Some interpreters of Genesis suggest that when man fell, he fell into the physical and visible universe that surrounded him and away from the intangible and invisible God. And it is not hard to see how this view might arise. Man is moved by what is nearest and closest to his senses, so the argument goes, and thus he was taken in by the creation. The beauty, comeliness, sheer grandeur, and novelty of creation (and himself for that matter!) elicited from him an obsessive passion and desire for knowledge. The colors, shapes, sizes, textures, dimensions, timing, spacing, and relations of all substances that filled nature literally possessed him. He fell victim to it all, and through knowledge, he was tempted to conquer, subjugate, and refashion it…for himself. Somehow a universe, full of interdependent and coinherent particulars, devoured him. He fell prey to an irresistible cosmos and knowledge was the only means for his survival in its grip.
Such would be an explanation that might lay the blame for man’s Fall on what is other than himself, in this case, nature. And the author of Genesis is only too aware of the natural tendency of man to blame his sin on something or someone else. Responsibility or accountability is not one of man’s stronger suits. And the origin or cause of sin is what Genesis is all about. Far from providing a scientific account of evolutionary being which only progressively hews out forms of goodness that meet the needs of an emerging human nature, Genesis describes man’s regressive descent from the knowledge of God's Goodness that rules all things to willful rejection of it in disobedience. The Good manifests itself in the creation and preservation of all things. Man’s appropriation of it should have come through submission to its rule and governance. And, thus, the Goodness that rules and governs nature, and reveals itself through it, cannot be the cause of man’s sin. The Divine wisdom, power, and, quite frankly, love that inform and define and then move and guide all things to the fruition of their appropriate ends or natures cannot be blamed for man's evil choice. There must a cause for evil or sin that is other than the Goodness that informs and defines the universe.
As we said last week, traditional commentary locates the cause of sin in spiritual desire. Another word for desire is will. The author accounts for the sin of the first man, Adam, in the spiritual realm of the soul. Sin originates as an idea or notion. The author of Genesis then pictures the idea externally and visibly. In form and matter its natures is best illustrated in a creature whose motions are slithery, subtle, and supple. Thus the serpent or snake. Man, here moved by his sensitive and vegetative soul–Woman, finds its obedience to God weakest in relation to his senses and the external world. In the snake she finds herself outside of herself with that potential flexibility that might enable her to wrap herself around the objects of her desire and emerge with impunity because she is pursuing an object that, under normal circumstances, is needful to human preservation. So the idea, at first heard as the Commandment of God, now becomes subject to her curious desire. A piece of fruit, she thinks, is such a small and insignificant thing. Surely it could not lead to any form of harm or suffering.
Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: or God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. (Gen. iii. 1-5)
The snake insinuates itself into situations with utter facility, and escapes with equal ease and impunity. She learns what a snake can do with a mouse; she might do the same with God’s law for her being. Eve's thoughts move from snake to herself and back again. What God allowed for a snake, he might permit for her in relation to his Word. Wouldn’t mice overrun the world were it not for snakes? Should God’s Word and Power be known through man’s interpretive appropriation of it? Was man not made in God’s image and likeness to be as God, knowing good and evil? (Genesis iii. v) Such were the prior thought and imagination that went to work within Eve prior to her decision to control and manage the Good for herself. Sin’s cause is intellectual and rational, and its symbol and sign is the forbidden fruit. Through it, the human soul separates and alienates itself from way to be ruled and governed by the Good of God.
Of course, Eve’s access to the rational truth is through Adam, the man. But she clearly has separated herself from his rational obedience to God and has chosen rather to be moved and determined by the serpent. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise….(Gen. iii. 6) The serpent works on the woman’s potential vulnerability to nature, the earth, appetite, feeling, emotion, and sensation. Her nature then overcomes the man’s rational will, and the serpent seduces them both. Notice how the serpent or Satan tempts through what is closest to man's natural need to satisfy earthly hunger, and divinizes it for the woman. Thus he corrupts man by seducing him into thinking that the objects of appetite and sensitive delight could never sever or divide him from God.
But the problem is not with eating fruit. The problem is with disobedience. The fruit is symbolic as what differentiates God's wisdom, power, and love from man's created potential. Of course, in the end, the serpent is right in that both Adam and Even come to know good and evil and cannot bear or endure the double knowledge! But this knowledge for man means death. What else could it mean? Only a world ruled only by God's Goodness can yield life. A world ruled and governed by God and no-God yields both life and death.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: