Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Everybody Falls

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’

The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.” ’

But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’

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 3:1-7
We usually call this the story of the Fall. It's the moment that, through Adam, sin entered humanity. Before this moment God walked and talked with people in a garden and after this moment God pronounced judgement for the disobedience. We have a neat explanation for why things are wrong: there were two people who made a mistake and we have inherited it from them.

They made the mistake. We inherited it from them.

For a long time I understood this as a literal story. An actual man and woman called Adam and Eve. I could blame them. I could ask questions like "if only they hadn't..." and say things like, "If I was there I wouldn't have..." Somehow I could use this story to blame someone else for the situation that I'm in.

But of course this isn't true. Whatever it is that I choose to do, I'm the one who made the choice and I must live with those consequences. I can't blame Adam any more than I can blame my cat. If I was Adam, I probably would have done the same thing. I would have grasped for the opportunity to be wiser, to know more, to be more godlike. We humans are like that. We want more from life. We want to be stronger, smarter, more beautiful, richer, and so on. We can see this just from the average magazine rack. They offer the promises of a better life, a better house, a tighter six-pack. We want these things and magazine publishers make money off this desire. The desire is real.

And that brings me back to the story of the Fall; a story that tells more if we stop reading it literally and instead read it as a parable. If you like, read it as the answer to this question: what are human beings like? If you leave us alone, away from the watchful eye of authority, what are we like?

There's a fluffy bit of advice that says: sing like no one is listening, dance like no one is watching. Maybe this story of the Fall is what happens when humans live like no one is watching. Maybe we should stop calling it the Fall and start calling it the Revelation of Human Nature. This is what humans are like. We grasp for things. We see what we can get away with. We lure each other and blame each other. We want what the other person has. We even want the wisdom of a serpent, the wisest of all creatures.

Perhaps when we tell the story we should add a preface like Jesus did for many of his parables. He liked to say, "To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like..."
The Revelation of Human Nature
To what shall I compare human beings? What are humans like? It is like two people in a garden, surrounded by all the animals of creation.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’

The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.” ’

But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’

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.
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