Everything in this section is extremely vital but the fall of mankind is vital because it is supposed to answer one of our most fundamental and basic questions – why is there evil in the world? Why is life so hard? Why is there pain, why is there death? How can a God who is good allow such horrible things to happen in his world? The answer to these questions is in this story. Whether or not you find it a satisfactory answer… well, that’s a little different.
I have heard the fall referred back to probably millions of times in my lifetime. It was used to explain everything from poor behavior on the part of individuals, to organizations, to the church (I realize the church is also an organization but we saw it as something more), to natural disasters. When this choice had been made, thousands of years ago, our earth had literally broken and we had been paying the price for it ever since.
I was assured that God suffered, that he wept over the state of our world and our people. I was assured that he didn’t want things to go this way. Of course, being God he also knew things would go this way and that was a confusing conundrum that I just didn’t think about that much. The point was that this was our answer. This was our answer to everything. God created us not as puppets but as beings with free will, given the opportunity to love him freely. We rejected that opportunity and we have been paying the price for it every day of our lives ever since. In case we thought that was unfair it was always pointed out to us that we would have done the same. No one would have done any better than Adam or Eve, we were always going to make that choice. Of course, if that’s the case, if we were all flawed from the beginning, then was it really a flaw? I thought God created us perfect.
Shhh. Don’t ask so many questions. The point of the story is to know it, not to question it. This is what explains human suffering. This is what explains why it is your fault, why it is all of our faults, why God loves us anyway. This story is, ultimately, a story of love. Somehow.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
4 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”
10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”
12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”
13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”
The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
14 So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,
“Cursed are you above all livestock
and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
and you will eat dust
all the days of your life.
15 And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring[a] and hers;
he will crush[b] your head,
and you will strike his heel.”
16 To the woman he said,
“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.”
17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”
21 The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. 22 And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us,knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” 23 So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side[e]of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.
One of the most interesting things to me in reading this now is something I was talking to David about last week. There are a lot of things we are told about the Bible growing up that I read into it now. I was told that the serpent was the literal devil taking flesh, even though there is absolutely no mention of that or even implication of that in the text. One of the common mythology things I was told was that Adam and Eve walked with God every evening, that they were in relationship with God so it was significant that they ran away from him. But again, there’s no evidence of that here. It just says they heard him and they hid. Maybe he came down once a month or once a year, after all there’s no mention of how long they’ve been here. Truth be told, nothing about this story (and again, I’m going to pretend to take it as literally as I was taught to for the sake of argument) implies that they have some kind of intimate and loving relationship. But I was told that and so I used to read it that way. It’s just that it’s not there. And if you want to read a fairy tale as literal, the least you can do is actually read it as literal.
See, I was told this story was proof that God loved us but this is the story that actually compelled me to write this series to begin with. Because someone read it at a conference and all I could think was how screwed up this was. Never mind that God stacked the deck against them, that apparently part of the whole message of this story is that curiosity and maybe even growing up is bad. This is a deeply troubling relationship with anyone, it certainly doesn’t speak of someone I would love or trust.
It was always explained to me that we were kicked out of the garden to protect us, so we couldn’t eat of the tree of life and live forever now that we were in this fallen state – it was actually an act of mercy. Let’s pretend that that’s true for a moment, as if the God who poofed the whole thing into existence to begin with couldn’t grab the tree and pull it right out of the garden or whatever he needed to do. There is nothing in the rest of this that is merciful or kind or loving. If I make a mistake with someone I love, even if I do something wilfully wrong, I tell them because I care about them and I (hopefully) know that they care about me. And if I am in a trusting relationship with someone, do you know what their reaction is not going to be? “I am going to not only punish you for the rest of your life for this single infraction but your children and your children’s children until the end of time. I am going to curse you.”
But God could do that. Because he was God. Because he was angry that his perfect little children hadn’t done as he ordered. He makes them clothes by killing animals in front of them (possibly pretty traumatic given that that had never happened before and again, imagine that, “Well, I wouldn’t have had to kill this creature you’ve been taking care of if you had just listened to me“) and he curses her childbirth and her relationships. He curses his livelihood and the earth he has presumably grown to love and says This is your fault. This is what happens when you disobey me. Punishment is meant to be instructive, not harmful. Is there any way that these two, essentially children in many ways, could have stumbled out into this new and much harsher world and have been anything but traumatized and frightened? Terrified of what this God could do? This God who, incidentally, didn’t give them clear instructions this time. He’s cut them off. What if they do it wrong? This could happen again. Who knows what such a being could be capable of?
I was told this was a story of love, a story of how we broke the world but God loved us anyway, God would still save us someday. But all I see here is trauma and abuse. I’ve heard those words in too many stories from too many people.
Look what you’ve done. Look what you’ve made me do. How dare you challenge me? I’ll make sure that next time you’ll be too afraid to disobey again.
You know what the common theme in all those stories has been? It’s not about love. It’s about power.