Fall or Birth?

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked (3:7)

Shortly before we read that they were both naked, but unashamed. Now they are naked and they know it. So a sense of lack-of-being, allows desire to be twisted. Instead of finding fulness of being in relationship with God, an attempt is made to possess what God has – knowledge –  by grasping. God becomes a rival. The result is that their eyes are opened to their nakedness. Self-consciousness has emerged and with it the shame and guilt that causes them to hide.

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of thee in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”

(3:8-10)

Desire has given priority to sensory knowledge and the text itself has now taken on this perspective: “they heard the sound of God”, “God walking in the garden”, “the cool of the day”. For the first time the character of God now enters the drama in an obvious sensual way as if the text itself is now written from the perspective of the earthlings who have partaken of this sensual knowledge. The implications for how we interpret the story from here onwards are enormous, for we are no longer dealing with an independent perspective, but with the limited view of the earthlings – Ish and Isha. That the text is now written from their point of view is confirmed: “God called to the man[earthling) “Where are you?””

On this point, Sandor Goodhart writes: “… is the image of God that the text projects for us, an image based upon the distorted perspective of the characters within it, characters who have experienced something they are unhappy about and that colors their perspective of things?

(The Prophetic Law, pg 110, Kindle Edition)

This new dimension to the text opens up amazing possibilities. We cannot simply read and ignore the perspective we are dealing with. The narrative tells us something, but the very structure of the narrative is now subjective. What it says about God and the events to follow are all subjective descriptions of the characters who have discovered themselves naked, afraid and ashamed.

In this atmosphere of fear, God becomes retributive and punishing.

Every child needs to deal with the fact that the same parents who provide also seem to take away at times. Sometimes they say ‘yes’ and other times they say ‘no’. Parents enable us but also limit us. The perspective that develops after the ‘earthlings’ partake of this confusion of knowledge, the knowledge of good and evil, is very similar to the perspective of a child that imagines his parents as both providing and punishing.

If we are indeed dealing with a child’s perspective, then the implications are significant.

What if it turns out, in other words, that there was no expulsion, that we weren’t victims, or that if we were victims, we were victims only of ourselves, and that we should move from themes of scapegoating, persecution and victimage to themes of responsibility and ownership of our own role in violence against others?

So a sense of lack-of-being, allows desire to be twisted. Instead of finding fulness of being in relationship with God, an attempt is made to possess it by grasping. God becomes a rival. The result is that their eyes are opened to their nakedness. Self-consciousness has emerged and with it the shame and guilt that causes them to conceal themselves.

When confronted by God the man blames God and the woman. The woman in her turn blames the snake and in effect the God who created this snake. The process of projecting our own guilt and scapegoating others has began.

Can we now recognize Ish and Isha as fully human? Embarrassingly, yes! It is very significant that up to this stage nothing is said about sin or a fall. Yes, God announces the consequences of their actions, but none of their actions are declared to be sin. And yes, in the final act of this drama, the drama that explores what makes us human, Adam and Eve are expelled from Eden. However, this image is not one of a vertical fall, but more suggestive of giving birth. Human consciousness with all its complexities is birthed out of the naive innocence of childhood.

It is only after facing God’s pronouncement of what life would be like from now on, that Adam names Eve: “The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living” (3:20) Why the mother of all life? Logically she would only be the mother of human life. But for Adam she has opened up a whole new world and as such a whole new life.

Avivah in her book, The Murmuring Deep beautifully describes the significance of the situation as follows:

In naming her in this way, he marks a passionate and ambiguous knowledge that he can express only with the baffled intensity of one who has stepped into a transformed world … Eve has brought Adam into a world of uncertainty and agitation, of process and risk—” beyond the grasp of his intellect.” His sovereign relation to his world and its meanings yields to her enigmatic vitality: “The essence of life flows to him from her.” She has proven irreducibly other, an otherness he experiences as intense life. The way he now uses language to name her contains the irony, the doubleness, the revelation of poetry. She takes him beyond himself, and he strains to communicate this transcendence. In a word, Eve has seduced Adam. One effect of seduction is to move the other to speechlessness, and then into a new, dazzled language. (Zornberg, Avivah Gottlieb. The Murmuring Deep: Reflections on the Biblical Unconscious (p. 24). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

In a sense, Genesis 3 is the story of every person, the story of how your consciousness has been formed. We all develop from a place of isolated naive innocence in early childhood to the place where the complexities of relationship bring about a new self-consciousness. This journey includes both the joy of discovering likeness and love in the face of another and the depths of confusion as we face our own perceived inadequacies.

Resources

The Prophetic Law

The Murmuring Deep

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