Göttinger Predigten im Internet, ed. by Ulrich Nembach and Johannes Neukirch

Invokavit 1999
Genesis 3, 1-24
Luise Stribrny de Estrada

Dear Brothers and Sisters of Christ!

"The Lost Paradise"
"The Lost Paradise" is the name of an exhibition of paintings by Paul Gauguin, shown in Berlin at the end of last year. Gauguin painted paradise as he saw it: in the middle of a south-sea landscape, women are moving in tune with nature, often half dressed, or totally naked. In one picture, one sees a young girl holding a large fruit in her hand, probably picked from the branch, hanging over her head. She has her face half hidden from the observer, and looks at us with a thoughtful, somewhat melancholy expression. The artist sought the kind of life that he always dreamed of, far away from the busy city of Paris, with its addiction to riches and its social intrigues. He found paradise on the Tahiti island where he revered and depicted the lives of the Maori people but at the same time kept an observant distance. He was shut out from this paradise, he stood before the gates full of esteem and yearning, ready to be allowed in but for him, a European, the paradise was lost to him and to return there was impossible. He could only admire the beauty and harmony from the outside and long for what he had lost.

We too have lost paradise, we don`t live anymore in a wonderful original state, in harmony with everything that nature surrounds us with. Instead, we labour at our work, suffer pain, and know that our lives are restricted by death. Exactly this understanding is reached at the beginning of the Bible in the mythical story where Eve eats the forbidden fruit. The story begins with someone looking around and describing what he sees. He opens his eyes and becomes aware of what exists. There are men, and there are women. The women give birth to children and during their pregnancies suffer all kinds of symptoms.The men dominate the women, often telling them what to do and how to do it, although the men don`t have it any better. Their daily routine is littered with burdens. They work in the fields, in the sweat of their own faces, but all too often, they reap only thorns and thistles. After all their efforts, they die and are given back to the earth, according to chronicles, from where they were made by God. These are the facts, not particularly rosy or aspiring. The years of our life are threescore and ten, or even by reason of strength fourscore; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.

And he who has established all this asks himself: do our lives have to be like this? Is there no other intention? Did God imagine our lives to be like this, he who only wants the best for us, his children?

The answer is, God must have planned our lives differently, and the author weaves a picture of how God originally intended the world to be. God planted a garden full of trees and rivers, inhabited by animals and birds and placed mankind there to build and protect. Mankind existed of a pair, man and woman, who lived in this paradise garden. A wonderful original state, almost too beautiful to be true. Somewhat different from the hard labour in the unfertile fields and the exhausting baring of children. And now comes the question that had to come: Why do we not live in this paradise anymore? Why don`t we nourish ourselves from the fruits of the garden, drink the waters of the rivers and live in harmony with the animals? How did we fall from heaven, so to say, to earth? This is answered through the story of Eve and the serpent which explains how paradise was lost. The serpent goads Eve to do something that God has strictly forbidden, he creates an image of what effect the fruit will have. "Then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil" Eve lusts after the fruit and is tempted by the fact that she can become clever by partaking of it. Her curiosity and desire for knowledge holds her back no more, she grabs, takes and eats and also gives it to her husband, "and they knew that they were naked." Can they now distinguish between good and evil? Are they like God? It remains open but they must carry the consequences of overstepping the line that God had laid down for them. As a punishment they must leave the garden of Eden and take on a life of toil. The biblical story clearly tells of a life more comfortable and aspired for, than that of life otherwise. I ask myself therefore, if a constant life in paradise is better than life on earth. Would you like to live in paradise? I think that after a while I would be quite bored with it all. It would be a dreamy existence amongst nature, surrounded by flora and fauna. Without straining oneself by having to work, one would still reap the benefits, without having to bare children, one could still watch them grow up. One would be a constant child in this life in paradise, no carrying of responsibilities, no thoughts of work and how to nourish oneself, it would all be taken care of. Eventually our childhood must come to an end, so that we can take responsibility and build our own lives for ourselves and our partners.

Without Eve and her curiosity, we would still be in the golden cage of paradise, in a tight prison of childhood. She disliked the necessary step to break out of the strict prison of childhood but it helped us to get our lives into perspective. She wanted to know more, be more clever than she was made to be. She wanted to break through the barriers set before her. I can quite understand this craving for knowledge.

On the other hand, in the Bible this is interpreted as a betrayal of gods will, which should be accepted by all. Eve is later seen as a picture of sin who rebelled against God. But did God not cast the first stone of rejection? When one may eat from all the trees in the garden, except from the tree of knowledge and the tree of life, is it not to be expected that these trees are particularly irresistable? God should have known that sooner or later man would not be able to resist the temptation to taste the forbidden fruit. Perhaps He wanted to put them to the test...perhaps He anticipated that it would come to this.

We must not see the thirst for understanding in a negative light, we must realise that leaving paradise is an important step to adulthood despite the repetetive feeling of longing to return. We demand to know the answer to the question: Why is life so difficult? Why must mankind suffer and die? Why do we hate and kill each other, like Cain and Abel? In us is a yearning for a perfect world full of happiness, and free from pain. We dream of a paradise in which everything is allright again . "Once upon a time...." And so we wish for ourselves, in the future, a paradise in which we can live blissfully .

Each of us has many memories of our own childhood, perhaps looking back we paint them somewhat brighter. We were safe in the midst of our family, knowing that we were loved and cherished. We lived out our games and phantasies, built hollows in the woods, or sank ourselves deep in our favourite books. We weren`t conscious of obligation or duty. Any of us, who has lived such a childhood, carries a treasure inside him, which he looks back on with enjoyable longing. At the same time, he knows that there can be no return to that childhood state, that now, as an adult, he has a duty to perform, although the nostalgic memories remain.

What happens to us now outside the lost paradise? In the biblical story, God casts Adam and Eve out from the garden of Eden and prohibits their return but despite this He doesn`t stop caring or looking after them. When they realised that they were naked and were ashamed, He made them coats of skins and clothed them. Although they disobeyed His commands, He did not reject them from His love and care but carried on looking after them. He may have cast them from paradise but not from His love. That is just as true for us, as it was for Adam and Eve. We may not live in the Garden of Eden or in our own childhood paradise, despite this we are not seperated from God or forgotten by Him. He makes sure that we receive what we need to live, He has not forgotten us and does not leave us alone.

That is why we can go on our way, on the outside of paradise, in the knowledge that He is always with us.



In my preparations for this sermon, I have tried not to be hindered by the knowledge of the different interpretations of the text throughout history. In Genesis, chapter 3, there is no mention of sin or downfall, and only the serpent and land are cursed. The punishment for disobeying God`s commands was to be driven from paradise. M.E. understands Eve s violation of the commands, the grasping of the fruit but at the same time a departure from innocence and therefore an enlightening action. Here stems the question of wether our lives have a positive or negative worth.

My sermon has the title "The Lost Paradise" and I want to make it clear that we long to regain the idillic original state. On the other hand, we have to master everyday life which is full of labour and tasks.

Luise Stribrny de Estrada, Pastorin in der Matthias-Claudius-Gemeinde in Kiel-Suchsdorf
email: marclui@ki.comcity.de

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