"Where are you?"
Pentecost XVII (O. T. 24); September 11, 2016
Genesis 2:4b-7, 15-17; 3:1-9
The Narrative Lectionary, which we are using this year, has four different cycles of readings: one for each Gospel. And the Sunday after Labor Day it always starts at the beginning, but it's not the same beginning every year. One year it is Noah, another year the creation poem in Genesis 1; this year it starts with Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit.
The story began with the creation of Adam, which is not only a name but also a description. The "adam" creature is a human being, made of adamah ("ground"): the human being comes from the humus, we are creatures of the ground. And the Lord God planted a garden for the ground-creature, the human being, to live in, and told the creature not to eat of a certain tree: the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
First comment, before I continue with the story: After going through the story, I'm going to talk a bit about what it might mean. But I do not insist that you agree with any particular interpretation of the story. This I insist on: that you know the story. Just as your family's identity is built on your stories, so our identity as the people of God is built on our stories. We don't have to agree on what they mean, but we have to know the stories or we do not know who we are.
Now back to the story. God split the adam into two creatures, an ish and an ishshah, a man and a woman, by putting the earth-creature to sleep and taking a rib and making it into another creature. As the story goes, God made the man first and then the woman, because you always start with a rough draft. And the two lived together in the Garden, naked, but unashamed.
We're finishing today with the part of the story that includes a talking snake, one of only two talking animals in the Bible (the other is Balaam's donkey, Numbers 22). Please get this straight: the Bible does not say that it was the Devil in the form of a serpent: the Bible says that it was a talking serpent. You can decide, if you want to, that the Devil was speaking through the serpent, but you cannot claim that the Bible says that the Devil tempted Eve. The Bible says that a talking serpent tempted Eve. Get the story straight.
So they ate the fruit – the Bible doesn't say what kind of fruit it was. I assume a pomegranate, because those things are wicked annoying. A fig seems more likely. People think "apple" only because the Latin word for "apple" (malum) is similar to the Latin word for "evil" (malum, spelled the same but pronounced differently) – and suddenly they were ashamed of being naked.
Stories in the Bible are not just random stories; they have something to tell us about God and about ourselves. So what does this story mean? I'm going to suggest three possibilities.
1. The traditional interpretation that you probably learned in Sunday School and that gets repeated everywhere, from theology classes to "Star Trek," is that the Devil tempted Eve to disobey God, and that Eve tempted Adam to disobey God, and so sin entered the world. Before they ate the fruit, they lived in perfect relationship with one another and with God, but they disobeyed God and that was the beginning of the corruption of sin. Thus, the events we remember fifteen years ago today are the result of two people eating an apple. I was part of a group that placed flags in Memorial Park last week, one flag for each person killed by the attacks of September 11, 2001. Each flag had a tag attached with a person's name and a little information; having read those and thought about how sin destroys the lives of real people – it's not merely an abstract concept – I find the explanation of two people eating a piece of fruit to be inadequate. But I am going against nearly everyone in the Church by saying so.
2. It has been suggested that this story describes the transition from hunter-gatherer culture to settled agriculture. It makes sense when you realize that one of the consequences of eating the fruit is that God tells Adam he's going to have to work hard tilling the soil and have dubious results. Sounds like my garden this year. That's another possibility.
3. I'm going out on a limb and suggest that the story describes human transition from consciousness to self-consciousness. Before we awoke to who we are, we did not have moral responsibility. But at some point one primitive proto-human looked at another primitive proto-human and the two began to come to awareness. With awareness comes moral responsibility, the knowledge of good and evil. So when God says, "Don't eat that fruit," it isn't a prohibition; it's a warning. But we ate it and we became moral beings, aware of good and evil. I'll not go into any more detail on this possibility, but I would enjoy talking with you about it, if you wish.
Yes, there are problems with that interpretation too, but I'm going to stick with it, at least for my own relationship with God. It still isn't the most important thing in the story, to my mind. To my mind, the most important moment in the story is the Lord God taking a walk in the Garden, looking around for us, and calling out, "Where are you?" Adam and Eve hid because they were naked and ashamed. They didn't want God to see them as they were, and they had come to awareness of what they were. So they hid. Why do you and I hide? We hide the nakedness of our lack of confidence, of our fear, of our selfishness… who can detail everything that you and I have to hide from God and from each other? Yet God walks through the Garden, looking around and calling out, "Where are you?" Adam answered God, not by saying, "Here I am!" but with an excuse.
I think the theme of the entire Bible is that God is walking through thousands of years of history and generations of people, calling out, "Where are you?" God desires our company, God loves this earth-creature, this adam, that God has made. And God calls out to Abraham and Sarah, to Joseph, to Moses and Zipporah and Miriam and Aaron, to Hannah, to David and Bath-sheba, and to Mary and Joseph, calling out, "Where are you?" And God calls to you; and God calls to me. Where are you?
Robert A. Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master
Benson Presbyterian Church