Adam and Eve: A great story and so true!
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’
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. 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.
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.
Then the Lord God said, ‘See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever’— therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.
Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7, 20-24
This story comes with some theological and cultural baggage. Not least is its use to justify the subordination and domination by women. Eve was frequently referred to during the persecution of women in the ‘witch’ trials.
Even today I occasionally hear this story being mis-quoted by some who would discriminate against sexual minorities. “God made us Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” Whenever scripture is being used to justify exclusion then one can be pretty sure scripture is being misapplied and misused.
Despite this terrible legacy this story has profound insights into life.
I don’t believe in original sin in a literalist way. I don’t think ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve’ are historical people. There is no garden of Eden in modern day Iraq whose entrance is protected by a magical, flaming sword. This is a myth, a story with many meanings. Interestingly, neither does Judaism believe in original sin. Indeed for Judaism this is a minor story. There is no other reference to this story in the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament).
But what the story does convey is the very real truth that one person’s action can have consequences for others. Indeed these actions can have a ripple-like effect that can continue into future generations. We know this very well. Our adult behaviour is shaped by the behaviour we observed from our parents and others when we were infants and children. We know the devastating, long-term psychological damage that abusive behaviour has on people. We know that severe violence on communities can create harm and suffering for generations. And we are also aware of how responsible behaviour, positive parenting, and peaceful and healthy environments can bring transformation and healing, even to those who were previously traumatised. The story of the ‘Adam-man’ and his ‘Eve-partner’, illustrate this truth.
But hurts can be healed, and that is the other side of the story that Christianity sort to illustrate in Jesus.
The oneness of humanity is a positive belief behind the story of Adam and Eve. The story assumes we all are one family, with one common ancestor. This is a great truth, even if it is not literally true. We are one humanity and we belong to one another. Before we were British or Chinese or Indian or any other nationality, before we were Buddhist, Christian, Agnostic, or of any other faith-belief, we were human, as CS Lewis put it in the Narnia Chronicles we are all ‘Sons of Adam & Daughters of Eve’. And the same can be said of our career choices, education, abilities, sexual orientation, and family situation.
For the first followers of Jesus this was a story that connected with Jesus. St Paul saw in Adam a precursor of Jesus. Jesus was another Adam, not the founder of the human race, but the founder of a new humanity where all ethnic and religious boundaries were overcame. This breaking down of boundaries included any lurking alienation from God. For St Paul, Adam’s actions represented death, not in a literal sense (Paul was a first century Pharisee and would have believe in heaven) but in representing everything that creates harm, pain, violence and alienation. Christ, by comparison, represented life, in as much as all of Jesus life was in obedience/harmony with the will of God; healing the outcast, restoring people to community, breaking down divisions within society, challenging the powerful to be responsible in protecting the vulnerable and not exploiting their weakness, and teaching about God’s goodness, compassion, forgiveness and urgent desire for reconciliation.
This is one of the great contributions of the Christian religion to humanity. Yes, there is terrible violence and division in our world and yes, people are harmed and wounded by it and yes, some people are down-right selfish. But violence can be stopped and prevented, divisions can be overcome, hurts and wounds can be healed and selfish behaviour modified and changed. Christ has led the way. Christ’s way is the way of God. God is spirit and present among us and within us. We can be saved from all this. The ‘sin’ of Adam can be healed by the love of God in Christ.
You don’t need to have a literalist understanding of the bible to see the truth of this. You just need to look at the world. You just need to see the difference Christ made to those he met. You just need to seek to live in the spirit of Christ today. And believe it or not, church is where all this is happening. Check it out!