Unfortunately, the break in communion with God, the loss of that recognition of God’s infinite Love and compassion, has reduced Adam’s humanity to one of servile fear. He no longer perceives God as He is and instead considers admission of his transgression in terms of guilt. In this deluded state, the man fears punishment. If he confesses his sin, he will be punished. Rather than understanding the truth that ‘punishment’ for confessed sin is the only path to healing, Adam perceives in terms of further diminishment. Punishment will entail fully recognizing the wrong in his disobedience and this recognition will be ‘painful’. Lost in the finitude of his sinful condition, man seeks to avoid the very conviction and action that can heal him and restore fullness to his humanity.
Therefore, Adam seeks to ‘contextualize’ his sin. He offers ‘mitigating circumstances’ that he hopes will reduce his punishment. “The man said, ‘The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.’” (Gen 3.12) In this way, we also see the break in communion between the man and the woman. Man’s very personhood has been diminished in that he no longer sees in the woman the complement completion of his personhood, but rather finds her a source of division and danger whom he can use as an object to deflect attention to his own sin. (Note that in this act Adam truly is virtually ‘objectifying’ Eve, seeing her as an object, rather than as a personal subject.)
God now turns to Eve and questions her. “Then the LORD God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent beguiled me, and I ate.’” (Gen 3.13) it must not be thought that God has accepted Adam’s attempt to shift responsibility for his sin from himself to Eve. In questioning Eve God is offering her the same opportunity for repentance, contrition and reunion. The solidarity of humanity is hinted at in this as if Eve takes the path of repentance she will serve as a role model for Adam and thus an encouragement for him to follow a similar path in his own relationship with God. As noted above, the personhood of an individual human is revealed and finds its fullness in the humanity of another. The shared nature of humanity is communal; it is not in separation and ‘distinctiveness’ that man becomes fully a person, but in the shared humanity that discovers his own personhood through the personhood of other humans.
However, Eve, like Adam before her, reveals her own diminishment in sin and seeks to place the blame, and therefore guilt, on the serpent. Rather than accepting her own responsibility for her exchange with the serpent, she speaks of the serpent ‘beguiling’ (lying or tricking) her. Yet, we have already seen her active participation in the temptation, the exaggeration of God’s command, the permission she gave her incensive power to lust after the fruit, and the accompanying rise of pride in the false belief that partaking of it would somehow make her more ‘like’ God than her creation in His image and likeness already made her.
It is clear, then, that humanity, that nature common to all human beings, has been wounded. The potential for growth in the likeness of God has been lost in the inability to accept responsibility for the self-chosen separation from God. This break with God has resulted not only in cutting off man from the fullness of communion with God but has also created rift of separation between the man and the woman. This rift is the diminishment of each person’s humanity and the closing off of communion between human beings, the rise of individualism that seeks self validation through differentiation between the self and all others. This self-imposed isolationism has consequences for man’s relationship with God and with each human being’s relationship with all others. The fire of Divine Love that had warmed the heart of man giving comfort and fulfillment in the ongoing growth in that Divine Likeness for which man was created has been perverted into a mistaken belief that only in seeking ‘my personal good’ can my humanity find fulfillment.
The consequence of the sin of separation from God is now pronounced by God. This section (Gen 3.14-19) is often interpreted as God meting out judgment for the transgression, a judgment for crimes committed. Yet a careful review of the passage reveals a more startling reality.
God first addresses the serpent. “"Because you have done this, cursed are you above all cattle, and above all wild animals; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." (Gen 3.14f) God curses the serpent and the imagery of slithering snakes is directly used to convey the debasement the serpent has incurred for its part in the ruination of humanity’s communion with God. But given what we have said before we can understand this as more than a punishment meted out.
The serpent (the Evil One) is cursed “because you have done this”. The Evil One has sought to exalt himself in opposition to God and the finitude of his createdness has given birth to an envy that seeks to ruin God’s creation, and particularly the pinnacle of that creation, man. Yet the magnitude of his separation has not enhanced the Evil One’s standing, it has lowered him. The turning from God has removed him from the communion that is the very source of his existence. Thus, for the Evil One existence is one of total isolation, self-loathing, and callous hatred that knows no peace or joy. The knowledge and power that he once enjoyed as a mighty heavenly power cannot be used in creative ways but only in actions that demean both the one tempted and the Tempter himself. Each attempt to sway others of God’s creatures only further isolates him and increases his debasement.
A more specific result of the serpent’s participation in man’s fall is seen in the statement: “upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.” (Gen 3.14) The debasement of the serpent going on its ‘belly’ has already been discussed. But note the emphasis that the serpent will eat dust “all the days” of its life. This does not indicate some pre-scientific belief that serpents eat dust; it is a revelation that the corrupting envy of the Evil One will persist in an ongoing hatred for humanity. God will later tell Adam, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return”. (Gen 3.19) This ‘dust’ from which man’s body is created will be the only reward of the Evil One’s machinations. As he is not God and seeks only self-gratification in his interactions with man, the Evil One cannot obtain the intimacy open to man in his being created in the image and likeness of God. The Divine spark within man may be besmirched but it cannot be destroyed and no amount of connivance from the Evil One can result in the loving communion man was created to enjoy with God. Thus the harvest of the Evil One’s temptations will be merely the reaping of dust.
Further, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Gen 3.15) This enmity clearly indicates that God has not abandoned man because of his sin. Man can find no happiness, not personal growth in evil and sin. This is the ‘bruise’ that will be a complication of man’s sojourn – no one and nothing can replace the Love of God man is created to enjoy and without which he can find no peace. Similarly, man’s innate need for God’s love will always remain an affront to the Evil One. His obsession with bringing ruin to man, as the pinnacle of God’s creation, will consume him and add to his self-chosen alienation from all that is good in God’s creation.
God now turns to the woman saying, "I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you." (Gen 3.16) While some would see in this either and indictment or justification for a cultural view of the inferiority of women versus men, in fact it indicates the misery of human life bereft of communion with God. The “greatly” multiplied pain in childbearing is due to the fact that the child born of woman will also be subject to corruption and death. Woman cannot give to her child that which she no longer possesses – namely, the intimate spiritual communion with God. Thus, the child, too, will struggle in a world of unfulfilled existence.
The desire of the woman for her husband and his “rule” over her likewise does not indicate superiority of the male over the female. It states the reality of isolation within the human individual that distorts love into possessiveness rather than free self-giving. The inability to recognize the image of God within the man will also blind him to the image of God in woman, thus leading him to consider her in terms of ownership rather than equal.
And to Adam he said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, `You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return." (Gen 3.17-19)
God answers the man’s original attempt to deflect responsibility for his sin through blaming it on the woman by framing His response in the same terms. The man knew that God had commanded him to not eat of the fruit of the Tree. Man’s attempt to mitigate his responsibility merely further exposes him to the truth of his disobedience. This truth has no contextualization that can free man from his responsibility for his own disobedience and action. Later, the prophet Ezekiel will clearly state: “Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sins shall die.” (Ezek 18.4)
Next Installment: Consequences of Sin (Part Three) and Conclusion