Formations 02.21.2020: Not Me!

Genesis 3:9-24

I admit it: I’m a sucker for Family Circus comic strips. Yes, they’re corny. Yes, they repeat the same gags over and over again. But they’re something unrepentantly wholesome about them, and that’s something I need in my life every now and then. I even managed to work one into my doctoral dissertation back in the day.

One of my favorite Family Circus gags, which artist Bill Keane used numerous times through the years, involved an invisible imp called “Not Me.” Not Me looked something like a cross between a ghost and the Pillsbury dough boy with his name emblazoned across his chest.

Mom or Dad would approach one of their children whom they strongly suspected had been doing something they shouldn’t. “Who spilled the flour?” “Who scribbled on the wall?” “Who trampled all this mud through the house?”

Then Billy or Dolly or Jeffy would answer, “Not me!” while the imp ran away with a sly grin.

There’s something about today’s Bible passage that reminds me of those rascally kids and their naïve attempts to evade responsibility for wrongdoing. For of course, Not Me doesn’t exist. He’s just a convenient excuse, a misdirection from the real issue.

When God comes to the man in the garden and asks what he has done, the man’s first instinct is to deflect blame: “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate” (Gen 3:12). It wasn’t me, he protests. It’s the woman’s fault. (And who created this problematic helper, anyway?)

Here we see humanity at its most infuriatingly human.

Presented with a moral test—his first ever moral test—our earliest ancestor not only failed but immediately fell into the same evasive, self-exonerating behavior that we all know well. He is clearly in the wrong, but he accepts no responsibility at all for what he did or what has come of it.

The thing about those “Not Me” comic strips is that they end before consequences are leveled. There is humor in the children’s evasions because they show us a side of ourselves. But we all know what’s coming next, don’t we? The truth will come out one way or another, a suitable punishment will be administered…and we aren’t going to chuckle at that.

As the chapter comes to an end, humanity’s prospect seems grim. Expelled from the garden and now vulnerable to mortality and pain, our first ancestors long for what they have lost. Their children have been yearning for paradise ever since.

How might today’s story speak to us on this First Sunday in Lent? The consequences of sin are still with us today, but so is the grace of God that strives to reach us in our lostness and bring us back to God’s self.

Discussion

• Why do people so often—and easily—dodge responsibility for their actions?
• Why does God cast humans out of the garden?
• Should we understand the divine declarations in this passage as judgments, warnings of the logical consequences of wrong actions, or something else?
• How can trust in God’s grace encourage us to own up to our wrongdoing?

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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