So yesterday, we left young Adam and Eve standing next to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. As I explained, I was told/shown that the tree was to Adam and Eve what the adult world is to a child. Rather than being a temptation or even a danger, it was a good thing which let them know that there is more to life than their childish existence. God told them not to eat from that tree because the experiences of the adult world are not for children to have – adult experiences being the fruit they were not to eat. Under normal circumstances, the existence and close proximity of the adult world does not pose a threat to children, nor is it particularly tempting. Unless one of the adults does something to bring a child into the adult world inappropriately. Enter the serpent.
It has often been pointed out that the serpent isn’t specifically identified with the character of Satan in this story. However, the serpent was indeed Satan (whatever or whomever Satan is in reality). The connection between the serpent and Satan is made in several places in scripture – particularly in Revelation 12 and Revelation 22. But even more damning is that both the serpent and the character of Satan work in the same way. Satan is a Hebrew word meaning accuser or adversary. In Revelation 12:11, the serpent is described as “the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night”.
Satan’s job is to serve as an adversary. He does this through accusations. Which is to say that Satan calls the goodness of God, creation and humanity into question by offering alternative explanations for what is going on. So at the opening of the book of Job, we get the accusation that Job isn’t faithful because he loves God, but because God has protected him. When Job remains faithful after losing everything, Satan claims it is only because Job has not suffered physical harm himself. This is what Satan does – looks for any explanation possible to explain away what is good, true, faithful and loving. When Satan tempts Jesus at the end of his 40 days in the wilderness, he uses scriptures to argue that things which are forbidden – grasping power, testing God, etc – are in fact scripturally sanctioned. He offers an alternative vision of reality which Jesus rejects.
The thing is that Satan had a legitimate role in God’s kingdom. One of the ways to view the existence of the material world is that it is God exploring and expressing the reality of himself through this physical creation. I’m probably going to flub this explanation, but outside of the created world, God exists as whole, complete and unchanging. Within the created world, God can unpack all of that and share himself with us, his creation. One of the ways which we can know and understand something is by seeing how it is and isn’t like something else. God is light – in him there is no darkness. But without darkness, how can the light be known? If there is only undifferentiated light, nothing can be seen or observed. And this is the purpose which Satan serves. He introduces the dark by which the light can become known.
Or to put it in slightly less abstract, esoteric terms, God is love and created everything in and through love. But what does that mean? Are there limits to love? When people suffer, is that a sign of a lack of love? How do we know what comes from love and what comes from serving self? Satan’s job is to come up with challenges to God. He tells God, “that’s not really love; here’s what’s really going on.” And God then has a puzzle or a challenge which must be resolved in such a way as to demonstrate that love is, in fact, the ultimate reality. This is why the serpent was “the cleverest of all the creatures”. If you are working on a tricky problem and need to step outside your own head for perspective, you seek out the most clever, challenging person you know to offer the opposing view and poke holes in your ideas in order to tease whole thing out. That’s the Accuser’s reason for existing
So when the serpent approaches Adam and Eve, he does what he always does – he makes an accusation – offers a skewed vision of reality: “did God really say that you can’t eat the fruit of the garden?” Eve’s response is interesting. She actually adds to God’s instructions claiming that they were not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good or evil nor were they to touch it. But God hasn’t told her not to touch it. Even before the fall, human had a tendency to err it seems. The serpent responds: “God isn’t worried about you dying. God just doesn’t want you to be like him.” It’s the game he plays.
Here’s the thing, though; this was a game to be played with God. It wasn’t a child’s game. What we have here is a powerful, clever creature – one whose job it was to act as an adversary for God himself – bringing the grown-up’s world into the lives of children. Remember – the existence and proximity of the grown-up world is neither a threat nor a real temptation to children unless an adult inappropriately involves them in the world of adults. Which is exactly what happened here.
When this was shown to me, it was impressed on me that what happened at the fall was akin to what happens when a child is sexually abused. The fact that the grown-ups have sex is no threat to children, even if they are aware that it is happening. But when grown-ups involve children in sex, it is horribly damaging to them. Now, you may protest that Eve made a considered decision when she ate of the fruit: “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.” However, this is exactly what predators do. They induce their victims to make a decision to engage in something which they should never have been invited or tempted to do. They create the appearance of willing co-operation on the part of their victim. In fact they count on this dynamic – children who are being victimized often to do not seek help because they see themselves as culpable in what is happening to them. They are doing something they know they are not supposed to be doing. Which is exactly what happened here with Adam and Eve.
We have always thought and been taught that the fall was what happened when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and reached for what was forbidden. But it was strongly impressed on my that the fall was in actually an act of abuse by a more powerful creature against immature, unprepared, unsuspecting mankind. And if you look at the reaction of Adam and Eve after the fall, you will see that their reaction is very much in line with how children react after being abused. They feel intense shame. They hide. They blame themselves while also lashing out at those closest to them. This is what happens when a child is traumatized and exposed to things which they are unprepared to cope with. We see it everyday.
And all too often, callous and unthinking adults do blame victims of abuse as much as the victims do themselves. They say unless you put up a huge fight, it wasn’t really abuse. Or that if the child wasn’t physically forced to do it, it wasn’t really abuse. Or if there was any element of choice involved – the child went there, touched that, listened to this – then it was their fault. But the reality is that a person with power and experience inviting children into adult experiences and exposing them to adult experiences is a predatory abuser. The serpent was a predatory abuser. And Adam and Eves were victims of the worst, most damaging case of child abuse on record. And through them, we all fell victim.
In my next posts I’ll get into more detail about why such a terrible thing could happen, the aftermath and results of having eaten of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, what this all means for sin (traumatized people tend to fall into a lot of sin, after all) and some of the implication for our thinking and theology today. But for now, I want to leave you with this: as the story I was being told ended and I was coming back to myself, I sensed God telling that he was so, so sorry for what we’ve all been through. Yes, we’ve handled things badly, but the road we found ourselves walking was a broken one that was never meant for us. He never wanted us to go through so much suffering and it’s broken his heart to watch his lost, broken and suffering children on it. It wasn’t our fault that we lost our place in the garden and our innocence. There’s no going back, but it’s time to lay down the guilt and self-condemnation and allow ourselves to be comforted and redeemed by our pappa whose heart has broken over us and who has always, always loved us.