LIFE AFTER THE APPLE
Genesis 2:15-17, Psalm 32, Matthew 4:1-11
February 21, 1999 by Tad Mitsui
I was so glad that at last Americans are ready to move from sex onto other important issues.* I am sure I”m not the only one who feels relieved. The fact that this scandal drew so much attention shows that sex is an obsession in our society. That”s why sex sells. It is a lure of a forbidden fruit. Sex is a wonderful gift from God, but we are ashamed of it. Without it, human race will become extinct, and yet we are inhibited to speak about it publicly. So we are condemned to enjoy it behind the thick curtain of hypocrisy.
* President Clinton’s sex scandal occupied the media for some time that year.
You can blame Adam and Eve and an apple for this double standard. But before going into the meaning of the story, there is one problem we need to settle once and for all. The question is: Did the Biblical stories like the Garden of Eden happen exactly as they were written, or were they made up? Personally, I think it matters very little whether it is a fact or a story somebody wrote. The important question is, why our ancestors chose to record it to tell us about God. What is the meaning of the particular event or of the story? That”s the question we should ask.
What then is the point of the story of Adam and Eve? For many centuries, Christians have been led to believe that Adam and Eve ate an apple against God”s command, and sex appeared as the result of disobedience. Therefore sex has become some thing to be ashamed of. After this, all humans are sinful by nature at conception, because no one is born without sex. This is why some people still believe that the baby who dies without baptism will not go to heaven. This notion is called Original Sin. We must realize, however, that this interpretation came from one man who lived in North Africa. His name was Augustine.
I don”t doubt that Augustine was a sincere Christian. He was born a very rich man in the city of Hippo in Carthage – today”s Tunisia. He was a play boy as a young man, had many mistresses, and had done almost everything sinful. When he was converted to Christianity, he had a serious problem dealing with his past. He had gone through a long period of time tormented by guilt. He wrote a thick book called "Confession" describing his sordid life before he became a Christian. Because of his deep sense of guilt, he became convinced that sin was imbedded deeply in human nature and sexual desire was its most obvious expression; only the sacrifice by the Son of God could redeem humans from sin. No doubt Augustine was sincere about his conclusion. Nevertheless, I must point out that it was one man”s interpretation of the Bible passage.
If you read the accounts of the Book of Genesis without any preconceived idea, you will find many aspect of the story do not quite fit with Augustine”s interpretation. For example, when God created the world including humans, he looked at his work and saw that it was good. He blessed all and said, "Be fruitful and multiply." The Bible was speaking about Original Blessing not sin. How can sex be the result of an evil act of disobedience, if God wanted us to be fruitful and multiply? Why could the fruit that gives wisdom to know good and evil be something to be forbidden? Did God want us to remain children? There are many other questions which don”t fit neatly with Augustine”s notion of Original Sin.
Without denying Augustine his right to interpret the story of Adam and Eve to make sense out of his journey of faith, we should look at the story with fresh eyes to find what it means to us today. One advantage many of us have over Augustine is the fact that we are parents and watched our children grow up. He never had. I suggest that we read today”s Genesis story, from the perspective of a parent watching a person growing up from childhood to adulthood.
Like young children, Adam was free and innocent in the beginning. He could do anything as he pleased and did not have to pay for what he took. Likewise, young children are allowed to do anything freely without taking any responsibility for their action. In those days, however, God told Adam not to go near the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Likewise, it would be unwise to let children exercise their discretion, because they can not be responsible. This is why parents must put restrictions on what a child can watch on the TV, and on how old a child should be before he can drive a car or sign a mortgage. That”s called responsible parenthood. Also young children are not shy to run around naked. But once a boy begins to feel lonely and a need for a companionship of opposite sex, he is ready for clothes, and other privileges and responsibilities. So, God provided a life companion, Eve. Adam was so happy, just like a teenage boy who fell in love for the first time.
But when he fell in love, he also had to face all sorts of risks. First, a snake appeared, and his sexuality was awakened. A snake has always been a symbol of male sexuality. But sexual awareness has to come with wisdom – a fruit that had so far been denied. As the young people grow up, they would want a right to use their own discretion, and for that they need wisdom. So they ate the apple. Incidentally, reference to "apple" is not mentioned in the Bible. In Genesis, it simply says, "the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil". Now that Adam and Eve ate the fruit, they were ready to enter the adult world. No privilege comes without risks and responsibility. They had to work with sweat and blood to earn the living, and have to go through anxiety and pain of childbirth. God warned them about hazard of the real world. God sounds like a worried parent whose grown child was ready to leave home. But you must notice also that the God of Genesis is the God who takes a walk in the garden when cool breeze ended heat of the day. God is described like a human, like any parent.
I believe that the message of the story of Adam and Eve is this: "Life is good and beautiful, but it is also full of hard work and pain. You are fully responsible for your life, and for that the knowledge of good and evil is essential." But, of course, this is only one of many interpretations, as much as Augustine is another one. For the fact that much of the Bible is written in the forms of stories, parables, and poems without giving away definitive interpretations, I believe that God is allowing each one of us to read the Bible in the way meaningful to us so long as we are absolutely sincere in that belief, and are humble and respectful of other people”s views which may be different from ours. That is why the Bible is so rich. Thanks be to God.