I seem to be revisiting the Genesis stories of creation a lot lately. And that’s a good thing I think, because they always temptingly (pun!) offer us new and deeper insight.
Megan McKenna, world renown storyteller, author, peace activist, and some say prophet, tells a wonderful story about the opening of Genesis, the story coming from the Priestly tradition, compiled into written form during the Babylonian exile in the 580’s BCE.
She relates the first verses of Genesis 1 in dramatic style, bringing forth a evocative quiet as one listens with breathless awe at the scene.
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “let there be LIGHT”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. (NRSV)
McKenna claims that Jewish tradition has it that in that moment God created every soul that was ever to be for all eternity. Think of that. Now transport yourself for a moment to that ever repeated visual seen so often on every program about the universe and its beginnings–the explosion of matter into existence during the Big Bang. Combine the two, and you have a most powerful and elegant metaphor for God’s creation. Now add the beautiful mystical words of John 1:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the LIGHT OF ALL PEOPLE.
The second Genesis story is the older of two probably. Both of course originated as oral tradition handed down from times hazy in distant memory, changed and added to as needed to reflect meaning to each generation. The second story, found at Genesis 2-4, was put into written form during the Davidic dynasty in Jerusalem.
It reflects a quite different story, a God much the less Godly if you will, portrayed as more human, who walks and talks much like the humans he creates. He creates the male first, yet the woman will take center stage in this story.
It is the story of the Fall of mankind, brought upon humanity through the act of faithlessness of the woman and acquiesced in by the man. It is all about sin and human failing. We are introduced to Satan, the fallen angel.
Yet, read properly, (I would say, not literally, but then I would be giving an opinion–NOT me!), it tells the tale of failure to take responsibility for one’s own actions. God, being all patriarchal and such, asks the man what he has done, and the man blames the woman, and when asked, the woman blames the serpent.
Some have suggested that what God punishes here is not human failing. If one accepts that God formed humans exactly as he wished, then he apparently gave them the ability to fail in doing right. It would make God rather unfair and unjust to then punish mankind for all time with some mark of sin just because it actually exercised what was in its very nature.
No, the issue here is not the disobedience in eating of the tree of good and evil. The issue here, the failing that God cannot excuse is the failure to take personal responsibility for one’s own actions. Adam blames Eve, Eve blames the snake, and the snake shrugs and wonders, “what did they expect of me, being a mere reptile?”
God drives out the two from the Garden to live lives of toil and trouble. And so it goes. And we, are born into sin and live as sinful creatures all our lives. While I have no quarrel with the idea that we are all sinful, for indeed we are, I have always been troubled at the idea that a mere child would carry this burden. It seems both unnatural and unjust. (If you hadn’t figured it out, I take a dim view of my God being unjust.)
So it makes sense to me that God’s punishment was for the irresponsibility of the two. It was a harsh lesson to be sure. But the alternative, rather literal interpretation, seems fraught with problems.