Choosing the Creature Rather than the Creator

The fall of Adam and Eve is the result of their abandonment of their role in creation. As royalty, they were given the task of tending and caring for the garden temple. Adam and Eve failed to drive away the evil serpent who slithered into the holy sanctuary. This is amplified by their failure to exercise royal authority over the serpent and to reject its promptings. Instead of accurately understanding and relaying the truth of God, they fail to speak truth and therefore abandon their prophetic role in creation. In following the serpent and his deceitful take on reality, they are no longer able to offer up a sacrifice of praise towards God but choose the selfish path of autonomy.1 Therefore, they fail as priests.

The forbidding of eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was not an arbitrary decree of a tyrannical God. Adam and Eve as seen in the tradition of the Orthodox Church were brought into existence fully grown but still immature, untested, and weak in their wills.2 They were to grow into a healthy exercise of discerning the created world. St. Maximus the Confessor suggest that, perhaps the creation of visible things was called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because it has both spiritual reasons that nourish the mind and a natural power that charms the senses and yet perverts the mind. Therefore, when spiritually contemplated, it offers the knowledge of the good, while when received bodily it offers the knowledge of evil.3

Rather than an arbitrary rule given by God, St. Maximus suggests that the entire created visible order is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Humanity was to grow into a true spiritual contemplation and use of it. To be able to accept it as a gift and to transform it through thanksgiving, through eucharistic living. Instead, we received it bodily and abused its true reality. Eve is deceived by the serpent’s suggestion of becoming a God herself but also by the deceitful beauty of the fruit of the tree. She eats the tree for the sake of the tree itself. She embraces the bodily or worldly beauty of the fruit for her own selfish ends. The choice of taking from the forbidden tree is man’s choice to love the world for itself.4 It is a rejection of the world as a gift. Fr Alexander Schmemann summarizes it for us:

When we see the world as an end in itself, everything becomes itself a value and consequently loses all value, because only in God is found the meaning (value) of everything, and the world is meaningful only when it is the “sacrament” of God’s presence. Things treated merely as things in themselves destroy themselves because only in God have they any life. The world of nature, cut off from the source of life, is a dying world. For one who thinks food in itself is the source of life, eating is communion with the dying world, it is communion with death.5

The movement away from God and the truth of his creation is the basic problem of Adam and Eve and therefore all of mankind. To exist in their natural state, as God made them, their desire would ultimately settle on God. This rightly ordered desire for communion with God would then have them rightly govern the world. They would rule as holy kings, priests, and prophets. Harmony would reign “between themselves and nature, between body and soul (no shame), between each other (one flesh), and between themselves and their creator.”6 Instead, Adam and Eve chose their own kingdom, their own selves to thank, and their own truth to proclaim. Violence, shame, injustice, and dissolution rush in. They no longer trust God and his word. They now fear Him and distrust his motives. They remove themselves from his presence. They even turn on each other, shifting blame and denying responsibility.

This dissolution shows itself in the curses from God, the recognition of their spiritual death and its ramifications. First, the snake is cursed as well warned of the enmity between the seed of the snake and the seed of woman, for the seed of woman will bruise the serpent’s head while the serpent will only harm the heel of the seed of woman. Following the snake’s curse, God turns to the relations between man and woman, who will now become occasions for “exploitative power”: Eve will “desire” Adam, and Adam will “rule over” Eve.7 They will now “approach the other from utilitarian rather than loving motives, seeing each other as tools to be used.”8 Men using women and women using men: “victims of pornography, machismo, abuse, misogyny, abortion, divorce…[or] seeking men for their money, power, and so forth.9 The womb of women will now become painful; the source of life will now become a source of sorrow. For men, the source of life, the world, now is an occasion for great toil and work. Because they have abdicated their role in tending the garden, they are no longer able to stay, and the cherubim are placed there to guard the garden that they failed to guard.

Read more: Sin (opens in a new tab), Man (opens in a new tab), The Devil (opens in a new tab), Pre-History (opens in a new tab)


Footnotes

  1. Alexander, From Paradise to the Promised Land, 127.

  2. Dumitru Staniloae, The Experience of God, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology: The World Creation and Deification (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2000), 175–204.

  3. Staniloae, Experience of God, 175.

  4. Schmemann, For the Life of the World, 16.

  5. Schmemann, For the Life of the World, 17.

  6. Michael Dauphinais and Matthew Levering, Holy People, Holy Land: A Theological Introduction to the Bible (Ada, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2005), 31.

  7. Dauphinais, Holy People, Holy Land, 35.

  8. Dauphinais, Holy People, Holy Land, 35.

  9. Dauphinais, Holy People, Holy Land, 35.