The Primal Sins

Last Sunday I continued our series exploring the great ‘Acts’ of the story of scripture, focussing on the Fall. Here is the summary of my sermon.

For the last few centuries the story of the fall has always stuck in the throat of Western culture. It is an affront to our narcissism, and a stumbling block to our desire for complete individual autonomy and mastery of our world.  Adam and Eve’s choice to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil rather than the Tree of Life, sets in motion a devastating break in creation. A fracture between humans and God, between human and human, and between human and creation. This break spirals throughout history and into our day. Thus the story of Adam and Eve speaks deeply into our current situation and contemporary day failings.

Gen 2:15 tells us that God has given humans a commission, that is to be guardians or stewards of his creation. When I hear Steward I think of a guy in a flourescent vest keeping people off sports fields. The Hebrew word is Shomer, a term which carries with it a deeper meaning. In Rabbinical law, a Shomer is someone given charge with guarding something for another, it is a vow, a promise to safeguard an item in your care. Someone who keeps the Sabbath is a Shomer Shabbos. Human’s role in the earth is to cultivate and guard God’s creation, the home he has created for us to live in with him. But by the end of this story, the role of Shomer will be swapped for the quest to be like gods.

Into this story enters a strange creature, a serpent, but nothing like the serpents that we are familiar with. This serpent stands upright like humans, like God he speaks. Why is he there? We do not know? Did he feel aggrieved being passed over as a companion for Adam (Gen 2:20)? Again we do not know. The cherubim that Guard the garden of Eden, also guard us from the answers to these questions. But if you think about it a snake is indicative. Snakes are cold, their eyes glassy, their demeanor speaks of detachment. A snake standing the way a cobra does, looks something like a question mark.

And so the snake begins the crack in creation with a question. God speaks, the serpent who the new testament writers will link to Satan, questions. His questions are not honest inquiries for knowledge but rather undermining traps. Leon Kass observes that by intimating that Adam and Eve will be like God, that it is the serpent who first raises the possibility of polytheism and paganism, by suggesting that anyone apart from God may be gods.

In both Adam and Eve’s responses to the serpent we can see the ways that sin emerges in our own lives today. Males can sin like Eve and Females can sin like Adam, but there is a unique pattern that seems to fit how we respond to the serpents question in our own lives. As you read Eve’s response and pattern of sin, compare how this pattern works in your own life, particularly in the way that many women respond to sin.

  1. Anxiety. Eve’s primary sin is anxiety. Walter Brueggemann notes that an anxiety is raised in Eve in response to the snake’s question. A cosmic grain of doubt is placed in Eve’s mind, which causes her to doubt the goodness of God.
  2. Comparison. Eve in her mind cannot but compare, before the snake’s question, she simply obeyed God. Now however there is the comparison between the two trees, between the choice of God’s care or going it alone. Eve looks at the fruit, how good it could be to eat, how beautiful it is, and how powerful she could become. Before any action has taken place, sin has a foothold in her mind.
  3. Competition. The mental landscape of comparison, now sets the ground for active competition. Eve has not eaten of the food yet, but internally she cannot but now be in competition with God.
  4. Control. Now the anxiety having created the foundations for comparison and competition. Eve falls into the sin of trying to wrestle control, no longer happy to trust in God’s provident care, she takes control, and eats of the fruit. The sin of the mental landscape spill out into real world action.
  5. Compromised. Eve now finds herself compromised. Under God’s care, partnering with Adam as Shomers of Creation, Eve is exposed, she has fallen prey to the serpeant subterfuge.
  6. Entangled. Eve now find her self entangled in a relationship with the serpent. In an old Jewish midrash, the serpent is portrayed as trying to win Eve as his queen with whom to rule the world. The seduction is now complete. Eve almost unwittingly, finds herself relationally entangled, through falling through stages 1-6 in a relationship with the wrong partner, she did set out to be in this position. She has now facilitated the fall.

Well, was this all Eve’s fault, some readers both friends and enemies of biblical faith have painted Eve as soley responsibly for the fall and the break in God’s plan. But one question remains. Where is Adam? Off fertilizing the Tree of Life? No, Genesis 3:6 tells us that Adam was with Eve. What was he doing? Nothing.

  1. Passivity. The primal sin of the male is passivity. Not violence or power, that comes later as we will see. Adam’s male passivity, and silence, allows Eve to fall into the serpents trap. In our culture today we are experiencing an epidemic of male passivity at all levels.
  2. Withdrawal. Passivity is a mental checking out, actual physical withdrawal completes the journey. Again in our world we see this sin of Adam playing out, as males walk away from the coventantal at so many levels, from marriage to Church. Adam’s silence during Eve’s conversation with the serpent is a withdrawal from his role as her partner and companion, but is is also a rejection of his role as Shomer.
  3. Objectification. Adam’s cool detachment, allows creation to be re-imagined, no longer is creation the space in which God and humans relate, instead the world, the fruit of the Tree of The knowledge of Good and Evil becomes an object to be used to further the wills of the humans. Creation is turned from something sacred, held within God’s good order, into a tool for the advancement of human autonomy. Our culture today is a culture which like king Midas, objectifies everything it comes into contact with, ultimately ripping it from its God ordained place.
  4. Dominate/Abuse. Adam’s passivity and objectification of creation, lay the ground work for the sins of his son Cain. Cain can only murder his brother when he no longer sees him as relational being, but rather as an object holding him back from receiving the blessing he believes he is owed. In our culture, the issues of domestic violence, murder, sexual abuse, are grounded in the sin of objectification. We can do terrible things to others when we no longer see them as humans, when we reject them as bearers of God’s image.
  5. Violate/Violence. Now the ground is fully prepared for the sins that overtake the pre-flood world of Genesis. There is a direct chain of action as Adam rejects his role of Shomer, choosing instead the path of turning oneself into a god. His silence leads to the violence that will come, reminding us of Edmund’s Burke’s maxim, that evil is dependent upon the silence of good men. Sadly in reaction to what is perceived as male violence, many men choose to simply be passive. But as Adam’s sin reminds us, this only continues the cycle of sin.

In next sunday’s sermon I will explore God’s answer to this crisis as redemption is initiated in the world.


Enter your email to receive updates