Humans were the last to come on stage, as if the finishing touch to the creation narrative. So as to serve in the capacity of stewards. Consequently, with appropriate potential. “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden,” God allowed. “But you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen. 2:16-17). This is most likely a comprehensive idiom, meant to imply asserting one’s autonomy.
“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasant for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate of it” (3:6). She also gave some to her husband, who likewise ate of it. In brief, resulting in paradise lost. So that they and their posterity would have to contend with adverse circumstances.
What are we to learn from this? For one thing, that we should not overreach. Now this strikes me as a rather strange caution, since I have been encouraged since childhood to excel. For instance, I sensed upon matriculating to college that some were more intelligent. Still, I was told that we employ only a portion of our potential. So I determined to compensate for any lack by increased endeavor. Qualifications aside, with resulting success.
Conversely, I do not recall being urged to underachieve. If failing to reach some goal, then with the realization that the effort was worthwhile. Which, in retrospect, seems as a rule to have been the case. While not warned that there might be a danger associated with presumptive enterprise.
How so? In this instance, in usurping divine prerogatives. An unwillingness to allow the Almighty to make the final determination. As if an unappreciative child of a benevolent parent, resulting in disobedience.
In greater detail, I have been reluctant to impose my opinion on others. Recalling the admonition, “Affirm what Scripture teaches, but otherwise be tentative.” Some have been critical of this approach, supposing I should be more forthright.
Other more subtle examples come to mind. On one occasion, I visited a communal group, which had devised an alternative to the traditional family unit. It consisted of separating the children according to age, apart from their parents, and under supervision. Parents were allowed quality time with their children over the weekend. Those involved were enthusiastic over the prospect.
Sometime later, I was informed that the experiment had failed. The children were returned to their parents, and an effort was being made to recover what was lost during the interim. While the corporate endeavor took a more realistic turn.
Colonialism appears to be another example of overreaching. As when one nation extends control over another. Perhaps with good intention, but not uncommonly with lingering problems. As more evident in retrospect.
Consequently, missionaries are advised not to impose their cultural orientation. Given three observations. First, any culture provides a means for embracing the gospel. While some are more amenable than others, more in some regards than others.
Second, no culture is without fault. It can be improved in some instance, and corrected in others. This is a task to be undertaken by native believers, allowing for the sage counsel of others.
Finally, most cultural features are not of moral consequence. Some studies estimate that over ninety percent fall into this category. All things considered, so that we ought not to impose our preferences on others.
In conclusion, we may err in opposite regards. Most obvious, we do not strive for excellence, and thus fall short of our potential. Less obvious, we may overreach— with adverse results. Thus while attempting to escape one dilemma, we fall prey to the other. In any case, in keeping with the pertinent observation: “Those who fail to learn from the past are destined to relive its failures.”
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