The BBC recently featured an interview with Toronto artist Gillian Genser, headlined: ‘How a sculptor’s artwork slowly poisoned her’. Genser was experiencing headaches, vomiting, hearing loss, confusion and suicidal thoughts. But she never suspected it was coming from the sculpture, which was made only of natural materials.
For years, doctors were baffled by what was afflicting her. They asked if she was working with anything toxic, and she assured them she wasn’t. They prescribed antipsychotics and antidepressants, but nothing seemed to help. Finally, she saw a specialist who tested her blood for heavy metals and found high levels of arsenic and lead in her system. She was shocked, but still confused — how had she ingested those dangerous compounds? Finally, she talked to one doctor who was horrified to hear that she had been grinding up mussel shells for the past fifteen years. She had no idea that mussels can accumulate toxins over years of feeding in polluted waters.
And the most fascinating thing about the story is who the sculpture was meant to be. It was Adam, the first man. Genser recognised the irony herself. She said: ‘It’s very interesting and ironic that Adam, as the first man, was so toxic. He poisoned me. Doesn’t that make sense?’
And it makes perfect sense, because that is what Adam, the first man, did to all of us. He poisoned us. He rebelled against God – and we are contaminated by that rebellion.
For a long time Genser didn’t suspect that her poisoning came from the sculpture of Adam. And we too don’t suspect that our sin comes built in. We blame society, education, our up-bringing. We believe the myth that people are basically good. And because of that misdiagnosis, we prescribe ourselves the wrong cure.
One of those wrong cures is the outward forms of religion. Going to church, taking communion, giving money, doing good works. They’re all good things – but are helpless to cure the underlying problem.
The message of the Bible however is that a second Adam – Jesus Christ – has come to cleanse us from this in-built corruption, as well as all the other poisonous thoughts, words and deeds we add to it during our lives. It doesn’t mean those who trust him will be perfect. Like Gesner, we will suffer the effects of Adam’s poison for the rest of our lives – but it will no longer define us forever.
Published in the Stranraer and Wigtownshire Free Press, 14th February 2019