God said to Adam: Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” (From Gen. 3:8-15, read full text here)
This is a reflection based on the above text, delivered Sunday, June 7, 2015, to the gathered community by Rev. Sherry Cothran.
It is with trepidation that a woman wades into a story like this and tries to offer up some kind of gracious interpretation, something meaningful and not cynical, something healing and not hurting. This story of the first woman and the first man that we in our tradition call our creation story, viewed through the eyes of a woman, is, well, somewhat bitter.
But the truth is, no one comes out of this story clean, woman or man or creation, it’s a bitter story for everyone, intended to have its bite, so to speak. We come from gritty beginnings, set against the odds of Eden, we learn that being human, in this world, woman or man or beast, is not for the faint of heart.
From verse one we learn that even in the midst of paradise, there lives, a crafty, evil serpent. How did he get there? We are to assume that this serpent is part of the creation. Eve is his first victim, enticing her to the center of the garden where there is a tree that bears the fruit that is not, as previously feared, poisonous, no, it will not kill her, the serpent assures, but will give her special knowledge, the kind of knowledge God has of the full realm of good and evil. An irresistible offer, an offer none of us could refuse, either. So, sure enough, she eats it, gives some to Adam, and immediately they both receive special knowledge. This knowledge is uniquely human, it is different than Divine knowledge or at least, in addition to it. And what is the first sensational piece of news from this special knowledge? Their eyes are opened to an overwhelming feeling, not of ecstasy or joy, but shame, shame is the first awareness. They are ashamed at their nakedness, so they make clothes and hide from God. The next very human reaction is that of becoming afraid of God, then the act of blaming. Adam blames Eve for breaking the commandment that God had given not to eat of the tree, Eve blames the serpent. It’s not an attractive beginning, for Adam or Eve or the serpent, for that matter.
It could be re-told something like this: In the beginning there was a stable, natural environment that included life, freedom, food, a place to call home, family and harmonious relationships between God and creation. The first humans lived here and thrived, then one day they were given the choice to know more, to receive more knowledge about the world. And with more knowledge about the world came much more suffering. 
Our Christian dogma for centuries now has taught us that this story represents what is known as “the fall.” Humanity’s fall from God’s grace. It has also taught us that this fall is initiated by woman, Eve, and Eve has generally been seen as representative of all women. Not only has the story been used to convince us that we were once perfect and then fell from this perfect state of grace, this story has been used to introduce the idea into our collective religious consciousness that woman is to blame for this great fall. It is from underneath the banner of dogmatic blame, fallen, cursed to a life of suffering by God himself, that woman and man emerge and make a life out of what we are given.
And as we make a life, we find ourselves having to unwind from this story, to put some distance between us and our beginnings, between our lives and our first parents, between our beliefs and theirs and yet still maintain this thread of the Holy and the Sacred in the way we live. But it is hard, you see, because we see so much of ourselves here in this story, it is almost a mirror of our lives, we are mired in Eden, knee deep in it’s mud, like a shadow or a curse from which we cannot escape. The psychologist C.G. Jung believes that this story, along with all the other Biblical stories, actually form significant framework in the human personality. Some say that the world is made of stories, and certainly, we are made of this one, the cosmic goo of human stuff.
Our ancestors, Adam and Eve, experienced then what we experience now, an awakening to the shadow side of the human existence. What does it feel like to carry around in you all the time heavy and unshakable feelings of shame, fear, the irresistible urge to hide from God? What does it feel like when you betray the one you love, when you are betrayed by someone you trusted? It feels like being human, they might tell us, and we would nod in agreement because we also know with the terrible knowledge of the tree of life that we cannot escape our shadow.
We all carry around these little betrayals, these little deaths that occur in the blaming of one another for what happened, all the terrible things that have happened in the course of a relationship or a lifetime, that over time, have constructed a matrix of resentment inside that often expresses itself in powerful networks of hurt. We know. The hurting of one another and the deep hurts within that we can’t seem to decode and the need, the constant need for someone to pay. Eve pays and has paid in the form of woman for millennia. But because Eve pays, Adam pays, too, because those of us who know anything of love, particularly Divine love, know that as long as someone suffers, we all suffer.
For centuries, our religious understanding has carried a suspicion of woman, not as the one who brings forth children into the world or is capable of handling the tasks of the domestic realm, we give her that, but as one who leads and speaks with authority. This story seems to have been an iron clad method of proving that woman is the weaker, more untrustworthy, seductive, gender because the Bible says it is so. This story seems to have been constructed with this task in mind, the ancient culture becoming fixed in a patriarchal idea and needing a scapegoat for the sins of the world, the authors of this ancient story chose Eve to bear this unbearable burden.
Yet, if we look more deeply into our story, we see that if Eve is the one who chooses to receive this special knowledge the crafty serpent of paradise is offering, it is Adam who throws her under the bus for her breaking of the Divine commandment, an act that both of them had participated in. Adam cannot even bear to admit that he has done such a thing as break command. He must have been under some kind of spell, it must have been the woman’s fault. Surely.
It’s not pretty, this negotiating of blame in the garden of heaven on earth. And so they all must go, out into the world to work out the human condition in pain and suffering. But they do not go alone, God goes, too. Now we see that if God does not go with them, they will bury one another alive with this new knowledge. It is all too much to bear, the world, the knowledge of good and evil.
To know good alone was not enough for the first humans, perhaps it was not enough for them to develop, to grow, to evolve out into the world. Something more existed in this realm and they needed to know it. But with this Divine knowing comes pain, a full awareness of the extreme opposite ends of the whole spectrum of being human: happiness and sorrow, love and hatred, joy and despair, shame and forgiveness, guilt and freedom, selfishness and compassion, fear and courage. From our first parents we learn that we cannot fully know the highs without the lows, we cannot fully live in light without darkness. We cannot know who we are as Divine creation without the shadow side. We know from our story and from our experience that it is all there together and we must navigate our way through it to be, as Jesus said, born of the spirit. Out of Eden, we all come to live in this world and be born again, against the odds.
And we all deal with the realities of this story, this myth, in our own unique ways. Some of us will reject the power that this myth has over us. Men will refuse to blame women for the sins of the world, men will follow women as leaders. Women will rise up and claim the courage and strength of Eve. Men and women will partner as equals in this life, charting a new path. Men will gain strength not from the weakness of others but from courage within. Our Christian story brought forth new interpretations of this story as Jesus and Paul show us that we are not bound to reject human dignity, but to embrace the sacred in us all, and the sacred makes us all the same. As Paul says in his great interpretations of Christ’ ministry, in Christ we are no longer man nor woman, Greek nor Jew, slave nor free, but we are one, of one mind, of one purpose, of one dignity, of one great love in the world. In this oneness, we all rise and claim our inheritance as children of God. In this oneness, we can encounter the shadow in us and live. We can face our human condition and rise from its ashes as a new creation.
Our task as the church is to be the new creation, the space where we are actively engaging the darkness of the world and claiming that God reigns over it. We are not to be set apart in some idea of perfection, we are to go out claiming our Divine origin, working through and in the human condition, claiming our power in the Spirit that gives life, though we live in the shadowy realm of the world, in the darkness around us, we are children of the One that the darkness has not overcome.
We don’t have to live in denial because we have a power in us that is stronger than the forces that seek to overpower us, the things in our very lives that keep us from realizing our own divinity, shame, guilt, despair, deceit, blame, dishonesty, the ongoing struggle that we have here, the suffering, is not meant to do us in or cause the death of our spirit, no, the struggle is meant to lead us to the core of our being, God. From our beginning to our death and resurrection. We don’t remain in Eden or seek to go back there, we emerge from it, we take up our origin in it and we rise. We become.
If Eden teaches anything at all, it is that in this world there will be struggle and the struggle will cause us to hurt, ourselves and others, every choice we make will have consequences. But within us will remain a Divine seed, a Divine origin, a whole being within, and this soul in us will also be choosing for us, it will guide us and lead us home, it is a homing beacon God has put within us. The more we pay attention to it, over all else, over all the blaming, the scapegoating, the gender politics, the religious fanaticism, the more we see where soul is truly at work in us and in the world and in the life of the church, the more we will see and experience the God who never abandons us, the God who forms us and teaches us to trust the Higher Way. The God who sent a son into the world through a Holy Mother, the God who is with us still in the still small voice, the more we turn our hearts each day to this God and surrender all else, the more we truly live. We carry in us the good seeds of Eden, let us fall into the world not to be forever trapped in the ongoing argument of who is good and who is evil, for we know the truth that we are human and we all struggle; but to fall as seeds of hope, love and the enduring faith that brings life, even against the odds of Eden.
 NIB, Genesis commentary