Tag Archives: Adam

Fallenness…sin…human nature?

Are we “fallen”? Is there something really flawed and ruined about humanity? Do we need “saving”? Some theological perspectives would answer “yes” to these questions, or ones like them. In that sort of a theology, usually Jesus’ death is seen as the salvific act, the death is a necessary sacrifice, a good thing. I approach a perspective like that with extreme caution, even suspicion. What does it do to our collective psyche if some human deaths and suffering are necessary or “good”? I don’t like the implications of accepting the pain and sacrifice of another too blithely.

But we do need to grapple with understandings about our own nature and about who God is. These questions seem to me to go back to today’s first reading.

In the first reading Adam has sinned by listening to the “woman” who listened to the animal. He has embarked on a human pattern of othering any part of himself that causes him shame. He is hiding away from God, afraid and conscious of his own nakedness. Nakedness has ceased to be an innocent state, he needs a barrier between himself and the environment. Incidentally this is the first “nudey-rudey” self-shaming episode that many children internalise as parents battle them out of embarrassing habits.

God in this reading accepts Adam’s assertion that it was “the woman’s” fault and her assertion in turn blaming the serpent. God appears to be sanctifying the hierarchy we know so well. What is going on here? Why would an all-knowing and all-loving God create humans with not only the capacity but the yearning to “fall” in this way? Why give “Adam” such a flawed companion? Why allow the serpent to speak? The idealised “perfection” of Eden thus becomes reconstituted as a death-trap. Some theologies hold that God planned it all that way to make Jesus’ saving act all the more spectacular.

This also is problematic.

Let’s assume that God set up the fall and the resultant disconnection in order to make necessary and meaningful horrific violence and abuse many centuries later. At this point I can see some sense in the mocking atheists, the “spaghetti monster” people etc. If I understand my faith this way it does seem violent and compassionless. If I understand myself as so “fallen” I can see a need to repress my own emotions, my own impulses, my own over-loud heart.

I grew up with a faith related to that, and it didn’t do me much good.

But outside of this pericope, Genesis also tells us that we are made in God’s image. There must be some inherent beauty and goodness (ie grace) in our identity, whatever about “original sin”. How can we be made in God’s image and yet made only to fall and be fragmented and driven asunder? How can we be made in God’s image, yet in our very nature demand and need the violent death of another? What is “God” then?

Last week I mentioned George Monbiot’s assertion that human beings are intrinsically altruistic. While the bible does not specifically say so, this idea fits with many biblical stories and thoughts. It fits with the idea that we are made in God’s image. It fits with the idea that God loves us (why would God love the irretrievably fallen?). It fits with Jesus’ tendency to spread food and wine and joy together with his wisdom; to spread healing together with forgiveness; to spread love and hope in the world. To take blame and judgement as the main products of our faith is to miss the point.

“Out of my depths” of yearning to be more than some narrative of “fall”, I pass through the psalm where all things are redeemable into the second reading. Like the author of the second reading “I believe therefore I speak”. I may be wrong in what I say, but my theologising comes from a position of faith- my faith in God is important enough for me to have made this commitment. I am called to put in the hard work every week and write something, sometimes also to preach it. I often fail at this and other vocations in my life, but I also often break it into small enough steps to succeed at some of it.

There is more than fallenness and passivity and waiting in my relationship to God. I sweat real sweat of hard work over the computer each week. I shake with real anxiety when I stand up before people to preach. My collaboration with God is imperfect because I am a still growing-toward God little unfinished image, not because I am completely without hope and “fallen”. I sin less (I believe) when I think about what I am doing, when I focus my motivations on others (particularly on God) and when I make an effort. It is very easy to slide into all sorts of unhealthy relationships with myself, others, food, money, work and leisure. While I can’t make myself perfect through an act of will, or a decision or even through hard work I can make myself better or worse by trying or not. I need God sure, but God also requires of me a commitment of will and effort.

Seems like I am in a more complicated relationship with God than merely “fallen” or “saved”, each day I make choices (some without noticing) about who to be and how to be. I am like the babies I work with, I sometimes over-reach and other times I am tired or lazy or angry and do not try enough. I am human. I am flawed. I am imperfect. But I am intrinsically good.

I am made in God’s image.

The gospel cautions us against sin against the Holy Spirit. This is a debated text, but for an every-day reading I like to reflect on who the Holy Spirit is and where we encounter her? In the context of the reading, the Holy Spirit is to be encountered in Jesus who therefore should not be mocked or dismissed. We know from Jesus that we find him (therefore also the Holy Spirit) in our neighbour.

We are called to look for traces of good in each other and to recognise and honour the Holy Spirit in all. Are we willing to see these traces in our Muslim neighbour? In our lesbian neighbour? In our politician neighbour? In our militant vegan neighbour? In our private-school educated neighbour? What about the noisy child? The strangely dressed or pierced teenager? The overly talkative old neighbour? We are all made in the image of God and the good things we do (however fleeting or however consistent) all come from God’s Spirit. God’s creation cannot fail to have goodness at its core.

It is a denial of God’s spirit to dehumanise others, even others we disapprove of or disagree with. It is a denial of God’s spirit to be so cynical about humanity that we advocate violence or nihilism. It is a denial of God’s spirit to only value animals, plants or rocks only by how much money we can extract from what we do with them. Are these ways of thinking unforgiveable? I hope not. I hope God’s Spirit dwells so tangled and burrowed deep into our DNA that it is impossible to completely de-Spirit us.

That is what I hope, but Jesus DOES caution us not to be too small-minded to recognise and honour the Holy Spirit. If we mock Jesus, or if we mock those who have hope and idealism then we are doing a dangerous thing to our souls. Perhaps it’s not about getting our theology or our creed right in the end, it is about getting our relationship right.

Because if we manage to live according to the Holy Spirit- for a moment or a lifetime then we ARE Jesus’ family. That is what we are made for and always called back to as human beings, as earthlings. Let us pray that we know and do the will of God. Let us trust in God, our souls trusting in God’s Word. Let us love generously, recognising the family resemblance in all creation.

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Penumbra

This is the second part of Original which is a separate page on the site and I wish I knew how to stack its sequels under it. I recommend you read the first part first as it is not designed to stand alone. It’s fiction. You could see it as fan-fic for the bible if you like. My limited understanding of Midrash (I do admit I lie outside the Jewish tradition), is that this sort of meaning-making is a valid form of biblical interpretation.

Penumbra

I wish the damn snake hadn’t said that about Adam. Oh how I wish she had kept him out of it, or that I had had more wisdom! I should have stuck to the original plan and eaten the fruit and been kicked out without him. The problem was my panic at the very thought of being alone, even Adam was better than noone in some God-knows-where strange place for eternity and ever.

I am ashamed to say that I thought about the power I could gain over Adam if I took him something so dangerous and powerful, something he would never have had the bottle to get for himself. I thought I could force him to leave with me and turn the tables on him. That was my downfall, that moment of temptation, the thirst for revenge when a better whatever-I-am would have walked away. Because can you imagine what it would have been like without Adam?

But I gave in to the pettiness.

I went to the tree.

“Daughter” said an anxious voice. Was I so crazy now that I was hearing trees talk? I pulled off one of the apples from a low branch. There was a loud cry and the sound of something ripping in the sky, the fabric of reality – I had made a permanent change. I plucked another apple- such beautiful, shiny, silver apples. Innocent apples. Flat disks with a face printed on them. On the tree it had looked like a happy and gentle face but now in my hand it was clearly the face of sorrow.

I felt unable to stop now. I needed more, needed them all, so that Adam would not be able to pick his own and claim it had been his idea all along. A storm raged over and about me as I took them all, climbing, stretching, breaking branches to leave not one apple of another’s hand. 30 silver apples in my hand. Glancing down I noticed my body in disgust. Horrid, disfigured body shaped so differently from Adam’s strong, powerful one. I hated its curves and its softness.

I bit into an apple and tasted its sharp, metallic taste- the taste of fear. My hated body was wracked with pain beyond imagining and blood dripped out from between my legs. I felt strange angers and hungers and a desire to strike out and retreat all at once. Terror overcame me.

“I hate you!” I raged at the tree and at my own mutant, built to serve self. I stopped the blood with a fig leaf. I used another to wrap the silvery fruit in. The snake laughed, “God won’t like that.” she said. Was she talking about my bleeding body or the apples? I wondered whether to get more fig leaves to cover the entirety of my ugly body, but then I heard my Lord and Master’s voice.

“Eve, Eve. Where are you? I’m hungry. I’m bored. I’m cold. You’re a bitch for leaving me alone. Go away, you irritate me. You must be cheating on me. You’re laughing at me. You need to get me some food. I deserve. I need. I want. I will have.” The voice echoed through millenia that seemed like they had already been. My temple began to throb at the noise, the clamour of voices, the grasping pinch and pull of little and big hands on my flesh, on my space.

“I can’t take this shit any more!” I hissed. I sounded more like the snake than like myself.

“Adam my love” I said in my honeyed, insinuating slave-voice.

“Look at these lovely silver apples.” His eyes glittered avariciously, but before I could strike a deal he struck, now snake-like himself. He pulled my hair, slapped at my breasts and wrested the figleaf with the apples away from me.

“What is this shit you bitch?” he asked, looking at them suspiciously for a moment.

“Something you’re too piss-weak to have got for yourself,” I taunted, “fruit from the forbidden tree.”

“Why keep a dog and bark yourself?” he asked, thinking no doubt that he was very witty. I get a flash of a future where he says this about me to children in his image and bids them laugh at me, while paying lip-service to a “respect” that has never been there. I feel dizzy with fear and despair but I have tasted the fruit of objective knowledge and the inevitable is clear and set in stone.

But now in this raging storm-swept moment it is the serpent who turns to me. “I am sorry” she says, and seems surprised at herself for meaning it, or perhaps she is only surprised at me for listening intently to her, as though she is my only link to something saner. Adam crams three of the apples in his mouth all at once and swallows them and the same terror overcomes him.

“We must hide” he says curtly,

“I won’t” I say but he pinches and slaps and pulls at me and forces me to flee into a thicket of thorns where my skin is scratched. For all I know his skin might be also, but I have ceased to care for him.

“Why are you wearing leaves?” he asks as though jealous, as if I have some sort of power over him by covering. Adam covers himself also, his small serpent-like member hidden. We stay there several days until he is driven mad by hunger and fear. At times he rips my leaves off and forces himself roughly into the bleeding mess between my legs and other times he leans on me sobbing like a baby, whinging out litanies of self-pity, blaming me, blaming the serpent, blaming the tree and even from time to time blaming God. It seems poor Adam is the victim of all of us.

+++

We have eaten all the apples now, there is nothing else and I wish the intense hunger would kill me. I want death more than I have ever wanted anything else. My greatest fear is eternity when all around me is thorns and Adam and his self-pity, with the growing hunger and the discomfort and humiliation of him inserted into my flesh, between my legs in the no-longer-bleeding dry desert of my self-disgust.

The snake brings me a dead mouse or bird from time to time. Even less frequently it seems to understand my different diet and brings a mushroom or a lettuce leaf. All these offerings are brought as if in apology and I accept them with what grace I can. Better the snake’s company than Adam’s. I repress my vegetarian squeamishness and eat- not with a vain hope of actually assuaging the hunger but as a small and symbolic act of treachery against the totalitarian rule of the whining, pathetic Adam. He has had nothing to eat all this time.

After 28 settings of the sun I bleed again and we stay and stay there. I have time to wonder what causes the bleed, since my first idea that it was sin was clearly wrong. My body and its inexplicable bleeding seems grotesque to me. I am hazily aware of the snake saying “blood is life”. But surely I imagined that. Animals don’t talk.

I have gone crazy with despair and loneliness and I hear voices. I tune into them, to anything and everything that can relive me from  Adam’s self-righteous lectures about how he has sacrificed everything to protect me from God’s wrath. One time I am foolish enough to admit that I would welcome God’s wrath, especially as an alternative to what we have. Adam backhands me across the mouth.

More blood, but I am used to the stench by now. The stench of blood is the stench of the silver apples, it is the stench of objective, immutable knowledge of stable, ironclad categories of right and wrong, of the God-given order- man over woman over animals over plants. Knowledge and rightness and despair.

After 40 days of this knowledge, I hear a voice calling me.

“Eve”

“What on earth do you want now?” I snap, although if I stopped to think it is not Adam. He has ceased to even use my name.

“Why are you hiding?” I am still trying to identify the voice when Adam answers for me:

“Because we are naked and ashamed.” This is not the answer I want to give, but by now I have learned that when I am silent I get hit a little less.

“We are so ashamed of our nakedness oh great Lord.” Adam says in a syrupy voice, grovelling at God’s feet. I feel and itch to kick him but I am still as the lesser being. I do turn my shoulder- refusing not only to take part in the grovelling but even to witness it.

“Did you eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil?” God asks

“You said “of” five times” I miscount, irritated by God’s tone.”

“Lord, the woman you gave to me. She gave me the fruit and made me eat it.” Adam complains. There is a silence but I won’t lift my eyes. I know that God is looking at me.

“She is stubborn.” Adam offers after a while, the spotlight off him.

“I want to leave,” I croak out, “The serpent tempted me but…”

“It was all the serpent!” Adam seizes on what I am trying to say and twists it.”

“You can no longer live in my garden.” I look up, struck by the sadness in God’s voice. God’s eyes are the deep brown of earth; of the diamonds on the serpents back.

“Do you know what it is you have done to me?” I ask the sad brown eyes of God.

“Free will is a double edged sword.” God says. I bite back an angry retort, wanting to understand.

“My will. Is it really my own ?”

“Please…” God whispers, smaller than I would have expected

“I want someone like me!” I scream

“Me too” says the small voice of God and the serpent hisses.

“I will put enmity between your child and the woman’s child.” Who said that to the serpent?

“You will not!” I said coldly, “My will is my own, and my child’s will is her own.”

“The serpent tempted you.” Adam reminds me.

“Tempted not forced.” I look at him with scorn, “and she was sorry after. She offered…” I paused, reluctant to admit I had eaten dead mouse, “brokenness and healing” I temporised. Someone – the serpent? – God? kisses me on the forehead and the gates clang shut behind us. There is an angel there with a flaming sword. He looks Adam up and down appraisingly but I am already walking away…

Photo by Mattpix 2015- spotted by Sebastian and Chloe