The Disaster Which Sets In
As we approach another foundational topic based on the early chapters of Genesis, we are confronted by an important question. Having seen that God created the universe and pronounced it “very good,” so good in fact, that a sabbath rest is envisaged, whence derives the horrid conditions in the world today? Why is there evil in the world?
The reading from Genesis chapter 3 does not attempt to answer this question philosophically or even theologically. Instead it shares a story based on the second creation account. I have chosen to divide the reading into four different scenes, but it could be divided in different ways.
SCENE 1 Setting the stage: First vv. 1-6: Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.” ’ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ 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.
The author[s] of this story are dealing with the dilemma in part attempting to set forth the reality of the failure of human community. While it is clear that earlier in the story it is not good for the earth creature to be alone; yet the animal kingdom could not satisfy the role of human companionship. As Phyllis Trible will argue: we do not have humanity until the woman is made and the celebration begins. “Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.“ They were naked and not ashamed. 2:25
Now conversation ensues. Remember that God had given to humanity freedom, permission to have and exercise careful dominion over the animal kingdom in a manner of caring like a shepherd. Here the crafty serpent begins the conversation and immediately gets into theology [talk about God]. Did God say you shall not eat of any tree in the garden? The implication being that the prohibition that humans are under is a huge problem. Eve corrects the serpent, No, we can eat of the trees in the garden, except for the one in the middle. That one we cannot eat or even touch [which of course God did not say], or we shall die. In other words Eve defends God. Now the serpent throws some caution to the wind and engages in a direct contradiction of God’s statement. YOU SHALL NOT DIE. What will happen when you eat, you will gain wisdom like God, knowing good and evil.
SCENE 2 CONSEQUENCES of their action: vv. 7-11 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ He said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.’ He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’
Notice the consequences: 1) Their eyes were opened and they knew they were naked. Now they are exposed to one another in ways that are totally new. Whereas before they were celebrating their sexuality which was a reflection of the divine image and were naked and not ashamed, now they are naked and afraid. Putting fig leaves together was a pathetic form of covering, but at least symbolically indicated some protection. Instead of joyful companionship, now their sexuality means vulnerability and possibly threat. There is an anecdote of a man visiting a famous art gallery with the painting of Adam and Eve and their fig leaves entitled “spring.” His impatient wife calls to him and asks: What are you waiting for? to which he replies: Autumn.
2) We no longer take limits into account, simply because we are unlimited. “if gods exist” says Nietzsche, how could I bear not to be a god.” quoted in Thielicke How the World began p. 175 Grasping for the wisdom of the knowledge of good and evil, they have now received it and realized that they have stepped outside the boundary of limits. As a result they have broken covenant with God who now becomes a subject of fear.
3) Therefore they are hide from God. However, God does not distance God from humanity. Walking in the cool of the garden God asks the question: Where are you? What tone of voice is in the asking, ADAM, WHERE ARE YOU? Is it SCREAMING [like a parent angry with his child for disobeying;] or is it more like a compassionate voice asking; Adam, where are you? Note the answer: I was afraid because I was naked. Interestingly God queries him further: Who told you that you were naked. Did you eat from the tree which was prohibited.
SCENE 3 OPPORTUNITY to come clean: vv. 12,13 The man said, ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.’ Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent tricked me, and I ate.’
NOTICE THE RESPONSES: God engages the humans; not the serpent. Of course the response is classic, and we have been doing it ever since. PASS THE BUCK. Instead of taking the opportunity for a full and free confession, the ‘Adam’ now enters into the blame game. The woman whom you gave to be with me, that I once celebrated, she gave me the fruit. Adam, you wimp, you mean you could not say ‘no.’ But when Adam says the woman YOU gave me, ultimately he is blaming God. Pointing the finger right through Eve to God.
The woman fares little better. She too could say, I foolishly did not exercise my God given gift of dominion having been created in the image of God, but rather blames the serpent: He tricked me. An opportunity has been freely given to humankind to come clean, to confess; to accept responsibility for their own actions, but the opportunity is not acted upon. Now it is God’s turn to act.
SCENE 4: THE CURSES vv. 14-19 The Lord God said to the serpent,
‘Because you have done this,/ cursed are you among all animals
and among all wild creatures;/ upon your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat/ all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike your head,/ and you will strike his heel.’
Some theologians have called this the protoevangelium. An early reference as to how God would resolve the matter. Remember no Jewish interpreter would never see this. The idea is that the Satan the adversary would strike at Christ on the cross, Bruise his heel, but as a result of Christ’s death, a final blow is struck against the head of Satan. In this story, the serpent is just that - a serpent and nothing more.
To the woman he said,/‘I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children,
yet your desire shall be for your husband,/ and he shall rule over you.’
And to the man he said,/ ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife,
and have eaten of the tree/ about which I commanded you,
“You shall not eat of it”,/ cursed is the ground because of you;
in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;/ and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face/ you shall eat bread
until you return to the ground,/ for out of it you were taken;
you are dust,/ and to dust you shall return.’
Finally I need to draw to your attention the curse that was placed on the woman in relationship to the man: yet your desire shall be for your husband,/ and he shall rule over you.‘
THIS DOES NOT REFLECT GOD’S WILL for creation, but rather represents a curse that is undone in Christ.
Paul says that in Jesus Christ we are no longer Jew/Gentile; male/female; bond/free. He makes all things new. We do not have to hide from God. In fact, God comes to us and calls us:
Adam where are you? Jane where are you? Harry where are you? Judy where are you? It is a call to acknowledge our humanity, one who has been given a vocation, enjoys incredible freedom, and is under an important prohibition, to know and live within the limits of creaturehood. In obedience to God, we discover what it means to be truly human.
One final word: AFTERWORD V. 20. The man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all who live. And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them. Their pathetic attempts at cover up were just that; a symbol of fear and hiding; but God clothes them a sign that God continues the relationship in spite of humanity’s failure. Is it well with your soul? Yes through Christ who graciously clothes us with his love.
Thanks be to God!