A’dam-eve: Humanity and Living
Genesis 2: 8-9, 16 – 22, 3: 1 – 13, 20 – 24; Psalm 8
The Children’s Story sets our sermon theme today. The story of Adam and Eve has greatly influenced Christian thinking. It was formed to help us understand our relationship to God the Creator. Traditionally it is taken to mean that God Created two people, a man and a woman, and placed them in a garden that met all their needs. But God gave them one command – not eat the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden. Encourage by a serpent they disobeyed and God punished them by banning them from this garden. We go on to say that through our disobedience we have earned God’s anger and we need forgiveness, but we cannot really change our ways so Jesus came to die for our sins and save us. There are a few problems with this traditional interpretation. Firstly, God is portrayed as a pernickety and punitive God. I say pernickety because God sets up a rule, which inevitably will be broken. And it follows that God is punitive because humanity broke a rule and consequently they were driven out of the garden. No forgiveness was offered, which contradicts the rest of the Bible story. Secondly, sin is reduced to an act of disobedience. Thirdly, we need someone to take our punishment. This traditional understanding is essentially simplistic. The notion that God is pernickety and punitive flies in the face of the grace of God revealed in Jesus. Defining sin as disobedience misses the depth of sin. Sin is much more than an act of disobedience.
Now scholars have come up with many different interpretations of the Adam and Eve story. I wish to share with you an interpretation which I understand to be close to the mark. I understand Jerome Berryman’s interpretation, which was expressed in our children’s story time, to be most helpful. I met Jerome in 1992 at the Banff seminar on religious education and values. There I saw him introduce his Montessori method of teaching the Bible to students, which he called Godly Play. I use his materials in Children’s Time on a Sunday. Jerome presented such a story to a bunch of international grey haired professors and leading educators. I was caught up in the method and I saw all these learned men and women equally enraptured. My relationship with Jerome was renewed in Goslar, Germany and Carmarthen, Wales. We got on well together. He certainly gave me an invaluable gift, which I hope is passed on to our children. Today’s lesson introduced another way of understanding this story, which he calls the a’dam- eve story.
Permit me to enlarge on this interpretation of Genesis chapters 2 and 3. Remember that when this inspired story came to the people of God they wrote in a language and a culture giving rise to a completely different understand from ours. We are Westerners. Our culture is dominated by a scientific way of knowing. We are wholly enmeshed in a view that fact is truth and truth is fact. We read things like this story with a type of literalism. We read it as if it was an historical narrative; hence some want to know where Eden was. We take Adam and Eve to be names of people, but they are not. They have become names of people. They weren’t then. The name Adam is a literal taking of the Hebrew word a’dam, which means humankind. Wherever else the word is used in the OT it is translated humankind. Secondly, eve, means ‘mother of all living’.
Let’s be clear about some of the facts included in this story. We are told that God created humankind in God’s image, male and female [Gen 1: 27]. Then God put humankind, a’dam, in a garden. We are given the most general description of its location, which would be in northeastern Middle East. That’s hardly a location. The location of the garden is irrelevant to the story. What is relevant is that humankind is given responsibility to care for the garden and that the garden meets all their needs. They lived in harmony and peace with all their needs met. The point of having eve come from humankind’s ribs, is to show that male and female are essentially one.
This story wants us to understand how disharmony, discord, dissension and division entered humanity. The two trees represent life that is living forever and life’s differences. The knowing of good and evil is about coming to understand the differences in life. Good and evil are mentioned but they represent all differences such as high and low, close and far, male and female.
The first lesson concerning humankind in this story is that humankind is created and has a Creator. It is telling us that our creation was good. Good is a better word than perfect. Remember that the Bible uses ‘good’ not perfect. Perfect suggests no flaws and no need for improvement. Something is just perfect. Good means it meets God’s approval and is entirely satisfactory. Perfect means that we don’t need to change anything. Good implies there is room for change and growth. God created a good world and gave humankind responsibility for it. That implies the dynamic of change and growth.
The second lesson of this story is that humankind was created with freedom to choose. We often misunderstand the wonder of our Creator God, who made us in ‘his’ image and set us free to be creative and relate to God. One cannot have a relationship that is meaningful with someone who is not free to be themselves. I don’t think I need to explain that truth. How frustrating it is when we encounter people so tied to someone, or a set of conventions, that they can’t do anything without seeking permission. They seem to have no freedom to be themselves.
The third lesson takes us to the cause of our disharmony and alienation. The cause is tied to our freedom to choose. We are placed in this world – a garden – that is all sufficient. But in living in it we see the differences. The tree of the ‘knowledge of good and evil’ [Gen 2:9] represents the differences in life. We see that there are differences between things. The differences raise questions. The differences lead to value judgements. We begin to prize different things and then fight over them. Our different opinions and value judgements lead to separation and ultimately to alienation. By the way, the point of humankind covering their nakedness, hiding behind trees and blaming each other is all about the deep seated alienation in humanity. There is also a positive side to these differences. Because humans can differentiate they can dissemble and assemble things creatively.
I understand the command not eat of the fruit of the tree of ‘good and evil for in the day that you eat of it you shall die’ [Gen 2:17] to be significant. If you analyse this statement the focus is on the verb ‘to eat’. Here lies the clue to the significance of the command. If you eat something you ingest it. You take it into your body. It becomes part of you. You are familiar with that healthy diet statement, ‘you are what you eat’. That is the point here. If you eat of the fruit of the tree of differences you will be captured by differences. Difference will be your focus not unity. The point about dying is not to be taken literally. That is, this is not simply you will die physically. What dies when you are absorbed with difference is harmony, compatibility, agreement and peace. That’s what dies – our unity and harmony. When we consume and absorb this knowledge of difference into our lives disunity, dissension and disagreement take place. There lies the issue. That is what this story of a’dam-eve is about. I would add that God didn’t prohibit difference but prohibited being absorbed by it. Western humans are absorbed by difference.
It is one thing to appreciate differences. They are important. The knowledge of differences enables us to expand our knowledge and ability to re-structure differences into new things. The ability to understand differences contributes to our creativity. In that sense we are like God, but humans cannot make things out of nothing, only God can. However, we humans have so focussed on difference that we have let difference corrupt our relationships and perspective on life. Our differentiation is the root cause of classicism and racism. Differentiation leads to individualism at the expense of community. You can see how individualism unravels our harmony and community. You can see it in the Church undermining our fellowship and unity.
I hope you can see that we are wonderfully made, as the psalmist says. I hope you can see that the A’dam-eve story is a deep story that helps us understand that we belong to God, that we have become absorbed with difference and become alienated. I hope I have helped you see the people we are meant to be – a community of people reconciled to God and reconciled to each other. We’re important to each other and we’re important to God. It is in our unity and love for one another we show the world God’s wonderful possibility for God’s world.
Peter C Whitaker, Leighmoor UC: 24/02/2019