In yesterday’s post we laid some groundwork to help us see what we can discern from the Eden accounts of Genesis 2 and 3 about the origins of fear. Today we’ll begin to delve into the meat of it, before hopefully wrapping up tomorrow.
To reiterate and build on something I said yesterday, in my opinion these accounts in the early chapters of Gensis are not intended to provide us with a chronology of the fall. In other words, they are not meant to describe a historical event or events that resulted in sin coming into the world. If we read them that way, we’re likely to come away with quite a shallow understanding. If, on the other hand, we read them as texts that are meant to provide insight into the condition of sinful human beings, there are riches of understanding to be gained.
So, let’s repeat part of our text from yesterday:
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. (Genesis 3:-7)
I believe there are plenty of clues to indicate that these accounts are to be read allegorically rather than literally. We have a man named Adam (meaning “human” in the Hebrew language), a woman named Eve (chavah in Hebrew, meaning “mother of all life”), a talking snake, and God walking in the garden. In fact, the entire genre of the early part of Genesis is Hebrew poetry, thick with symbolism and allegory.
So, now that we know we’re looking for symbolic rather than literal meaning, the big question is this: what does the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” represent, and how does eating of its fruit symbolise the entrance of sin into the world?
Let us first note some obvious differences between Adam and Eve’s pre-fall and post-fall state. Before eating of the fruit of the tree:
– They are in close fellowship with God (symbolised by the indication that he was in the habit of walking with them in the garden).
– They know no shame (Genesis 2:25 specifically tells us they were both naked and not ashamed).
Contrast this with their state after eating the fruit:
– They become aware of their nakedness, and impulsively seek to hide it (3:7).
– Their fellowship with God is disturbed as they try to hide from Him (3:8).
What happens to bring about this dramatic change in their self-perception and their orientation towards God?
The first thing I notice is that the woman sees that the tree is good for food, a delight, and to be desired (3:6). I put the word desired in italics because it’s the first time it’s mentioned in scripture, and I believe it’s key to unlocking the riddle of the origins of both sin and fear. Note also that the woman doesn’t simply desire the tree; she acts on that desire by eating of its fruit.
I then notice that, when challenged by God as to whether they have eaten of the tree (3:11), Adam immediately blames the woman, who in turn blames the serpent. Here we have the first documented example of blame-shifting.
If I may summarise, then: we have human beings living in a blissful state of innocence (i.e. lack of shame) and unbroken fellowship with God. Something then happens involving the pursuit of desire, with the result that the man and the woman experience shame and seek to put separation between themselves and God (by hiding from him as he walks in the garden) and between each other (by blame-shifting).
Two days ago, I thought I was just going to write one post on the origins of fear. I should have known better. I realise I can sometimes be excessively wordy. However, I don’t believe that’s the case here: I think it’s important to take time to lay everything out carefully and methodically.
Tomorrow, all being well, we’ll get to the nub of it.
[ Image: Paul Hocksenar ]
(You can read the final part of this series here.)