Sunday, June 27, 2010

Image and Likeness - Installment Five

b. Anatomy of the First Temptation

The serpent (Satan) speaks to Eve. This should not surprise us. Adam and Eve exist in a state of communion with God and His creation. Adam has given names to all creatures (cf Gen 2.19-20). In Scripture, names indicate the spiritual reality of the creature. Consequently, a name also indicates a spiritual relationship between the one who names and the one who is named. The name symbolizes how the creature is perceived and thus how the one who names will interact with the one who is named. This also explains why the Name of God in the Old Testament is so mysterious, and why It is not spoken by devout Jews to this day.

Scripture does not specify how the serpent speaks to Eve. As we have noted above, far from being a simple snake, the serpent is in fact Satan. As a fallen ‘angel’, Satan has spiritual powers that allow him to tempt man. He has the ability to deceive through his use of these powers. This being so, the exact means by which Satan communicated his temptation to Eve is not given, and to some extent it is not relevant. Suffice it to say, “Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes.” (Psalm 36.1)

As we have noted above, human beings are created as communal creatures. It is through speaking that man primarily communicates with others. Thus, all communication, even spiritual communication, is understood and ascribed in Scripture in terms of verbal communication.

The serpent begins his conversation with Eve by asking a question: “Did God say, `You shall not eat of any tree of the garden'?” (Gen 3.1) This question serves two purposes. Firstly, it presents the serpent as innocently seeking knowledge about God’s command. This places Eve in a position of superiority, as she will have the answer. Secondly, it plays upon the free will. God has told Adam and Eve that eating of the tree will result in their death, but He has not explained why or how this will happen. Up to this point, Adam and Eve have not asked Him. Love does not seek knowledge; it seeks intimacy. Thus, they have had no need to question God’s motives.

However, by framing the question in this way, the serpent has already begun his temptation. Why has God forbidden eating of this tree? What is it about this tree that makes its fruit forbidden? We might say that the serpent has planted a “seed of doubt” with Eve that, even if lying dormant for some time, threatens to grow with disastrous consequences.

Eve enters the conversation. “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but God said, `You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'” (Gen 3.2) The Church Fathers have noted that Eve’s answer already shows the effect of the serpent’s temptation. God did not prohibit man from touching the tree or its fruit, only that man was not to eat the fruit.

We may further note that Eve’s answer shows the method the devil uses in temptation; first the spiritual; and then the physical. The doubt raised in Eve’s heart by the serpent’s question has raised a desire that manifests itself in the exaggeration or misrepresentation of God’s command. This allows her to enter into the temptation. Is eating of the fruit much different from handling it? All the trees of the garden are, after all, “pleasant to the sight and good for food”; why is this one forbidden? (Gen 2.9)

Also noteworthy is the fact that death itself is mysterious. One can easily understand what the death of another means, but the death of oneself is truly unimaginable. The end of my life, with life going on around and without me, is something I cannot comprehend except in an abstract way. This persistence of expectation of existence is part of the image and likeness of God. Eve, as one of the first two created people, understands death even less than do we since at this point in time no death has yet occurred in creation.

The serpent now presses home the temptation. “You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3.4 – 5) Eve can see the fruit and desire it, she can smell it, hold it. Now the serpent assures her that the threatened consequence for eating it is false. Death, that which she cannot comprehend anyway, will not follow if she eats of it. The serpent has used simple logic, albeit with a false premise, to lead Eve to a logical (and false) conclusion.

In the serpent’s rejoinder the deception of his temptation, the lie, is clearly seen. If Eve eats of the fruit her eyes will be opened, and she will “be like God” and know good and evil. Eve already has full communion with God, yet here she is promised that somehow there is something lacking which she can obtain by means of her own choice to disobey God. She, who is already created in the image and likeness of God, is promised falsely that although she ‘is not like’ God she can be through eating of this fruit. In short, by eating the fruit, she will gain knowledge and this knowledge will be what will ‘truly’ make her like God.

“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate.” (Gen 3.6) The voice of temptation (the serpent) has spoken to Eve’s heart. A longing awakes within her and weakens her weakened trust in God, which in turn leads to her sin.

We must clarify that the pursuit of wisdom is not sinful in and of itself. Rather, the pursuit of a wisdom that is contrary to God leads to sin. It is in acceding to temptation that wisdom betrays and the responsibility for sin becomes personal. Sin warps our understanding and leads to desires that are contrary to the good for which and in which we were created. To some extent, every sin manifests itself in a gained ‘knowledge’ that separates us from God. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who practice it.” (Psalm 111.10) Fear of the Lord is not cowardly terror; it is the fear that comes in love. This fear recognizes that my completeness is found in the other; thus, my fear of God is a recognition that the loss of communion with God shatters my completeness and leaves me less than I am and less than I was created to be; this fear it not a matter of servile fear that God will bring me to harm in some way.

In the course of revelation history, God manifests Himself in many ways, and ultimately as Love. “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (1 John 4.16) This mutual abiding in love reflects the image of God within us. It draws from us godly purpose and wholesome desire, through which true wisdom is built up. When Eve enters into the temptation of the serpent she no longer recognizes the gift of God’s image within her, and the wisdom she imagines she will receive in disobeying God becomes reflective of enviousness and pride. These passions reveal the deficit of a rejection of the fullness of humanity within the person and consequent longing for completeness. As this completeness can only be obtained in the intimate communion with God, in whose image we are created, all other choices are deadly. Thus, the responsibility for Eve’s sin falls on her. The serpent may tempt her, but she exercises free will in disobedience.

This should also clarify that Adam’s participation in the sin of eating of the fruit is in no way innocent or the result of deception on Eve’s part. Adam’s fall is entirely the result of his misuse of his free will. Some have portrayed Eve as giving Adam the fruit in a manner in which he did not recognize it. This is no more than an attempt excuse him from his own responsibility in his fall. The reality of his responsibility for his own sin will be clearly manifest when God confronts him.

Next Installment: The Consequences of Sin


Staying in Balance said...

Thank you for pointing out the meaning of "neither shall you touch it". I always wondered why that was there, and I never thought of the exaggeration of God's commandment as being the beginning of temptation.

christmas said...

God is love & love is pry. thanks for meaningful blog its a real massage for human.God bless you!