When I returned home from Vietnam in 1970, I chose to live in a fairly disadvantaged neighborhood (and that’s a charitable description). What I experienced there opened my eyes to a truth about human beings so basic that it’s as difficult to see as the air we breathe. In much the same way that a scientist assumes an orderly universe even when they don’t believe in a Creator, human beings reflexly react to being told to do or learn something, even when they are telling themselves, even when the thing they should do would improve their lives.
When I lived in west Philadelphia, I was appalled at all the trash on the sidewalk. I started carrying a garbage bag with me and picking up trash on the way to the bus stop. One day I saw a teenager throw a soda can, sandwich wrap and empty chips bag on the ground, right beside a trash can. I said, “hey man, we have to live with this mess, couldn’t you throw it in the can?” His response was classic rebellion, as well as classic slave mentality. “If the Man don’t care about how I live, why should I?” I said, “the Man doesn’t live here, we do.” His response made me glad that handguns weren’t common in those days.
While that teenager’s rebellion was obvious, the all too common phenomenon known as procrastination is a more subtle example of rebellion. The mom of one of my daughter’s friends is chronically late–don’t we all know someone like that (maybe even you?)? She has resolved countless times to be on time, and she never is. Why do I call procrastination rebellion? If a chronic problem, which you and everyone you know consider to be undesirable, is simple to fix, but you don’t take the steps to fix it, what else can it be? If you could be on time for appointments just by leaving 10 minutes earlier than you normally do, and yet you never do that, you don’t want to fix the problem. Don’t tell me you want to….if you wanted to you would. The important question is, “what’s stopping you?” The same thing is stopping that teen from doing the right thing. It’s their reaction to the whole concept of “the right thing.”
The internal reaction is “ain’t nobody gonna tell me nothing.” Nobody gonna suggest I need to leave earlier, nobody gonna tell me throw my trash in the can, nobody gonna judge me about anything, I’m in charge of my life, nobody is the boss of me….” Oh really? Whatever is whispering all that “I in charge” shit is the boss of you! In my previous post I talked about deep presuppositions that control behavior and expectations, and the importance of understanding and discerning patterns of behavior. If you regularly put off what needs to be done, if you are consistently late (by the same amount of time usually–tell me that’s not a pattern), if you automatically want to argue with anyone who expresses an opinion that differs from yours (I don’t mean reasonable debate, I said argue), you are in rebellion.
What is rebellion? In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve had everything they needed to be happy, healthy and fulfilled. There was nothing lacking. There was not even right or wrong, good or evil, because they were in direct communion with their creator and thus their lives were perfect, by definition. The only two trees in the Garden whose fruit were forbidden them were the Tree of Life–which would have made them immortal–and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. But despite all these advantages, they rebelled, and ate of the fruit of that Tree. Why? Genesis 3:2. And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.
I wonder why the serpent didn’t entice them to eat of the Tree of Life first? God put them out of the Garden to prevent them from eating of the Tree of Life. Genesis 3:22. Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.
You may believe that this story is allegory, or, as I believe, real. Regardless, rebellion is bound up in the heart of humanity. Are you ready to judge yourself?