Summary: In this voyeuristic age, where everybody thinks they have a right to know everything, here’s a story that suggests that there are some things that we ought not to know...
"The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it"
Some will take this as a sure indication of the fact that this story was written by a man. For it seems that from Day 1 (or, to be exact, from Day 8) the creation story focuses on the jobs that need doing, whereas if a woman had written it, surely the focus would have been on Adam and Eve getting their relationship right first!
Of course you don’t need to look too hard to find indications of a patriarchal bias in the Genesis stories, if you’re of a mind to look for such things. Certainly it has been suggested that the very fact that the man is created first in Genesis is a clear indication of the male-centered mindset of the story-teller. Of course, others have argued that the pattern of the creation story is that the best things get created last, which would suggest that woman is the crowning work of God’s creation.
Indeed, even the fact that Eve is depicted as being built from one of Adam’s ribs may be taken as suggesting only that this was the only worthwhile part that could be salvaged from the initial prototype, to be included in the upgrade version!
The truth is that we are dealing with a very ancient narrative here, and while generations of Bible- believing people have enjoyed speculating on what this very ancient narrative says about the proper relationships between men and women, it is my belief that the story itself is relatively uninterested in the battle between the sexes, and is far more concerned with the relationship between women and men and their creator, which is where I want to focus the rest of this reflection.
The Lord God, we are told, put the man in a garden, and He gave him a vocation, and He gave him a partner, and He gave them a prohibition - a ’Thou shalt not’. Thou shalt not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Life is like that. We begin with lots of givens, lots of rules, lots of ’Thou shalt nots’, not all of which we appreciate.
It would be nice, wouldn’t It, if we could have some control over our starting point in life - decide who our parents were going to be, where we were going to be brought up, or begin from some sort of neutral spot without set rules or any form of disadvantage, but life doesn’t work like that.
As the punk rock singer Richard Hell said, "its such a gamble when you get a face." You don’t know whether you’re going to be pretty or ugly or pretty ugly. Or as that master of the fighting arts, Kon Pappy, says, "if you want to have legs like an athlete, the trick is to pick your parents very carefully." Yet we can’t!
This is the curse I’ve always laboured under of course. I was born with the mind of the greatest middleweight boxer of all time, but sadly, with the legs of an academic.
Of course the ’givens’ for Adam and Eve seem entirely ideal. They have a great house and a great job and a great relationship with the boss, or so it seems, and the prohibition doesn’t appear to be a problem to begin with. Why should it be?
Enter the snake:
"Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God actually say, ’You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?" (Genesis 3:1)
All of a sudden the command of God, which up to that point had been something that the garden dwellers just did, becomes an object of discussion - an option to be decided upon, and perhaps even an imposition that needs to be called into question.
Walter Bruegermann, in his Commentary on Genesis, points out that this is the first theological discussion that takes place in the Bible, and so he refers to the snake as the world’s first working theologian. Up to this point people have been talking to God. This is the first time that they start talking about God.
’The serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die [if you eat of the tree]. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."’ (Genesis 3:4-5)
And so they eat, and so their eyes are opened. They know good from evil, and it turns out that they know too much - they know that they are naked!
Again, life is like that. This story does seem strangely familiar, does it not?