“If he’s there I don’t want to be. If I never speak to my brother again that will be just fine.” Have you ever heard someone say something like that? Have you ever thought or said something like that? I heard it recently and it saddened me. I’ve heard statements like these many times over the years and I used to hear it as hyperbole and let it pass. But this time was different. Perhaps it struck deeper because I’d just spent a day in the hospital sitting with a family saying goodbye to a brother and son. The waiting room was heavy with Eden’s curse as we waited for his inevitable final breath. The physical death promised in that first garden was fulfilled and it hurt. But the death we invited into our lives when we failed to trust God was not merely physical.
On that avoidable, painful day in Eden, our relationships experienced a kind of death we are all too familiar with. Where harmony once thrived discord now reigns. Us became you and me. “We” was broken. Every time we hear “I never want to see her again” we are hearing an echo of Eden, but not in its entirety.
I’m struck by how hard we will fight to avoid death in the physical sense yet have grown so content with death in the relational sense. When cancer is diagnosed we fight it with vigor. When an accident occurs, we employ lifesaving medical technology sparing almost no expense. Cancer is painful and the treatment is almost as bad. Accidents break us then we endure invasive surgery and a long, arduous recovery. However, when we’re hurt by others: when bitterness blooms, when resentment rises, when anger ascends, we’re frighteningly accepting of these deathly symptoms. Where we should fight with the passion of a resilient cancer patient we often tolerate these poisons and let them burn.
It was never meant to be this way. Thanks to Jesus’ excruciating work on the cross, death has no dominion here. We have an antidote more powerful than any chemotherapy and more restorative than any surgery. We have grace. We have Christ-infused, Christ-defined love. And therefore, we have a sure hope. Bitterness, resentment, and anger are waning candles next to the wildfire of Christ’s grace and love. Freedom and life are available to us if we would but choose them.
“Excruciating” comes from Latin and could be literally translated “out of the cross.” Where we rebelled from our loving Father in Eden by taking death off a tree, Jesus honored our loving Father in Jerusalem by receiving death on a tree. Adam ate the fruit; Jesus drank the sour wine. Death came on Christ’s cross, but life came out of it. I’m exhorting us to dismiss death and choose that life.
If you’ve ever felt like you never want to see someone again then you know heartache. You’ve been hurt, perhaps intentionally. You know the piercing pain caused when nails of cruelty or malice were driven into you. Jesus knows that pain. You need not endure it alone. The Christian call to forgiveness and reconciliation is not ignorant of pain. In fact, it is made precisely because of it. The pain we cause one another is the same pain Eve caused Adam when she offered him that fruit, and we’ve been sharing death with each other ever since. Your pain is real and your hurt understood. Jesus died that we might live, that we might become reacquainted with shalom, that we might taste eternal life, and enjoy it today. When we harbor bitterness or withhold forgiveness we’re letting our pain eclipse Christ’s. We’re believing death’s serpentine lies, only remembering part of Eden’s story. But when we keep our eyes fixed on Christ and process our pain through the cross, we remember Eden’s full story. Yes, pain and death came from that garden, but also, and this might be the best “also” in history, healing and life were promised there. That’s the excruciating echo of Eden – that out of the cross death has lost its sting and we can have and know eternal life.