Pilgrims from Paradise:
In recent podcasts we’ve been taking a look at foundational teachings of the Christian Faith through the eyes of what we have identified as God’s ultimate desire for humankind, which is expressed by the Lord Jesus Christ very clearly in the 17th chapter of St. John’s Gospel, where he teaches in his prayer that God longs for us to become one with God and one with each other in the way that the Father and the Son are one. Looking at the essential teachings of the Christian Faith through this lens, we get a much different picture than what is painted by common Western Christian Theology.
The Christian East, of course, embraces this understanding of God’s primary intent, of the goal he seeks to achieve for us and what it is he is longing for us to do. So it [the Christian East] sees the basic foundational truths of the Christian Faith in, some cases, a very different light than the Christian West.
So we’re having a look at some of those, as I say, essential foundational teachings of the Christian Faith through this particular view, the understanding that oneness is what God is seeking with us. We’ve talked about the nature of the Trinity, we’ve talked about Creation—again, looking at these truths through the lens of oneness. And today I want to begin a series of several podcasts applying that same understanding to the fall of Adam and Eve. We’ll see that, understood in the light of oneness, we get a very different picture than we do from the typical Western Theological rendering of this very important event in human history.
The story of the Fall, of course, this sad tale of Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden, is deeply embedded in Western cultural consciousness. Christian or not, people are conversant with the “Eve and the Apple” motif that serves as shorthand for that moment of temptation and betrayal which, in Christian teaching, sets the course of human history. Of course, many people these days don’t see the story as anything other than spiritual allegory at best, or uneducated religious drivel at worst. Personally, I take it to be factually true. But it’s not my intent here to debate the historical reality of the book of Genesis. My desire here is to examine how a certain rendering of that story, a particular way of seeing and interpreting what happened in Paradise, has left Western Society with a serious misunderstanding of the Christian God. And that errant image of the Fall has contributed to the soul-sick individualism which festers in our society.
To start, let’s review the saga as it’s presented in Genesis.
After God creates Adam, he places him in the paradise of Eden. Its beauty is idyllic. Untarnished Creation, newly sprung from the pure and perfect God. Radiant with the light of the Trinity, the pervasive fragrance of Divine Oneness exudes from every existing thing. And it is here in this perfect place that God puts an end to Adam’s loneliness by creating his wife, Eve, from Adam’s very own flesh.
But with the blessings of Eden comes one caution. We read it in the second chapter of Genesis:
The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The Tree of Life was also in the midst of the garden. And the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to tend it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man saying, “Of every tree of the garden, you may eat freely. But of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:8-9, 15-17)
God gives no explanation for this prohibition. He simply tells Adam not to partake of the fruit of this one particular tree. Doing so will result in his death as well as in the death of his wife, if she should partake of it. But then one day Satan, in the guise of a beautiful serpent, comes to Eve when she’s alone. Craftily, he begins his tempting with a question.
Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made and he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘you shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “we may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden, but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said ‘you shall not eat nor shall you touch it lest you die’.” Then the serpent said to the woman, “you will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing Good and Evil.” (Genesis 3:1-5)
God says one thing. Satan, through the serpent, says another. One tells the truth. One is a liar. It is up to Eve to decide whom she will believe. She chooses poorly.
So when the woman saw that the Tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. And the eyes of both of them were opened and they knew that they were naked and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings. (Genesis 3:6-7)
The remainder of chapter 3 chronicles the aftermath of Adam and Eve’s disobedience. When God calls on them in the garden that evening, they try to hide from him. This isn’t possible, of course. And when he confronts them with their wrongdoing, our first parents act like little children caught red-handed. “It’s the serpent’s doing,” Eve insists. “It’s this woman you gave me,” Adam protests, shifting the blame for his failure, not just onto his wife, but onto the one who created him and commanded him to refrain from the Tree’s fruit. (Genesis 3:9-13)
But God will have none of this. He assures them that what he warned would occur, will indeed come to pass. “Dust you are and to dust you shall return,” he says. (Genesis 3:19)
Adam and Eve were formed from the dust of the ground and livened by God’s own breath. (Genesis 2:7) Now, because of their disobedience, the Divine Breath will be withdrawn. Thus, they will deteriorate into their remaining lifeless component.
The path to their ignominious end will be paved with hardship. For Eve, childbirth, apparently something which God originally intended to be joyous and effortless, will be sorrowful and painful. (Genesis 3:16) Upon Adam, God pronounces, “Cursed is the ground for your sake. In toil, you shall eat of it all the days of your life.” (Genesis 3:17) Erring Adam will now have to fight the soil for the sustenance which the Garden had previously yielded freely and lavishly.
But, in the midst of this sad calamity, hope is revealed. Adam and Eve are not the only ones to fall under a curse. God endures the serpent through which Satan guilelessly manifests himself, “Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all cattle and more than every beast of the field. On your belly you shall go and you shall eat dust all the days of your life.” (Genesis 3:14)
What’s more, God promises Satan that the victory he has claimed here—the apparent demise of God’s highest and best creature—will be short-lived. “And I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed. He shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)
Eve had embraced the radiant serpent’s lies. But now those lies will resound bitterly in the hearts of her descendents and, one day, one of her progeny will arise and crush the deceiver under foot. But this is the future. For now, one final act remains in the unfolding tragedy.
The Holy Trinity takes council. Then the Lord God said:
Behold, the man has become like one of us, to know Good and Evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the Tree of Life and eat and live forever. Therefore the Lord God sent him out of the Garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. So he drove out the man and he placed Cherubim at the East of the Garden of Eden and a flaming sword, which turned every way, to guard the way to the Tree of Life. (Genesis 3:22-24)
The Creator will not allow sin and disobedience to be immortalized in his creatures. So, the way to the Tree of Life is shut and guarded. Into a cold world go Adam and Eve. Leaving behind the glory of what they were created to be, children of oneness, living within the life of God, enjoying his intimate love and blessing through eternity.
This is the story. But like all stories, it can be read and understood in different ways. And the truth is the broken state of Western Christianity and the Cult of Individualism it has fostered has its roots in a particular way of interpreting this tale. This common interpretation of the narrative is so culturally familiar and so generally accepted by Christians, and non-Christians alike, that any variant reading may seem like a fantastical stretching of the story’s elements. Yet, for the early Christians and the Eastern Christians who maintain their legacy, the saga of the Fall bears little resemblance to the Western version. We’ll begin to look at those two different versions and the contrast between them next time.