Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Fall

Original Sin, Hugo Van der Goes, late 1400's
It has been quite a long time since I posted one of the Bible study lessons!  I have been thinking about it, though, quite a lot and now I feel ready to discuss the second part of my lesson on the Fall of Adam and Eve--the nature of the temptation.  Why did Eve eat the forbidden fruit and succumb to Satan's suggestions to turn from God?  Why did Adam go along with her?   

First of all, let's look at the seven capital sins.  Sometimes called the seven deadly sins, they are really a set of attitudes that are the basis for all of the sins we commit.

A capital sin is one that is the "head" or source of many other sins.  "Capital" comes from the Latin word capitalis, meaning head, chief, or first.  From the capital sins, all other sins flow forth.  These sinful attitudes generate sinful actions.

Envy,  Hieronymus Bosch

The seven deadly sins are: pride, anger, greed, envy, sloth, lust, and gluttony.  Scripture tells us that it was through the capital sin of envy that death entered into the world, in the very first text of the Bible that equates the serpent in Genesis 3 with the devil:

For God formed us to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made us.  But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world, and they who are allied with him experience it.  
                               Wisdom 2:23-24

The devil, filled with envy of God's wisdom, power, and creative glory, enters the garden and approaches Eve.  He wants what God already has:  the worship, fear, and devotion of mankind.  But God desires the glory of man, while the devil desires only his own glory, caring little for man's fate, even longing to make mankind as miserable as his own miserable self.  He is the Father of Lies (John 8:44), and so he begins his attack with an insidious lie:

 And he [the serpent] said to the woman: Why hath God commanded you, that you should not eat of every tree of paradise? Genesis 3:1

First of all, the serpent engages the woman.  He gets her wondering about the motives of God and she begins to question in her heart the reasons behind God's restrictions. She questions the goodness and love of God. She is no longer trusting God, but she is trying to understand God.  She is, in a sense, setting herself up to judge God:  Are His reasons valid? Is He right (as if God could ever possibly be wrong) in placing this restriction upon her? Is He even telling her the truth? 
Pride, Hieronymus Bosch
At this thought, pride enters into her heart.  She has placed herself in a position of superiority over God Himself; she has made Him less, and herself more.  She has usurped His authority and put in its place her own judgement and reason. She has determined that God owes her an explanation. She has doubted the truthfulness of Truth Itself.  All of these thoughts enter into her mind.  Sin begins first in the thoughts, and here Eve conceives in her mind not truth, but a lie, not humility, but pride.
So, Eve replies to Satan:

And the woman answered him, saying:  Of the fruit of the trees that are in paradise we do eat:  But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of paradise, God hath commanded us that we should not eat; and that we should not touch it, lest perhaps we die.  Genesis 3:2-3

It is clear that Eve knew the commands of God, and the consequences of disobedience.  And so do we.  How often do we commit sins which we not only know to be wrong, but which we know will have disastrous consequences?  We know we will suffer guilt, hurt our loved ones, damage our relationship with God, but we go ahead and disobey His commands anyway.  Aren't we really thinking, in our heart of hearts, that maybe God is wrong?  Maybe we know better than He does?   So, too, Eve has already begun to question the validity of God's commandments.  Who is God to tell her what she can and can't eat? What she can and can't do?  What she can and can't know?

Now, the devil moves in for the decisive blow:

And the serpent said to the woman: No, you shall not die the death. For God doth know that in what day soever you shall eat thereof, your eyes shall be opened: and you shall be as Gods, knowing good and evil. Genesis 3: 4-5

Pride, envy, and now greed begin to grow in Eve's heart.  You shall be as Gods!  Eve sees before her eyes the shimmering lure of being like God.  She is being "dragged away by [her] own evil desire and enticed. (James 1:14)" But, wait! Isn't she already like God?  Scripture tells us that "God created man to his own image: to the image of God he created him: male and female he created them."-Genesis 1:27 
Greed, Hieronymus Bosch
Eve  was created in the image and likeness of God, but now Satan has convinced her that she must try to somehow grab from behind God's back, as it were, that which, in fact, she already possesses.  She becomes blinded by her own prideful thoughts and greedy desires and can no longer see the blessings of God.  In truth,  the only thing she does not possess is the experience of separation from God.  The only knowledge God could not give her is the knowledge of shame, of sorrow,  and of guilt.  

 And the woman saw that the tree was good to eat, and fair to the eyes, and delightful to behold: and she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave to her husband who did eat.  Genesis 3: 6

The last, tragic step in the Fall occurs when Eve's thoughts and desires, her embracing of Satan's lies,  become sinful actions.  She takes the fruit and eats it.  The deed is done, and it cannot be undone until Jesus hangs suspended on the rough wood of the Cross.

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone;  but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.  James 1:13-15 (NIV)
Eve persuades her husband Adam to join her in her disobedience.  She has moved from pride, envy, and greed, into gluttony ("fair to eat") and lust ("fair to the eyes, and delightful to behold").  I wonder if there is a hint here, also, of anger.  How did she convince Adam to eat?  Did she become angry with him?  We are not told.  But we do know, from our own experiences with sin, the compelling need a person in sin has to validate themselves by convincing others to join them in their folly.  And we know, too, how often that "convincing" takes the form of angry coercion.

We will never know what might have happened if Adam had refused to eat the fruit.  Perhaps death would not have entered the world, for we do know that it was through Adam's participation in Eve's sin that death did enter:

Wherefore as by one man sin entered into this world, and by sin death; and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned.  Romans 5:12  (emphasis added)

 Eve's fall began in her prideful thoughts and misplaced desires, then  was finalized by her sinful actions.   From being the "mother of all living", she becomes the mother of a race of men condemned from the moment of birth to a certain death. 

The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man.  Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents.  CCC 390 .

Thanks be to God, this is not the end of the story!  As we read through Genesis 3, we will see the great hope of a future salvation, the great promise of a Savior to come and of a new Eve who will participate in restoring what once was lost by the first Eve long ago.

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