Making Excuses (or Did Eve Get a Bad Rap)
3 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; 5 for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God,[a] knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
8 They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.” 14 The Lord God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. 15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”
THE WORD OF THE LORD.
Frank McCourt was an Irish-American teacher and writer (1930-2009). You may have read one of his books, like his Pulitzer Prize winning book Angela's Ashes.
In his memoir entitled Teacher Man, Frank McCourt tells of his experience teaching English at a high school in Staten Island, New York. He was in his third year of teaching creative writing, when one of his students, 16-year-old Mikey, gave him a note from his mother. It explained his absence from class the day before:
It said -“Dear Mr. McCourt, please excuse Mikey’s absence. His grandmother who is eighty years old fell down the stairs from too much coffee. I kept Mikey home to take care of his grandmother and his baby sister so I could go to my job at the ferry terminal. He will do his best in the future. P.S. His grandmother is ok.”
McCourt had seen the student writing the note at his desk, using his left hand to disguise his handwriting. McCourt knew students wrote almost all the excuses.
McCourt threw Mikey’s note into his desk drawer along with other notes. Then he decided to read all the notes. The forged notes from the students ranged from imaginative to lunatic. As he read, he thought how remarkable it was that his students whined about writing 200 words for a composition, but when they wrote forged excuses, it was high school writing at its best. He read notes like these:
“Please excuse Roberta. A man died in the bathtub upstairs and it overflowed and messed up all Roberta's homework on the table."
“Please excuse Juan. His sister’s dog ate his homework and I hope it chokes him.”
"Please excuse Maria. Her big brother got mad at her and threw her essay out the window. It flew away all over Staten Island which is not a good thing because people will read it and get the wrong impression unless they read the ending which explains everything."
“Please excuse Eric. We were evicted from our apartment and the mean sheriff said if my son kept yelling for his notebook he would arrest us all."
Then there were the simple ones like – “Excuse Jimmy for being. It was his father’s fault.” Finally, there were the ones lacking accuracy like this one - “Excuse Andre for being absent January 30th, 31st, 32nd, 33rd, 34th, and 35th.”
McCourt said that what the students did not realize was that honest parent excuses were dull like - “Peter was late because the alarm clock didn’t go off.” One day McCourt gave his students an assignment to write "An Excuse Note from Adam to God" or "An excuse note from Eve to God." His students immersed themselves enthusiastically in their work.
Next day everyone had excuses from Adam and Eve. One girl defended the seduction of Adam on the grounds that Eve was tired of lying around Paradise doing nothing, day in and day out. She was also tired of God sticking his nose into their business. Heated discussions followed about the guilt of Adam and Eve. Someone said God could have been more understanding of Adam and Eve.
Our Scripture story reminds us about the human propensity to make excuses; for the story tells of the first words spoken by a man, and they were an excuse and blaming someone else for what they had done. God asked Adam, "Have you eaten from the tree which I commanded you not to eat?" Adam responded, "The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me the fruit of the tree, and I ate." God then turned to Eve: "What is it you have done?" Eve replied, "The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”
The Bible abounds with people making excuses and/or blaming someone else. When God calls Moses to lead the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt, Moses offers one excuse after another. First, Moses says – “I'm not the right person. I have no authority." Then Moses says - ""The people won't believe" Finally, Moses retorts - "I have a bad stutter.”
Later Moses is on the receiving end of excuses. When he comes down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments, he finds the people worshiping a golden calf. Aaron, Moses’ brother, makes excuses: "You know the people. They are bent on evil. They said - 'Make us gods.” So I took the gold they gave me, I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.”
The list of excuses in the Bible goes on and on – From Adam and Eve, to Cain, to Abraham and Sarah, to Jacob and David, not to mention all the excuses from those in the New Testament.
Many theologians and biblical scholars say it all started with Adam and Eve, especially Eve – the woman. If Eve had not listened to the serpent in the first place, we would still be in this mythical garden. So, why not blame the woman and make her feel bad or inferior?
I think Eve or women get a bad rap in religion - blaming her. Eve, or whoever our early evolutionary ancestors were, have nothing to do with our propensity to make excuses or to blame others when we do something wrong. We do not need to blame Eve or Adam when we misuse our freedom or hurt someone else.
Instead, if you read all of Scripture, you can say this truth -- As sons and daughters of God, we do not have to make excuses to God or to one another when we do something shameful. It is neither helpful nor truthful. Though we may still try, we cannot excuse or justify ourselves. Only God can do that, and God has done that for us. We are already "justified by grace through faith." Our only alternatives to excuses are confession, apology, and forgiveness.
Sometimes we are tempted to throw excuses in with a confession or apology. We may say - "Here is what I did and I am sorry, but let me tell you why. I had my reasons.” That is not really an apology. Author Kimberly Johnson wrote - "Never ruin an apology with an excuse." It is not helpful does not bridge the gap between you and the person hurt.
The alternative to excuses is forgiveness – God forgiving us, forgiving each other, and forgiving ourselves.
In the world around us, we will still hear one excuse after another. Sometimes, since we are still imperfect, we may do the same ourselves. Our first instinct is to defend ourselves and thus defend what we do.
If we believed in God’s forgiveness; if we finally believed in the possibility of forgiving others and ourselves, and them forgiving us; then there would no longer be the need for excuses. Instead of excuses, we could speak and hear apologies and forgiveness. Amen!