Once upon a time, I was told, human beings and every other creature of the fields and the air were meant to live happily forever. Their habitat was to be a garden planted by the very creator of the universe.
So what happened? Well, the story says, the human inhabitants of the garden disobeyed its owner, and were promptly expelled from it. And human history has been heading downhill ever since.
One thing about this story that especially troubles me is its description of the primal act of disobedience: seeking to know the mind of God.
I have never felt threatened by seeking this, and I have yet to meet a thoughtful person who does. Acknowledging these facts makes me wonder whether we have this story straight at all. I can’t help thinking that we don’t.
And maybe other people way back then thought so, too. After all, they quietly dropped the reference to the two trees in Paradise from the rest of the Old Testament altogether. Perhaps they realized that we eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because it is our created nature to do so, not our fallen nature.
Here’s one way this story might have been told better, with “better” here meaning honoring more faithfully a God truly worth glorifying. In this version, Eve’s confusion would be described as confusion about whether to eat from the tree of life, not from the tree of knowledge.
Why? For one thing, she couldn’t have thought that the divine image in her did not include having a mind of her own. No woman in her right mind would ever think this.
But my story would say that Eve did wonder about how long a life God intended for her. And that wanting more of it for herself and perhaps for her intellectually challenged companion, she aggressed upon the tree of life as if its fruit had to be seized rather than received gratefully.
So it was not for seeking knowledge that Eve and Adam displeased God. It was for their not accepting mortality as an essential part of the created order. In their ungratefulness for finite life as a divine gift, Adam and Eve exiled themselves from Paradise and bequeathed to our genetic code a proclivity for a longing to return that only grace, never feasting, can ever satisfy.