Blogging the Bible with an Eye Toward Life:
Genesis Chapter 3: The Fall
I wrestled with what to write on Chapter 3 of Genesis. Like so many things in this world, the assumption the story is so well-known leaves it rarely seriously considered. I firmly believe we should give special attention to those things the world remembers across generations. The world aggressively forgets almost everything, with most people struggling to name family members only three generations removed. Songs, books, poems, movies, and any number of achievements our culture loves to declare historic will be expunged from the collective human memory in short order. As the author of Ecclesiastes writes:
“There is no remembrance of the earlier things,
And of the later things as well, which will occur,
There will be no remembrance of them
Among those who will come later still.” 1:11
When something survives the assault of time, we should ask, “Why?” Why did this stay with us across generations when almost everything else that ever happened fell from remembrance?
The Book of Genesis survives. The more I read it the easier it is for me to understand why. It is rich with human experience and wisdom, so rich in fact I must fight the temptation to write about things that don’t need my attention in this project. The world doesn’t need me to revisit ideas like the sin of man introducing death and all of creation suffering under judgement. This is not that post.
Two ideas struck me as being interesting topics for deeper consideration based on the narrow view of this project. Both center on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, or Good and Bad according to Leon Kass.1 Why would God include such a thing in the Garden to begin with and how did the knowledge of good and bad immediately change all future human relationships? Both questions explore what it means to make choices and face consequences and how our view of other human beings impacts those choices.
The Serpent Enters
(1) Now the serpent was more cunning than any animal of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God really said, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?” (2) The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; (3) but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.”
The serpent enters, and we are told he is cunning. The cunning being always has an end in mind and the talent to manipulate the world to reach that end. The serpent isn’t in the garden to converse, he is there to corrupt. The corruptor begins with a lie in the form of a question, a passive aggressive attack on God. “Has God REALLY said, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?” (Emphasis added) He frames the question in such a way as to shift the focus from the truth. God said the man and the woman could eat all the fruit in the garden except the fruit of one tree. The woman concedes this in her response, but with a previously unmentioned restriction; they cannot eat from that tree “or touch it…” Some commentators say this is an added admonition from the man since God told the man about this prohibition in Chapter 2 prior to the creation of the woman; Adam trying to strongly encourage the woman to stay away from that tree. Others see it as the first signs of the corruption of sinful rebellion. Whatever reason she has for adding “or touch it”, the serpent is on his way toward his ends. The woman isn’t thinking about all the things she can eat, but the tree she cannot touch.
(4) The serpent said to the woman, “You certainly will not die! (5) For God knows that on the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will become like God, knowing good and evil.” (6) 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 desirable to make one wise, she took some its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband with her, and he ate
Well, that didn’t take long. God gave man and woman everything with one exception. That exception limited the man and the woman according to the serpent and appeared enticing to the woman. The woman ate, and then her husband ate. God made a good world, gave man and woman a good home, filled it with good food, and like my ache for Chick-fil-A on Sunday, they fixate on the one thing they cannot have. The human condition exposed.
Why that Tree in that Garden?
Why did God put this tree in the middle of the garden? If I didn’t want my children to mess with something in my house, the easiest thing in the world is to not have that thing in my house. If the internet has taught us anything, kids will eat the marshmallow left on the table when you leave the room no matter what you promised to deliver when you return if they don’t. Human beings too often want what we cannot have, but we cannot have what we cannot access. Just don’t put the tree in the middle of the garden.
The story seems to affirm the freedom of the woman and man to consider good and bad already, at least minimally the good of obedience to God’s command against the bad of disobedience to God’s command. Man is made in the image of God, blessed to reflect the creator in the creation. If original man and woman were mindless simpletons incapable of choice, why did God have to command them to not eat that fruit at all? He appears to have created them with the ability to choose, then commanded them to choose wisely offering full consideration of the cost of disobedience, death. Disobedience brought end of their lives as he created them. So, if God knew they could choose the fruit of that tree, and in his divine omniscience knew they would choose the fruit of that tree, why give them access to that tree? Wasn’t that either cruel or stupid?
One speculation is that as free beings the tree of the knowledge of good and bad must exist with us in the garden. In God’s creation and plans for his image bearers, the tree of the knowledge of good and bad served a purpose. The tree wasn’t evil. The desire to sieze that knowledge in order to rise to God’s level in violation of his commands was evil. In this view, there can be no free beings without the tree in proximity. We are beings bound into a life with God, the Tree of Life, blessed to pursue his character and reflect him in his creation, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
In the book The Hiding Place, a young Corrie ten Boom asks her father Casper about sex. He places a heavy bag on the floor and asks her to pick it up. She cannot. He then encourages her that, just as she needs him to carry heavy objects until she matures to be able to lift them herself, she should trust him to carry that knowledge for her. In this view, God did not place the tree in the garden to mess human beings up like some twisted parent trying to entrap their kids into failure to entertain a zeal for punishing them. His image bearers and that tree come hand in hand, and his purposes will be revealed in time if only his creation trusts him. The serpent eroded that trust, but it wasn’t hard. No excuses should be made for the man as being tempted by the woman. The woman gave it to him, and the man ate. That is what we are told in Genesis 3. She didn’t badger him like Delilah did Samson. She gave it to him, and he ate it. Whatever God’s divine purposes were, the woman and the man chose to violate the only prohibition set on them at the urging of the serpent and joined the serpent in opposition to God. “You will become like God” and “the tree was desirable to make one wise” display the ambition behind the action. Rise above your station, and claim you place among the wise. Be worthy, as he is worthy. That motivation underlies taking the fruit, the only fruit in a world filled with fruit which God told man not to eat.
We are the kind of being for which the description of good choices and bad choices meaningfully applies. Moral and immoral, good and evil, these categories make sense in human reflection in a way that differentiates from the rest of the animal kingdom. Discerning right from wrong and understanding the consequences of those choices was a part of our story from the very beginning. As was a direct repudiation of our ability to morally deceive ourselves. Calling good evil and evil good has also been our practice from the very beginning. That tree belonged in proximity to man. Our rebellion, not the proximity, was the problem.
The Knowledge of Good and Evil and our Fellow Man
(7) Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves waist coverings.
Naked and afraid. It can be easy to breeze past this moment, but fear is no little thing. This is especially true when we are suddenly afraid of something it never occurred to us to be afraid of before. Our society faces an epidemic of fear and anxiety. Fear can be crippling, so I don’t want to miss this part of the story. The man and the woman are not merely ashamed; they are exposed in their nakedness in a world where evil has become immediately clear to them. Full knowledge of good introduces the idea of the consequences of the privation of good, consequences include shame, harm, and death. In verse (8) they hide from God. When he confronts them as to why they are hiding the man answers he was afraid because he was naked.
In the chapter addressing the Moral Argument for God’s existence in Douglas Groothuis’s book Christian Apologetics2, he begins with a story about how studying the Holocaust and Nazi atrocities sewed despair in the heart of philosopher Philip Hallie. I have heard reports of elevated risks of suicide in scholars who focus on this area of history. Knowledge of evil, true evil, is a difficult thing to carry. Mankind is capable of unimaginable brutality and cruelty. Seemingly ordinary people become the monsters in our history books when they entertain destructive notions about their fellow human beings. Slavery in the southern United States, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, Maoist China, Stalin’s Soviet Union, Hitler’s Germany, and the list goes on and on. Discovering the evil your fellow man is capable of can be a world altering moment.
The knowledge of good and evil can place us at unnecessary enmity with our fellow man. Other human beings suddenly become a threat to me, my way of life, and my resources. I know and understand other human beings in a manner not possible with animals. I know other human beings because I know myself. I know the darkness that can invade my spirit. I know my own ingratitude, my own selfishness, my own covetousness. Knowing that about me is knowing that about others. Paul summed humanity up in Romans 3. We are none of us good, no not one. When I rejected the bible in my youth, I labored under the misapprehension it provided an unrealistically positive view of human beings. Once I began to read it, I quickly learned it does not. Human beings are disobedient, shameful, afraid, and murderous in the first four chapters of the book. The man and the woman suddenly came to understand the nature of fallen humanity just as they created that state in their act of rebellion.
Back to Life
What does this have to do with life? We are easily deceived when self-deception promises to help us realize our desires. Knowing good and evil means being painfully aware the threats represented to our lives, not only life and limb but also threats to our resources and prosperity. To know good and evil is to understand the role others can and will play in our lives, how they can benefit us or frustrate us, save us or harm us, empower us or impede us. The story of The Fall defines us as creatures capable of making moral choices and the inescapable necessity of living with the consequences.
Chapters 1 and 2 of Genesis tell a story of creation, a story where human beings are set apart in the created order as capable of interacting with this world in ways no other created thing can, as the image bearers of God. Chapter 3 brings us down to Earth by exposing our ambition and willingness to use freedom to rebel. It introduces a new concept, the awareness of how things can go wrong in this world through our moral choices. We ought to tread lightly when offered arguments telling us the thing we ought never to do is acceptable to do as long as we sufficiently benefit from the action. That is not the voice of wisdom, that is the echo of the serpent. Finally, we were made to exhibit and recognize the image of God in our fellow man. Fearing human life, dreading human life, is a byproduct of the worst aspects of our nature.
Unfortunately, Chapter 4 continues the dark turn.
1 Leon Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003) 63-64
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