“The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it”
Some will take this as a sure indication of the fact that this story was written by a man. For it seems that from Day 1 (or, to be exact, from Day 8) the creation story focuses on the jobs that need doing, whereas if a woman had written it, surely the focus would have been on Adam and Eve getting their relationship right first!
Of course you don’t need to look too hard to find indications of a patriarchal bias in the Genesis stories, if you’re of a mind to look for such things. Certainly it has been suggested that the very fact that the man is created first in Genesis is a clear indication of the male-centered mindset of the story-teller. Of course, others have argued that the pattern of the creation story is that the best things get created last, which would suggest that woman is the crowning work of God’s creation.
Indeed, even the fact that Eve is depicted as being built from one of Adam’s ribs may be taken as suggesting only that this was the only worthwhile part that could be salvaged from the initial prototype, to be included in the upgrade version!
The truth is that we are dealing with a very ancient narrative here, and while generations of Bible- believing people have enjoyed speculating on what this very ancient narrative says about the proper relationships between men and women, it is my belief that the story itself is relatively uninterested in the battle between the sexes, and is far more concerned with the relationship between women and men and their creator, which is where I want to focus the rest of this reflection.
The Lord God, we are told, put the man in a garden, and He gave him a vocation, and He gave him a partner, and He gave them a prohibition – a ‘Thou shalt not’. Thou shalt not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Life is like that. We begin with lots of givens, lots of rules, lots of ‘Thou shalt nots’, not all of which we appreciate.
It would be nice, wouldn’t It, if we could have some control over our starting point in life – decide who our parents were going to be, where we were going to be brought up, or begin from some sort of neutral spot without set rules or any form of disadvantage, but life doesn’t work like that.
As the punk rock singer Richard Hell said, “its such a gamble when you get a face.” You don’t know whether you’re going to be pretty or ugly or pretty ugly. Or as that master of the fighting arts, Kon Pappy, says, “if you want to have legs like an athlete, the trick is to pick your parents very carefully.” Yet we can’t!
This is the curse I’ve always laboured under of course. I was born with the mind of the greatest middleweight boxer of all time, but sadly, with the legs of an academic.
Of course the ‘givens’ for Adam and Eve seem entirely ideal. They have a great house and a great job and a great relationship with the boss, or so it seems, and the prohibition doesn’t appear to be a problem to begin with. Why should it be?
Enter the snake:
“Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”(Genesis 3:1)
All of a sudden the command of God, which up to that point had been something that the garden dwellers just did, becomes an object of discussion – an option to be decided upon, and perhaps even an imposition that needs to be called into question.
Walter Bruegermann, in his Commentary on Genesis, points out that this is the first theological discussion that takes place in the Bible, and so he refers to the snake as the world’s first working theologian. Up to this point people have been talking to God. This is the first time that they start talking about God.
‘The serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die [if you eat of the tree]. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”‘(Genesis 3:4-5)
And so they eat, and so their eyes are opened. They know good from evil, and it turns out that they know too much – they know that they are naked!
Again, life is like that. This story does seem strangely familiar, does it not?
I suspect that all of us who have been parents will remember the time when our children first realised that they were naked. Perhaps some of you have a memory that goes all the way back to when you realised that you were naked.
It happens somewhere between five and ten years old if I remember. Up to that point children play happily together without any real awareness of the significance of clothing. Boys and girls take baths together. Nobody cares. And then something happens, and all of a sudden the child becomes quite intent on covering themselves.
It’s not shame, I think, so much as self-awareness. Am I right? I assume that it’s part of that process wherein the child first realises that her mother is not a simple extension of her own body, and then gradually realises that she is not only independent but vulnerable.
However we understand it, this awareness of nakedness, whenever it comes, is certainly a loss of innocence, and I always feel a little sad when this happens.
For there’s no going back once that awareness of nakedness sets in. Very few of us, at least, reach a stage later in life where we regain confidence in our bodies to the extent where we happily parade about in our birthday suits. And even if we do reach that point, I can’t imagine that we ever do so unconsciously like a child does.
I still have a strong memory of being on a boat somewhere, where an unhelpful old woman mildly chastised my daughter Veronica for the fact that her Barbie didn’t have any clothes on. She said,“Oh, your doll is a rudie nudie!” I remember that Ange and I were quite annoyed with the old woman, for Veronica was all of four years old I think, and so her Barbie was certainly not a ‘rudie nudie’. If she were 40 years old, and still had a collection of nude Barbies, we might start to ask questions, but at that point she was innocent of that whole field of awareness!
We lament the passing of innocence in our children, though we recognise that it is important too. For we know that ultimately our children need to be aware of their nakedness. Because in this world we live in, they are vulnerable, and until they are adequately aware of that, they will not be ready to protect themselves.
Adam and Even protect themselves by sewing fig leaves together, we are told, and by hiding. The fig leaves may have been of some value. The hiding strategy doesn’t seem to accomplish much.
“And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.
But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked?” (Genesis 3:8-11)
And the reply of both the man and the woman is, “it’s not my fault”. And so Adam and Eve compound their initial failure with an inability to accept responsibility.
At the risk of sounding repetitious, life is like that!
This again sounds awfully familiar, though as a parent I feel like we’re dealing with teenagers here rather than with infants. Indeed, there is much going on in the garden that has a contemporary teenage feel to it:
- The questioning of the wisdom of the parent
- The feeling that they have the right to know everything
- The refusal to take the command of the parent at face value
- The refusal to accept the boundaries that the parent puts in place to protect them
- And the inability to accept responsibility for bad decisions!
OK, maybe I’m just a little touchy in this area at the moment because of things I’m going through with my own family. That’s certainly possible. Even so, I find it hard to believe that the familiar nature of this story is simply coincidental. It seems to me rather that the story of the alienation of Adam and Eve from their creator that we read about in these early chapters of Genesis, does indeed mirror that very pattern of alienation between parents and children with which we are familiar, either because we’ve been through it with our own children or because we still remember putting our own parents through it (or both).
If that is so then it raises another very interesting question, namely:
Has the writer of Genesis simply based his story of the alienation of humanity from God on the pattern he sees operating in human society between parents and children?
No!, I believe the writer of Genesis would reply, if he were here to respond, but rather:
The ongoing cycles of alienation and estrangement with which we are all familiar, are in fact outworkings of that deeper and more fundamental alienation between human creatures and their creator. The rebellion and hostility that we experience within our human communities is a reflection of that more basic rebellion, not vica-versa.
Now I must apologise if I’m sounding very philosophical this morning. This is not my style, as you know, but this is a very ancient text, and it’s that sort of text.
It’s a text that is trying to communicate some very fundamental things about life on this planet. I don’t think Genesis chapters 2 and 3 are trying to tell us how to resolve the battle of the sexes any more than Genesis 1 is trying to give us a scientific account of how everything came to be here. But I do believe that this text is trying to bring home to us a number of fundamental truths. Let’s spit them out:
- That the world as we now experience it is not life as God intended it to be.
- That at the heart of the problem is the fact that we are alienated from our creator.
- That this alienation has been the result of our own human inability to respect the boundaries that God placed in our world for our protection.
- That we broke through these divinely set boundaries because we wanted to know too much! We weren’t content with innocence. We had to know good from evil!
And of course we still desire to know too much, because knowledge is power! In our day and age, in our increasingly voyeuristic society, where everyone believes that they have a right to know everything about every thing and everybody, these truths are as relevant today as they have always been!
Of course this is not to extol the virtues of ignorance either. The alternative to knowing too much in the Genesis story is not knowing too little. The opposite of knowledge in this context is not ignorance but trust.
Even so, there is no going back. There’s an angel with a flaming sword guarding the garden we’re told. There’s no going back to the good old days of blissful ignorance. We know too much and we have to live with what we know.
Even so, this is not the end of the story is it? This is the book of Genesis, and the rest of the Bible goes on from here to tell the story of how the loving parent works to re-establish His relationship with His rebellious children, at great cost to Himself. But lets leave our retelling of that part of the story until our celebration of the Eucharist, a little later in this service.
For the moment, let us be content with what we learn from this story in Genesis chapters 2 and 3.
This story reminds us that God is a loving parent, despite the fact that we are rebellious children.
We read this story and we know this story, because we have already walked this path ourselves, just as our forebears Adam and Eve walked it before us!
And just as we know the path of rebellion well, we know likewise what is required of us if we are to live as loyal and loving children:
- To show respect
- To accept boundaries
- To accept that fact that there are some things that we do not need to know
First preached by Father Dave at Holy Trinity Dulwich Hill.