GENESIS 2:15-17; 3:1-17

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.” 14 The Lord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this,
    cursed are you among all animals
    and among all wild creatures;
upon your belly you shall go,
    and dust you shall eat
    all the days of your life.
15 I will put enmity between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike your head,
    and you will strike his heel.”

16 To the woman he said,

“I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing;
    in pain you shall bring forth children,
yet your desire shall be for your husband,
    and he shall rule over you.”

17 And to the man he said,

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife,
    and have eaten of the tree
about which I commanded you,
    ‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
    in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life.

The creation story from Genesis is a creative composition, not an historical record, which means that its primary purpose is not to impart factual (what we today would call “scientific”) information about the universe in its beginnings, but rather to awaken our mystical sensibilities to the cosmos as an epiphany of divine power, grace, and beauty.

Frankly, the Bible has no interest in history as such, for history has no meaning until it is caught up into some narrative or other that tells of its deeper intent, larger design, and higher purpose. Those who treat the Genesis myth as if it were a factual account of cosmic origins unwittingly (perhaps) drain the story of its true power.

Our challenge instead is to drop the judgment between fact or fiction and simply enter the myth at it is given. Only then can it do its work in shaping our vision of “the way things are” by pulling back the veil of habit and belief that screens our minds from the full glory of The Real.

Using this same approach to the interpretation of myth, we can read the subsequent chapter in the story, of Paradise Lost, as imaginative reflection on the fall out of union that each of us experiences in the rise to self-consciousness. The truth of the myth is very clear: The moment we eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (or once we are faced with the necessity of choosing our course in life), we find ourselves in a race against time and death.

                                                                                             

The storyteller of Genesis was perceptive to a great paradox that lies at the center of human consciousness. Our ability to rise above animal impulse and to choose a course of action requires a freedom from the urgencies and blind drives of instinctual life. And yet, such freedom of intention brings with it a new-found capacity for reflective self-awareness, by which we come to see that we are mortal. Hence the blessing and the curse of our evolved intelligence.

Our moral freedom is surely an exquisite flower of God’s created order, but at the same time this very freedom exposes us to the eventuality (and anxious anticipation) of our own death.

Interpreters over the centuries have pondered this paradox, and many have come to the view that paradise must be lost if we are to have a chance at maturity. It is only Eden’s god, the nursery deity, that seeks to prevent our progress from the Garden of Delight. Just as the Prodigal Son in Jesus’ parable had to leave home and find the limits of a self-centered lifestyle before he could awaken to the experience of his father’s unconditional love, so must we venture forth and finally die to ourselves.

Only then can we enter the kingdom of God.

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