Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
The passage popularly imagined as “The Fall” is often portrayed as a dramatic plunge from the perfection of Eden to the depravity of sin. The reality of the story is a little less cinematic–the result may be cataclysmic, but the episode is… well, not.
Where the lectionary picks up, God has created the a-dam, breathed life into the man who is created of earth. We join the story as God places him in the garden, amid all the rest of the creation, with a charge to “till and keep it.” From the moment Adam steps into the garden, God planned fellowship and cooperation. The Imago dei lives through partnership and care for the creation.
“You may eat freely of any tree of the garden,” God tells the man. “But the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for the day that you eat of it you shall die.” (NRSV) God grants wide and sweeping permission–with one exception, but the permission is key. The a-dam is offered bounty. He is given choice, and freedom, and provision in an extravagant way.
We so often see God as a God of rules, laws, and regulations. It is through this lens that we often see God’s restriction on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil–we concentrate on the exception, not the lavish nature of God’s permission. And when we focus on the limitations God demands, what does that say about our view of God?
In chapter 3, God has created woman for the man, a partner equal in strength and power, because it is not good for the man to be alone. We can assume that Adam shared both God’s provision and restriction with the woman, for when the serpent approaches her, it addresses her from a position that requires the woman’s understanding of God’s instructions.
“Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden?’” (NRSV)The serpent truly was more crafty than any other wild animal because the reasoning behind this question is quite slippery. No, God did not say that. God said the exact opposite. However, with this one simple question, the serpent twists God’s permission into a prohibition, introducing a false picture of God to the woman–a God that is restrictive, instead of the generous God that we see throughout the creation story.
The woman answers truthfully–with an addition. “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.’” (NRSV) From the text, God made no restriction to touching the tree–not in God’s instructions to Adam in chapter 2:17.
The God the serpent introduces is the God that would want the extra addendum–no touching. The God of regulations and pointless limitations. Not the generous God that has given all of the trees in the garden. The woman uses hyperbole — “we can’t even touch it or we’ll die!” — and in that hyperbole, she feeds the serpent’s innuendo about the character of God.
“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.”
The serpent introduces the woman to the concept that God is not to be trusted. The woman is beginning to believe the serpent’s story: God is holding out on humanity. God is keeping something from them out of selfishness and greed, and God knows it. God is afraid to give humans the knowledge, and God’s threat–death–is meaningless. The serpent is reinforcing a narrative of God that is contrary to what the creation story tells about God and God’s character.
The man and the woman eat the fruit. They succumb to the temptation to become wise–to become like God. They believe the serpent’s picture of God–untrustworthy, restrictive, and selfish. They buy into a story that says they do not have enough. They become afraid to be less than.
Immediately, they see their nakedness. Immediately, they feel shame. They feel less than. They feel open and violated, unprotected and unsafe. They have bought into a false story, a story that prioritizes scarcity and fear, and they are ashamed.
At the beginning of this commentary, I said that “The Fall” is not the cinematic cataclysm that our culture made it to be. It’s important to remember that. If it’s a punch-you-in-the-face event, if it will bowl you over, if it is an evil aberration: then it’s easy to avoid. It’s easy to avoid the mass-murder-genocide type sins. But the sin of the fall is not calamitous. It is mundane. Every day. That’s what makes it dangerous.
“The Fall” is about mistrust. Selfishness. Fear. Scarcity. Not being or having “enough”. It’s about everyday temptations and anxieties. Most of us don’t have to worry about great evils furthering our separation from God. All of us have to be aware of how our everyday insecurities can separate us. Our insecurities and anxieties are not inherently “sinful” — desiring knowledge and wisdom is not inherently “sinful”. However, when those anxieties cause us to lose sight of God, to lose sight of the abundant, generous, loving, trustworthy, safe, creator God… That is what causes rift in relationship. That is what is dangerous.
Postgraduate student at Nazarene Theological College in Manchester, UK