2.2 ‘To listen to another Word’
It does not take long, however, for the divine-human conversation to be tragically interrupted. In Genesis 2:17, we read that God spoke a specific word to Adam, prohibiting him from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. For Luther, this specific command acted as a call to trust in, worship and obey the God who had spoken; “it was God’s intention that this command should provide man with an opportunity for obedience and outward worship, and that the tree should be a sort of sign by which man would give evidence that he was obeying God.”1
Adherence to this command was to be, in effect, a tangible expression of early discipleship whereby Adam, Eve, and their offspring would demonstrate that they had heard the word that God had spoken and act in accordance to that word. It was a place where the divine-human conversation was to carry on steady and unbounded.
In Genesis 3, however, that conversation is brought to a halt by a crafty ruse, characterized by Luther in this way: “the chief temptation was to listen to another word and to depart from the one which God had previously spoken.”2 This is key in terms of understanding the nature of discipleship today. In this description of that which led to the inception of sin in the midst of God’s good creation, Luther is effectively shifting the focus off of the bitten apple to the spoken word of God; the point is not that Eve physically bit an apple or broke an explicit command, but rather that she failed to trust in and adhere to the word that God had spoken.
As Luther puts it, “the source of all sin truly is unbelief and doubt and abandonment of the Word. Because the world is full of these, it remains in idolatry, denies the truth of God, and invents a new god.”3 Whereas the tree was meant to be a place of trust and worship leading to obedience, it became a place where the word of God was questioned and twisted in a way that caused humankind to begin a pattern of being absorbed into stories that are not intrinsically our own. They are stories that de-emphasize our role as God’s partners in bringing about his loving purposes for the world, stories that offer cheap grace, and stories that cause us to forget the word that God has spoken and continues to speak.
Even as these competing stories developed and caused humankind to doubt the Word that God had spoken, God remained faithful to his creation and to humankind, constantly calling out in an attempt to re-establish that divine-human conversation.
1 Martin Luther, “The Pious Question: Genesis 3:1-3,” in Luther’s Works, vol 1: Lectures on Genesis Chapters 1-5, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1958), 154.
2 Ibid., 147.
3 Ibid., 149.