Yesterday I wrote about the fact that fear is a deeply ingrained aspect of the human condition. I pointed out that, since we are made in the image of God and God knows no fear, presumably God’s perfect design for us to live free of fear.
But where does this pervading fear come from? I think this is a hugely important question, for it cuts to the very heart of what we believe about ourselves and our relationship to others and to God. How we answer it is therefore decisive for how we perceive and move through the world.
It’s clearly going to take more than one post to come anywhere close to doing this question justice. With that in mind, let’s see where we get to today and then pick up again tomorrow.
In order to try to trace the origins of fear, let’s go back to the founding texts of the book of Genesis:
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 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 die.’ (Genesis 2:15-17)
So 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 to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, 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?’ 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? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’ The man said, ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.’ Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’ (Genesis 3:6-13)
First off, let me clarify something. In keeping with my good Pentecostal background, for a long time I read the Genesis creation stories as more or less literal accounts of creation and the “fall” of man. I no longer hold to that view; I believe it’s neither intellectually credible nor necessary to the integrity or inspiration of scripture. (If you’d like to explore this issue in more depth, you could read my series “On understanding the Bible”, starting here.)
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, back to our text. Adam and Eve have the freedom of Eden, with one exception: they must not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We know how the story unfolds: they eat of the tree, thus introducing sin into the world, and paradise is lost.
We could get into debates about what the serpent represents, what (if anything) it means that the woman ate first and the man followed, and so forth. But those aren’t what I want to focus on here.
This is one of those passages that Christians typically don’t know what to do with. What is this strange “tree of the knowledge of good and evil”? We struggle to make sense of it, not helped by our insistence on seeking a quasi-literal interpretation, and eventually scratch our heads and move on. We assume it’s enough to know that this is the point at which sin came into the world.
However, if we’re willing to let go of our literalist approach and seek to discern what else the text might be trying to tell us, I believe there are riches to be mined here. In particular, rather than telling us when and by what mechanic sin came into the world, I believe the accounts of the “fall” in Genesis 2 and 3 are intended to tell us something about the nature of sin, about what sin is.
“But I thought you said we were going to look at the origins of fear!”, I hear you say. Well, yes, that’s where I want to get to; but I think what we’ll find is that sin and fear arise from a very similar place, and that as such, what the Bible calls “sin” is deeply connected to the kind of fear I wrote about yesterday.
Having laid some groundwork, I think we’ll leave it there for today. Tomorrow we should hopefully get to the heart of the matter of the origins and consequences of fear.
[ Image: Steve Day ]
(You can read the next part of this series here.)