“I want a drink of that.”
“Because it’s hot and you might burn your tongue.”
“I said, ‘No’.”
“Look at all these fruit trees. Yummy.”
“They are, aren’t they. You can eat from any tree you want except one, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.”
“Because on the day you eat of it, you will die.”
“Because I said so.”
In the Genesis 3 story God gives a simple command to Adam and Eve. It is much like one given to a three-year-old. You don’t need to think about it. It isn’t an ethical quandary of right and wrong or good and evil. You need to simply obey.
When the curtain opens on Genesis 3, we recognize three characters from the previous scene (Genesis 2): God, Adam, and Eve. In this scene, a new character appears, a serpent. The narrator does not provide much insight into this creature. This particular serpent is the most “subtle” creature God created. It possesses a special form of wisdom. The narrators silence allows us to assume that this serpent, like the rest of God’s creatures, is “very good.” Despite the stinginess of our narrator, the information we are provided is enough for us to hear the coming dialogue between the serpent and Eve.
The serpent begins by intimating to Eve that God is holding back some valuable insight and capabilities from her and Adam. The forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil will not kill them. In fact, it will make them like God in that they will have the ability to discern good from evil. They will become wise. Impressed with the serpent’s grand wisdom along with the lure of the fruit, Eve decides to take a bite. The serpent is right. It tastes exquisite and she does not die. For the first time her eyes are opened and she can perceive evil.
When God discovers what has happened, God is displeased. Until this moment Adam and Even could perceive only good. For them there was no evil. Only God knew of it. When they disobeyed God’s simple command, they acquired the ability to know evil along with good. Now they could make a choice between the two. However, because God does not believe it wise that these two live forever with this new skill set, God removes them from the garden and sets up security to protect the Tree of Life from any poachers.
Adam and Eve find themselves outside their utopian garden of Eden and along with their new ability, they each carry a curse, his and hers. As they journey through life they will face choices between good and evil. As we watch their lives unfold, we discover they don’t always make the right decision. Okay, they usually don’t get it right. Every choice, however, right or wrong, is an opportunity for them to grow and learn. They will continue to evolve.
This understanding of Genesis is probably new to the majority of Christians and many may find it objectionable. The popular reading is that Adam and Eve’s disobedience led to their “fall.” They along with all future generations are sinful. The results of this are devastating. We are born with a sinful nature and are unable to live without sinning. No matter how many times we make good choices, we will eventually choose evil.
This other way of reading implies a “rising up” of humankind rather than a falling when we disobey God. Adam and Eve were created spiritually immature, much like a three-year-old. All they are asked to do is obey a simple command. With their disobedience, they take the first step on a journey that will last a lifetime. This is a journey of spiritual maturation. With each choice, they will grow and evolve. As their descendants, we too are given opportunities to spiritually evolve and mature.
The next time you hear or read the story, I imagine you might recall this alternative reading. If you do, you will either ignore it or perhaps consider its merits. No matter your choice, please understand, how you read this story has implications on how you will view yourself, others, and especially God. I choose to read the story as one of a “rising up.” It works well with my understanding of Jesus. Jesus through his actions and words modeled for us how to make wise choices between good and evil. I, like Adam and Eve, make wrong decisions. I learn from them and take another step forward. Life is a journey of becoming the person God ordained me to be.
Rev. Tony Minear, PhD. is the Lead Pastor at Church of the Beatitudes a Progressive Christian Church based in Phoenix AZ.
To reach Pastor Tony