March 9, 2014: Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7

March 9, 2014

 Year A, Lent 1                                                                             
            I have a bumper sticker that says: “God’s original plan was to hang out in a garden with a bunch of vegetarians.”  The main reason I love that bumper sticker is because I am a vegetarian and I get sick of people telling me that Jesus ate meat, so I should too.  No one ever tried to convince me that crucifixion is a good idea because Jesus did it, but that’s beside the point.  There are a lot of misconceptions about the Genesis reading for today.  Usually when a story in the Bible is famous you can be sure that there will be copious amounts of misconceptions and misinterpretations.  The story of Adam and Eve’s defiance of God is one the most well known in the Bible and therefore one of the most misunderstood as well.     

Often you will hear this story referred to as “The Fall.”   Just until recently, I would have been pretty comfortable referring to it that way.  But as I studied the story more and read more commentaries, I started to wonder, what are they falling from.  One would assume that if you are to fall, you have to fall from something.  Some people claim that they were falling from grace, perfection or innocence.  The common theology of “The Fall” is that humans were created as perfect and sinless, but that was destroyed by the disobedience of Adam and Eve. The Fall was considered to be the source of original sin, which attached to humans at birth, or even conception. 
            I find it hard to believe that God’s original plan was to have this perfect world with perfect people and that perfectly planned world would be so fragile that one act of disobedience would ruin it all.  If his original plan was that precarious, why put a forbidden fruit in the garden in the first place?  It seems like an unlikely original plan.  It sounds more like a lesson about our relationship with one another, our relationship with our self and our relationship with God.

            Nowhere in the text does it say that Adam and Eve were perfect.  It says that they were good, just like the rest of creation.   The text also says that man and woman were made in the image of God.  One can understand how we would get perfection and sinlessness from the image of God.  God is perfect.  God is sinless.  But man and women are not made as God.  We are made in the image of God.  We reflect God’s goodness (on our good days) but we are not the source of goodness.  There is a difference.  

            So what is it that we fell from?  Did we fall from goodness?  God was displeased with Adam and Eve.  There is no doubt about that.  He banished them from the garden.  Yet he never took away that goodness.  He never said, “Now you are bad and you must spend the rest of your life proving that you aren’t as bad as I think you are.”  That would be a fall and it would be tragic. That would be proof that God’s original plan had gone awry.  God’s is too wise to settle for such a simple plan. I believe that the plan that God has for us is a plan that slowly unfolds as we grow in faith and in wisdom.  It is a plan that develops and evolves with us. 

            One of the things that changed immediately after they ate from the tree of good and evil is that they realized that they were naked.  When they heard God approaching they hid because they were naked.  They claimed that they did this because they were afraid.  A lot of people have taken this realization and this admission of fear and connected it with shame or sexuality.  I don’t think it is either of those things.  I think that for the first time, they realized that they were vulnerable and their immediate reaction was to cover up, which is what most of us do when we are vulnerable.  We try to put up a wall so people won’t see our vulnerability, or worse yet take advantage of our vulnerability.  

            Perhaps the fall was not a fall from grace, perfection or sinlessness, but a fall from security and independence.  Before they disobeyed God they were completely secure in who they were and whose image they were made in.  But something changed when they disobeyed God.  Suddenly, they cared about what other people saw in them.  They saw something inside themselves and in one another besides the image of God and that frightened them.  They were dependent on God just as they had always been, but now they feared that dependence, just as many of us do.

            God punished them by kicking them out of the garden where they had plenty of food that was easy to harvest.   But he also made sure that they were provided for.  They were not kicked into a barren wasteland.  They were put in a place where they were caring for the earth as they were before, but this time it was hard work…work that they resented.   Adam would have to toil for their food now.   Eve would still be a mother, but that motherhood would come with pain.  The relationship between man and woman would be skewed.  They were no longer equals as they were in the garden.  It is clearly a punishment, but it’s also a life that most of us can empathize with and it’s usually pretty manageable. 

Then God did a funny thing, a thing that is easy to overlook in such a juicy story.  God made them clothes.  He could have left them with their fig leaves, but he wanted them to have something more. He wanted to protect them, not only from the perceptions  of others, but presumably from the elements like cold and rain that might not have been part of the Garden of Eden.  Our God who we see only as a punisher in this story takes the time to make them clothing.  When we see pictures of this story, we see an angry God staring down from the heavens with a cowering Adam and Eve below.  It’s always a little scary. It would be nice to see a picture of Adam and Eve on the outside of the garden with God beside them sewing them some clothes.  That would be a different kind of picture, but just as accurate, if not more.

Adam and Eve get a bad rap because of this story, especially Eve.  Yet all we really have is two people who wanted to know more.  They wanted to be like God.  While the serpent promised they would be more like God if they ate the fruit, all they really got was the recognition that they were naked and vulnerable, that they were not at all like God.  This story is never referenced by God later in the scriptures.  God never looks at humanity and says, “Well if only they had not eaten the fruit.”  God never made a comment like, “Well I should have known this would happen; they were bad from the start.”  God never stopped considering humans good.  The real fall was that we stopped trying to be good because we thought we were a lost cause.  And if that is the case, then it was quite a fall indeed.  As long as God doesn’t give up on us, we definitely can’t give up on ourselves.  God’s plans might have changed, but God’s love for us never does.