In the beginning, we read about the invention of religion. It begins simply enough in Genesis 3 [6-13]: The woman saw that the tree had fruit that was good to eat, nice to look at, and desirable for making someone wise. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then their eyes were opened, and they both realized that they were naked. They sewed fig leaves together and made clothes for themselves. In the cool of the evening, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking around in the garden. So they hid from the Lord God among the trees in the garden. The Lord God called to the man and asked him, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden. I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.” God asked, “Who told you that you were naked? Did you eat fruit from the tree I commanded you not to eat from?” The man answered, “That woman, the one you gave me, gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Then the Lord God asked the woman, “What have you done?” “The snake deceived me, and I ate,” the woman answered.
Do you see it? It's right there. The invention of human religion. The origin of all religions. Every religion ever invented is rolled off the same factory assembly line.
First, they saw that they were naked. Before, their eyes and ears were set only on the Creator's Word. They were made to receive all that was needed for body and soul and mind from the Word of the LORD. Then they ate what was forbidden them.
Together woman, then man, reached out and took what wasn't given to them in the way of gift. Their eyes were opened. They were naked and ashamed. They were faced up to each other, each a mirror to the other. What man and woman saw reflected back at them from the other was guilt. They'd turned from God toward each other, and what they saw was not Creator but creature. Not Promise, but limits. Not Gift-Giver, but taker. Not life, but the rejection of Life.
We are naked and ashamed. We recognize our guilt. The invention of human religion, step one.
Next, man and woman tried to hide their shame. They attempted to cover their guilt and escape from their Creator. They hid themselves behind some trees. When the man did finally step out from behind a tree to face up to God, he confessed to shame and guilt. And God said, "I know you're naked. I made you that way." As Luther remarked about this exchange, Adam demonstrates how sin makes us stupid. We tell God what He already knows, as if He's as shocked and appalled as us by our nakedness. And why would He be? He made us naked and so long as we were focused on His Word, we were unashamed.
But the man and woman would not face up to God. They would not confess and trust in Giver-God. Not even in God as giver of forgiveness. Instead, they tried to cover their nakedness and shame. They imagined God as punisher, as executioner. But, it wasn't God who'd changed, it was the man and woman. God was and is always Giver-God. It was us who were changed by taking and eating what was not given to us in the way of gift.
As a consequence, the man tried to offer God the woman as sacrifice for his guilt. The woman, for her part, offered the serpent as sacrifice for her guilt. Both of them turning from Creator to creature hoping to cover guilt. They thought to offer as sacrifice each other to satisfy what they imagined was God's pre-ordained judgment.
The woman, the one that you gave me... The serpent deceived me...
We try to escape God's judgment. The invention of human religion, step two.
Finally, the reason man and woman tried to escape judgment because of their guilt is each's individual hope that by offering up a substitute, he and she would avoid punishment and gain a reward from God. The man and the woman imagined that their actions could satisfy God's anger over their guilt. They thought to save themselves by their own works.
The invention of human religion, step three.
On account of our nakedness and shame we want to hide our guilt from God. Next, we blame-shift and offer a sacrifice as substitute. Someone or something must receive the judgment meant for us. In this way, we hope to avoid punishment and gain a reward for our actions. We attempt to save ourselves from destruction and gain eternal rewards. That's all human religion in a nutshell.
But, God won't let us keep churning out the same old undependable religious jalopies. Instead, after He places boundaries around the man and woman and serpent to protect his creation from them, He reasserts His being God for them. He gives them His promise.
The very womb that Satan attempted to use to undo creation, the LORD uses to redeem creation.
God's the same Gift-Giving God as ever. It's the man and woman who've been changed. Therefore, instead of allowing sin and Satan to undo what He called "good", the LORD points them all back to their one certain hope. The Truth about God from the beginning: "I have named you, and you are mine. Even when you're faithless, I am faithful because I can't betray myself."
The man and woman imagine they've got to do something to satisfy an angry, murderous Creator. God instead tells them, "You've got it all wrong. I'm still the same One who breathed life into you and put you here to tend this garden. You're not going to work your way out of this, you're just making it worse. But, don't worry, that's not how this is going to play out. I've got this. Here's the One who will crush the serpent and redo creation. The One who's been sacrificed from the foundation of the world. He's My Word, God in the flesh... One day, not too long from now, you'll call him Jesus."
Jesus is the One who's come to put every religion factory out of business. And Christianity is the announcement that all religions are defunct. Human beings have been doing it wrong the whole time. It's not about our covering guilt in order to escape God's punishment and save ourselves. It's about God saying, "I promise, I will take your guilt and judgment upon myself, and I will save you by my work for you."
And because He always gets the last Word, God says, "You were made to receive all things from me as gift, body and soul and mind. So, sit back, watch me work, and then enjoy all that I'm about to do for you at Golgotha. It's gift for you too. My blood. My sacrifice. My judgement. My death for you. All for you from Me as gift. Look! Here he is now. Jesus... the end of all your silly, worthless, do-it-myself religions."
Donavon Riley is a Lutheran pastor, conference speaker, author, Online Content Director for Higher Things, a contributing writer at 1517 Legacy Project, Christ Hold Fast, and LOGIA. Pastor Riley co-hosts the podcast: 'The Higher Things Simul Cast'. He is pastor of Saint John Lutheran Church in Webster, MN. A graduate of Concordia Universities in St. Paul, Minnesota and Portland, Oregon, Pastor Riley received his seminary and post-graduate education at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. He colloquized into the LC-MS from the ELCA in 2008. He is married to Annie, and is the father of four children: Owen, Alma, Hoshea, and Hallel.