Growing up my Grandmother used to read to us from a series of Bible books, complete with color pictures. I remember the Garden of Eden. The rich greens. The bright red of the apple. The glaring look of the serpent. The look of innocence turned to shame in the faces of Adam and Eve. I had the good fortune to grow up on a steady diet of Bible stories. Every night before going to bed I would pluck one of the books off the shelf and settle into the silence to meet the word off God in the voice of my grandmother.
That’s how I like to remember it, anyway. Maybe it wasn’t so idyllic. Maybe it was only like this sometimes. Now things are different, of course. I’m an adult with many and varied responsibilities. I have meetings to attend, books to read, sermons to write, people to visit. I have to travel and speak and listen and sometimes in my quiet desperation I find myself hungry for God.
Adam and Eve had it made. God had made them for each other. They were living in a beautiful garden with plenty of good food to eat. All natural foods. No preservatives. They were at peace with themselves, with their world and with God. They had everything. They were like children snuggling up to Grandma for a bedtime story. What could possible go wrong?
And then, the serpent. The most subtle and beguiling of all God’s creatures. The serpent has long been the symbol of that which we most fear, not for its sheer strength, but for its ability to captivate us, to mesmerize us and strike when we least expect it. This serpent speaks and what he says is not so much a bold-face lie as it is the twist on the truth.
“Did God REALLY say you couldn’t eat of any of the trees?” the serpent asks the woman, though his question is more of a challenge. He’s luring her. “What kind of God would put you in this garden and not let you eat what you wanted?” his question implies.
“No, you’ve got it wrong,” Eve replies, “It’s only this particular tree, and it’s because we’ll die if we eat it. Heck, we’ll die if we even touch it, I think. This tree is bad news. God wants to protect us.”
You can almost see the grin slowly forming on the serpent’s face and those red glaring eyes. “It’s not going to kill you. God is jealous. He doesn’t want what’s best for you. Here, take a bite. See for yourself.”
The serpent doesn’t exactly lie. Instead, he weaves the truth around in such a way that Eve begins to question God. Why did God put us in this garden and tell us not to eat this fruit? What is it about knowledge that could kill us? She looks to the tree and sees a ripe piece of fruit dangling down. Looks good. Smells good. What could be the harm? She eats of it, gives some to Adam and he does the same.
It is here that the twist in the story comes. Adam and Eve do not become “like God” with their new found knowledge. Instead, they feel shame. They sew fig leaves together and hide their nakedness.
Adam and Eve had it made. In this act of disobedience their relationship with God was severed. Cut off. Instead of a long and happy life lived in the presence of all the wonderful gifts in this garden of Paradise, they reached for the one thing that cut them off from God.
It would be nice to look at this story and blame everything on the serpent. Some have. But you can’t lay the blame on the serpent. It wasn’t the serpent who ate the apple. The serpent was just being…well, the serpent.
It would even be somewhat comforting for some of us to lay most of the blame on Eve. After all, she was the one deceived. She ate first. Interestingly, the text doesn’t say what Adam’s response was when Eve brought him the forbidden fruit. The text just says she gave him some and he ate it.
Who does this leave us to blame? Adam and Eve together. Yeah. But who can say if you were in their shoes, you would have done any different? In fact, who here, when faced with the temptation to settle for something less than whole-hearted devotion to God, has not eaten of the fruit?
The taste of original sin is on our lips. How can we wash it out? The first step toward restoring the good thing Adam and Eve had before the Fall is to know that we depend on God in Jesus Christ. Unlike Adam and Eve, Christ resisted the temptation to settle for anything less. This story is a complete reversal. Adam and Eve were in a lush garden paradise. Christ was in the wilderness. Adam and Eve had all they could ever want to eat. Christ had fasted forty days and was very hungry. Adam and Eve gave in to temptation and ate of the fruit. Christ resisted, and remained in communion with God.
Jesus Christ leads us home to the plush garden paradise God created for us. This is more than a children’s fairly tale. It is the Truth that shows us the Way to Life.