The man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and they 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?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” He said, “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.” 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.” 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.
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.” Gen 3:8-15.
In today’s Lectionary reading, we encounter the third chapter of Genesis, taking us back to a time when God walked freely within His creation, a time before the separation of God and mankind, and before the separation of mankind and nature. Yet through their disobedience, mankind has chosen to separate themselves. I think that’s how it still works today. We chose to move away from God, and find ourselves isolated and sometimes exiled.
When God asks if they’ve eaten from the forbidden true, Adam’s response typifies our own response to being caught. “It wasn’t my fault; you’re the one who made her, and she’s the one who gave the fruit to me.” Eve joins in the fray, shifting the responsibility for these events to the serpent.
The knowledge of good and evil leads, in a primordial sense, to our urge to compare ourselves to others. Right from the outset, mankind is caught in a “worthiness trap”, in which we try to avoid the consequences of sin by comparing our tiny offenses to the far greater misdeeds of others. Within this story, mankind discovers that it’s nakedness; we have learned shame.
I think the story also teaches us a bit about the nature of God. God makes himself vulnerable to creation, endowing mankind with the free will to make choices, some of which are self-destructive. This understanding of God allowing Himself to be vulnerable to humanity will echo again in the story of Jesus, who suffers remarkable humiliation through His entry into human history. It’s sometimes difficult for us to imagine an omicient, omnipotent God who somehow remains vulnerable to us, and yet, that seems to be exactly the sort of Father we have.
The third chapter of Genesis offers us an insightful examination into humanity’s instinctive habit of transgression, trespassing across the boundaries God has set for us. Rather than depending upon God, mankind has sought its independence, we choose to discovery “good and evil” for ourselves. The lynchpin upon which this story of the Fall turns is mankind’s refusal to trust God. Our mistrust, not our sexuality and not our gender, places us on a path of separating ourselves from paradise and the Father.
For thousands of years, our stubborn insistence on our own ability to understand the nature of good and evil has resulted in a steady process of separation from the Source of our lives. The story of Genesis teaches us about our remarkable ability to forget that this is God’s world, that we belong to His family, and our willingness to blind ourselves to the spiritual landscape that surrounds us. Genesis centers around a profound feeling of loss, the feeling that we have lost an intimacy with the Source of our lives. The rest of the Bible examines the issue of how we might recover what we’ve lost.
James R. Dennis, O.P.
© 2012 James R. Dennis