A Pepper Grinder Post

Curses – Part 1

This project started out as an innocent question. I was walking to work from the parking lot and looking at a number of coworkers. I thought about how most of the guys didn't seem terribly concerned about their appearance. I got the feeling that most of them, like me, dressed for work by taking the next pair of chinos in line in their closets, along with the next polo shirt in line. I remember having a discussion about this once with two or three other male coworkers and one female. All the guys agreed to having some kind of system like this for choosing our clothes. My boss even said that he has five pairs of chinos (one for each work-day) and he always wears the same pair on that weekday. The woman talking with us looked both stunned and amused.

On the other hand, I think most women are more concerned about their appearance than most men are. How many men do you see checking their hair and applying last-minute makeup in the visor mirror before venturing into the office? How many men do you know who dye their hair? How many clothing stores or catalogs are there that have larger sections of men's clothing than women's?

CardinalI'll admit that this is all based on generalizations, and I'm sure you could dig up examples of men who were very appearance-conscious and women who are not, but I think the general point holds. On the other hand, it seems that in the animal world, if one sex is more flamboyantly attired than the other, it is usually the male. Only male lions get to wear that big fluffy mane. Only male cardinals are that brilliant shade of red. Only peacocks (or keycocks, as my one daughter used to call them, rather fearfully) have that tail that looks like it belongs in Las Vegas, while the peahens look kind of drab. Could this have something to do with the Fall of Man, I wondered?

I seriously considered just musing about this but it struck me that since this was musing based on something in the Bible, I really ought to do the research and see what the Bible says. All of which brings us to the following fascinating and baffling passage from Genesis 3, verses 8-19 (my translation):

They heard the sound of *Yahweh walking in the garden, in the breezy part of the day, and the man and the woman hid themselves from Yahweh in the trees of the garden.
Yahweh called to the man, "Where are you?"
And he said, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, and I hid."
And he said, "Who told you you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree I commanded you not to eat from?"
The man said, "The woman you gave me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate it."
Yahweh said to the woman, "What have you done?"
The woman said, "The snake tricked me, and I ate."
Yahweh said to the snake, "Because you have done this, you are cursed more than any wild animal or livestock. You will crawl on your belly and eat dust all the days of your life. I will create hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers. He'll strike at your head, and you'll strike at his heel."
And to the woman he said, "I will greatly increase your sadness in having children. In sadness you will give birth to children, and you will want to control your husband, but he will rule over you."
And to Adam he said, "Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree I commanded you not to eat from, the land is cursed. With sadness you will eat from it all the days of your life. It will sprout thorns and thistles, and you will eat plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you will eat food, until you return to the ground from which you were taken. You are dust and you will return to dust.”

*Places where I have written Yahweh, the Hebrew literally says, Yahweh God. Some translations write something like LORD God. I like to use Yahweh, because it is God's personal name, and making it into LORD makes it not seem like a name. I chose NOT to say Yahweh God, because it sounded awkward to me.

Multi-Post Alert: There's a lot here. I will primarily focus on the pronouncements made to Adam and Eve, but even with that limitation, this ended up becoming a four-post series.

GardenLet's start with God going for a walk in the garden. This is the kind of thing liberal Bible scholars have a field day with. To them, a passage like this shows a kind of evolution in religious belief. The idea is that man started out with a view of God as a regular guy with divine powers. God wasn't floating up in the clouds; he was walking in the garden. Gradually over time, the story goes, people thought of God as more and more transcendent, until finally we arrive at the apex of religious evolution, where religion really just consists of noble principles. We should love our fellow man and fight global warming!

I don't see it that way at all. To me, the way God appeared to Adam and Eve shows an incredible intimacy with people that has been lost since the Fall of Man. Other verses in the Bible make it clear that God is a spirit (John 4:24), and that he is invisible (Colossians 1:15, 1 Timothy 1:17, Hebrews 11:17). John 1:18 even plainly states that “no one has ever seen God.” Because of this, some would argue that the Genesis passage and others where God appears in human form are actually appearances of Jesus. I certainly don't write this possibility off. Jesus has been together with God since before the creation of the world. This, I believe, explains why God says, in Genesis 1:26, “Let us make man in our image.” (NIV, emphasis added) On the other hand, I also think it is very possible that this is the invisible God, taking human form so he can interact with Adam and Eve. To me, the fact that he appears as a man taking a stroll in a garden, instead of wearing dazzlingly white clothes and sitting on a flaming throne (the way he appeared in one of Daniel's visions), emphasizes God's close relationship with Adam and Eve. Even though he was still all-powerful and all-knowing, he chose to appear to them more like a Daddy than an omnipotent ruler.

And yet, it doesn't take long to see that after eating the fruit, something has gone wrong with the intimate relationship people had with the Lord. I don't know how Adam and Eve would have reacted earlier when God appeared in the garden, but it is clear that when they hid from God, it was not normal. It is interesting to me that people have often postulated that religion makes people feel shame and guilt. According to Genesis, this is absolutely not true. God created a world where a man and woman could hang around stark naked and feel no shame at all. There is absolutely no reason to suppose that sex wasn't around before the Fall. (After all, God talks about how he will change the childbirth experience, which implies to me that it, and procreation in general, was around already. I don't have any reason to think that Eve was a mother before she and Adam were expelled from the Garden of Eden, but it does seem to me that sex, and the potential for child-bearing was already in place.) I don't believe there was any shame connected with sex, either. In other words, sex was God's idea, along with beautiful, naked bodies. The shame and guilt came later, courtesy of … people.

girl hidingThis isn't to say that God hasn't created boundaries for where the beautiful gift of sex should flourish. Just as taking a nice warm shower or bath in the privacy of your home feels great, but walking around the mall naked would be very embarassing for most of us, so sex has been designed to be a beautiful thing when used according to the manufacturer's instructions. In other words, I'm not trying to go all hippy on you and say that we should get ourselves back to the garden by abandoning clothing and engaging in “free love.” My point is that when people blame religion for feelings of guilt and shame, they are way off. Adam and Eve had guilt and shame before anyone had ever thought of religion.

It is interesting too that this happened in a flash. It wasn't some gradual social construct developed to keep people in line. One minute they did not even know what guilt and shame were, and the next minute, they were hiding in the trees so their creator wouldn't see them. Now God knew precisely what had happened, just as he knew where Adam was when he asked. And yet, he asked Adam how he knew he was naked and whether he ate from the tree he was commanded to avoid. Why would he do that? I believe he wanted to give Adam the chance to admit his fault openly and ask for forgiveness.

How does Adam score on this test? Personally, I'd give him about one and a half stars out of five. He could have out-and-out lied and said he didn't eat from the tree, though you have to be pretty dumb to lie to a being who knows everything. So he admits he ate the fruit, but he really doesn't take the blame for his action. The woman gave him the fruit. And who gave Adam the woman? God, of course. So the woman screwed up, and God screwed up, and, oh yeah, Adam did have a little lapse in judgment there as well.

Does Eve do any better? A little, but not much. She has the good sense not to cast any blame on God, but she plays the part of the original dumb blonde by saying that she was tricked by a snake.

God isn't taken in for a minute. He holds all three parties responsible and passes sentence on each. I'm not going to dwell on the snake much. There are several big questions about the verses addressed to the snake, and I honestly am not sure about the answers to any of them. Here are some things people have discussed and argued about:

  • Was the snake just a talking animal, or was he actually an incarnation of Satan?
  • Did all the animals talk before the Fall? I've never actually heard anyone discuss this, but I can't help but wonder. If I were standing under a tree and a snake struck up a conversation with me, I'd be freaking out. But Eve just takes it in stride, which makes me wonder if the pre-Fall world was a little like Narnia, where all or some animals had the power of speech.
  • Did the snake walk on legs before the curse, or was it more something where his method of locomotion has now been given a special significance by God?
  • Is the woman's offspring (that will have a hostile relationship with the snake's offspring) referring to all people, or is this actually a very early messianic prophecy about the battle between Jesus and the Devil? I am not sure about this one, but I do want to make one point. Some people who go with the Jesus/Devil theory make the point that when God says he'll create hostility between Eve's offspring and the snake's, he literally says between your seed and the seed of the snake. In the Hebrew, Eve's seed is singular, not plural. This sounds pretty convincing, except for the fact that there are numerous places (at least 11 just in Genesis!) where a person's seed is spoken of as referring to many descendants, and every one of these uses the singular form of seed.

Having neatly dodged some of the thorniest questions in this passage, I want to get on to what interests me most: the pronouncements made to the woman and the man. I'll deal with these in the next three postings. For now, I'd like to look at what we've learned so far, before I let you go back to the many things you do when you aren't reading this blog. Here are the two points that stick out to me in what we've looked at so far.

  1. God's creation, and man and woman's place in it, was phenomenal before the Fall. Some of this, we will see even more clearly when we look at how the curses on men and women changed things, but even these first few verses give us a glimpse of the paradise God created. We could talk about the life of pleasure and satisfaction that must have belonged to the first man and woman, but even more important to me is the relationship they had with God. This relationship was so intimate that he appeared to them and talked to them just like another person. I don't know about you, but I cannot count the times I have wished I could ask God a question, hear an answer, and be sure that the thoughts in my head were from God and not from my own imagination. For Adam and Eve, if they had a question, they could just go up to God and ask him, the next time he took a stroll in the garden. He would answer, and the answer would be clearer and more perfect than anything we have ever heard. God appearing to them in human form was not a sign of primative religious beliefs, but of God's longing for the closest relationship possible with the people he had created.
  2. People messed it up. Guilt and shame were not creations of God or of religion to spoil people's fun or keep them in line. They were the natural results of breaking a perfect relationship with God. I hope most husbands and wives would feel guilty if they cheated on their spouse. How much worse would it be if that spouse had always been faithful and trusting, and had done everything for the good of his or her partner? And how much infinitely worse, if the person you cheated on had created you and knew everything that was in your heart?

sunriseSo what does this mean for us? I'm not really trying to get people to feel lousier about the Fall. We are already surrounded by myriads of reminders of what we have lost. However, I do think there are two positive things we can take from this.

    This is part 2 of our examination of the Fall of Man. In this post I dive into the word used to describe women's childbirth experiences and men's work. Have some of the major translations made a major translation mistake?
  1. God wants to be close to us. We can see this in Genesis, and we can see it even more in the coming and death of Christ. That closeness won't be easy for us, as it was for Adam and Eve before they succumbed to the snake's temptation, but it should still be the thing we strive for. It is infinitely worth anything we might give up to obtain it.
  2. A time is coming when we will no longer see the Lord of the Universe like someone in a feeble mirror. We lost something precious through the Fall of Man, but we didn't lose it forever. For those of us whose goal is to be close to Jesus Christ, we will get there, and it will be awesome.

Tune in as we start to look at God's words to Eve.


*Photo credits: Cardinal by , girl hiding by