Here’s where the trouble begins: Genesis 3. If the Bible were just Genesis 1-2 and Revelation 21-22, everything would be great.
Except we don’t get to shortcut the narrative. Genesis 3 happens. A few quick suggestions:
1. Freedom to choose good requires the availability of freedom to choose evil. That’s why there’s two trees there. If Adam and Eve only choose to obey because disobedience is not an option, what does it mean? Next to nothing.
For example, I got through high school without trying cocaine. That’s not a brag: I was never offered the opportunity. I have no idea if I would have heeded “Just Say No!” or not. Given some of the areas where I lacked self-control, I can’t be certain—so, while I will teach my children to say no to such things as well, it’s not really a point of pride that I never did. It’s a point of gratitude, for certain…
2. It’s the only talking snake in the Bible. There’s a talking donkey later, but there’s only two talking animals that I can think of at all, and this is one of them. The talking donkey tells the truth, the snake is a deceiver. I don’t know that there’s a deep meaning to be extracted here, but it’s there.
I will make this observation here, because I think it matters in the big picture: keep in mind that 1st-2nd Millennium BC Hebrew animal taxonomy is not the same as modern Western methods. “Snake,” “fish,” even “cattle” may not exactly translate what is discussed here---this is definitely some form of reptile, and there’s no reason it’s probably not a snake. That’s just something to keep in mind: some folks criticize the Bible for calling bats “birds” when we class them as “mammals that fly.” Let’s see here: bats fly, have wings, and eat bugs---there’s a lot of similarity with birds, folks, and just because our science divides based on the fur and live births, does that really go backwards?
Is it the snake that talks or Satan that possesses the snake and he talks? It’s not abundantly clear. It’s clear that the punishment on the snake parallels the long-term punishment of Satan.
And yes, this is the explanation why people are afraid of snakes and like to kill them.
3. The blame starts here, but the buck should stop here, too.
We like to pass the blame, and we even do it retroactively back onto this story. The jokes that put the whole fault on Eve are woefully overtold and tired. All in all, the fault lies on the two who ate the fruit. They sinned. Each for their own reasons, but both used their freedom for sin.
Sin as a habit passed on to the rest of us. Yet we cannot blame Adam and Eve for our sins, either. When faced with choices, we are responsible for what we choose.
Now, some folks want to blame Eve over Adam or Adam over Eve. The blame in the chapter hits them both, equally. Why?
Prior to this whole fruit-thing (not explicitly an apple), there were no gaps in the relationship between these two. We tend to highlight the clear purity of the relationship of people with God before this, but it is also true that they have a clear, pure relationship with each other. They are co-bearers of the image of God.
And they both fail to uphold that image. They break it. Together, because that’s what they were. There was no reason for Eve to doubt that Adam supported her tasting or for Adam to doubt Eve’s offer of the fruit. They had a perfect relationship.
Which they then destroyed. They hid, not only from God (which failed), but also from each other. Shame comes in, distrust, blame, bitterness all show up to plague us for generations to come.
So, what do we do?
Strive to trust. As President Reagan said, “Trust but verify.” (Or, as I have seen, “In God we Trust. All others pay cash.”) Start with it at home: see the better possibility. Choose to assume the best about others. Will you be let down? Uh, yes.
Yet what other option do you have? Fortify in your castle and let no one in? That doesn’t work. You have to try. We have to try.
Let’s do what we can. Be trustworthy and treat others the same way. It will hurt sometimes, but we have to start somewhere.