Every discipline has it’s puzzles. As an analyzer of theoretical texts, I consider the story of the Fall of Man from the Bible to be one of the big puzzles. I started playing around with it (again) yesterday, and after failing (again), am going to give it another shot today.
The key positions I want to stake out are as follows:
- God is not well understood by Adam or Eve, Cain or Abel, or just about any human being. Noah is better than most, but still, there’s a lot that seems to be missing.
- The tree of knowledge of good and evil does not provide fruit that is very informative. After eating it, Adam and Eve merely become aware of their nakedness.
- The serpent is more concerned with getting Adam and Eve in trouble than with challenging God by itself. Rather than eat the forbidden fruit itself, it baits Eve into doing it. Either it knows the fruit isn’t that informative, or it lacks the ambition to become like God. Also, it seems to be aware of Eve’s ignorance, otherwise it wouldn’t have tried to manipulate her.
So, I think these are some safe positions. Now, what to do with them?
Eve’s mistake is brought about because she is ignorant of God’s power and is desirous of being like God herself. She doesn’t expect to be caught, evidently, or doesn’t expect much bad to happen even if she is caught. She also finds being like God appealing. She doesn’t understand God very well, yet she still wants to be like him. This suggests something about Eve not wanting to be ruled over. The serpent, likewise, seems to not want to be ruled over, because it is conspiring against the humans, which are appointed over it. The serpent isn’t very smart either, though, in that its manipulation quickly backfires and results in its being placed even lower than it was before.
After Adam and Eve are banished from Eden, we get the story of Cain slaying Abel out of jealousy for God’s favor. God had preferred Abel’s sacrifice of an animal to Cain’s sacrifice of his garden produce. Rather than trying to be like God, the sin here is getting too jealous over gaining God’s favor. God no longer has a rising rebellion on his hands, but his subjects are now fighting amongst themselves over his approval. Adam and Eve are still around, but play no part in bringing peace between Cain and Abel. God confronts Cain directly, tells him to do what is right, and Cain turns around and slays Abel. Again, God is misunderstood. Cain should not expect to get away with slaying his brother. His parents had done a much less violent act, and had been discovered and punished.
God also seems to be a bad teacher. He commands, but his commands to his new and apparently highly ignorant creation are ineffectual. Still, God seems to care quite a bit. He wants his creation to be righteous and obedient — obedient for their own good. He warns Eve that she shouldn’t eat the fruit because she will die if she does. He marks Cain for his crime, but protects him from being murdered himself. All the way down to Noah, God is dismayed at the sinfulness of his creation. Man is generally not obedient to commands. He has been placed above all other living creatures, has been allowed to name them, but still lacks gratitude for or understanding of his creator.
Paul of Tarsus in his letter to the Romans provides another position to work off of to go further with this. He states that: “Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and though the commandment put me to death” (Rom. 7:9-11). A little further down, he states that: “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their mind set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires” (Rom. 8:5). And still further, he states that: “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him [Jesus] we cry, ‘Abba, Father.'” (Rom. 8:15).
Paul suggests that the transition from a ruler-subject relationship with God to a father-son relationship is the way sin can be conquered. Why wasn’t it like this from the beginning? Well, if Jesus is co-eternal with God the Father, then God the Father did have a father-son experience to learn from and apply to his new creation. Jesus of course, would be the perfect son, though. The opposite of ignorant man, Jesus is said to be “the Word”, or knowledge itself. God would not have had experience with ignorant man. So why didn’t God send Jesus right away from the beginning? It seems to have been impossible. Jesus needs to be educated and received by faithful human beings. Why doesn’t God the Father teach human beings himself? Apparently sin doesn’t become recognized as sin until it produces sufficient death in the world, so he can only command at first in order to spring sin to life. (This may be why the tree of knowledge of good and evil produces fruit that teaches so little in the garden of Eden story.)
Paul defends the manner in which God the Father proceeds. He states earlier in the same letter to the Romans that: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished–he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:23-26).
With this view, it seems that God knew from the beginning that man was going to fall, and that he was going to have to send Jesus to save man. As a sacrifice to man, to atone for God’s allowing man to live, sin, and die unjustified, he accepted that Jesus, whose blood God the Father had faith in, would have to suffer and die at the appropriate time. Jesus established the father-son linkage between God and man, a linkage that previously had been too challenging for most. Man’s eyes (generally now) were opened to his status as son of God only by witnessing the fate of the ideal Son. If such is the fate of the ideal Son, and this fate leads to glory and everlasting life, then man generally, who sees his own fate also culminating in death, can also now believe for the first time that he too is loved by God rather than merely ruled over by him. Man can also see God’s purpose in allowing him to struggle with sin, namely that the struggle makes the glory of an ideal Son possible, the glory of overcoming evil, the glory that is expected of a holy God and that characterizes him, the glory that since Adam and Eve has evaded man’s understanding. To have faith in Jesus is to have faith in the value of this glory, and to value this glory is to be like God and positioned for a loving relationship with God. It is to be able to acquire what was sought in the garden of Eden, what God allowed the serpent to help entice, knowledge of good and evil, now with the capacity to learn that knowledge, and with the newly attractive but always necessary desire to act on that knowledge, to do good and not evil.
When God puts Adam into the garden of Eden, it is for him “to work it and take care of it” (Gen. 2:15). The only plants in the garden that we hear of have impressive names: the “tree of knowledge of good and evil” and the “tree of life.” It is likely that in this garden all of the plants would potentially have impressive names, and represent things that man desires. It is apparently up to man to develop the garden, to try to perfect it and preserve it. It would appear that the story of man from the Bible is a story of discovering what was originally missing from the garden of Eden, and God sending him out into a world where he could find out for himself in order to recreate it in a manner more fitting to his needs. Eventually, when enough people were looking and interested, the missing plant, tree, or vine was found in the character of Jesus, in all he taught, did, and represented.