do the wrong thing is something I guess we’re all familiar with.
And for Christians there’s the bigger problem that we come to know Jesus – we’re shown even more clearly the difference between good and evil – but still we do the wrong thing.
For Paul, this in a way is what Christianity is all about. The experience of meeting Jesus Christ – such an overwhelming one for him – didn’t immediately make him sin less. But it did make him more aware of his sin. He knew his need of forgiveness, his need of God.
And he saw that in the mystery of God’s relationship with the world, that was enough. The glorious passage from Romans we heard tonight comes after 8 chapters exploring the reality of human guilt and sin. And what Paul’s experience tells him is that despite all that, nothing can separate us from God’s love shown in Jesus Christ.
Knowing good from evil doesn’t necessarily make us live better lives – in some ways it’s perhaps just what makes us human. But knowing God loves us whatever we do, feeling his forgiveness – that makes us aware of our sin in a way that helps us try to change. I hope I am becoming, one tiny step at a time, more like Christ – it’s knowing I am loved unconditionally that makes it possible.
So for Christians the offer of ‘anything you wish for’ is unnecessary – outdated. We already have the only thing that really matters – the promise that “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us…that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
And all we have to do is accept that love.