Followers

Follow by Email

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Tree of Duality

(The theme of duality has been a popular one lately, so this post and participants' comments can also be found at the Christian Mystics site.) 

“And the LORD God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden;
but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,
for when you eat of it you will surely die."
(Gen 2:16-17)



We’ve all heard the story: God commands Adam and Eve not to eat of a particular tree; the serpent entices them to eat it by arguing they’ll be “like God”; they eat it; they are cast out of Eden; and now we all suffer the consequences of their “Fall.”   The traditional script continues, in the logic of Augustine, to express that we all have been born into sin because our first parents ate from the fruit of the wrong tree.


Ironically, this “wrong” tree was called the “tree of knowledge of good and evil.”  One might expect “knowledge,” particularly of “good and evil,” to be a virtue, one that equips humans to be better equipped to make good choices.  So we face an irony in the traditional doctrine: we are “sinners” because our first parents “fell,” and they “fell” because they sought something typically designed to help humans avoid sin!


A few questions naturally arise:  Did they really “fall”?  Who was the “serpent”?  Was he really “deceptive”?  Would they really be “like God”?  If so, what does that mean?  And why would it threaten “God” so much that He would pronounce them dead?  Also, why would He command Adam and Eve against the knowledge of good and evil?  Years later, are not Christians encouraged to acquire exactly what Adam and Eve were commanded not to acquire?
“Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant,
is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.
But solid food is for the mature,
who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.”
(Hebrews 5:13-14)


Once we begin asking these questions, we find ourselves in a never-ending cycle of paradox.  To use the same distinction noted in the tree Adam and Eve ate from, it is hard to know which figures in this story are really “good” and which ones are more “evil.”  One could argue that choosing to overcome ignorance for knowledge is “good.”  One could even argue that a command against something that ought to be “good” in order to protect one's own power is “evil.”


But what if none of the choices and none of the characters in this story are “good” and none are “evil”?  What if the story is more about evolution in consciousness and those very distinctions – good and evil – are teased in order to help us see in a new way?


The story tells us their “eyes were opened” (Gen 3:7).  This implies new development, new evolution.  Such development expresses what the mystic desires: a forward path with eyes that can see better.  But the story also suggests the cost of better eye sight.  Those eyeglasses aren’t free!  According to the warning given by God, this improved eye sight brings “death” and, according to the consequences, “separation.”  As soon as the eyes are opened, one blames the other: “she made me do it” (v. 12).  The illusion of separation begins.  The man and woman who had been one from a single body now see themselves as separate and perceive in “good and evil,” suggesting a new name for the tree from which they ate: "the tree of duality."


The separation incurred by the improved eye sight also suggests what had been perceived through poor eye sight: connection, harmony.  Before their eyes were opened, the man and woman not only felt unity between themselves, but also with God.  Afterward, they felt separation particularly from God.  This prompts us to return to the question of whether they “fell” or whether they “moved forward.”  If they had been in harmony and now they were not, traditional logic says they moved backward, they “fell.”  But prior to the separation, their eyes had been closed.  In essence, they had a blind sense of harmony.


What becomes hard for traditional logic to follow is the notion that a movement that brings separation and suffering can still be a movement forward, something positive.  But it would not be desired for the movement to end there.  The “death” that came to our first parents was a form of amnesia: a separation they perceived from the divine.  But God himself did not perceive this separation and wished to cure them of their amnesia.  So He issued the first command and the most important prayer, the “Shema”: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deut 6:4).


The Shema may have helped the Hebrew people affirm the Oneness of God, but their own separation from the Lord continued to persist.   Through the greatest of blasphemies, Jesus then came to provide the next step: “I and the Father are one" (John 10:30).  If that weren’t enough, he went further on behalf of his followers: “I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one--as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me” (John 17:21).


When the eyes of our first parents were opened, a form of suffering and death resulted; it is to be expected that when our eyes open again, another form of suffering and death are to come.  Often, Jesus warned us to so prepare.


Just as many have a nostalgia for childhood, many also have a nostalgia for Eden.  There exists a wish to return to blissful innocence, spared from the conflicts of duality.  But perhaps this wish is rooted in part by an aversion to suffering.  But if we are willing to face the cost, even if it feels like a “fall,” then we can experience something much sweeter: a return to harmony with open eyes.

22 comments:

  1. Archiving comments to this blog post, originally posted a year earlier at the ChristianMystics site:

    Tom Ruda says:
    May 26, 2011 at 8:45 pm

    Karina- thank you for sharing your insights into the Adam-Eve story. The perception you have on duality appearing after the eating of the fruit resonates with me. Was the serpent an agent of God? Was there really a need to place the forbidden trees in the Garden? It is clear that not only does dualism take off at this critical juncture, but also free will. It is essential for us to have the free will to choose God. Without this choice, how would we relate to God? In deliberately choosing God, we deepen the relationship and seek to unite ourselves with God, the One. I believe the illusion of separation is what masks this choice to us until we are ready. Until we see our true connectedness to each other, we wander aimlessly seeking to satisfy the self. “There is no spoon.” The Kingdom is real and fully in front of us yet, we often cannot see it because we are blinded by the illusions of duality and separateness.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Steve Schrader says:
    May 27, 2011 at 12:28 am

    I enjoyed your post Karina. I think most of us feel that the Creation Story is probably some of the most beautiful writing in the Bible. I’m not going to touch on the “illusion of duality” issue. It’s just to thorny for me to get into right now. I will try to focus, rather, on my personal view of the story, which I think is a positive and hopeful one. Although, I do think the best thing we can hope and work now for is a bit more “mature” harmony.

    It’s not possible to know exactly what the author(s) meant to convey, couched as it is in metaphor and allegory. It has therefore, been subject to countless interpretations and representations. However, if we believe it was inspired by God, then it certainly was meant to convey something about human nature: Why is there death? Why must we suffer? Why do we choose evil over good? I believe the author simply attempted to answer these types of questions in an effort to describe the current human condition.
    I think the story strikes us as particularly poignant because it portrays God as a “partner” with humanity. Adam and Eve talked with the Lord in the garden. While not equal to God, they were beloved by God. I think the story points to that as much as anything else. Humanity’s true “vocation” was and is to walk and converse with God and to conform to God’s will. After all, we are the creatures here! And yet, humans were created with free will, so “missing the mark” was always a possibility.

    God doesn’t appear to be angered by their trangression in the garden. There is more of a sense of disapointment and sorrow than anger. God’s compassion for humanity is shown by barring them from the Tree of Life and “allowing” them to die. A more cruel fate would have been to allow them to be “immortal” in their sin. For “fallen humanity” physical death is a blessing. And so, rather than a retributive act, I see it as a compassionate one.

    God’s compassion for creatures doesn’t end there. Christ, the Second Adam, is the way back to God. After the salvific act, we have been redeemed, but there is still a residual debris field through which we must navigate. That, I believe is still humanity’s ultimate vocation.

    Steve

    ReplyDelete
  3. Don says:
    May 27, 2011 at 3:05 pm

    Here’s a good quote to contribute to this discussion:

    “The account of the ‘fall’ in Genesis is given by several (early Church) Fathers a very profound interpretation… The ‘tree of life’ was the tree of contemplation, the possibility of knowing the world in God. Adam and Eve would not have been able to approach it except after a long preparation; if they had gone there in a state of childish innocence, or in an attitude of egocentric greed, wanting to plunder the world instead of reverencing it and offering it to God, they would have been burnt by the brilliance of the godhead. They needed to mature, to grow to awareness by willing detachment and by faith, a loving trust in a personal God. Hence the prohibition, which the tempter insinuates to be a general and absolute ban, imposed by a jealous creature seeking to tyrannize over his creatures. Then they wish to ‘take possession of the things of God without God’. And God keeps them away from the tree of life to avoid their being defiled whilst in a state of falsehood and ‘self-idolatry’, which would mean an irremedial hell. Hence we have death, the result of the transgression, but also its remedy, since it makes humanity aware of its finiteness, and lays it open to grace. Hence also the ‘tunics of skin’ with which God, according to Genesis, clothed them after their fall.

    Clément, O., 1994. The Roots of Christian Mysticism. 2nd ed. London: New City, p.84

    ReplyDelete
  4. Karina says:
    May 28, 2011 at 10:07 pm

    Insightful thoughts, brothers,

    Each of you has somehow filled a gap to the paradoxical blessing of what is often called the “Fall.” I agree that the notion of “free will” is truly a part of this — that we must be separate in order to see the Other and, therefore, choose harmony with the Lord. Tom, I’ve also been contemplating the question of the “serpent”: was he really an agent for evil, as the traditional interpretation seems to indicate? I’m not so sure he was . . . and each of you has helped to illuminate that. Steve, nice perspective on God as a “partner” with humanity. Don, the quote you found is both fitting and intriguing.

    Shalom,
    Karina

    ReplyDelete
  5. Michelle M. says:
    May 29, 2011 at 3:06 am

    Karina, thank you for your post. A thought that I’ve been trying to wrap my head around. Is the “serpent” a representation of humanities ability to rationalize and justify our selfishness and self seeking motives. If I remember correctly the Hebrew translation for the satan is the tempter or one who plants doubt,(If I’m remembering correctly) Doubt opens the way for that illusion of seperation, we then can rationalize and justify just about anything. So, for me the “serpent” is necessarily and agent for evil, just a representation for that illusion of seperation as you mentioned. I really enjoy your posts.

    Michelle M. says:
    May 29, 2011 at 3:08 am
    sorry meant to say “not” necessarily

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Karina says:
      May 29, 2011 at 5:28 am

      Ahh, that single word “not” makes quite a difference, huh? ; ) Good contemplation to add to our discussion on what may be most “represented” by the serpent. Thanks, Michelle.

      Delete
  6. Steve Schrader says:
    May 29, 2011 at 10:13 pm

    I think the idea of the serpent has taken on a dualistic meaning throughout the history of civilization. It has both good and evil connotations. Even today the medical symbol of the crossed serpents is a symbol of healing, yet most of us are reminded of deception when we think of the serpent in the garden. Christ is the epitome of good and Satan is evil incarnate.

    Some biblical scholars believe that the serpent, as tempter, is reminiscent of the Israelites’ struggle to keep God’s covenant in the face of the Eastern fertility cults. Humans are encouraged to ignore what is considered a distant God, and partake exclusively in earthly pleasures. In this sense the serpent in the garden can be seen as tempting humanity to break away from God’s “shackles” upon us. They are encouraged to “wing it”, if you will, and experience their own form of “immortality”. This of course is a lie, and it is for this reason that Satan, associated with the serpent, is also known as the “great deceiver”.

    The deception is that humanity comes to deny its own mortality and refuses to accept its “place” in the world and its relationship to God. We want to become God and ultimately act as if we were God.

    It is this denial that leads to our death. We ignore the limitations placed on us by good and evil, and thereby deny the truth: “When you eat of it, then you will die”. (Gen. 3:3) Our sin then is essentially a renunciation of truth.

    Steve

    ReplyDelete
  7. bob knab says:
    May 31, 2011 at 5:44 am

    greetings *

    perhaps
    the problem is truth !
    the attachment to the fragility
    of the mental process – a mental
    formation arises then acceptance ( good )
    rejection (evil) comes to be, both claiming to be truth ,
    is this not the problem in the garden – in this ideal environment
    all is not well, but the problem is not well identified -
    the she said he said argument (blame ) blossoms, and its continuance is
    to this day , all live in the Garden nothing has changed
    but the apples are forever being picked ( attachment and division )
    and eaten by the mind that produces-all the Evil in the world —–

    blessings *

    ReplyDelete
  8. kathy says:
    June 5, 2011 at 9:49 pm

    I heard a totally different ‘Hebrew translation’ from a friend who heard it from a preacher. The serpent was Satan – and Eve and he had sex. Then Adam came along and did the same (Perhaps why so much negativity about gays in the Bible?) Eve’s 1st son (Cain) killed Able. And Cain got smart with God at first, tho God still showed mercy on him. There was more than Adam and Eve on earth at the time, that’s why Cain was afraid he’d be killed by other people when they saw the mark God placed on him.

    And where did Seth’s wife come from if only 2 in the garden (unless Adam and Eve had other children and Seth would have had incest?
    God created all 1st, then the garden. One has to explain where all these people came from? That would explain prehistoric man and dinosaurs.

    (In Job – Behemoth and Leviathan – could also be dinosaurs on earth at that time – as who ever heard of a hippopotamus with a tail as big as a cedar?) Why would the arrows not enter the being?

    My friend feels there’s no problem combining science and the Bible. There really is no conflict because if you do believe in a creative source who cares if came from clay in the ground or evolution or some unknown means we are not aware of, who cares how mankind came into being – God created it anyway if you believe the Bible.

    It’s not so much whether it was evolution or creationism is right, but is there a God to make one of them happen. In the end, there’s no conflict, as it doesn’t change the rules of nature which are far greater than us. He calls his God. Science and the Bible can’t get to the beginning, it all comes down to FAITH.

    He feels he’ll be crucified like Christ for having this belief.

    blessings!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Karina says:
      June 6, 2011 at 12:19 am

      I’ve heard a similar interpretation on Eve and the serpent as your friend, Kathy. What I heard explained that the serpent had previously manifested itself in a more human-like form prior to its punishment to slither on its belly and that this punishment involved the ironic transformation of the serpent into an exaggerated phallic symbol. Although I haven’t adopted this view, I have to acknowledge that, no doubt, it is an intriguing one for contemplation . . . !

      So are Steve’s and Bob’s contemplations, as this passage is so rich with possible meaning, and, as Bob points out, its current application remains: its fruit is “forever being picked.” Any further thoughts are welcomed and your friend, Kathy, can rest assured there is no “crucifixion” here.

      Delete
    2. SimpleMystic says:
      June 8, 2011 at 1:40 pm

      Katrina stated: “Any further thoughts are welcomed and your friend, Kathy, can rest assured there is no “crucifixion” here.”
      Unless of course, He insist.

      Love,
      simplemystic

      Delete
    3. Karina says:
      June 10, 2011 at 3:05 am

      Blessings again, I may not be getting the latest comment, but blessings to all who are wrestling in this mysterious and mystical quest . . .

      Delete
    4. SimpleMystic says:
      June 14, 2011 at 1:44 pm

      Hello Karina,

      Please forgive the misspelling of you name in my last post.

      You stated ” I may not be getting the latest comment”
      My last comment was a light hearted reference to some of Joseph Campbell’s work.
      An author I highly recommend.

      namaste’ ,
      simplemystic

      Delete
    5. Karina says:
      June 14, 2011 at 5:42 pm

      Ah ha! Very good. I’ve read some of his work a while back and he makes some interesting points. He’s witty too. Thanks!

      Delete
  9. kim says:
    June 14, 2011 at 5:44 pm

    Karina, I love your post, have been mulling it over along with everyone’s comments. Your analogy of color shades was beautiful. Yes, I too, am one of your students who need to be reminded. I struggle with writing these days, the words are there but I cannot bring them to the surface of my mind. It saddens me because I would have loved to share and be apart of… maybe soon I hope.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Linda Best says:
    June 27, 2011 at 8:24 pm

    Karina,

    Thank you so much for presenting to us this topic. (I am new to this site). Recently, I have been contemplating Gen. 3:22, as it pertains to “knowing good and evil”.

    Before the temptation, Adam and the woman were harmonious to the goodness of God, oblivious to any other way than this perfection of Oneness. After the temptation, when Adam’s wife became seduced by the serpent’s words that generated doubt, as she questioned and even changed what God had commanded. Seeing the beauty of the prohibited tree’s fruit, she became drawn to it; ate it, then shared it with her husband.

    Prior to this act of disobedience, they had completely depended upon God’s goodness, totally trusting Him and His way. Upon disobedience, they disconnected themselves from the perfection of God’s Oneness. They became separated from Him and from one another.(pictured in their blaming of one another.)

    Now, begins their journey to learn good and evil, the hard way: through experiencing the consequences of separation from God, which continues today. The serpent is described as subtle. Later, Jesus admonished us to be wise as a serpent. Children may be harmless, but mature Christians need to be able to discern right judgment through the instruction of the Holy Spirit in us. Jesus said: “When I am lifted up, I will draw all men to Me.” This takes us back to the brass serpent on the pole, which God commanded Moses to fashion for the dying Israelites, who had been bitten by the stinging serpents. This takes us forward to Jesus, lifted up on the cross. So what’s the connection between Jesus and the serpent? The Israelites who obeyed the command of God through Moses, lived, as they looked upon the brass serpent. The obedient ones didn’t rationalize that looking on the serpent, who had bitten them, could not now heal them. That line of reasoning might have been the cause for the disobedient to refuse to obey, stubbornly doing what was right in their own eyes. Those who obeyed did so because they believed the words of God through Moses. It was an act of faith. Jesus on the cross took the place of that serpent on the pole. Through the cross, Jesus overcame the serpent. Now, through faith, we must look upon Jesus for Life, through His Holy Spirit that indwells us. Jesus, who is Life, is the only way back to God through the Gospel: Repent !(a type of dying to sin and self): our identity with Christ dying with Him and through Him on the cross. Be baptized! ( a type of faithful obedience to God’s command, immersed under the water (symbolic of our entombment or burial with Christ). Be filled with God’s Spirit. (Rising up out of the waters of baptism, and receiving Life:God’s Spirit. Jesus said: “I will come to you.” This Holy Spirit in us becomes Christ in us as we die to sin and self. Linda

    ReplyDelete
  11. Josh W says:
    June 27, 2011 at 10:19 pm

    The only person who gives an explanation in the passage of Gods motivation is the serpent, who tells them something incorrect. He tells them that they won’t definitely die.

    Before that point, we see when God is acting towards some positive goal; we see him think something, do it, then call the result good. After it, for the rest of genesis, we only see God’s reactions to people, until finally we get to Joseph who goes through hardships but says “God intended it for good”. From Adam to Joseph, there is a total infomation blackout on what God thinks is good.

    I’ve only found two other places in genesis that God has a think to himself about people and declares his action, in a way that gives us access to that thought process. That is in babel and the flood. In the former case he acts to remove mankinds evil actions and inclinations from the world, at least for a bit, and in the latter he acts to make mankind less effective.

    I’ll be honest, there does seem to be a real God v mankind angle in genesis, from that point on, with the exception of a few people he gets on with. Mostly we only hear that God was pleased with them, but again, we don’t hear why.

    Personally I see this as a reflection in the book of the moral estrangement between man and God given the breakdown of relationship (and probably producing it too). What we want to do he sees as wicked, and we can’t get what he’s doing either.

    I’m not sure the problem is dualism precisely, but judgement. Look at what Jesus says about judgement; that those who judge will themselves be judged, as will those who claim they can see and are not blind.

    I mean there’s a lot of similarity here with what you’re saying, about seperation and alienation that comes when people start to morally evaluate the world. I just see it less about the illusion of seperation and more about people seperating themselves off. People hiding from judgement, from their own judgement, and people judging each other and God and going to war with them.
    The illusion is that we have to be seperate, that we can’t be distinct yet harmoniously open, making and sharpening each other into their purity of function and experience within the diverse whole.

    I’m having trouble finding the words to say why this view matches so closely to me with the picture you gave, I suppose it’s something like this:

    Everything beautiful, here we are, a thousand speckles of colour in the air. That fragrance, that rustling sound. I could stay here for ever.
    Hard discipline, serious thought, rising above the old flickering. Almost good, almost there, structure, sense and safety. I can hold it together, and I will not be stopped. I know what needs to be done.
    (and as usual the last bit is the hardest to express this way, but I’ll give it a go)

    The path opens out, unwrapping the seed, I can give you this, what can I find in you? What can you bring from me? Changing, growing, recycling the rust, spreading futures, contrasting hearts enmeshed! I remember you, but how differently!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Karina says:
    June 29, 2011 at 8:05 pm

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Linda and Josh,

    Nice development of the story of the serpent, Linda, as the serpent’s history suggests intriguing paradox.

    Hmm, interesting, Josh: “From Adam to Joseph, there is a total infomation blackout on what God thinks is good.” Good point and it makes me reflect on this notion of God drawing humanity into a discovery of “what is good.” Now we can ask not only, “How does God define ‘good?’” but also, “How do we define ‘good?’” and “How is our understanding of ‘good’ complementary with God’s understanding?”

    Such a question actually leads us back to something Linda said about the Israelites obeying Moses by looking upon the serpent, in contrast to those who might have “rationalized that looking on the serpent, who had bitten them, could now heal them.” Such rationalization could lead, as Linda said, “to refuse to obey, stubbornly doing what was right in their own eyes.” Yes, true: these would be those who haven’t yet learned obedience. Ironically, any who may have already learned obedience could also pause in looking upon the serpent, as they may first enter into a dialogue with the Lord about what is “good.” Is it “good” to look upon the serpent who had bitten them? They may think not, so entering into such a dialogue could lead to the discovery of some striking mysteries and remarkable paradox.

    Finally, Josh, I also love how you expressed this: “The illusion is that we have to be seperate, that we can’t be distinct yet harmoniously open, making and sharpening each other into their purity of function and experience within the diverse whole.” Right . . . very good contemplation . . .

    Kim, thank you for your encouragement. Your comments on this site have already suggested you also have some insightful perspectives, so we’d love to see you share. In fact, many of you have had very insightful responses, even to this post alone. It’s ready to surrender to the next one . . . any takers? ; )

    Blessings and shalom to all,
    Karina

    ReplyDelete
  13. Larry says:
    July 9, 2011 at 8:33 pm

    The Gnostic writings and the Holy Qur’an give a bit of commentary on the Adam and Eve account that, when added to the Genesis account, helps me to make more sense of the whole story.

    The Gnostics and the Qur’an point out that the Garden of Eden was not on planet Earth, but in Paradise. That being said, after Adam and Eve’s so-called “original sin”, it is said that God made them “coats of skin” and cast them out of the Garden.
    The implication is that those “coats of skin” were human bodies and casting Adam and Eve out of the Garden was actually God sending them to Earth.

    I like this way of looking at it all, because it fills in the gaps of cosmology that a lot of the Biblical narrative sometimes leaves out. I’m told by my Jewish friends that the Talmud, Midrash and Zohar do this as well.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Chuck Dunning says:
    July 14, 2011 at 1:40 am

    Good work, Karina! I too am fond of thinking of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil being dualistic consciousness and, like Larry, I am also familiar with a number of traditions that consider Eden to not be at the physical level of manifestation. In either case, the challenge at hand is to reintegrate what we sense we have previously known as a unity of harmonious interconnection. Interestingly, in both cases we aren’t talking about a return to some state of undifferentiated unity, as in all dissolving back into some sort of primordial point of light. I think that is a very significant message with many implications for our lives and work as mystics.

    Agape,
    Chuck

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Karina says:
      July 14, 2011 at 4:42 pm

      Chuck! You’re back!

      Larry, your discussion of the tradition of others on the story of Eden adds an intriguing element to our consideration of this story. Thank you for noting it.

      I agree, Chuck, that the story illuminates not a return to “undifferentiated unity,” as in Eden, but “harmonous interconnection,” as in the Promised Land, a land “flowing with milk and honey.” I imagine this land in contrast to the land of post Eden that must be “toiled.” When I posted this blog, I had actually intended to write a follow-up on that idea, but — as you may understand — after the busy end-of-the-school year work came family needs, travel, painting projects, and Red Cross calls, so I got pulled away and still haven’t written it. In a nutshell, that one would express that like the Israelites who wandered through a desert for forty years, attempting to leave the land of “toiling,” our mystic path is no easy journey! What a gift it is then, that we can find others with whom to share the journey. Thanks to all here for this community, and, Chuck, it’s good to have you back.

      Shalom,
      Karina

      Delete
  15. Aaron Milavec says:
    July 17, 2011 at 2:04 pm

    There is a Christian mysticism afoot in the world, and we can thank “Eve” for having tasted it first and given it to her helpmate. . . .
    Some of the early Church Fathers (Irenaeus, Origen) regarded Adam and Eve as literally children growing up in their Parent’s Garden. Being children, the fruit of the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 2:17) was naturally inaccessible to them; yet, God planted this tree in the middle of the Garden because he definitely wanted them to eat of it when he discerned that they were ready. As often happens, however, children rush ahead and seize adult ways prematurely. According to Origen, Eve’s initiative merely represents the well-known case that girls mature earlier than boys. The serpent in this narrative is not what will later be identified as Satan in disguise (Wis 2:24; Rev 20:2) but the wisdom figure of ancient cultures. The serpent, accordingly, reveals quite rightly to Eve that by touching the fruit, she will not die—on the contrary, “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened [so as to discern good and evil], and you will be like God” (Gen 3:5). They ate and “the eyes of both were opened” (Gen 3:7)—just as the serpent revealed. The fact that they notice, for the first time, that they are naked only demonstrates that they are indeed seeing with adult eyes (and have lost the innocence of childhood). Then, once God discovers what has happened, he does not curse them. How could he? Rather, God says, “See, the man [lit., “earthling”] has become like one of us, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:22). Thus, God excludes them from the Garden where they might also eat of the tree of life and live forever. In so doing, God, acting like a good father, gets Adam ready for the curses of farming, and Eve is prepared for the curses of childbearing. In brief, Adam and Eve enter into the adult world wherein their Parent will no longer do everything from them. This reading of Genesis (which prevails today within the Eastern Orthodox Churches and within many Jewish circles as well) captures much more of the deep nuances of the ancient narrative than do those later readings that imagine Adam and Eve were tempted by Satan and committed a grievous sin worthy of death. Anselm regarded the crime as one of unpardonable treason since the children of God had taken the side of God’s enemy against him. In Anselm’s day, the punishment for treason was death, not only for the guilty participants in the crime, but for their children as well. It thus seemed natural that the death penalty imposed (‘spiritual death”) fell not only upon our first parents but upon all their future children as well.

    ReplyDelete

My photo
Pacific Northwest