“A Word on the Fall,” by Andrew J. Schatkin
For many people in today’s world, the events described in the first three chapters of Genesis in the Bible concerning the creation and fall of man are seen as myths or fairy tales. After all, one might ask, what do we have to do with two people in a garden and with a snake that tempts the woman?
In fact, there are two ways to see the creation and fall events in the Book of Genesis. They can be seen, as I see them, as actual historical. In order to do this, one must realize that the events described took place outside our present cosmic world system. Thus we have the option of taking them at their face value. That is my interpretation and understanding of these events in Genesis as a Lutheran Christian.
But, for some, there is another way to understand these events, ant that is to see them as allegories. We can understand them as god attempting to explain to use explain evil came into the world. In presenting these events in the first two chapters of Genesis, God is coming down to our human understanding. In a sense, God is trying to explain to us events that took place outside of human history and outside of our world in some way.
I would like to speak for a few minutes about the creation story in Genesis. That story is found in chapters 1-2 of the Book of Genesis. In Genesis chapter 1, God says that he makes man in his image and God tells the first man and woman to be fruitful and multiply and have dominion over all the fish, birds, and living things. It is clear this creation story envisions a totally different world where there is no violence or hate, and animals, fish, and birds are the servants of our first parents.
There is a second creation story in Genesis chapter 2 where God forms man out of the dust in the ground, breathes life into him, and places him in the Garden of Eden. In that Garden, there is a tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and a tree of life, and God commands Adam not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God then creates a helper for Adam, Eve, creating her from one of his ribs.
These are the two creation stories in Genesis chapters 1 and 2. Now I would like to talk about Genesis chapter 3, the fall story. In chapter 3, the serpent says to Eve, “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden,” and the woman replies that God had commanded her not to eat from one tree since if she did so she would die. The serpent says to the woman, “You will not die” and that when she ate her eyes would be opened and the two would be like God, “knowing good and evil.” When Eve saw the tree was good, that it was a delight to the eyes, and that it was desired to make one wise, she ate of it and gave the same to her husband.
To my sense and thought, the Fall story is a deeply profound story and on which we must reflect on and seek to understand fully. The mistake that Eve made was pride. She was told that she would be “like god”; thus Eve gave into the failing of every person who has ever lived, namely pride. Eve gave into temptation and reached the emotional and intellectual conclusion that she was above herself, beyond herself, and equal to God and not a created creature. None of us likes to be told we are subject to anyone else and that we have to do what we are commanded. A child will resist obedience to his or her parents even though what they wish the child to obey for is for his or her own good. Pride is the fallacy and mistake to think we are totally independent and autonomous. Pride is the mistake that our thinking is the right thinking and good thinking. Our pride always fools us into thinking we are great and greater than others and better than others.
Eve made this mistake in thinking she could be a god and it brought about the entire fall of humanity. None of us wishes to concede our limitation: none of us wishes to concede our failings; none of us wishes to be sufficiently honest with ourselves to say we are not equal to God nor that we are not in any sense equal to each other. I will never compose a symphony, write an epic poem, or play professional baseball. The serpent fooled Eve and lured her into thinking that she could be something that she could never be and would never be. Pride is foolishness and stupidity. The pride of Eve resulted in such a destructive fall that it brought out present world, with our evil and destructive impulses. All of us have shared this fall. All of us are fooled about ourselves by ourselves. I believe that the events described in Genesis chapter 3 happened since I know that all have shared in this fall and in this act of pride. This fall brought about a twisted and confused world, not the world envisioned by God, a world where love is shared. Instead, we live in a world of constant turmoil and hostility, which ends for all of us in death.
The fall story in Genesis is the truth because we cannot escape who we really are. Its message is our great failing of our pride and egotism. The English poet John Milton correctly analyzed the person of Satan in Book Two of Paradise Lost. In Book Two of this epic poem, we have the picture of Satan in his overwhelming and incredible pride where he states that he would rather rule in Hell than serve in Heaven. Satan’s pride and rebellion against God led to his destruction. In that same pride, he wishes to share with him in Hell. The great sin of Satan as depicted Paradise Lost was his arrogance and overwhelming pride. His great desire is to bring the fallen humanity into his thinking and dominion.
Satan was cast out of Heaven because he did not wish to obey and preferred to rule in torment rather than have eternal joy in Heaven with god and his angels. He wants us to make the same mistake and constantly presses at our pride, arrogance, and egotism seeking to bring us down to the torments, coldness, alienation, and loneliness, and loveless precincts of Hell, and ultimately to bring about our destruction.
This essay is taken with alterations from my book “Essays on Faith, Politics, Culture, and Philosophy,” Chapter 40, pp.111-113, published by Rowman & Littlefield. It is available here.