Let’s first run through that Bible story in Genesis of The Fall from Grace of Adam and Eve, the first people and created by God, and placed by him in Paradise in the Garden of Eden. There are people here in the UK today, many, many, who are not familiar with this story; or else whose familiarity with it is rather sketchy.
First a little context about why we are discussing here what most people who have heard this strory think is a myth and a fantasy. Firstly, it is not because I am a fundamentalist Christian. I am not. Secondly, because any story is myth and fantasy does not mean it has nothing of interest to say to us. Think of all those SciFi movies, TV shows and books you’ve encountered; upon which reams and reams of discussion have been written, spoken, thoguht, to the extent that one is able these days to earn a Ph.D. by unfolding such a fantasy in one’s thesis.
Ask yourselves why The Garden of Even story has survived so long. Ask yourselves why it has held human interest for so long; and even now the basic ‘plotline’ remains a perrenial theme for countless movies programmes and publications of fiction.
I want to use this story of The Garden of Eden to show to you something about us as human beings which if you do not know yet you will benefit by knowing. I doubt I will be saying anything startlingly new or revolutionary to those to whom I am ‘preaching to the converted’; but maybe even some these people I might be able to entertain in a rehearsal of their own observations? The story then.
There was in Eden a Tree of which God had prohibited Adam and Eve to eat of the fruit. This tree was called The Tree of Knowledge; or sometimes it is known by a fuller title as being The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
All else in Eden was available to Adam and Eve as food, provision, utility. The penalty for them eating of the Tree of Knowledge God had told them was that ‘Thou shalt surely die’. Thus before their Fall from Grace Adam and Eve we are to presume were immortal creaures who would never die.
The story of how Adam and Eve got to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is thuswise:
The Serpent, who is described as being ‘the subtlest beast of all the field’ speaks to Eve and uses flatery and lies upon her saying: You should not die were you to eat of the Tree’ and ‘God does not want you to be God-like in the same way he himself is’ – and that, ‘this is why he forbade you to eat of the tree’ and finaly the Serpent adds; ‘the fruit of The Tree is very delicious’. These are the Serpent’s chief arguments of persuasion which ‘beguile’ Eve and cause her to ‘pluck from the Tree and she did eat’.
Her spouse, Adam, eats of The Tree not in order to become Godlike; nor else to savour the flavour; but because he is distraught at the thought of losing his dearest partner Eve, and so he elects to eat of the fruit of The Tree so as to remain with her, for better or for worse, and so share in any consequences she might expect from God.
These are the basics of the story. More details as they are told in The Bible will unfold as I progress through the thoughts I want to get down in writing here. (If you can’t wait; open your Bible and read for yourself)
An important thing to note is that the Serpent is never in the Biblical story associated with An Evil One; such as the person of Satan has become in Christian thinking since.
Now when the poet John Milton began his own epic poem on this Fall from Grace in Eden he declared the cardinal sin of Eve and of Adam to be the sin of disobedience. Milton beings his epic with the line of verse:
‘Of man’s first disobedience and the fruit of that forbidden tree, etc, etc…’
And indeed this has been fairly the orthodox position for scholars and theologians of Christian and Biblical interpretation since the beginnings. The first sin then was disobedience to God.
This fact of disobedience is established by God having clearly given instruction to Adam and Eve that everything in The Garden is available to Adam and Eve to eat except The Fruit of The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Once God had clearly established this fact only then did he go on to say to the couple ‘Thou shalt surely die’ should the couple eat of The Tree. After this statement of God’s there remains only that temptation and the arguments it uses and offered by The Tempter, The Serpent. Some of these offerings of The Tempter were lies and flatteries, and on them as we shall see will be based other supplementary and subsequent sins of the couple Adam and Eve in their actions and choices to eat of The Tree.
Disobedience to God then may be considered to be the father and mother of those further sins which Adam and Eve carry out once they have decided to eat and so to disobey God.
Thus it can be logically understood that were the couple to have adhered to God’s will for them, then they would not have caried out any further supplementary and subsequent sins, and they would have instead lived as immortals in The Garden and be living there thus right now today. Thus we might say that the sin of disobedience to God was their gateway to further sinning.
Thus for any person – were we to extrapolate to the children and descendents of Adam and Eve, whom we are, the same conditions given by God to Adam and Eve – then it is paramount and essential for any person to know God’s will, who has been thus invited by God to follow Him; and vital for any person to obey God in all things so as to do no sin. Likewise, were we to disobey God, once God’s will is known to any of us , disobedience will always the initial, precursor sin which we commit, and it is an intial, precursor, sin which opens up the way to us for us to sin further and in many different ways. Moreover, once we have disobeyed God, and we have not (yet) repented and asked and been given absolution of our sin of disobedience, in such a case for us to sin further and in other ways is an inevitable and unavoidable trajectory we shall follow. Once we have left the strait and narrow path of obedience to God, we are on a rocky and waste landscape whereabouts we shall stumble and fall again and again.
Firstly about the word ‘sin. It is interpreted often as being a ‘falling away’ from ‘a standard’; hence the euphemisms for sinning; I guess like ‘going astray’ and ‘going off the straight and narrow’ etc etc.
Falling away from what Standard?
From The Standard God sets for humankind, as this Standard is preached in The Hebrew and Christian Bibles. Or from another angle; a falling away from Grace; from God’s condescension to shepherd us; and done whenever we voluntarily choose to go our own way and to shun the path, that Standard, which God has laid out for us as being good and right. Good not just for ourselves; but for all of us; and good in itself; (an idea which many find themselves baulking to believe in these days; but I am aiming to try to show that it probably does exist.)
Sin then has a precursor sin of disobedience to God, which is a diverging intentionally from the Standard he sets is as our measure and our bounds. What is this Standard? Well, Jesus makes it plain as day when he says:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Now this might sound a bit screwy to you; and nothing to do with disobedience; because disobedience is not mentioned or even apparently glanced at inthese words of The Lord Jesus? Sin itself is not mentioned nor even contemplated in these words as they appear.
Yet these words lay out all of God’s Standard for us; they lay out clearly that conduct and behaviour which when we do it means we are following God’s will for us; and this means that we are on the true path of obedience.
So to be a sinner, to fall away from Grace, one has to choose to stop loving first and foremost God; and to stop doing things and thinking things which put your neighbour in the same shoes as yourself, and yourslef in your neighbour’s shoes; and with maximum sympathy and love every time.
Now it’s indeed a hard call. A very hard call which Jesus and his Father make upon us; asking us to keep on this strait and narrow way and us never to deviate from it; never to stop loving God first and best; and never to stop placing your neighbour on the same plane of priority as one places oneself. I believe that not even the best of us, the holiest of Christians, really reach such a point of 100% obedience to God by keeping his Standard always. Not here in this life.
Hence I believe we all sin; even the best of us stumbles now and then. We all find ourselves at one time or another not considering God, and not concerned with what he wants from us; and instead we go putting ourselves forward beyond that measure God has laid down for us.
There’s a lovely scene in I believe the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie where Pintel and Raggetti are arguing about a Bible in Raggetti’s hand. Pintel says ‘Why have you got a Bible open?” Raggetti says he’s hoping it will do some good, him reading the Bible, and so get them out of a pickle they are in. Pintel counters; “But you can’t read!” and Raggetti comes back with “You get points for trying!”
Well let’s not get too deep into theological quagmire and quandries, but let’s just say that in a kind of way Raggetti makes a good point. God ever asks of us our best; and our best includes minimally our inevitable failings; and we give our best providing that we seek in honest bona fide penitence to have our failings passed over and forgiven by Him. As the great priest John Donne said of us doing Charity; so it is with our conduct before God. We are asked to: ‘Do what we can….All we can”
Let us use the story of The Garden and The Fall of Adam and Eve now to try to explain why we are not fully up to that hard call, that Standard God asks of us.
Indeed before Eve was ‘beguiled’ by the Serpent in The Garden she and her spouse and partner Adam were totally up to living out that Standard provided by God for them to live by. 100% so. As the poet John Milton in his epic poem Paradise Lost has God say of Adam concerning Adam’s and Eve’s capablities of being able to resist the temptations of the Serpent :
“Sufficient to have stood, though free to fall”. A nice point and a powerful one. The element of choice, of freedom to choose, is crucial in the attributes which God gave or allowed to Adam and Eve in the Garden. Adam and Eve had free choice before (and it remained with them afterwards also) their Fall. Like Adam and Eve (our First Parents) we too remain free to choose; free to choose God and his Standard for ourselves and for others; or else to go our own ways and so fall away from this Standard God has provided to us.
Thus it is that when a human person, any one of us, becomes self-aware of this fact of choice; that life’s main decision is either to go with God and attempt ever to uphold and hold to His Standard; or else to go with another way which is not recommended nor approved by God; thus when one meets this decision in one’s life; and it confronts one, which is the great life crisis, this overwhelming question has to be answered by us – we are not able to abstain or to postpone a decision – it has to be immediately and lastingly addressed – so that whatever we choose, the one path of God or the other path of self, determines our whole lives henceforwards and our choice determines our outlook, our behaviour, and our understanding of life itself, and of what, if anything at all, life means and is for.
Thus for those persons who face, are to face, or have faced this life crisis; the division of us, as Jesus calls it, into ‘sheep and goats’; they are facing again in their own particular ways in their own particular lives that very same choice as that which Eve faced when theoutcome was that she was, ‘beguiled’ by temptations of The Serpent (and thereafter Adam chose also), just as the Bible story in the Book of Genesis tells us. Like Adam and Eve we all are made by God likewise so to be:
“Sufficient to have stood, though free to fall.”
This life crisis and choice is indeed that moment; that instant; that fulcrum, and that watershed, which carries people over a divide bewtween Innocence and Experience in their understandings. It is a divide which once bridged can never be returned back over to resume a state of innocence. As the poet T S Eliot wrote of this moment of existential crisis:
“After such knowledge; what forgiveness?”
So it is that human beings act out in analogue the very same story and under similar conditions of the temptation and beguilement as those of our First Parents in The Garden of Eden. And what might be the crucial factor in our making our choices whether to attempt ever to keep The Standard of God; or else to go our own ways and to follow solely our own desires in our life? The crucial factor is a willingnes,or else andunwillingness, to be obedient; to lead in as far as possible a life of service to God first, and then to others, or else to decline such a life and choose the world and what it can offer instead. Obedience is the first and foremost demand and command of God upon us; we are asked to follow his will and to forgo going our own ways. Such a commitment made by oneself is a commitment, which at heart, one is aware of being, in its essence: again, as T S Eliot says:
“The awful daring of a moment’s surrender
Which an age of prudence can never retract”
“A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)”
It’s scary. It’s like that moment when dad let go of the saddle and you were first riding a bicycle proper. Except that dad (God) is there always, everywhere, watching and ready to catch you whenever/if you slip over And to set you back on and so you to go off pedalling onwards again.
Because in the story Adam and Eve we are told Fell from God’s Grace, then we too, being in the spirit of the story their descendants, and so inheriting by blood and family ties their same Fall from Grace (bear with me); it remains true that even when we have committed ourselves as wholly as seems to us possible within us to God and to his Standard; we too are prone to fall and to need to be picked up dusted off and put back on our bikes again.
Thus the story of Adam and Eve is a fable about why and how we are imperfect beings; about why we do bad things and make bad decisions, harmful and sometimes cruel and unneighbourly utterly.
This is why God has given us a Standard for us ever to attempt to adhere to; and to measure ourselves by and against; and to keep us from doing ill things as much as possible. God’s Standard for us is immensely, utterly, wholly practical, but yet very arduously impracticable for us as flawed and weak creatures to perform. Hence we need his help for us to do the best we are able to do.
And what is this help? What might it consist of? I can think of two very big and useful things which God supplies to us and that help us stay with him and on his strait and narrow. One is his love; and this is the prime gift of God given to us. It is stated in The New Testament like this:
“For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
Thus that death about which God in The Garden had forewarned Adam and Eve; and about which The Serepent lied to Eve saying to her ‘Surely you shall not die’ were she to eat of the fruit of The Tree; this fearful death indeed was consequent upon The Fall of the First Couple from God’s Grace upon their eating of The Tree’s fruit. Death indeed was part and parcel of that Fall from Grace; as was also the subsequent ‘ungodliness’ before God of men and women without Christ thereafter.
Christ became Incarnate in the Person of The Son, Jesus, and died for us in an act of unselfish love; and was sent from God to men and women to do so. Jesus thus is the exemplar extrordinaire of that Godly Standard which says ‘love your neighbour as you love yourself’. The Son Jesus in dying for us allowed this consequence of death for us all which had arisien out of The Fall in Eden, to be set aside – potentially forever for every and any one of us – and in particular for those who choose to return to obedience to God’s love and to his word, via pledging themselves and their lives to the Mediator of this journey for men and women; a journey which takes them back to being right with Godas were Adam and Eve once in The Garden. This Mediator is Christ Jesus .
The second great and Gracious gift from God is The Holy Spirit given to dwell with us. The Holy Spirit is called sometimes ‘The Comforter’, ‘The Counsellor” or ‘The Advocate”. The presence of this Third Person of The Trinity – The Holy Spirit – choosing to dwell with all those who will to return to God via Mediator Jesus, thus makes that utter surrender of God’s people to his will which he demands and commands of his people, a lot less scary than it might otherwise be.
The Holy Spirit, a Person of The Trinity of i) God the Father; ii) God the Son and iii) God The Holy Spirit; Three Persons: one God; might sound confusing? The paraphrase I am going to write and which now follows is certainly the best explanation I have available which adequately and straightforwardly unfolds the puzzle of The Trinity. It does this so well. It was originally made by a man called Jacques Ellul:
We experience God sometimes as Father, a protector; sometimes as Son, a best friend; and sometimes as Holy Spirit, a comforter and a guide.
The Holy Spirit is that Person whom Jesus promised to all of us who do all we can to follow in his way; Jesus saying that this Holy Spirit will come to those and ‘lead them into all truth’. The Spirit, says Jesus also, will, in situations of confrontation concerning one’s faith, ‘give you the words to say’, words which cannot be gainsayed. Jesus adds importantly that there is no need to worry beforehand about what you will say.
Many times in the Gospels Jesus makes clear to us that God will provide not just words and truth for us; but ‘those things which the ungoldy worry themselves about and spend their lives stacking up as wealth’ and so he says, that we should not be anxious for, nor covet, nor fear for anything; not food and shelter, money health happiness ease and serenity. Obeience to God then is a matter of placing one’s faith in him, that he will not let us slip from his hands.
And so one is not abandoning oneself utterly to wayward ‘time and chance’ by willingly, gladly, placing oneself inone’s life wholly at the disposal of God and in obedience to his will; one is not to expect to see follow all kinds of trepidations and chaos and loss of direction and pathway. God is providential; his care for us is Providence
In this way that state of life which Adam and Eve enjoyed before their Fall from Grace is on offer to us through the mediation of Jesus Christ; and this offer is of that Salvation; which by his death and resurection he made possible and a free gift to us. Whilst we remain in this Fallen world it is not easily feasible, if at all possible, for us to attain/regain such full and free restoration to a pristine Garden of Eden state of life; there will always be intruding and arising within us and from outside of us, those shadows of imperfections which entered the world as consequent upon The Fall, and are still here around us and with us and within us. Hence our consummate salvation is a promise to us; of us belonging at our final rest in one of those ‘many mansions’ in Jesus’ ‘Father’s house’ which, Jesus says are reserved for his people in a life everlasting and yet to come for us.
Well this is the schema roughly drawn which lays out the promises of God andof Christ to us all and which help make sense of the story of The Garden of Eden and of Adam and Eve’s story as told in the first book of the Bible; known as The Book of Genesis.
Now just as the first sin mentioned in the Bible is disobedience; and just as the first sin committed by people was that disobedience of Adam and Eve as told in the Bible story; so whenever sin is present, ever the first and beginning sin, in time and in importance, has been and is always that sin of disobedience. Disobedince is thus the first sin and the premier sin and it always leads to further and consequent sins following in its wake. Inevitably so.
Let us see how this is so by us looking more closely at that seduction by The Serpent of Eve in The Garden. She is persuaded by The Serpent to disobey God’s ordinance that The Fruit of The Tree of Knoweldge is forbidden to her and to Adam, and so she eats of it. How is she persuaded? Firstly as I have said above; by means of lies The Serpent tells her that the consequences which God told Adam and Eve were not going to happen. But they did.
The Serpent also flatters Eve, thus making her prey to the sin of vanity and pride. He also tells her that The Forbidden Fruit itself is very delicious; that God has selfish reasons fo rher not eating of it, to keep Godhead all to Himself; thus The Serpent is tempting her via the sins of lasciviouness and covetousness, ambition and avarice. Stirring up dark desires.
The lies of The Serpent deceive and set the scene to come, for the flattery and the temptation of Eve afterwards laying a foundation for further deceit; but this is a deceit not outside of Eve herself but inside her; Eve is taught by The Serpent to be persuaded by her own inner feelings leading her astray; as against her choosing to adhere to the authortiy and guidance and care of God. She indeed ‘goes her own way’ and by her doing so she loses sight of God being her protector and of him being The One to be worshipped and obeyed by her.
She is confronted by a choice; on the one hand, for God; on the other, to let go of God, and so choose the way which The Serpent so cunningly has laid out for her. Her feelings having been stirred up to such a height by those lusts which the Serpent so carefully creates in her; she desires eagerly for what the future will (not) bring to her when she eats of the fruit; and this strong desire overcomes her and defeats her better understanding which is to stay with God and remain Unfallen.
Only once she has eaten of The Fruit of The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil does Eve realise that she has been beguiled by The Serpent; and it is at this same point, and it is because of this point, that her shame and regret and sorrow are felt by her, and she realises she is in a dreadful state of loss.
Adam also feels exactly this same dreadful state of loss once he too has eaten of the fruit of The Tree. It is as John Milton says in his epic poem:
“OF Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal tast
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat
Now – if you are still with me after having gotten this far in this long and arduous walk through these Bible themes – you might be beginning to be see the colossal explanatory power of this Genesis story of The Garden of Eden and of the Loss of Eden by The Serpent’s wiles beguiling Eve – and thereafter Adam – into The Fall of Man; and beginning to see perhaps how such a story helps make sense of an individual life like yours, and of all life and existence. Seeing how it helps to say to you why life is how it is, and why men and women are as they are. The Story of Eden encompasses all human history and gives history, as a whole, context and understanding. The story has power for the future in that it predicts what our state and our status is to be with or without Christ and that we humans shall stay as we are without him; lost and vainglorious; chaotic and without any direction in our lives – or else that when we elect to go with, be with, Christ, we take up willingly, gladly, his will for us and put our trust and faith in him. We pledge our hope that Jesus will – as the business men say – ‘deliver’ on his beautiful and gracious promises to us; to keep us safe and to provide for us, to guide us in right actions in the here and now, in as far as any of us is capable of right actions. And at a future time he will enrol us in his Kingdom to live with him and so be ever blessed and at peace.