The following tale is one pilgrim's fictional journey up the hill of Golgotha to the place of Christ’s crucifixion. Join me on this journey over the following six days as we prepare our hearts for Easter Sunday. .
My journey back had been long and lonesome, but that story is for another time. At last, I came to the hill they call Golgotha, “the place of the skull.” I had visited this site before, long ago when I was a child. It was then that I had chosen to follow Jesus. What drew me back to this place now, I could not exactly say. I worked my aching tongue around in my dry, cracked mouth as I reached into my pack for the thermos. I swallowed a few small sips of tepid water, trying to conserve as much as I could for the remainder of my journey. Surveying the steep hill, I knew the climb would be painful. For just a moment I considered turning around, going back the way I had come, but I had made it too far to quit now. Placing my sandaled foot on the barren hill, I looked up toward the heavens, sighed, and began my ascent.
There was no breeze under the early afternoon sun, and I felt its rays bearing down on my shoulders. I adjusted my head covering as I looked around at the suffering vegetation. Flowers were wilted, tree branches drooping downward under the heat of the day. Everywhere I looked, I only saw barrenness and death.
“Why, God? Why did you take us from Eden? This place, it is broken.” I waved my hands around, gesturing at His creation. I could not withhold the complaints that came to my tongue. “I just don’t understand. I mean, I know the First Man and the First Woman brought the curse upon us all. I know that. But why here?” I spoke into the silence.
“It isn’t what I created it to be,” came the thundering reply from Heaven.
Humph, I sighed to myself. Well, isn’t that obvious! My shoulders slumped under the weight of my possessions as sweat began to bead upon my forehead. Already my feet were covered in dust from the ground. I stopped to brush them off as I studied more closely the surrounding scenery. A scaly lizard slithered up a nearby rock, blending in with the earthy tones around him. In the sky, a hawk circled above, searching for food. I spotted a desert flower in the distance, somehow blossoming with life in the drought of the season. I couldn’t deny the fact that even in the midst of all this suffering, His creation still held such beauty.
“Yes, but why could we not have remained in Your perfect Garden? I guess I just don't understand. You didn’t have to put that tree there in the first place. After all, you are the One who made everything, and then You chose to place that tree in the Garden,” I said with frustration.
Apparently, He mistook my statement for a joke, because He let out a slow chuckle at my words. “You can’t have it all, Dear One.”
Can’t have it all? What is He talking about? I kicked a nearby rock and watched it bounce up the hill. I thought for a moment, then replied, “I don’t know what You mean.”
“Think about it. What does the Text say?” He encouraged.
I thought it over, recalling ancient words passed down from generation to generation, going all the way back to the beginning of it all. God had taken that First Man, calling him Adam, and placed him in the middle of the Garden to work. The words came back to me slowly…”You may surely eat of every tree of the garden,” God had told Adam. He gave him freedom to enjoy of the fruit of every tree in His perfect creation, save one. “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen.1:16-17).
“You gave Adam complete freedom, but then You limited his freedom,” I reasoned. “You placed a tree in the garden that would tempt him and ultimately bring about the downfall of mankind, the pinnacle of Your creation.”
“Do you blame the Almighty God?” He questioned.
I considered my words. After all, I knew to Whom I was speaking. Though I desperately sought answers, I remained respectful of this Great God I served. “No, I don’t blame You. But I don’t understand why it had to be set up that way to begin with.”
“Do you champion your freedom?” He asked.
“Of course! It is what makes us like You! Created in Your image, we must choose our way in this world. Our freedom allows us to follow or to reject You.” That He did not force my submission to His Name made my surrender sweeter, more precious. I knew that, and I cherished my decision to follow Christ.
“Ah! So did my placing that tree in the garden limit your freedom, or did it actually enhance your freedom?”
I stopped in my tracks at His question, understanding more fully the original motives of my good God. In His perfect paradise creation, God gave the First Man and Woman the opportunity to worship Him completely by allowing them the freedom to obey or to reject Him. Even from the beginning, He did not force their affections, for that would never have truly satisfied the devotion He is due.
“Ok,” I confessed. “I am starting to see things more clearly now." I thought a little more over our conversation, then I added, "But I still don’t understand why earlier You said to me, ‘You can’t have it all.’”
“Look around you,” He commanded.
I stopped and looked again at His creation, once perfect but no longer. Then I continued to climb as I spoke my observations. “We are in a drought,” I told Him, shaking my head and gesturing to the scenery I saw. “The soil suffers, and for this season it is not producing the food we need to survive.” I pointed to a fox I saw in the distance. “The animals languish in these barren lands, searching for water to no avail.” I thought beyond this place I now traveled, to places I had been, to places I have heard of, and I continued, “Earthquakes destroy entire cities. Storms wreak havoc on our lands. The oceans swallow up those who dare attempt to cross them!” My heart pounded as I thought of the many atrocities and tragedies I had seen and experienced throughout my years.
Once again, He graciously responded to my ramblings. “You are correct in pointing out that this world is not as I originally created it to be. But, My beloved, do you accept the freedom I have given without the consequences of abusing that freedom?"
His words pierced my hardened heart once more. I could not just blame the First Man and Woman, for I too have taken part in sinful rebellion. That God’s creation suffers is not His doing. “I see what You’re getting at here. From the beginning we have rebelled against You in our hearts and with our choices. The curse of this land is ours to bear.”
“So you think of this land only as a curse?” He asked me.
“What other way must I consider it? We were banished from Your perfect Garden because we dared attempt to be like You. It seems pretty clear to me.”
“The Text, My child, think of the Text.”
I recalled more of the Story. The Deceiver twisted the words of God and tempted the Woman to taste of the forbidden fruit. She gave of her fruit to the Man, who chose to eat it, too. Their eyes were instantly opened, and they at once knew their shame. Using fig leaves, they attempted to cover their nakedness.
“They hid from You when You came walking through the Garden. You questioned them, and they confessed their transgression but blamed one another for the fault. Then, You placed a curse on us all. The Serpent first, then the Woman, and finally the Man.”
“This is how it all occurred. But continue. What happened next?”
“Well, You provided adequate clothing, for the fig leaves would not do. Through the sacrifice of an animal, You covered their shame with its skins. Then You kicked them out of the Garden,” I finally concluded. I felt my summary of the events was adequate and accurate.
He was not as convinced, though. “Go deeper, My child. Recall My words.”
I stopped in my climb of Calvary and thought for a moment, clearing the cobwebs from my dusty memory. What were His words before He removed us from the Garden? Slowly, it came back to me, and I spoke out loud the words as I remembered them:
“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” (Gen.3:22).
As fog clears in the morning hours, my mind began to clear as I realized for the first time the truth of things. I spoke quickly as the realization dawned on me. “You cast us out of Your perfect creation, not to spite us, but to prevent us from making permanent our sinful separation from You! This God-forsaken land we now dwell in, with all of the hardship and troubles we face here — it is actually part of Your plan, then? Your Redemption Plan?”
“It could have been worse, Beloved. Permanent. Even in My righteous anger, I loved you with an everlasting love. I knew the wickedness that now existed in the hearts of mankind, and I knew their rebellion would only get worse. Had they eaten from that tree, your suffering would have been eternal. Though removing you from the Garden caused pain, I ultimately did so in order to save you.” His words washed over me, dissolving my indignation and humbling my spirit. “This, My child, was an act of grace.”
I hung my head in humility. How often had I missed seeing the grace of God because I consider my ways greater than His? I immediately bent down, dropping my pride at that place on the trail, then I continued my climb.
Questions to Ponder:
- God has been working to bring about His redemption plan since the beginning of time. In what ways can you acknowledge His grace, even in this broken world?
- How is pride preventing you from following the One True God? Lay it down today.