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  • Writer's pictureKatie Davis-Crowder

The Fall

As a high school theology teacher and new mother, I often find myself revisiting biblical stories that I have heard and read hundreds of times. This ongoing exploration of popular Scriptures has made me acutely aware that the foundational stories we are told as children about humanity’s life with our Creator can impact our relationships with God, ourselves, and other people for life. At the same time, we do not encounter Scripture “once and for all” as kids. Rather, Christian faith and spirituality call us to unfolding, dynamic relationship with the Divine. We are invited to encounter God again and again in Scripture, both divinely inspired and undeniably human.

Today’s first reading is an excerpt from the Fall in Genesis—the story of two human beings exerting their free will in opposition to God’s desires for them. What do we remember about learning this story in childhood? The snake tempted Eve. Eve tempted Adam. They both disobeyed God by eating the fruit from one particular tree. Instead of thanking God for all they had in the Garden of Eden, they took the one thing God had asked them to avoid. And of course, many of us learned—not only in religion classes, but in religious art, popular media, and in the pews on Sundays—that the Fall was mostly Eve’s fault. If she hadn’t “seduced” Adam, perhaps he never would have erred. So God punished women with painful childbirth and subordination to men. Yikes.

It’s crucial to recall that the stories in Genesis 1 through 11 are not historical, but primeval myths. These myths about the beginning of time are not factual explanations; still, they convey deep Truths about God, humanity, and creation. So the relational dynamics among humans depicted in Genesis reflect the way life is already organized for the Hebrew writers and their families. Childbirth is painful! Men rule over women! Contemporary listeners of the story seeking God could imagine themselves into the plot and reflect on God’s presence in their real lives. Genesis 1-11 is not, then, a literal guidebook for the way God wants life to be. It takes conscious effort to separate out the lasting religious Truths of Genesis from the culturally influenced narrative and its context.

The Fall is the first of many biblical stories misinterpreted throughout history and used to justify patriarchal oppression. The demonization of Eve at least implies, and at its worst exclaims that from the very outset of humanity, women have been temptresses whose intrinsic moral weakness makes us inferior to men. For some, this obsession with blaming Eve has been intentional. For others, it’s been a result of unconscious bias or a lack of access to information. Regardless, the tendency to blame Eve has been powerful for centuries and has distracted many of us from savoring the beautiful Truths found within the myth of the Fall.

This common, problematic focus on Eve as “female seductress” prevents people of all genders from wanting to connect to the heart of this story. I used to feel that way too. What if today, however, we put misogyny in its proper place (far away from God!) and take another look for a minute?

In part, this story is about accountability. We see the man’s first instinct is to blame the woman, and the woman’s first instinct is to likewise point outside herself to the serpent. Perhaps the resulting pain the humans endured after this incident was less about God’s punishments and more about the natural consequences of refusing to take responsibility for their part.

Most importantly, this story is about God who wants to see us as we are. “I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid myself,” the man said, as he and the woman covered themselves up after disobeying God’s command. The humans felt shame and lost sight of their original goodness, having been made in God’s image. Meanwhile, God had been calling out to them, “Where are you?” God did not stop seeking the people God made, even when they chose something other than God. In God’s eyes, this story suggests to me, original goodness is always more powerful than sin if we let it be so. 

By replying, “Who told you you were naked?” God reminds us that nakedness before God, being seen, being vulnerable, is natural. Nakedness before God is good and true and beautiful. Being seen, being vulnerable, is essential for loving relationships. No matter what we do, God doesn’t stop looking for us—all of us—ever. It’s up to us how long we decide to keep hiding.

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