I had an art teacher in elementary school who was used to students making mistakes, and at the start of a school year he would advise his students about the need to be careful in his classroom. He told us about the student who spilled a pot of melted wax on his pants. He told us about the student who was sliced with the paper cutter. He told us about the student who, having been warned that the pottery kiln remains hot long after it shuts off, chose to unlatch and open it to see how the artwork looked. Our teacher wanted to make sure we would not be harmed, and he used the damage that others had suffered to warn us. He knew about the risks, and his knowledge had been proven and tested.
I think that is part of the problem we see played out in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve were like inexperienced children, so unused to the risks they faced they would not take them seriously. And what could God point back to? No one had ever died, it seems, so saying that they risked dying may not have meant much to them. It even seems like somewhere along the way someone started trying to expand on the rules, not just saying the fruit wasn’t supposed to be eaten but that it wasn’t supposed to be touched. We don’t know whether Adam invented that idea in passing on the rule to Eve, or if Eve created that rule as a reminder for herself to keep herself mindful not to do what God said not to do. But making extra rules can just be a distraction from what God wants, they are hard to justify. When she looked at the fruit it seemed like the kind people could eat, which was totally beside the point – nobody ever said the reason people shouldn’t eat it was because it was poisonous. God entered into this situation like my art teacher if he had simply said “don’t touch these pieces of equipment in these ways” – and students would have invented reasons for why that mattered, and worked out their own solutions for how to avoid the problems they thought were the issues.
The whole scene with the serpent reminds me of someone getting dared. It isn’t how it is presented, but it is how it comes across. The nudging, suggesting ideas that wouldn’t have come into the mind otherwise, and like so many dares getting a person to cross lines into a bad idea.
I hate dares.
And the results of the situation are such incredible losses we can’t really understand them, because we are only used to the results. A world with death and suffering. A world with toil and sweat. One of the most disturbing is what happened to Eve, she had been created to be an appropriate helper for Adam. In chapter 1 they had been blessed and told to rule over the animals of the world. But by chapter three we are told that the man would seek to rule over the woman, and the desire of the woman would be for the man – perhaps meaning she would desire to return to the closeness and openness they previously had.
Happily, I see no rule requiring us to treat these words as a command. Just as farmers can use pesticides and herbicides rather than letting the struggles of the soil continue as they were originally set up, we can try to improve our situation as humans with each other. Jesus offers us a new pattern for living, based not on rule but on self-giving. The core promise of this passage is that a child would come who would allow changes to be made, breaking the head of the serpent. This is part of the classic “now and not-yet” that affects so much of what the Bible teaches, we know that the ultimate fulfillment is for later, but the start of what we have been offered is already with us and we can rejoice to have it.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
- In what ways today does the Deceiver still use the line, “Did God really say…”? How are God’s words and commands being questioned, twisted and discarded?
- What are your greatest temptations? What excuses have you used when you gave into them? Any blaming? How can you better fight the urge to give in to these or other temptations? What do you think would have happened if Eve would have taken her new questions raised by the serpent back to God before eating the fruit? How can God be a part of your fight against temptation?
- In their guilt they tried to hide from God. Can you think of a time your guilt has led you to try to distance yourself from God, the church, your family or your Christian brothers and sisters? What was best for Adam and Eve when they were ashamed? What do you think is best for you?
- How has the serpent attacked Jesus, the child prophesied? In what ways has Jesus already beat the serpent? What battle is yet to come – with what results? Which side will you be on?