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Embracing Eve and Accepting Adam

February 23, 2009

I am taking a 6 week class at my church called “Narrative Theology.” The title alone sounds academic and intimidating, but its essence is  basically looking at the Bible not as a collection of historical facts, but as a love story told about God and His people. There is SO much crammed into this course (it used to be a 12 week course; I am taking the ultra-condensed version) but it’s fascinating.

(Granted, that’s Rob, not Matt. But I had limited options when searching “narrative theology” on Google Images.)

Last night, we were discussing the Fall; a weighty topic that brings to mind images of God punting Adam and Eve out of the garden, cunning serpents, and the notion of Original Sin (with angry, shouting preacher undertones and a slight aroma of brimstone). However, after our discussion last night, I had some thoughts I wanted to share with you all. (Thanks to Matt Krick, N.T. Wright, and the whole Winter 2009 Narrative Theology clan for their ideas and input.)

Throughout my life, I have always held Adam and Eve in this private contempt — looking back and thinking, “Wow. How stupid do you have to be to give up Eden for a few crafty words from a snake?” Well…you’d have to be human. After really looking closely at the text in the creation poem in Genesis, I am not so convinced anymore that I would have acted any differently from Eve. In fact, I am quite positive that I would have done the same thing. Obviously, we are unable to look back and judge from a pre-Fall perspective what we might have done; our brokenness will always skew our hindsight. But I remain sure that the flaws of Adam and Eve exist in us all.

Before the first bite of forbidden fruit was tasted, there existed a purity and a wholeness to the relationship between God, self, others, and creation. Adam and Eve were privy to a harmonious connection with God, the earth, and each other in a way that mirrored the Trinity: filled with shalom and with a viewpoint that was constantly passed through the lens of God. Once they decided to believe the lies of the serpent and open their eyes to the Knowledge of Good and Evil, this holistic circle that existed between all the elements was snapped. We were discussing the emotional and spiritual implications of Adam and Eve realizing their nakedness when a thought occurred to me.

When Adam and Eve realized they were exposed and were ashamed, this was the first time that selfishness came into play. Their focus, having before been wholly entwined with a triune perspective, was turned inward for the first time. (Perhaps it also was the first time a temper tantrum was ever thrown or Eve ever thought about going on a diet.) Adam became his own first priority, as did Eve. Neither was necessarily very concerned with the fact that they had just eternally severed their connection with their Creator; they were more embarrassed and angry that others, including God, would see what they had done, and their first instincts are to focus on themselves. Their first actions are to hide and blame everyone else.

What is beautiful is that even then, even when God is dealt the most brutal card imaginable by His most beloved and precious creations, His response is beautifully compassionate. (He even creates clothing from animal skins for Adam and Eve, knowing that their fig leaves were short-lived and wouldn’t last more than a gust of wind.) As the Creator of the world and all that dwells in it, God created with the knowledge that all creations are subject not only to free will, but to the consequences of it. The curses dealt to Adam and Eve are not a result of anger, but rather the natural result of free will and the choices made. The “curse” of Eve is relational; she will struggle with relationships and with the constant insecurity of abandonment and loneliness. Adam’s “curse” is more physical; his centers on his work. He will toil the earth; his previous relationship of pleasure and joy with creation becomes one of hardship and frustration. His curse is one of struggle and pride; what he produces will directly affect how he sees himself and how he relates to others and the shadow of failure will never leave him.

I don’t see God laying on these curses with lightning bolts and “angry eyebrows,” but rather with a great heaviness of knowledge that creation is now subject to brokenness despite His great love and mercy. I don’t think He chucked Adam and Eve out of the Garden in wrath and anger; I think He did it in greatest sadness.

(Adam and Eve leave Eden, 1973, by John William Dey; I saw this at a museum in DC and loved all its life and color.)

Now that Adam and Eve had become self-focused, they wouldn’t have been able to exist in Eden because they would be wholly out of tune with how it worked. As creatures whose own welfare has become their first consideration, living in a world where the glory and love of God, others, and creation came first would be agony. Humans in their broken, disjointed form are not fit to exist in a perfect world; this isn’t from God’s anger but a natural result of the way the world is made. His beloved creations have destroyed themselves to the point where they cannot even fit inside the beautiful Kingdom that He created for them. However, with His first concern always for His children and not His pride, God covers Adam and Eve in compassion by taking the world they broke and constantly pushing it towards redemption and grace. Even as we tread water and drown in the eternal dichotomy of choice between self and others, God is finding ways to repair what we messed up with His love, grace, creativity, and compassion. And even more beautiful, He wants us to be a part of it. Perhaps that’s what I see as His most compassionate and loving gesture; even when we prove time and time again that we can’t be trusted with what He gives us, He still asks us to be His hands and feet. He knows the restorative power of His love and trusts that it is always bigger than our shortcomings. Basically, His Eden is always bigger than our Egypt.

There is so much to think about — I encourage you to go here and download the 10 week 2007 series of this course (for free!). For anyone who is hungry for a theology that is more than rules and facts, seeing your spirituality through the lens of story is something refreshing and beautiful.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. ratsekad permalink
    February 23, 2009 2:59 pm

    I think creation stories contain the most beautiful poetry in any religious text.

    The snake is present in many stories, some amazingly similar to Genesis. In most cultures the snake is seen as a positive thing, while in the Christian tradition, the snake is a seducer; life is corrupt, life is sin from the beginning.

    For me, I read the story as part of life, as all religious stories are deeply connected with events in life. At first, we are in the garden, there is no good or evil, no knowledge of opposites. Then the snake has us eat the apple. The snake, like the moon, is a symbol of life. The snake sheds its skin, the moon sheds its shadow, life is a constant renewal. Life only survives by killing and eating itself. By eating the apple we accept participation in life. Just as when we are children, we do not see differences between male and female, and then one day we do, and all of a sudden girls and boys have cooties, and we start to feel shame and guilt. We then have knowledge of opposites.
    Before you enter life, you are in the garden, but the minute you enter life (and you only enter life through the women, who gives you the apple) then you have opposites, good opposing evil, man and woman, and even now the severing of man from god. You have affirmed life.

    Or you can even look at it in terms of forms of life. Basic life, like bacteria, divides asexually. There is no male or female. It isn’t until later that there is a division of male and female, and you need the coming together of both in order to create life.

    This makes sense to me, in the light of Jesus saying things such as, “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.”

    These stories help you to understand your life, from birth, to adolesence, adulthood, marriage, family, and finally death, like a road map.

    This is certainly just one way to view it. I am by no means denouncing your interpretation, for it is quite beautiful, and the class you are taking sounds very interesting! I considered going into theology at one point… but then I was like, “What in the world would I do with that?” So instead I sit here and read Hindu Upanishads and drink coffee on my days off =)

  2. Caroline permalink*
    February 23, 2009 5:27 pm

    I truly appreciate your perspective on things like this. You always have interesting and thought-provoking things to say. I will have to wrestle with what you said and try to figure it out (sometimes your brain is above mine).

    Anyway, I would encourage you to download the MP3s for the class — they’re free and are really interesting. In a way, it’s like I’m encountering the Bible in a real way for the first time in my life.

    I haven’t always liked the Bible…in fact, 85% of the time, I haven’t liked it at all because I didn’t understand it. Now, as I am stumbling more towards understanding, my feelings towards it are changing. And it’s good.

    Enjoy your Upanishads and coffee. 🙂

  3. Glo permalink
    February 25, 2009 10:47 am

    I’m starting the Narrative Theology recordings, thanks for posting them!!

  4. Caroline permalink*
    February 25, 2009 1:46 pm

    You’re welcome! Enjoy!

  5. Christine Kreisher permalink
    December 20, 2010 1:23 pm

    Hi Caroline,
    I went to the website and couldn’t find the series. Is it still avaiable?

  6. Caroline permalink*
    December 20, 2010 7:57 pm

    @ Christine!

    It might not be up anymore. It’s an older link and they might have disconnected it. I’m sorry if it is and you’ve had to miss out on it.

    Try Googling it and see if it’s posted anywhere else.

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