Updated: Jan 21
But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.
- Genesis 3:4-6
(Photo is of a late third century fresco in the Roman catacombs of Adam and Eve after eating the fruit.)
If you ever watch suspense shows or any kind of horror show, you know when a character is about to be killed. Ominous music begins to play, and the poor, oblivious person is afraid, unsure what to do next, and walks right into the hands of the plotting evil being who is just waiting for its next victim. Ever yelled at the screen, “Don’t do it! Don’t do it!!” In case you think (as I am guilty of doing) that most television shows have little or no value, I offer the prior observation as evidence to the contrary. If the woman had ever watched a slasher flick, she might have been more aware of the birds’ songs, the whispered melody of the breeze, the animals’ roars of warning, and the shadowy sinister hint in the serpent’s smile. It’s enough to make you want to yell, “No! Don’t do that!” But, alas, she was an innocent and walked right into the villain’s hands – or trap of lies, as the case may be. Hold that thought for a moment. I’m going to get back to it. The woman was an innocent.
Blogging about Christian marriage took a back seat to the holydays because, quite frankly, I believe the activity of God in Jesus Christ was and is more important than my wandering thoughts on Christian marriage. That said, last week I wrote on the difficulty of relating our own lives and self-understanding to the events described in the early chapters of Genesis. The reason for writing that was two-fold. First, we understand the Incarnation of the Son, as well as all that follows thereafter, including Pentecost, only when we see them as the answer to the damage and destruction of human beings and the whole of creation that occurred in and through the fall. In other words, we can’t understand Christianity – Christian belief, Christian discipleship, Christian morality, Christian life now and eternally, or anything related to Christianity unless we begin with the first chapters of Genesis.
Second, of all the theories of human nature and the meaning and purpose of human life, none is so accurate, so glorious, and so dismal as is revealed to us in Genesis. Not only can we not understand marriage apart from Genesis 1-3, we cannot even understand our humanity in all its majesty and all its shame. Theories of scientists, speculations of philosophers, hypotheses of psychiatrists and doctors have merit in varying degrees, but none so clearly understands the human creature described in our creation and in our fall.
Such being the case, if we want to understand the nature of Christian marriage, if we simply want to understand both the longing and the conflict between men and women, the place to look first is Genesis. In the first three chapters, we learn who and what we are, what God intended in our creation, how we went wrong (and continue to do so), and why we still can’t get along today. You wouldn’t think so much could be said in such a little space with such a small vocabulary. (The ancient Hebrew language used to write Genesis was limited to between 8,000 and 80,000 words, depending upon how one counts variations of the same root word. This is in comparison to the English language which is believed to have over a million words in common usage today.) However, since human beings are made in the image of God, there is no real surprise that the numerous volumes of speculative explanations among scholarly expositors of theories of human nature require a great many words in any attempt to define and/or codify the immeasurable complexities of human nature. The author of Genesis didn’t need that many words because Genesis begins with God creating, the culmination of which is His image, i.e.: human beings.
Now we turn to the problem of the fall, for that is the biggest problem every person has. The fall is set in motion by a third “player” so to speak. We do not take evil seriously enough. The serpent in the Garden is a fallen angel, probably one of the highest order, since the word serpent comes from the Egyptian word seraph, referring to the six-winged beings who serve and worship before the throne of God day and night. Writings from the Early Church hold that angelic beings were created either on the first day of creation or the fourth day of creation, a topic for another day. An archangel of the same order as Michael and Gabriel aspired to be God’s equal or even greater, and that led to his fall along with all the angelic forces who followed him. Once cast out of the presence of God, this evil one (the devil, Satan, Lucifer, the tempter…) and demonic forces move across the face of the earth seeking to destroy lives and to destroy all good, stealing as many human beings from their Creator as possible.
That is who approached the woman and asked, “Did God really say…?” This is the essence of temptation – this question about the trustworthiness of what God has said. But before exploring the nature of temptation, I want to make a point about the woman. Today, it is not uncommon among some branches of Christianity to talk about the woman as somehow weaker than the man, as if she was the “easy mark.” That is wrong. The last two to three hundred years have shown a slow degradation of women that, at least in part, fed the backlash that is the feminist movement today. The “liberation of women” was from restrictive roles imposed by a failure to take into account the whole witness of the Scriptures and perhaps more importantly, the equality of women in the image of God. Women were held in higher esteem in the early centuries of Christianity than they were in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and, arguably, in higher esteem than in some denominations today.
In the fourth century, for example, St. Ambrose argued that the woman could not possibly be weaker, meaning more pliable or more easily swayed, because she still possessed the original nature given in her creation. She was fully the image of God equally with the man, and whatever her physical being was at that point, her soul – her nous, her mind, her reasoning – were on an equal par with that of the man, both of whom were still innocent and uncompromised. God gave the command not to eat of the fruit to the man prior to the woman’s creation. Since she knew she wasn’t to eat the fruit, her knowledge of God’s command came indirectly through the man. Therefore, the serpent approached her because the question regarding the goodness and authority of God’s command rested in some degree on the credibility of the man. Being the man’s equal and listening to the serpent, the woman rationalized her own case for eating the fruit and ignored the command conveyed to her by the man. Her husband, who had received the command directly from God, made no objection and ate the fruit when she offered it to him.
All temptation arises from our desire to be like God or to be god of our own life. When prompted to choose between God’s command and our own desires and wishes, the nature of temptation is to question the truth of what God has said or to doubt that God is trustworthy with our life. We should be able to recognize this in countless decisions we have made over our lifetime, and likewise, we should be able to see it in the world around us when people deny God with great certainty and reject the possibility of design in creation and in human life. Doing so is neither brilliant nor brave. Believing we can be our own god and trusting in our own wisdom rather than striving to obey God are the source of every opportunity for sin and evil to prevail in our lives.
We cannot be tempted by what we do not want, so the temptation presented to the woman and indirectly to the man who was with her was a desire the serpent knew (or guessed) was hidden within them, that is, the desire to be like God. That desire is instilled in us because we are made in His image. To some degree, we reflect Him, and that would have been exponentially clearer in the first man and woman. While the creature can never be the Creator, from the very beginning the promise of becoming children of God lingered within the human beings. In this way, the serpent was offering to the woman and her husband that which would one day be theirs as a gift from God. This is the same offer made to Jesus Christ in His temptation. “All these kingdoms I will give to you…” But all the kingdoms of earth already were subjects of the Son.
Because the command was given to the man, succumbing to temptation ultimately would be blamed on him. In Romans 5, St. Paul explicitly attributes the entry of sin and death into the world to the first man, that is, to Adam. But the woman was not without fault. She knew the command God gave to the man. “Do not eat of the fruit of that tree…” Yet, she chose to eat the fruit anyway.
In the next blog, we will look at what occurred after the man and woman disobeyed God. For now, it is enough for us to understand the dynamic between the woman and the man in the temptation. They were innocent and lacking in wisdom, almost child-like in their reasoning and in their delight in the Garden and in each other. The woman not only allowed the serpent to seed doubt about the goodness of God’s care, she also doubted the counsel of the man. She didn’t respect what he’d told her, and she didn’t respect his responsibility for the Garden, which included the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The woman made the decision about the command given to the man, but it wasn’t her decision to make. This choice, this decision, is the origin of Paul’s exhortation in Ephesians 5 that women submit to and respect their husbands. That much-maligned passage is the correction and redemption of the decisions and actions of Genesis 3.
In contrast, the man, who had heard God’s command directly, chose to stand aside and ignore his responsibility for the tree of knowledge in the Garden. God put the man in the Garden to care for it, and God commanded the man not to eat the fruit. But the man experienced the woman as “flesh of his flesh and bone of his bones.” Letting her choose what she wanted to do came with the implied expectation that her happiness would be his. Yet, the man’s first allegiance should have been to God, not to the woman. He should never have stood quietly by and let her make a choice contrary to the will of God. That is what he did, and that is why Paul exhorts husbands to “love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, to sanctify her and make her holy” in Ephesians 5.
In short, she usurped his responsibility, and he abdicated his responsibility. Then, all hell broke loose. Quite literally…
I do not think anyone can look at contemporary society and not see this same pattern, this usurpation of all that is masculine by women and the abdication of masculinity and masculine responsibility by men. This is not about roles, as in, who can have what job, but about necessary and wonderful distinctions between male and female in our creation. Redemption and restoration are possible, but only in Christ and in His power to reverse the damage and alienation that are the inevitable result of sin. We are not ready to think about restoration of God’s intent yet. We still need to explore and understand the sin that plagues human relationships, sin we often embrace and celebrate.
Many people mock Christian marriage. Frankly, when I hear some Christians speak about marriage, I have an urge to mock them also. However, what we must understand is that, irrespective of popular opinion, we are more abundantly alive when we live according to the purposes of God, and those purposes are revealed in the design and intent of creation. More Christians should spend more time learning what this means and how that is to be lived.
Whenever someone howls in protest, remember this: Adam and Eve were creatures of life who wagered death because they had never seen death. You and I are creatures of death who wager life because we have never seen life, not authentic life, not everlasting life. We have seen only the half-life that belongs to dying creatures. For every howl of protest, there will be five silent prayers of thanksgiving for the truth.
Do not shy away from God’s intent in creation, but instead, explore God’s intent and command so as to live as a beacon of light to a world falling into increasing darkness.
In Christ –
Rev. Elizabeth Moreau
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