First Reading: Genesis 3.8-14
8They 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.
9But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” 10He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”
11He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” 13Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”
14The 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.
The early chapters of Genesis are some of the most controversial in the whole of Scripture. It’s not just the strange anti-science of creationists that bring this text into disrepute. Although it is worth pausing briefly to point out that a Creationist reading of the early chapters of Genesis is not just unscientific – it is barely literate. The story of creation is told twice in Genesis first from Genesis 1.1-2.3 and then again 2.4-3.24. You will recognise both stories, but you may not have recognised that they are different. In the first are the six days each ending with “and it was good.” the second has Adam and Eve.
In the first story God created humans (male and female together) after all the other animals; in the second, God made one man (“Adam”) and then created all of the animals in order to find a companion for Adam. God brought all of the animals to Adam, but none were good enough, so God made a woman from one of Adam’s ribs to serve his companion.
Any serious reading of the early chapters of Genesis show that the ancient people who created the text did not take the stories literally – they saw these two contradictory stories, and decided that both were worth preserving. They saw that these were parables of deep and profound and life-changing wisdom, not science or history.
But its not just confusion over science that has brought Genesis into disrepute. Valid feminist criticism has said that these texts are dangerous and damaging to women. In the creation narratives:
- woman’s subordinate status is reflected in her being created second
- woman is created to be a ‘helper’ to the man and cure his loneliness
- woman tempted man to disobey and so is responsible for sin in the world; she is also gullible and simpleminded
- woman is cursed by pain in childbirth
Our reading is the conclusion of the story, but at the heart of the story of Adam and Eve is a dialogue between the serpent and Eve… There is more to this story than meets the eye. For example, the serpent addresses the woman in the plural, she is seen as he spokesperson for the human couple and therefore spokesperson for the whole human race!
The serpent and the woman discuss theology. They talk about God. The theologian Phyllis Tribble describes the discussion “reveals her as intelligent, informed, and perceptive. [She is a] Theologian, ethicist, hermeneut, rabbi, she speaks with clarity and authority.”
But it is true that the woman is tricked. But it does not appear that Satan tempts the weakest of the couple – he tempts the one with brains, the one he knows the other will blindly follow.
Eve makes a mistake, but Adam is not the hero of the tale. Adam is a passive nonentity. The contrast that he offers to the woman is not strength or resolve but weakness. He isn’t a patriarchal figure making decisions for his family, he follows his woman without question or comment. She gives fruit to him, “and-he-ate.”
Eve is tricked by the serpent, by the Devil incarnate. The most cunning of the angels leads her to question God’s instructions. And to be fair the knowledge of good and evil is a step forward for humanity, albeit an uncomfortable one. Eve is led astray by Lucifer. What does it take to lead Adam astray? His wife saying “would you like a bite of my apple?”
When the mistake is revealed the woman takes responsibility for her actions, the man blames the woman and blames God. Adam is weak and wheedling, “the woman that you gave me” he says to God.
It is interesting to note that story does not even say that Eve ‘tempted’ Adam; Adam isn’t reluctant or hesitating, he doesn’t theologize, he doesn’t contemplate. Instead, his one act is eating: Eve offers and he munches without a second thought.
If this story deals in archetypes, the woman is intelligent, sensitive, and ingenious, the man is passive, dim-witted, and inept.
There is more than one way to read this text.
The story of he Fall is subtle and deep and in the best possible sense of the word it is ‘true.’
There never was an Adam there never was an Eve, and there certainly was no talking serpent. This is not a story about the past, it is a profound millennias old reflection on what it means to be human.
What is a human being? Are we good? Are we evil? Are we Animals? Are we angels?
This is what Genesis teaches us:
The deepest and most profound truth about humanity, is that we are good. We contain the ‘image’ of God. There is nothing so extraordinary in the world (and probably in the universe) than a human being. Yet we are not Gods, Genesis tells us that we are made of the same dust as the rest of creation. In modern terms, we are part of the same evolutionary process as giraffes and dolphins and dogs and cockroaches.
Another truth from the story is that the purpose of humanity is to “tend and care for” the Garden – we are created with a responsibility to care for the planet that we are part of.
But before this sermon becomes a party political broadcast for the Green Party lets get back to humanity.
Humanity is good, in God’s image. But (and it’s a big but!) Eve represents the brightest and best of humanity, and yet she goes astray.
There was one rule, and she broke it.
We are good, but we have a tendency to cock things up.
The Fall describes human alienation in a way that beggars the greatest talents of psychologists and sociologists. The human condition is described to a tee, and is as relevant today as it was nearly three millennia ago when it was first written, from an even more ancient oral tradition.
Humanity is good, but Fallen.
We all have the potential to be a St Francis or a Mother Theresa or a Gandhi. We are made of the same stuff as they were. They were people with the same doubts and fears and insecurities as the rest of us, but their lives shone with the brilliance of God’s image within them. Even they were fallen, St Francis had masochistic tendencies, Mother Theresa refused to look at the political reasons why people were in need, Gandhi was not a good husband. But they are heroes of faith and humanity. Looking at their lives we can hear God’s words echo over creation ‘and it was good.’
But then we are made of the same stuff as Hitler, and Stalin and Myra Hindley. We look at the devastation we have caused as a species, of the planet and of one another. Islamic State, the Inquisition, two world wars, the Holocaust.
It is a mistake to put these heroes and villains too far away from us. They are us. People just like you and me, yet their deeds for good or evil are extraordinary.
We are full of contradictions. Edward Young wrote;
“How poor, how rich, how abject, how august,
How complicate, how wonderful, is man!”
We human beings contain God’s image, but are Fallen. None of us live as we could. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “a man is a God in ruins.”
The image of God that we bear is tarnished, but it is still there. Most people never find it within themselves. “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” (Henry David Thoreau)
We are bogged down in our falleness, as we fall every day. We live in ‘quiet desperation’, the song of our true nature never sung.
The Fall is a skewing of perspective. God comes down to walk in the Garden with Adam and Eve and they are worried about what they are wearing!
Our perspective on life is distorted – we treasure what is worthless and ignore what is truly precious.
I close with a quote from Robert Fulghum about perspective:
“If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire, then you’ve got a problem. Everything else is an inconvenience. Life is inconvenient. Life is lumpy. A lump in the oatmeal, a lump in the throat, and a lump in the breast are not the same kind of lump. One needs to learn the difference.”