Genesis 3. I’m not going to give you the entire text to read, but we are going to consider this chapter as a whole.
And…action! (Enter the snake) Now, let me just say that while I know snakes can certainly be dangerous and deadly, I feel bad for the reputation they have inherited from this text. Snakes are not evil and are just as much a part of God’s good creation as anything else. However, the snake is the bad guy in this story.
Eve’s response to the snake’s doubting question is that they can eat from any tree in the garden excepting one in the middle of the garden. This reminds me of Jon Krakauer’s fascinating book about Chris Mcandless’ journey into the Alaskan wilderness recently made into a major motion picture by Sean Penn, Into the Wild. The fatal mistake that Mcandless made in the wilds of Alaska was eating the wrong thing. There are two almost identical looking wild plants, one that is edible and one that is deadly poisonous. Chris ate the latter.
Eating can lead to both life and death. The garden is given to sustain, nourish and produce life for humanity. There happens to also be the presence of a tree whose fruit will end with death. I have usually thought that this tree looked completely different from the other trees so they would know which one to avoid. Maybe that was not the case. Perhaps the tree and its fruit were actually eerily similar to another tree in the garden. God could have pointed out that the veins on the leaves went a different direction than the other tree so that Adam and Eve would know the difference.
The line between things that are edible and poisonous is not as clearly defined as the supermarket would lead you to believe.
The other interesting thing that happens in this chapter is that humanity moves from being foragers to agrarian. God says to the man “17 The ground is cursed because of you. Through hard work you will eat [food that comes] from it every day of your life. 18 The ground will grow thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat wild plants. 19 By the sweat of your brow, you will produce food to eat until you return to the ground, because you were taken from it. You are dust, and you will return to dust” (17-19 God’s Word trans. via Mac Sword).
So, in the beginning creation basically provides for everyone’s needs. There was once a perfectly functioning harmonious ecosystem in which humanity simply collected the food that grew wild in nature. At least that is the portrait we get here in Genesis. Whether or not that’s how things would look if we could look at the CCTV cameras of history is a question for another post. The result of the man and woman eating from the wrong tree is not the same as Chris Mcandless. You often hear theologians say they died a “spiritual death”, and that may be implied in the text, but the narrative explicitly points out other results.
The relationship between the sexes is broken. More importantly for our purposes the way food is acquired has changed. Now the man will have to work hard to extract food from the ground “by the sweat of his brow” all the days of his life. It seems like even the edible wild plants are now surrounded by thorns and thistles. It is also pointed out twice (vv. 19, 23) that the ground that humanity must now work to provide food is the same ground from which they were created. Perhaps this emphasizes the futility of their labor where the creation narratives emphasized connectedness to creation. The man and woman also for the first time had to kill animals to provide clothes for themselves now that their innocence is lost.
In the final passage the man and woman are exiled from the garden, not because they ate the fruit exactly, but because God feared what would happen if they ate of the tree of life and became like God and lived forever. I think this is mainly an explanation for death and wouldn’t get too excited about the real possibility of being like God. It does bring us back to the point that eating can produce both life and death.