about Eve

The serpent was craftier than any other wild animal the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman answered, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die’.” The serpent said, “You will not die, for God knows when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw the tree was good for food, and 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, who was with her, and he ate.(1)

The Fall and Expulsion from the Garden (1508-1512), Michelangelo (1475-1564)

And ever since, Eve, the first woman, thus, the metaphorical mother of humankind, has borne the mark of guilt for committing the first sin, a veritable trifecta of lost wagers – falling prey to temptation, disobeying God, and seducing her husband, Adam, into sharing her betrayal.

More than 2000 years ago, Yeshua ben Eleazar ben Sira wrote: From a woman sin had its beginning and because of her we all die.(2) At the close of the first century, the Apostle Paul added his disapprobation: I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.(3)

These views, o’er centuries, when, indeed, as illumined and magnified as truth in the teaching and preaching of the church, have been used, rather misused to substantiate the idea of the inferiority of Eve to Adam and, by extension, women to men.(4) This unjustly and wrongly perceived inherent inferiority, I believe, has contributed to the individual and societal assessment and treatment of women as powerless subordinates to men.

As I read the Genesis account of the first sin and the fall from grace, I interpret it as a mythological – that is, not a false, but rather an ahistorical (it didn’t happen!) – story that expresses a number of truths about life in this world, among them:
• That we humans, women and men, are equally endowed with a knowledge of right and wrong.(5)
• That we, women and men, are called in the chance and circumstance of life to choose between the two (alway being mindful that life is laden with ambiguity).
• That when we, women and men, choose rightly, wisely, there are blessings and consequences for choosing wrongly.
• That we, women and men, in choosing wrongly, are equally subject to the temptation of disavowing our responsibility and casting blame on someone or something else.(6)

Thus, it seems to me that it is not Eve’s image that needs rehabilitation, but rather the restoration of humankind’s…mankind’s view of women as equal. For so it was in the Garden of Eden.

 

Illustration: The Fall and Expulsion from the Garden (1508-1512), Michelangelo (1475-1564), Sistine Chapel, Rome. Note: In The Fall (the left side of the panel), Michelangelo depicts the serpent (following medieval custom, portrayed as a woman; thus, amplifying the woman-as-temptress theme) handing a piece of the fruit from the tree to Eve, and, notwithstanding the Apostle Paul’s declaration that “Adam was not deceived” (1 Timothy 2.14), Adam, not waiting for Eve to offer the fruit to him, reaches for his own!

Footnotes:

(1) Genesis 3.1-6
(2) Ecclesiasticus (or The Wisdom of Jesus, Son of Eleazar, Son of Sirach or Sirach, for short) 25.24
(3) 1 Timothy 2.12-14
(4) In this regard, sometimes I think that traditional church teaching about Mary as perpetually virginally pure and wholly virtuous in her obedience to the will of God that she become Theotokos, God-bearer, is intended not only to make a statement about who Jesus is as God’s Son, but also to redeem the image of Eve.
(5) By whatever sources and means, e.g., civil code, natural law, religious ethical instruction.
(6) The Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.” (Genesis 3.9-13, emphases mine).

Of life in the still-Christian South (a retired cleric’s occasional reflections)…

On Labor Day and the letter and the spirit of the law

About a mile from my home, on one of the main thoroughfares that runs through Spartanburg and, east and west, beyond, is a lawyer’s office. The building, an attractive cottage, nestled in a stand of mostly crepe myrtle trees and well-manicured shrubbery, sits 50 yards from the road. Zipping by, one might not notice it, save for the conspicuous curbside sign advertising the attorney’s name and contact information and, for me, more…most prominently, in bright flashing crimson neon, a scripture citation. This past week, Isaiah 43.2: When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. The “I” of the Isaian prophetic reference, of course, is God.

I don’t know the attorney or his intent in publicizing biblical references. Nevertheless, allowing my imagination free rein to run, I assume that it’s an expression of his scripture-rooted beliefs and values[1] and that it may prove (has proven?) a boon to his business, attracting clients who ascribe to faith-based commerce, in this case, legal services.

As I muse about this, I recall the counsel of a dear friend, Woodley Beal Osborne, a very fine person and lawyer. He once said to me, “Paul, there’s a reason it’s called law school and not justice school.” Yes, there’s a difference, sometimes, I think, vast between the law as a system of behavioral regulatory rules established and enforced by society and government (the fitting and fruitful application of which can be governable by time and place, person and circumstance, and degrees of personal and financial resources) and justice, which, whether rooted in natural law or sacred principle, connotes an ethical, universal, and unconditional quality of righteousness, indeed, the rightness of fairness for all people.

So, I – who, back in the proverbial day, entered college as a political science major with his sight set on becoming an attorney and who, through a nocturnal vision from God, was called into Christian ministry and who, as a follower of Jesus, seeks to fulfill His gospel-call of love and justice for all people – wonder where this South Carolina barrister draws the line between conventional jurisprudence and scriptural justice. My hunch is, again, as the law and justice, though related, are not the same, that he must. My hope is that he has discerned an unassailable bond between the law and justice and, thus, in a word, seeks to do just law.

Perchance one day, driven by more than merest curiosity, but rather sincerest interest, I may stop by his office and inquire.

 

Footnote:

[1] Another biblical reference I have seen is 1 Peter 3.15: In your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you. Here, I assume his conspicuous and clever emphasis, in a legal sense, is on the phrase “make your defense”, though I also suppose that he means to affirm his Christian hope.

Paul’s (not my, but the Apostle’s!) law

1-22-17 a sermon, based on Romans 7.15-25 and Matthew 11.16-19, 25-30, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 5th Sunday after Pentecost, July 9, 2017

“When I want to do good, evil lies close at hand.”

Portrait of the Apostle Paul

I wish Paul had written autobiographically. Only for himself. Only about himself. But, no. Paul reflects on an aspect of our universal human experience, so constant in occurrence and comprehensive in influence that he calls it “a law.” Overlooking the potential confusion he creates by using “law” in multiple ways, his point is simply, profoundly this: We can’t keep the law!

The law. Guiding, governing rules that frame our lives and focus our living; whether the Mosaic law, Paul’s particular point of reference, or another set of precepts transcendent in origin, spiritual in scope or natural laws deduced from keen observation about the way things are in the world around us or some philosophical ethical civil code. Whatever. It doesn’t matter what the law is. For in our efforts to follow it, we repeatedly discover that we, in practice, according to the prayer, following “the devices and desires of our own hearts”,[1] won’t keep the law!

Here is the power of the law. It’s a two-edged sword, simultaneously cutting both ways. The law points to a higher truth, whether God or some honored virtue; enabling us to imagine it and, striving to do good, reach for it. And, as we always fail to do good always, the law reveals, exposes our inherent capacity to do what is not good, indeed, what is sinful.

Hence, here is the paradox of the law. It’s our finest dream and worst nightmare; a useful tool and a weighty burden.

I believe that everyone – whether individual, family, community, nation, me! – experiences this blessing and bane of the law.

Speaking for myself, as I age, I am clearer, nearly by the day, about the person I want to be and become. Wise. Knowledgeable about the world. Understanding. Able to apply that knowledge in the concrete circumstances of my daily living. Passionate for justice. Compassionate. Loving and patient, especially with those with whom I disagree. However, the more I behold who I want to be I also see how often I don’t reach for it, but rather retreat to the known and narrow confines of my present perspectives and prejudices. “When I want to do good, evil lies close at hand.”

I think of historically battle-scarred lands and peoples where the long, mutually recognized “good” of justice and peace is overshadowed by intractable conflict fraught and fought with the endless sins of generational resentment, rage, and revenge. “When humans want to do good, evil lies close at hand.”

I think of America. Once again, we have celebrated our nation’s birth. In recalling our founding principles, “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness”, we are reminded afresh and our honesty compels our confession of how far short we fall in guaranteeing these rights to all. We are a nation of enormous wealth where poverty resists resolution; making Jesus’ observation, “You always have the poor with you”,[2] stubbornly, sorrowfully true. We are a nation increasingly pluralistic where bigotry continues to raise its ugly head and to cry out in angry voice resisting the spirit of universal tolerance. “When we want to do good, evil lies close at hand.”

Whether the scale is large or small, whether the scope is personal, communal, national, or international, the same dis-ease infects and afflicts us all. Paul is right, “wretched” we are!

Here’s some good news. Whenever we come anew to this realization, we can cry with Paul, hoping there’s an answer, “Who will rescue us from this body – that is, this inherent, inescapable way of our living in this world – of death!” Whenever we ask that question, we can sing with Paul, knowing there’s an answer. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” We with Paul praise God for Jesus, who, through his life and ministry, death and resurrection redeems us that through him we can fulfill the law!

This, I think, I believe, is what Jesus means: “Come to me, all you weary and heavy burdened…” Referring to the manifold stipulations of the Mosaic Law and any legal code, hard to remember, harder to do, Jesus offers in their place, one law, his law, his love. “Take my yoke (my love) upon you and learn (to love) from me…For my yoke (of love) is easy, my burden (of love) is light.”[3]

Double yoke for oxen, Musée de la civilisation à Québec

 

Illustrations:

Saint Paul, James Tissot (1836-1902)

Double yoke for oxen, Musée de la civilisation à Québec

Footnotes:

[1] From the Confession of Sin, Morning Prayer: Rite I, The Book of Common Prayer, page 41

[2] John 12.8

[3] Matthew 11.29a, 30, my parenthetical and italicized additions