In Genesis 3, we have the account of the Fall. You know, the day Eve listened to a snake and did the one thing she had be told not to, then convinced her husband to do the same. They got caught, everybody blamed somebody else, and the whole world was broken. Thanks Eve, you had one job!
Everyone knows the story, or some version of it. It’s one of the first stories you’re taught in church. And, in my experience, when it’s taken deeper, the focus is entirely on what is sometimes called the ‘protoevangelium,’ or ‘first good news.’ That absolutely deserves every sermon preached about it. That lying snake will be defeated in the end. This is the first prophecy of Christ. This our hope of redemption, of making right this massive world breaking wrong.
There are, however, three other elements to the passage that I have not seen adequately explored. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure they have been explored at length, and in all likelihood far better than I am able. So, if you read through the rest of this entry and think to yourself, ‘well, she’s just never read…’ please, by all means, point me toward your source. Has your pastor or mentor or professor covered these points well? Please let me know. I could use the encouragement.
First, the personal consequences of their bad decisions always give me pause. I don’t know that there is a lot to be said about it. Commentaries and blogs and sermons alike rest on these verses long enough to point out, yep, this is where it all began. Women striving to be equal rather than submissive and men assuming the PROVIDER role. I’ve read one nice summary that, while it does say this is the birth of the women’s liberation movement, the end of our proper submission, it did quite plainly point to it as the birth of chauvinism as well.
I just…I have a question. Please bear with me as I genuinely don’t believe I have the answers here. Eve was created because Adam needed a helper. I’m not a Hebrew scholar. I don’t know the connotations of the word ‘helper’ here. Is this where we get the idea that she was meant to be submissive rather than an equal partner? Or is that solely from her creation being seen as subordinate? She was literally created from a piece of him.
So, according to the Faithlife Study Bible by Lexham Press (2016, accessed through their app), the Hebrew term used, ezer, “refers broadly to rendering aid. While used to refer to subordinates, the word does not necessarily imply inferiority: God is called Israel’s helper.” I can’t believe any language would ever be used for God that necessitates an understanding of submission. The commentary goes on to say, “Ezer does not imply that the woman is inferior to the man, especially since Eve’s creation was prompted by a perceived insuffiency in Adam to image God.” It points to Adam’s reference to her as bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh to support their equality, as well as the simultaneous mandate given to them to care for creation. They may have different roles, but there is not dominion and submission indicated between Adam and Eve.
That’s a comfort, because I’ll be honest, reading the story of their creation, I don’t feel as though he was given a child or an employee to exercise authority over. He was given a partner, someone he could rely on. So while I would agree that this is the beginning of the strife between the sexes, the birth of chauvinism, I can’t believe it begins with Eve’s rejection of her ‘assigned submissive role.’ (Not quoting anyone, just the idea.) Does this speak to some deep genetic mistrust and blame because Eve was the first to fall? I don’t know. I think that’s a bit much.
What I do think, taking her pronouncement and his together, is this: her focus is on the relationship. She’s created to help him, to be his partner, because we as humans are not meant to be alone, and she failed him by leading him, by inviting him to join her in disobedience. Her creation was relational, her failure was relational. Relationships are at the center of female existence.
He was created to take care of creation, to work. He did not fulfill his purpose and eat what he was given to eat, so now he must work to eat, distracting him from his original purpose of stewardship? Provision, protection, and work is at the center of male existence.
(Please, hear me real quick: I am not a human- or neuro-biologist. The subject of gender assignment and identity is beyond me, and I easily accept that it does not align the way we think it should. I also understand gender identity and behavior is incredibly cultural, and our culture in particular has done a lot of damage by creating a rather rigid set of rules. Gender psychology is probably closer to a cartesian field than a spectrum. However, the concepts of masculine and feminine come from somewhere, and that is what I’m commenting on.)
Secondly, as God was pronouncing judgment, before he even drove them out of the garden, he provided for them. Not only did he start his decree with a ray of hope, but he ended it with active help. “Things are gonna be bad, yeah, but it won’t be forever. I promise. * deep breath * That said, nothing’s ever going to be easy again, there’s gonna be a lot of pain, and you aren’t always gonna get along anymore. And you’re going to die. Now, it’s going to get cold, so wear this.” He LOVES us! No matter how much we disappoint him, he LOVES us!
I can’t say this is the image of God we always get. How many of us were raised with this idea that he’s just watching us, waiting for a reason to punish us? But he’s our father. Every time our kids get in trouble, it doesn’t matter whether my husband or I handle the discipline. Every time, it ends with a hug and comfort and reassurance that we will always love them. That is God. Can we focus on the clothes he made for them a little more often? The promise of the savior is important, the promise of ultimate redemption is our eternal hope. But, immediately in our need, right now, when we’re still processing our failure and guilt and fear and everything else, right now he’s concerned with our comfort and protection.
Finally, reading Genesis 3:22-24 when God drives them from the garden does not read to me as further punishment. I was always given impression this was the final punishment, an act of anger. These verses read…sadly, to me, as an act of mercy. Eating from the forbidden tree imparted a responsibility of purity humanity simply cannot meet. They’d already failed. We now required redemption, salvation, we needed someone without fault to step in and bear the consequences for us, consequences we could not recover from on our own. But that reconciliation takes place in death. If they remained with the tree of life and avoided death, how could that reconciliation ever take place?
The Faithlife Study Bible presents this interpretation with more academic language and linguistic support, so please, check out their commentary on this passage.
This is just one of many passages that is so often taught in such a depressing way. The focus is so often on the failure and anger and judgment, with that little glimmer of hope so far in the future…But when I read it for myself, I find the entire debacle infused with hope and love and promise. In your worst mistakes and offenses, God still loves you, still wants to comfort you, even through the consequences you can’t avoid. He isn’t going to throw you out of the house and leave you on your own. He’s going to stay with you and continue to guide you, because He LOVES YOU!
Series Disclaimer: throughout this particular series, it is always possible that I simply missed something, or honestly forgot it. I am, however, operating on the assumption that my experience is actually fairly typical despite coming from a comparatively small denomination. I feel justified in this assumption because I have put effort into interacting with and listening to as wide a variety of people as I can, and I put effort into paying attention. My entire life I’ve put effort into paying attention, into understanding. So perhaps I’ve missed something, or forgotten a single lesson, but I am speaking of broad impressions of a large culture. Should your experience differ, I am glad. Should I be wrong, I would be relieved.