In the world of the serpent, the morning stars sing a dirge, the hosts of heaven murmur, and creation only groans beneath the dictatorship of the Almighty Ruler. In such a world, Adam and Eve had only two options. They could, like the prodigal, disobey their God and run from their Father’s garden. Or they could, like the older brother, sacrifice their pleasure on the noble altar of obedience. “Either rebel and be happy — or obey and be miserable.” This was the serpent’s offer (Genesis 3:4–5).
There are at least two ways to please the devil when it comes to the pursuit of holiness. The first way, of course, is to run from holiness altogether — to flee, with the prodigal, to the far country of this world, away from the Father’s home (Luke 15:11–13). The second way, perhaps even more dangerous than the first, is to pursue holiness (or what we imagine holiness to be), and yet not be happy about it.
We may call this second way older-brother Christianity. Like the elder son in Jesus’s parable, such people follow the Father’s rules with a sigh (Luke 15:29). Their holiness is all pursed lips and sober glances. “Such is the cost of righteousness,” they remind themselves. “We must relinquish pleasure on the path to heaven, you know. Holiness, not happiness, is the true good.”
“What virtue!” some may exclaim. “What uprightness! What self-denial!”
What a sham. Older brothers, for all their outward purity, are still in the grip of the serpent’s ancient lie. They have been deceived, along with our first parents, to live in a world of the devil’s own making: a world where our Father wears a frown, where heaven has no laughter, and where holiness is ultimately a sacrifice. As long as we live in such a world, we will miss the feast that our Father has prepared (Luke 15:22–28).
If we want to rid ourselves of older-brother instincts, and pursue holiness in a way that shames the devil, we would do well to return to the garden and listen again to that first lie.
Song of the Morning Stars
When the serpent approached Adam and Eve in the garden, he knew that only a lie could put the forbidden fruit into their hands. Only a lie could somehow convince them that they were the slaves of a stingy God. Only a lie could do the trick because reality, as always, was not on Satan’s side.
For when God first breathed the oceans into being, and lit the stars like candles, and filled mountain fields with wildflowers, no sigh could be heard in all heaven and earth.