On the Fall

I recently had a very brief interaction with a person who describes herself as part of liberal religion who praised Eve for “giv[ing] up blissful ignorance and look[ing] for truth, knowledge, and understanding.”   When I suggested that this was equating the fall which caused the death of God as a good thing, she responded that “Not all see a “fall” in Genesis. Not all believe that humanity is fundamentally and intractably flawed from the outset.”  I then asked if she could explain Paul’s statement that “all sin in Adam” and Christ’s redeeming death.  So far I have received no response.

My view on this is that there are three things going on, each of them regrettable.  First is the equation of that which as brought about every terrible and horrible thing, including the horrific treatment of women, with something good, the engaged desire for knowledge.  Second is a firm understanding of biblical scholarship on the text involved.  Third is a demonstrable lack of familiarity with Christian teaching from the earliest centuries of the church.

The first is easily shown when we consider that every evil caused by human beings is traced to the fall, including human death.  Poverty, starvation, enmity between the sexes, and the sufferings of child-birth are all directly related to the act of Adam and Eve in eating the fruit of the Etz HaDaat Tov VaRa.  As well, the suffering and death of Jesus are directly linked with the fall in the garden in the Protoevangelion and by Paul, and the work of Christ is identified as undoing the death that has come from this “look[ing] for truth, knowledge, and understanding.”

The fundamental problem with all of this is that if in fact God has our best interests at heart, and God’s desire is that we should strive for knowledge, truth, and understanding by directly disobeying God’s command in the garden, then how is it that such evil has come from this “act of liberation?’  How is it that the one who desires our good, has set up a world where the only way to achieve that good is to disobey and then suffer the horrors of famine, plague, rape, torture, blind malice, and death?  What can we say about the Character of God if this is the case?

What we must conclude is then that the one who has set things up is not our friend, for if doing good brings about evil, then we are in an evil world from top to bottom.  We must look to the one who in fact helped us out of our ignorance, the serpent.  Surely he, then is our friend.  He who led us into this new world where we can, as this person has said, “take knowledge,power 2 discern, cocreation w/ God” must be our true companion in this journey.

Now those who know their church history will know that there was another group who thought this way, a branch of the gnostics who saw the creator God as evil and the serpent as a freer of humanity.  This is, of course, very dangerous company to keep, as they denied the real suffering of Christ, and the physical incarnation.  Oddly enough, Jesus is identified directly with the creation of the world.  He insists on obeying God no matter the cost.  How do we reconcile these things?  The Valentinians created a vast complex array of emanations to deal with these problems.  Perhaps those holding to the goodness of the Eve’s decision should take the time to read Against Heresies by Irenaeus of Lyons to understand the complicated work ahead of them if they follow their statements to their logical conclusions.

The second problem here is the lack of Biblical Scholarship that comes into such an understanding.  There has been a recent move to understand the Garden Story in the context of the Babylonian exile, and perhaps even as a critique of the Solomnic wisdom tradition (as per Sparks and Stavrakopoulou).  When the sin in the garden takes place, where does God send them?  To the east.  And when Cain kills Abel, where is he sent?  To the east.  When the Jews sinned, leading to the deportation to Babylon, one need only look at a map to realized that the direction from Jerusalem to Babylon is that of the eastward orientation.  If the Babylonian Exile is the context for the writing of the garden story, it is very hard to say that the intent of that passage is merely one of a people who “look for truth, knowledge, and understanding.”

Even without this particular interpretation, if the same banishment is given to Adam and Eve for their “good deeds” as Cain for killing his brother, what does that say about Fratricide?  Is Cain merely, “exercising his freedom against the tyranny of pastoral theocracy?”  Should we all head out and kill shepherds?  How is it that banishment east is somehow the result of both a liberating act and the murder of one’s brother?

Third, there is a real lack of understanding of the Patristic teaching of humanity’s destiny if we had not fallen.  The Greek fathers suppose, from their understanding of the doctrine of the deification of humanity, that had we not fallen, we would have grown into wisdom over time, and eventually, after growing in knowledge, wisdom and truth, by power of the incarnation, joined faultlessly with God through the deification of humanity (for a simple introduction to this theme, please see Fellow Workers with God: Orthodox Thinking on Theosis by Norman Russell).  Such a view supposes that the creation of humanity was not complete in the garden, but only the first phase.  The second phase, the training up of humanity to be able to bear the image of God in a new and fuller way, was always to be completed when God came close in the incarnation.  The difference that sin made was that the incarnation alone was now not sufficient to bring us up to this new relationship with God, but instead the passion, death, and resurrection of the God-Man Jesus was required to undo the work of Adam and Eve.  For some of these ancient theologians, the words “It is finished” on the cross are a statement that completes the process begun in Genesis 1:27, “Let us create Adam in our image.”  If one wishes to see this played out in a fantastical setting, one need only read C.S. Lewis’ Perelandra.

Thus we find that such a view, ignoring the real ramifications of the fall, ignoring the historical context of the text, and ignoring the theological history of the text is in need of simply more education.  It may be well and good to look for good in evil, but we must remember that it is the unique property of God to bring good out of evil, but even God cannot make an evil thing good unless it dies and rises in God’s own self.

(It should be noted here that Adam and Eve are the Biblical representation of the first humans who lived in innocent communion with God, and I am not wedded to a historical reading of the text.  This does not mean, however, that I am not insistent on reading the text as truth revealed about the origin of humanity (created by God in God’s image), humanity’s role in the world (as proper lord of the world and tiller of the earth), the relation of man and woman (equals, coworkers), and the disobedience of those first people that led to sin and death.)

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3 thoughts on “On the Fall

  1. I can’t reply with the level of scholarship that I know you will bring to this really interesting discussion…but from a liberal religious perspective, as one who is more conversant with a process view of God (meaning that God, too, evolves and expands, as does the universe), I simply come at the story from a different place. As I recently heard in a song lyric…if God created us in God’s own image, than what did God expect!?

    I neither equate the seeking of knowledge, discernment, the ability to tell good from evil as the ultimate meaning and purpose of human life, but nor is it automatically the road to depravity and suffering. In some ways, the story of the expulsion from the garden suggests a mythological way of understanding the transition from hunter/gatherer societies to agrarian societies, and all of the things that came along with that transition.

    Does Liberal religion have a place for sin? Absolutely. We all sin. Individually and collectively, in any number of ways. Is the quest for knowledge, understanding, truth and Truth inherently sinful? No. Can it be conducted in ways that are unskillful, harmful, full of hubris and totally lacking in humility and compassion? Absolutely. It happens all the time.

    I just don’t see that story, in any way, as an example of evil breaking into the world. Complexity, yes. Chaos, perhaps. But evil…that I do not ascribe to any kind of supernatural forces. We do that just fine on our own.

    I do not mean to suggest that Eve somehow achieved a supreme good. Certainly I don’t think she did any evil. I do think that it’s a mythological way to grasp the reality that suffering is always present in life, that pridefulness and lack of humility can compound that suffering, and that grace is still something we can not do without.

    No doubt some will call me a heretic. No doubt, to some, I am. Our faith went down that road a very, very long time ago. It’s a label we wear comfortably.

    Grateful, as always, for conversations like this. Even when we diverge, I am always grateful for the many others in my virtual community who wrestle with good, hard questions, who seek grace, and who freely offer the love modeled by a great Jewish rabbi from Galilee….

  2. I understand a bit better now your position.

    I do not believe that Eve’s sin was seeking knowledge, but disobeying the Divine command. From an incarnation-centered perspective, one cannot seek truth outside of God, for there is no truth outside of God. Christ says He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that Truth is absolute. All truth is rooted in Him. Thus if natural selection is an accurate way of describing how human beings were shaped into our present state, then this has its roots in the Second Person of the Trinity.

    However, the One who says “if you love me, you will obey my commandments” cannot also be the one who, for our own good, advises us to disobey him. For to love God is to obey God joyfully, knowing that this is a good and true expression of our telos, our end goal. For Eve to seek the truth by disobeying the order not to eat of the tree, would be like a child saying that it was seeking to obey its parent by doing exactly the opposite of what the parent commanded.

    My thoughts on process theology will appear in another blog…perhaps tonight.

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