I am working on something new about Slander. Here is a draft of a chapter:
The Fact of Slander
Did God actually say?
The first recorded words of any creature are found in Genesis 3:1, “Did God actually say ….” And so, the like the trouble at the beginning of a movie, the plot of history was set into motion.
All our history begins with slander. It’s right there in the Book. And so, it is strange that we fail to understand its danger. It comes so easily to us, that often it seems invisible. Therefore, our first task will be dig it up and drag this slimy beast into the light and look upon its glistening, hideous form.
God create the earth, the sun and moon, the stars also. God created a universe of unimaginable beauty which stretches out in space and time beyond all comprehension. We assign numbers to the years and the numbers to the distance which those with knowledge have sought to calculate, but those number cannot mean anything real to us. We can understand a mile, a year. But who knows what it means to say millions of miles, which can get us to the Sun. But what if you merely wished to go to the nearest star beyond the sun Alpha Centuri, which (I am reliably informed) lies 4.37 light years away. A light year being 5.88 trillion miles. Do the math, it’s a big number. But it means nothing real. What is a trillion in reality? There are more than 3,000,000 seconds in a year. A billion is a thousand million. So, it would take nearly 32 years to reach a billion seconds. A trillion is a thousand billions.
The universe is unimaginably large. And everywhere we look, it is drawn with colors and shapes which make the most ragged galaxy torn to shreds by an unseen vortex of gravity a sight of beauty.
Yet, we do not live among the stars. We live on earth. And earth once was a place unimaginable perfection. God planted a garden, the Garden. Water flowed always into this place, drawing from the fount of Eden itself. The Garden must have been a profusion of beauty and well of delight. The ground which now grows rank with thorns then blossomed with fruit.
Look where you will and there was life and hope and peace and joy.
And we were not alone. Our parents lived with that perfect person we flatter ourselves to be, to deserve. There they stood, the image of the very God who laid out the stars in their course, shining with the glory of that God. There were our parents in a world which displayed in every place the glory of God without hint of sin or judgment.
Yet, that world for all its beauty is not ours today. We no longer live in that Garden, even though the recollection of that Garden continues to haunt our world. The memory is there, in dust, persisting. Even Death Valley, that blistering gouge which runs through the desert beneath the mountains and on the edge of the Great Basin, even that land of rock and merciless sun contains a memory of Eden. When the rain comes after a decade of absence, the valley floods with flowers, yellow and white and purple and red raised upon green stalks pushing through the sand and rock, making a stand for a few, too few days.
But death returns, the flowers wilt in the sun, the stalks crumble, and again there are miles upon miles of crushed rock in every direction.
We are no longer there. But the memory of that world persists in our imagination just as it does in the ground. Why else do we long for a world we have never seen? We are we shocked when we hear of death, when what is more certain than death? Why are we stumbled to learn that the entire universe is becoming unwound, when all that we know from experience is that all vain, all is futile, all is always coming undone.
Why do we look for love in a world which turns most easily to hate? Why do we wish so badly to be remembered, when we ourselves forget a friend who has merely moved to another city? Why do we look for friendship on a world where even Jesus was betrayed?
Why did God put eternity in our hearts? Eccl. 3:11.
How did we suffer such loss? To fall from the universe being our dominion, to creatures who are felled by a virus we cannot see? A scratch can kill us with infection. A fall can break our bones. How did creatures made to display the image of God turn so quickly to image our bitter, selfish fears and lusts?
What did we do to suffer such loss. What crime could upend the very creation? What act, what words could institute a reign of confusion, a world so upside down that even the “just and righteous” Job would complain
The arrows of the Almighty are in me
My spirit drinks their poison
The terrors of God are arrayed against me.
Adam you will say, and so we lay blame. But Adam had already sought to foist his guilt onto our mother Eve. And Eve in turn pointed to the Serpent. What then did this Serpent do? Surely, he performed some extraordinary action.
The only thing the Serpent did was talked.
Something in those words packed enough power to upend the order of creation. Something in those were the lever which moved the seemingly unmovable good and happiness of the Garden. Think of this: the sorrow of all history began here. When we stand near a bed and hear the wheezing gaping for air of someone we love not gaining another breath, that sorrow began here.
Why? How did this set all our sorrow into motion? Why does the wicked live a life of ease and the child who does not good or bad dies in the arms of his mother?
The Serpent spoke.
Parade every evil, every loss, ever tear, every sleepless night of anxious watch, every horror, every soul crushing depression, every prisoner, every betrayal, every crime, every every every grief.
At end of King Lear, the foolish king has come to see that he understood the world all wrong; that he had believed the lies told by his daughters and had believed a lie about his sweet Cordelia, when he holds his daughter who has died because he believed a lie, he says
No, no, no life?
Why should a dog, a horse, a rat have life,
And thou no breath at all? Thou ’lt come no more,
Never, never, never, never, never.—
There is a lie in the heart of sorrow. There is a seed which grew into the hideous beast of human suffering. Ask the slave from where comes his sorrow. Ask the kidnap victim from where comes her fear. Ask the child who father lies dead in the rubble of battle, a bullet in his head, where comes your life without his care?
What we always hope to do is to turn our face from looking at these things. But for now, grab ahold of your own sorrows, your own fears, and ask firmly, where did all these monsters come from? What pit spewed this rancid mess upon life?
And then ask why do I still sometimes hear the murmuring song of Eden? How can life be such a mix of sorrow and hope? If Eden is true then whence comes this pain? Here is the event”
3 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.
He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And 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 midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, 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 themselves loincloths.
Genesis 3:1–7. What in this story starts the ball rolling downhill? Slander. The first recorded words of any creature a simple slander,
Did God actually say
We will get to his slander of God, but the Serpent begins with the slander of Adam. Slander is a simple shiv that goes between the ribs of friendship and separates the bonds of love.
God had told Adam, before Eve had been given to the world, that one tree was to be God’s alone and that Adam was not to eat from it. Adam must have told Eve out of his love for her and his obedience to God. She knows the command and repeats it to the Serpent.
And so the Serpent’s first words are, Look at that man, Adam. Is he telling you the truth? Did God really tell him about this tree? Can you really trust him? He lied to you. Eve puts a protest, but it is too late. She has listened.
Slander is a vicious thing. Should it enter the ear, it will slide into the heart. You cannot stop it. Like a malignant parasite it will fasten on your thoughts and suck dry the lifeblood of your home. It will burrow into the recesses of your mind, it grotesque claws, and blind eyes will see a way to unnerve your friendships.
It is a thief so subtle that it will steal the treasures of a lifetime, and you will fill the thief’s sack and his slobbering jaws beg for more. Mesmerized you will say to him, “Take my wife, my child, my husband, my cousin, my father, my mother, my friend, my job, my trust, my hope, take all of my love and all that I have spent my life building, take them all for you know best.” We will exchange the truth for a lie, we will empty our soul of all friends to satisfy a slander.
Oh, and slander is a clever devil. It begins here, wearing the badge of simple desire for truth. The Devil did not begin, God lied. The Devil began, Did God really say? Did Adam really get this straight? The con does not begin with send me all your money. The con always begins with trust me.
The door having been cracked on, slander marches on. Eve repeats to the Serpent the command she heard, but it is changed. The command was not eat, but she adds, “nor touch.” Perhaps that simple addition was not Eve thinking hard thoughts of God, but it does signal a shift. A brick has been displaced even if the tower has not yet fallen.
But there is something even worse which has taken place: Eve listened. Eve is considering the words of the Serpent.
Had Eve stuffed her ears and rejected the Serpent she would have been safe. Like Joseph, she should have darted from temptations presence. But she did not. And when temptation makes its way past the door, the damage is underway:
12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
James 1:12–15. When slander slides into the heart it sets up its desire, and that desire now leads you along.
Think of it: You have heard a rumor, you have been asked a question, you begin to distrust. How that distrust eats at you. The poison of those first words will rot out friendships, ruin marriages, destroy homes.
The poison of the Serpent’s first words have destroyed our world.
The Serpent moves from the subtly of questioning to the outright slander of lies:
You will not surely die.
You think you can hear the slander and digest the slander and live out the slander and you will be unhurt. Slander certainly cannot hurt you, by just hearing. Jesus draws a bright line from the Devils lies to the murder of humanity:
You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
John 8:44. To be a liar and to be a murderer: there is slander. It is the murder of another. It is nothing less.
The Serpent says you will not die. And so the Devil murders Eve. And Eve and then Adam turn the knife upon themselves and murder themselves and cast themselves away from their dearest friend and benefactor, the God who made them.
You have lost a friend. You know those who have lost friends. You have believed untruths about others. You have spoken untruths about others. You have not been careful with the reputation of others, when you listened to something spoken from cruelty (even when spoken to be just or right or helpful or whatever other miserable excuse you concoct). When you listened, you had blood on your hands. When you spoke, you had innocent blood on your hands.
When Adam took from Eve and ate, he believed the slander of God and killed himself. This archetypal sin is etched into our hearts always too quick to bend to sin.