Genesis 3.8-15; Psalm 130; 2 Corinthians 4.13-5.1; Mark 3.20-35
Following the complex, rich, poetic stories of creation comes one this story...seemingly simple. A tree, a snack, man and woman, and a piece of fruit. Then God comes walking through the garden, and they are caught! But in what? Because of how this story has been told, interpreted, and treated throughout Christian history, most of us would answer this question of what the man and woman have done wrong by pointing to the bite of an apple. The moment of disobedience. Well, the text never says ‘apple’, just fruit. And any parent or teacher knows that moments of disobedience don’t occur in a vacuum. There are reasons people break rules, act out, make the wrong choices. They aren’t always good reasons, but the motivating factors of disobedience shouldn’t be ignored, both in our society and in our reading of scripture.
God begins the inquiry with the man. The text tells us that he blames his wife, and therefore, God, who gave him the wife to begin with. The story that many of us heard growing up, filtered through harmful interpretation, is that the man was coerced by the woman. She is the root of all our problems, the one who gave into temptation. The conversation happens between the snake and the woman, she sins, and then goes to fetch Adam (from wherever he is), and twists his arm (tricks him) until he eats as well. At least that’s how I remember the story. But that’s not what the text says. After the woman decides to eat the fruit, verse 6 says ‘she turned to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.’ He was with her. The whole time.
While it is getting better, this story has been used for millennia to degrade women and to blame half the world for all of the worlds problems. In reality, the man is with her throughout the entire conversation with the snake. He puts up no resistance, raises no questions, and considers no theological issues. He simply and silently takes his turn. The woman is not a temptress, they have both succumbed to the same source of temptation.
God’s inquiry then turns to the woman. The text says that she blames the snake. The story we have been told tells us that the snake is the devil, the snake is evil, the snake is tricky. But once again, we find that the story woven by the church can’t be backed up in the text itself. The snake is specifically named in verse one as ‘a wild animal that the Lord God had made’, not a spiritual or angelic creature. And if the snake is created by God, we know from the litany of the creation story in chapter one of Genesis, this must mean that the snake has been deemed by God as good, along with everything else created. We also notice that the woman is in no way afraid, surprised, or even concerned that a snake is striking up this conversation. In her world, conversations with snakes about God are not unexpected. The snake does not coerce her in any way, it simply asks her questions and presents other possibilities. The snake is not a villain in this story, just an observer and a conversation partner. The focus in the story is much more on the human response to the possibilities the snake presents, not the snake itself. The snake is a metaphor, for anything in all of creation that could distract or tempt us to choose a voice other than God’s.
So many of us have been taught this story as the moment where the sinful world begins. We can point back to this man and woman, as the source of ‘the fall’ as this story eventually became known. The fall - the moment where everything got screwed up, the first sin that began the existence of sin in the world. Interestingly, this story only began to be interpreted as ‘the fall’ long after it began being told, not until the 1st century BCE.
And from there, the historical interpretation and understanding has been spinning its wheels - focusing on blame, the vilification. Focused on this one moment where we fell down. Without this story, we would still be in paradise, right? Without this story, the world would be perfect.
Except God didn’t create perfect people. They (we!) are clearly capable of failure. God didn’t create a perfect world, but God did create a world which was then called ‘good.’ Good assumes considerable room for growth. Good means that there is room for change and learning from mistakes. Good means a rich and deep relationship between creator and created, whereas perfect would have meant a simple one. Good instead of perfect means dialogue, complexity, and struggle is valued by God over shallow and boring. Good is alive and dynamic, whereas perfect is dead and stale. God created a world where we are partners, not playthings, where there is value in struggle and the relationship can grow.
And so the first humans were not perfect, and neither are we. As a result of their choices they lose a lot - the story goes on to tell of the consequences of their choices - alienation, separation, and continued struggle against sin. They have lost a lot, but all is not lost. There is gospel and good news in the midst of this story of brokenness that is often overlooked.
This story reminds us God is always with us and God is real. The personified picture of the sound of God’s footsteps, voice, and breath brings God down to earth. When the man and woman sin, God could walk away or punish from afar, but instead God comes to them, comes to us. The fact that God stays involved shows how much God cares. If we continue to read this story, we will read of the moment in which God makes clothes for them as they prepare to leave the garden, a merciful and tender act. The original command - if you eat of this tree, you will die - isn’t what happens in reality. They don’t die. Their lives are changed forever and they must leave the garden. They struggle, they suffer, but they live...and God lives with them.
The first two chapters of Genesis teach us about God as creator. Chapter one shows us a powerful, careful creator. Chapter two shows us an intimate, hands on creator. And now, our understanding of the depth of who God is, is expanded in chapter three. We have been shown a forgiving, gracious God who sees flawed humanity and finds a way to redeem us in spite of our mistrust that leads to disobedience and blame.
There are times that we fear God’s wrath more than we trust in God’s love and forgiveness. The picture of the man and woman hiding from God reminds us that we are not the first to do so. God’s voice has, from the beginning, been so often drowned out by the voices of snakes, temptations, distractions. And while we many not be able to silence those other voices, we can choose to believe the voice of God instead. Sometimes we will succeed in doing so. Other times we won’t. But when we are hiding for guilt and shame, we will hear God walking our way, rustling leaves, staying connected and concerned, not distant and detached.
We are asked by God, just as the man and woman were, to be honest and take responsibility for what we have done. And that is one of the ways God can make good out of the mess that is our sin. We are given the chance to learn from our mistakes, to get back up, to try again. Sin is costly, but the price is not our death, and God’s grace is free.